There's a time and a place for everything, and the open, personable atmosphere of social media might make it seem like anything can be appropriate if posted with the right hashtag or paired with the right quip. While social media certainly allows for more flexibility in content and voice than more traditional marketing platforms, you still have to be careful when publishing a new post. If you're running an active campaign for your company on social media, make sure you never post or share any of these types of content:
1. Political Views. A bit of controversy is actually a good thing for your business in the context of a content marketing campaign; declaring a strong stance on a debatable subject can build loyalty among a strategic portion of your audience while simultaneously stirring the pot for more engagement and discussion. However, posting your opinion on meaningless subjects--that is to say, subjects that have nothing to do with your business or industry--is always a bad idea. Politics tend to stir up more controversy than discussion, and you could easily wind up alienating much of your audience.
2. Questionable Humor. Using humor as part of your content strategy is beneficial, if not essential. Humor is a key element in most pieces of viral content, and it's an easy way to make your publications more relatable and more entertaining for your audience. However, there are fine lines of appropriateness with humor, as evidenced by a now-infamous tweet by the Home Depot in 2013. The home improvement giant tweeted a picture with ambiguously racist undertones, and while the content wasn't explicitly abusive or demeaning, it generated a slew of accusations and demands that the post be taken down. The key word here is "questionable"--if there's a possibility someone could be offended, avoid posting it.
3. Inappropriate Commemorations. Commemorating an event on social media may seem like a good way to be relevant and timely while showcasing your company's compassionate side, but social commemorations can easily cross the line into "tacky" or even "disrespectful" territory. For example, in 2013, Spaghettios posted a picture of their cartoon mascot waving an American flag in commemoration of Pearl Harbor. In addition to thousands of complaints from offended followers, the company experienced a wave of sarcastic posters with their own renditions of the Spaghettios mascot taking part in various national tragedies. If your sincerity is doubted, even slightly, your followers will turn against you.
4. Thoughtless Plays on Current Events. In a similar vein, don't hijack a current event in an effort to generate some attention in the present. There are ways you can acknowledge a news event, or even newsjack a content piece to provide a foundation for your own, but blindly jumping on a news event is a recipe for disaster. Take Kenneth Cole's tweet in 2011, which stated "Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor is they heard our new spring collection is now available." Kenneth Cole later claimed it wasn't trying to make light of the serious situation, but the damage was already done.
5. Open Invitations to Snark. The Internet is a sarcastic and uncaring place. If you open yourself up to the snarky masses, they are going to take advantage of you. For example, in 2013 when JP Morgan hosted an open Q&A session, they were greeted with thousands of snarky questions implying the company was unscrupulous and immoral. As an even more recent example, the NYPD tried to generate more positive feelings by asking users to post pictures of themselves with police officers using the hashtag #myNYPD. Instead, thousands used the hashtag to post pictures of police brutality and misconduct. Both situations could have been prevented by thinking carefully about how their audience would respond.
6. Counterattacks. Social media is, essentially, an open forum. Some people will use it to compliment your business, and others will criticize it. No matter what happens, don't respond with a counterattack. Meeting negativity with more negativity will make your business seem immature, petty, and vengeful. Instead, respond to negative posts with calm understanding. Try to get the full scope of the complaint (or insult), and do what you can to make it better. If you can't make it better, simply cut your losses and turn the other cheek. Don't add more fuel to the fire.
7. Formulaic Responses. It can be tempting to save time with a handful of formulaic responses. For example, you could have a short paragraph of information ready to respond to different inquiries, such as a customer who can't find your business hours, or a customer who has a complaint about the timeliness of your service. However, using a template response instantly strips social media of its greatest strength: the human element. If a follower sees they are being responded to with a formulaic comment, your credibility and personal charm are instantly destroyed. Instead, take the time to personalize your message, even if the core content remains the same.
8. Personal Information. This isn't about personal information like phone numbers or bank logins; this is about information that identifies you as an individual. If you're building a personal brand, feel free to showcase as much of your personal identity as you'd like. But when you're posting on behalf of a company, keep your personal identity out of it. Show off a flair of personality, but keep it in line with the brand's personality. Otherwise, you'll clue your readers into the fact that the "brand" and the person behind the brand are different, and you'll be building your own personality instead of building your brand's.
9. Blatant Self-Promotion or Advertising. People tune out advertising. They simply don't want to see it, especially on a social media platform. Social media is a place for personal interaction, news updates, entertaining content, and special offers. If your posts make it seem like you're blatantly promoting yourself or pushing a product, you'll lose a substantial amount of credibility. Instead, keep your focus on making your posts substantive, creative, entertaining, and engaging.
10. Hashtags Open to Interpretation. Hashtags can be a powerful tool, but they can easily be misinterpreted. Hashtags are generally short and written as one word in lower case, making them open to interpretation, so review your hashtag for any possible unintended interpretations before posting. For example, when singer Susan Boyle released a new album back in 2012, her PR team didn't realize that "#SusanAlbumParty" could be reinterpreted when written in all lowercase letters (#susanalbumparty). Entenmann's made a similar mistake when they used the seemingly innocent hashtag #notguilty during an inopportune moment--Casey Anthony's murder trial.
The consequences of even one bad post can be dire for your company, especially if you already have a large fan base. Don't allow a brief lapse in judgment to ruin what is otherwise a respectable and powerful social media strategy. Keep your wits about you and treat every post with a significant degree of scrutiny. If you're looking for a rule of thumb--if rereading a post makes you think twice about posting it, you probably shouldn't post it. Today's world is full of snap judgments instantly damaged reputations, so it's "better safe than sorry" for your company's social media profiles.