When wielded appropriately, social media is a powerful tool anyone can use to bolster a personal or company brand. But screw it up, and you'll hurt your reputation more than help it. Here are a handful of things you should never do on social networks.
1. Throw an intern at it.
Don't assume just because someone is young, he or she knows how to appropriately handle and expand your social-media presence. It's a big job that takes marketing savvy and analytical skills. General Motors, for example, has about 20 people dedicated to responding to customer inquiries and complaints on social media and otherwise managing its social footprint. Interns are great for a lot of tasks; social media usually isn't one of them.
2. Neglect to upload a profile image.
I connect with nearly everyone who sends me a LinkedIn invitation. Well, everyone except the people who don't post photos of themselves. Not using an image of yourself communicates you either don't care much about your presence on the network or you're lazy. (Ping me in the comments if there are other reasons I'm missing.) And if you're smart, you'll hire a photographer or ask a talented friend to help you with this professional image.
3. Engage with haters.
Spend enough time in the public domain, and you'll eventually acquire antifans. Learn something from the cautionary tale of the owners of Scottsdale, Arizona-based Amy's Baking Company, who last year appeared on the show Kitchen Nightmares and alienated Scottish celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay because of being difficult to work with. Some Reddit users discovered the episode and began bashing the couple and causing a stir that fanned out to other social-media sites such as Facebook and Twitter.
The owners, Amy and Sam Bouzaglo, proceeded to turn the incident into an all-out social-media fail, frenetically biting back at comments, shouting in all caps, and even swearing at and insulting people who were only more entertained as the Bouzaglos lashed out.
Remember, the Internet is a highly distracted place. If you disengage, people will eventually find something or someone else to pick on.
4. Ignore disgruntled customers.
On the other hand, if a customer believes he has a legitimate complaint and is publicly venting about your brand, you should try in earnest to find out what's wrong and how you can remedy the situation.
According to the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania, 70 percent of complaints on Twitter go unanswered, a grim fact when you consider it's the platform many people flock to first when they want to complain about a company. Using an authentic voice and demonstrating you're listening and sorry for the displeasure can go a long way in converting disgruntled customers into fans who feel valued. And the quicker you can reach out, the better.
5. Carelessly launch a hashtag campaign.
Last month, the New York City Police Department launched a Twitter campaign in which it promoted the hashtag #myNYPD and asked users to post photos of themselves with police officers. Instead of people sharing pics of smiling cops doing ride-alongs or helping people, untold numbers of images of seeming police brutality surfaced.
It's called "hashtag hijacking," and it's a pretty common thing.
In 2012, for example, McDonald's promoted the hashtag #McDStories. Instead of eliciting tweets about happy kids romping in the chain's indoor PlayPlaces or photos of people smiling over their Big Macs, the campaign prompted lots of insulting tweets, such as "Ate a McFish and vomited 1 hour later... The last time I got McDonalds was seriously 18 years ago in college... #McDstories."
The Twitterverse has a propensity for pluck, and if there's anyone out there holding a grudge against an organization making a PR play, you can expect to hear some squawking. So think through issues of public perception before attempting a hashtag campaign. Does your brand have influential haters on social media? What social data can you analyze to gauge public sentiment on the topic? How could your hashtag be taken out of context? And whatever you do, have a contigency plan in case things go wrong.
McDonald's quickly stopped promoting its campaign and clammed up. The NYPD, on the other hand, tried to make the best of its snafu, with NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton publicly stating he wasn't upset by the barrage of antipolice sentiment on Twitter and that most of the photos people were sharing were old. In other words, he didn't cave in, which was probably the best way to respond.
6. Refuse to participate.
I know, I know. When are you supposed to do all of this online interaction? You have a business to run! Here's the quick and dirty reason you can't use that excuse anymore: If you want a strong personal (and business) brand that communicates to the world you are a capable and talented professional, you need to be on social media. At the very least, you need to be on LinkedIn and probably Twitter as well. The former will help you build your professional network, and the latter is an easy way to keep your finger on the pulse of what's going on in your trade.
Don't agree with me? I'd love to hear why in the comments.