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We know how important social media is to online reputation, especially for brands. It’s a great resource for connecting with your customers and sharing stories that reflect positively on your brand. But, do you really know what you’re doing on social media? Experts agree that simple social media mistakes can seriously damage a company’s reputation and trigger a social media crisis.

We’ve outlined the biggest mistakes brands make on social media and provided some powerful tips to avoid them.

Social Media Mistake #1: Not Using Social Media

Aside from the time and effort you put into it, social media is free. You can use to connect with customers, network with industry contacts, and build your online reputation. So the biggest mistake you can make with social media is not using it at all. Perhaps an equal offense is to sign up for accounts but fail to use them.

However, don’t bite off more than you can chew. While social media is essential to brand protection, every company has its limits. Also, just because your competitors are on a particular platform doesn’t mean you should be. Brands that jump into a social network without a strategy are more likely to leave the account stagnant. As a result, you might send the message that you don’t care. Therefore, only create accounts on the networks that you can keep active.

Neglecting your accounts

It’s often worse to ignore your profiles than to not have any. Why? When a business has social media accounts, customers expect them to be accessible and responsive. This means you’ll be disappointing people if they are ignored.

Inactive accounts may also signal to potential customers that you’re no longer in business. And if you don’t engage with your users, you’ll be making the situation even worse. According to Sprout Social, users expect a response within 4 hours, yet brands often take more than 10 hours to reply.

When a company neglects follower questions, comments, or concerns, users may think the brand doesn’t care about them. As a result, potential customers could move on to other brands.

Being attentive on social media means more than just responding to direct comments. You’ll need to engage with all discussions involving your brand and related keywords. Brands that get the most engagement on social media are constantly taking part in relevant conversations about their industry.

Social Media Mistake #2: Putting the Wrong Person in Charge of Accounts

Your social media accounts are critical for establishing a brand’s identity. They’re also invaluable tools for handling customer complaints and managing a crisis. Therefore, the individual controlling your social presence can make or break your online reputation.

Inadequate experience

Unfortunately, many businesses continue to fill social media positions with interns. Just because young people grew up using social media doesn’t mean they’re qualified to manage a global corporation’s online reputation.

Social media managers should have a background in public relations to avoid missteps. For example, a PR professional would rarely make spontaneous controversial statements or rudely respond to customer complaints. This behavior can be incredibly damaging to a brand’s reputation. Brands must ensure their social media is handled professionally at all times.

Carelessness

Everyone makes mistakes, but some people are more error-prone than others. Don’t let these individuals near your social media accounts because careless blunders can damage your brand’s credibility. While you can always delete offensive posts, anyone can take a screen grab or video of your error before you’ve corrected it.

You never know who is watching your social feed. Many of your competitors could be waiting for a way to leverage your mistakes. For this reason, you should secure a backup social media administrator to prevent errors as well as account lockouts.

Social Media Mistake #3: Failing to Effectively Engage with the Audience

Social media offers the opportunity to have a direct conversation with your audience. However, many brands make the mistake of turning social media into yet another sales channel. When followers feel a brand isn’t listening to them, the’ll react by hitting the “unfollow” button. In fact, the fastest way to drive away loyal followers is to fill your social feed with one-sided sales pitches.

Rather than focusing exclusively on promoting your brand, share content that educates and inspires your audience. You should also consider sharing content from other businesses that your followers might enjoy. You’ll be doing your own audience a favor, and other businesses may return the favor by amplifying your content too.

Automation in moderation

You may not have time to fill each of your social feeds with completely unique content, and that’s ok. Use automation to share your blog content across several platforms, but don’t overdo it! And never use canned responses when followers choose to engage with your brand. Give them the real you and your undivided attention.

Most importantly, stop using auto-DMs. Your followers know these aren’t authentic, so using them makes you look insincere, or worse, like a spammer.

It’s also dangerous to use automation during times of crisis or public tragedy. Upbeat posts scheduled weeks in advance may hit the wrong tone when the rest of the world is mourning. For example, if the country is commenting about immigrant injustice, your brand shouldn’t be posting about a “Summertime Sunshine Sale.”

Head in the sand

Responding quickly during a crisis means controlling the narrative of the news cycle. Yet many businesses overlook social media as a crisis management tool and continue posting promotions as if nothing is wrong. This is a fatal mistake because consumers and reporters expect social profiles to reflect the company’s public response to a crisis.

Social Media Mistake #4: Not Knowing Your Audience

Your followers are more than demographics; they’re real people with diverse interests that extend beyond your brand. When you make broad assumptions about your fan base you risk alienating the people you’re trying to connect with.

Instead of guessing, take the time to learn more about your brand’s social media audience. There are countless tools, like Facebook insights, that can tell you about your fans. Once you know your audience you can tailor your messaging to them. It’s essential to understand your audience and consider how they’ll react to content before posting anything. One small slip can impact your reputation.

Implement a review process for all social posts. A thorough vetting process could prevent embarrassing statements and mistakes from going public. This is especially true for brands with bilingual followers. Attempting to say something clever in Spanish could be seen as pandering or racist if it isn’t carefully crafted.

Social Media Mistake #5: Responding Unprofessionally

With countless articles pointing out social media fails, an unprofessional response can ruin your brand’s reputation for years. So when responding to criticism, don’t get defensive, and NEVER delete comment or bock users from your profiles. While it isn’t easy to take criticism in a public forum, it’s essential that you remain professional to protect your reputation. For example, a competitor may goad you for a rude response so they can send it to the media.

Correcting misinformation

The rule of thumb is to be the bigger person. Since you can’t be certain if complaints are legitimate or targeted attacks, simply correct misinformation without being hostile. Most false accusers will move on when they’ve lost the upper hand. No matter what the criticism is, your response should be honest, kind and transparent.

You can disagree amicably, but don’t argue. Instead, offer a polite response and try to move the conversation offline when possible. In fact, you may be able to avoid many social media complaints if you give customers a private channel for complaints to begin with. For example, you could say, “We take great pride in customer care. If you have a concern or complaint, please contact us here for the fastest response.”

Abusive customers

Of course, sometimes complaints are downright abusive. Customers who don’t seem interested in a solution are frustrating. But you’re representing a brand, and you must remain professional.

You’ll know when a conversation has reached an impasse. As a best practice, offer assistance two to three times. If the fan denies assistance, you can stop trying, and stop responding. But it’s critical that you do not delete the post or ban the user. If you responded publicly asking the fan to call or email, and they’re still complaining, any other fans who see that post won’t blame you. They’ll see your repeated attempts to make things right, and your company will have won the battle.

Hiding complaints

Deleting comments can make a bad situation worse. When crises strikes, some brands delete negative comments to protect their image. However, once people realize you’re removing comments they’ll try even harder to repost what they’ve already said. Furthermore, they may also take screenshots of comments as proof of censorship.

Rather than suppressing negative feedback, consider it an opportunity to improve your reputation. You may be able to convert a disappointed fan into a brand advocate and show your followers that you really care about them. Most people who are critical on social media just want to be heard. They legitimately had a negative experience and are disappointed. The best thing a brand can do is respond to them directly, apologize for their disappointing experience, and ask them to message you privately so you can come to a solution together.

Social Media Mistake #6: Trying to Do it All (And Doing None of it Well)

There are hundreds of social media sites available. Not only is it impossible to manage profiles on each one, it doesn’t make sense to have accounts on irrelevant networks. You’ll spread your resources too thin if you try to  connect on every major social site on the internet. This could result in missed notifications and hinder your ability to genuinely connect with fans. Instead, choose a few profiles that you know you can keep up with.

Account management isn’t the only problem with having too many accounts. Businesses may also link to dead or inactive profiles from their primary websites. This provides a poor customer experience and could send the message that your business is struggling. You certainly aren’t positioning your business as an industry expert when your profiles haven’t been updated in years.

Overextension

Social media marketing takes time and resources, so business must be honest about how much they can handle. To prevent overextension, build a few core communities that you can really focus on. To prioritize your social networks, determine which platforms their audience is most active on.

When overextended, brands share the same message across all social networks to save time. However, posts designed for Twitter may not translate well to Instagram. As a result, followers won’t get the experience they were looking for. The best social content is native to each platform.

Identify what works

  • Facebook: Videos, articles and emotional content works well here. Tips: Make contests, tag people, and get them to share your content.
  • Twitter: Get straight to the point when sharing insights. Twitter has also become the go-to place for customer service. Tips: Engage in conversations, ask questions, BE HUMAN.
  • LinkedIn: Companies appear more trustworthy with a LinkedIn profile, and this can lead to an improved reputation.
  • Instagram: Sell a lifestyle, not products. Keep things visual, unique and beautiful. This is also a great platform to showcase behind the scenes peeks into your company.
  • Pinterest: Share dreams and ideas that users hope to attain. Inspire and wow your audience with stunning images.

Social Media Mistake #7: Chasing Trends

Stay true to your company’s voice rather than chasing trends that may not fit with your brand’s personality. You don’t need to constantly create forced memes just because everyone else is. While some companies benefit from a juvenile image, others stand out for being earnest and educational.

Don’t make opinionated comments about polarizing topics or causes just because they’re trending. Your input might boost engagements, but it could also have a negative impact your brand. While it may seem noble to promote a good cause, doing so could overpower your brand’s message. Furthermore, your company could be drawn into a volatile political debate that alienates your customers.

Brands should never, EVER use world news to gain exposure. Efforts to exploit current affairs for corporate advantage always backfire and damage a company’s reputation.

Social Media Mistake #8: Not Developing a Social Media Policy

Social media policies aren’t just for your company accounts; they should be for all employees. The people who work for your business use social media every single day. Their profiles may list your company as an employer, or they may reference your brand in casual posts. Yet businesses often fail to provide their employees with guidelines for brand mentions in their personal social media posts.

This may cause embarrassing or damaging content to be published about your brand. Not only does this distort your company messaging, but it could drive away potential customers who find it. Since employees can be fired for what they write about their employer, it’s critical that they’re aware of the policy as well as potential consequences for breaking it.

Creating a social media policy may feel restrictive, but it’s essential step toward protecting your company’s reputation. Without guidelines or policies in place, employees don’t have clear expectations of what’s allowed and what’s not. That can create gray areas when it comes to discipline for behaviors that may be considered out of line.

A good social media policy should outline what’s considered confidential, and explain what consequences are if employees are out of line on social media. It should also educate employees on what’s appropriate and reflect the company’s culture.

How Brands Can More Effectively Develop a Good Reputation on Social Media

It’s clear what brands shouldn’t do, but what ideas should they implement to develop a more positive reputation on social media? Our experts offer the following recommendations:

  • Use social media:  Set up accounts and use them regularly.
  • Trust a professional with social media duties: As a major brand representative, the person who handles your social media accounts should be a dedicated, responsible individual.
  • Engage with your audience: Respond, have conversations, and interact with those who want to interact with you.
  • Understand your audience: Consider who your audience is and how you should tailor your social media conversations to attract and interact with them.
  • Be professional, always: Show followers that you care by welcoming them and encourage your audience to share complaints directly with you so that you can address their needs effectively.
  • Choose your accounts wisely: Pick the accounts that fit your brand and audience, and use them effectively. Tailor your message to each social media platform.
  • Make your own trends: Think about how you can share messages that make your brand more authentic.
  • Develop a social media policy: Set clear expectations for what’s appropriate and what’s not to protect both your brand and your employees.