In the last few weeks, as news has spread about the Bill Cosby meme disaster and the reemergence of rape allegations against the legendary comic, social media professionals took note. In an era where internet users can post anything they want, a well-meaning attempt at reputation management can quickly spiral out of control. One negative post can be retweeted thousands of times, inspiring negative posts on Reddit and other popular social media sites.

Your brand's image is impacted by every social media post you create. Hopefully that impact is a positive one in most every instance, but businesses often make a few mistakes along the way. There are some social media errors that can be fatal to a brand. Here are three social media errors that should be avoided at all costs.

Hijacked Hashtags

In many major social media fails, brands create a hashtag that is then hijacked by users. In Cosby's case, the incident wouldn't have been quite as visible if not for the #CosbyMeme hashtag, which Twitter users can still access to see all of the user-generated tweets. There is no way for a brand to stop the avalanche that occurs when a hashtag goes wrong, so it's important to prevent it from happening in the first place.

While there is no way to completely prevent your hashtag from being hijacked, there are some mistakes that tend to make it more likely to happen. Self-serving hashtags that invite customers to tell you how great you are seem to invite snarky comments, as do hashtags created in the wake of a PR nightmare. These hashtags work best when they're part of a contest where customers stand to win something by using the hashtag. If a hashtag is hijacked, it's best to remain silent. Any attempt you make to manage the stream of posts will likely only make it worse.

Auto Responses

Bank of America suffered a public relations nightmare after responding to a tweet that mentioned it as an indirect part of an incident. The repeated posts of the same tweet led some to speculate that the bank's Twitter account is run by a bot. Bank of America denied the claim, but the entire incident demonstrated the importance of having knowledgeable professionals monitoring and posting to your accounts.

Outsourcing your social media to a third-party provider or intern is a great way to ensure your accounts are covered without having to be online 24 hours a day yourself. However, if those providers aren't personalizing the experience and adequately representing your brand, the effort can be worse than not having someone managing your social media accounts at all.

Being Spammy

Nobody likes a mailbox full of junk mail. Nobody likes to sift through thousands of spam mails in an inbox to get to the important information. But for some reason, brands fail to realize that when they constantly post promotion information online, they're alienating the same users who run from spam and junk mail.

While the occasional reminder about an upcoming event is certainly okay, it's also important to give more than you receive. Share information that your users will find useful in their own lives. If you're a restaurant, offer recipe tips for holiday meals. If you sell athletic wear, share posts on setting reasonable fitness-related New Year's resolutions. If you're a world famous DJ, get creative and release an app disguised as a video game to promote your latest album. The posts will naturally prompt consumers to think about your brand without constantly pushing your message on them.

Social media is a great way to reach out to customers and build brand awareness. It's important to proceed carefully, however, since a well-intentioned campaign can easily turn sour. By placing an emphasis on personalized customer service and only utilizing competent, well-informed professionals to manage your accounts, you'll be able to make a positive impact with your social media accounts, rather than a negative one.

Published on: Nov 25, 2014