monkeyWe seem to be hearing more and more about blunders coming from larger companies in regards to what they throw out on social media, and 90% of it could be easily be avoided. Let’s be honest, it isn’t easy to be a Social Media Manager for various reasons.  The majority of the time, people at the top of the org chart are, of course, concerned first and foremost with sales and profits, and they see social media as something they are now forced to engage with, something they didn’t have to be bothered with earlier in their career. Many companies see the Social Media Manager as one of the lowest people on the totem pole, and mostly a position that can be handled by an intern or by someone with ‘another’ full-time job at the company.

An excellent survey by Ragan of 2,714 companies showed that only 27% of the companies surveyed, which went from small businesses to companies over 50,000, have a dedicated person working on social media initiatives. The study also showed that most people in social media management feel extremely overworked, but only 22% of companies say they plan on increasing their staff in 2013.

In the grand scheme of things, not every company out there needs a dedicated social media expert.  Plenty of verticals don’t have a significant outward relationship with the public. The New York Stock Exchange probably doesn’t need to be tweeting 15 times a day talking about the “20% off sale with free shipping.” That said, when you do have an outward facing marketing strategy and the view of your brand in the public eye is essential, passing your social media strategy to a group of web designers or interns probably isn’t worth the risk to the downside. One lapse in judgement and your brand could be hurt, or you could be forced to spend 10x the time and resources in damage control mode. Many of these mistakes could have been avoided with proper training and commitment to your social media strategy.

There have been endless stories of firms sending out tweets from what they thought was their personal account. StubHub was a good example of someone wanting to put their foot in their mouth immediately (or maybe the company as a whole was excited to leave work on Friday). Then there was the instance where Chrysler’s social media management firm sent a tweet out of the @chryslerautos account using foul language and noting that people in Detroit do not know how to drive. My personal favorite, however, came from the Dallas Cowboys.

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It was pretty clear who at the Cowboys organization unleashed that gem. The Digital Media Director, Derek Eagleton, posted the exact same tweet to his personal account the same day. Taking shots at other sports in your city probably wasn’t the best idea, and the Dallas Stars fired right back with something clever referring to when they won the Stanley Cup in 1999. The Cowboys issued a quick apology but looked pretty silly. Triple checking to be sure which Twitter account you’re using is a must when you’re representing a company.

You should also be very careful with delegating your twitter account out to staff or interns. A comical instance took place in January where the president of Ohio State, Gordon Gee, sent out the below tweet.

Screen Shot 2013-03-04 at 3.24.07 PMIt seemed like a nice tweet by the President of one of the five largest universities in the United States. There’s just just one problem: unless Mr. Gee was tweeting from the future, the game was 24 hours later than the stamp time. “He” sent the tweet Monday, January 28 at 6:45, but the game was Tuesday night. His account tried to play it off by saying he was asking to see if anyone was paying attention, but obviously this was the mistake of a staffer who misread the schedule. Of course, this wasn’t the end of the world by any stretch, but it makes you immediately lose credibility with your followers as to whether it is actually you sending out your tweets.

There are also times where a Social Media Manager can get too caught up in emotion when engaging with users. Probably the most notable of these occurrences took place with Nestle back in 2010, when they started deleting negative comments on the Nestle Facebook page from angered members of Greenpeace, but my preferred example stays in sports with the Kansas City Chiefs.

In September 2012, a fan named Travis Wright was a little upset with his favorite team not spending enough money to keep the team competitive, so he went to Twitter to voice his displeasure.

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These days, with all the negativity online, this tweet didn’t seem all that inflammatory. People can go a bit overboard rooting for their teams, but I’m sure the Chiefs’ Twitter account has seen much worse. That said, the person monitoring the account proceeded to send the following direct message to Wright before blocking his account:

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What the Chiefs employee didn’t know, or maybe didn’t care, was that Travis Wright had over 124,000 followers at the time of the direct message. Wright then took to Reddit to write about the message, and the local news crew picked up on it. In the end, the Chiefs apologized to the fan for the direct message, saying that it wouldn’t happen again. Amusingly, since Wright’s Twitter account was blocked by the Chiefs, he never even saw the team’s apology (plus, it didn’t really seem directed at him, anyway).

Nobody wants to deal with their brand being in the news for something that could have been easily prevented. Here are some things to think about when finding someone to actively manage your social media presence.

Ensure the Ideals and Values of the Company are Engrained in a Written and Verbal Manner

Leave no room to misconstrue anything. The Social Media Manager (SMM) should know exactly what the mission statement of the company is, as well as the beliefs of management. They also need to be aware as to how those beliefs should be translated when it comes to social media interaction.

State Clear Goals for the Social Media Communications

Is the goal to keep the brand in the minds of the users, or is it to push your products or services? Too many times, little to no guidance is given to the SMM, which leads to an inconsistent message across marketing channels. It’s imperative the SMM acutely understands how the company should be represented in online communications.

Ask to Remove Any and All Personal Thoughts

If there is only one person in charge of all social media correspondence with your company, there is a tendency for their own personal beliefs to sneak in to the commentary, whether or not it’s done on purpose. It needs to be reinforced to the SMM that the accounts are the voice of the company, not the voice of the individual. Any commentary should not be constructed from their personal values, but rather that of the company’s.

If Possible, Put Someone in Charge of Reviewing Posts

Whether it’s for spelling, grammar, or just overall tone of message, everyone deserves to have his or her work looked over before taking it online. When a process like this is put in place, it also limits the opportunities for a retaliatory post like we saw with Nestle.

Direct the SMM to Quintuple Check Which Account He or She is In Before Pushing Out a Tweet

With the advent of TweetDeck as well as HootSuite, it can be confusing to always know exactly which account you’re logged in to.  It seems most of the big Twitter debacles are due to being in the wrong account when posting something, so set a policy which requires them to check, recheck, and then check again to be sure which account they’re in before putting up a post about #gettingslizzerd.

Always Have an Open Door Policy

Managing the communication of an entire business isn’t easy, so in order to protect your brand, it’s obligatory to always be available to not only critique, but also act as a sounding board for the SMM to be able to ask questions, get feedback, etc. Nobody wants to be in the middle of a social media firestorm, especially your SMM, so it only makes sense to do everything in your power to allow him or her to succeed.

Social media gives us closer access to our customers than ever before. We must take it seriously and put the time and effort in to not only have a strong, well thought out strategy, but to train someone to properly execute that strategy.