Social Media Mistakes

They can be costly, so here are some tips to help you avoid them

If you’ve ever wondered what a particular business, brand or individual was thinking before they stuck their foot in their mouth on social media channels, here’s the quick answer: They probably weren’t thinking twice about what they were doing, and weren’t thinking nearly enough about the message that they might be sending to others.

Fortunately, as common as these types of online mishaps have become (and as much as they can cost an organization or working professional), they’re easily avoided with a little more poise and forethought. As Damon Brown and I note in our new book, “Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World,” avoiding costly social media mistakes is easy when you follow a few hints and tips, each of which can help you mind your digital manners and put your best foot forward online.

For Businesses

– Make it clear to employees what’s OK to share online, how and when to do so, and the most appropriate manner in which to conduct outreach efforts. Every employee is a brand ambassador, so training should begin the first day on the job to reinforce and instill the importance of these corporate values. Establishing formal rules of engagement, clearly communicating them to workers, and explaining what’s expected are crucial.

– Guidelines are only the beginning, however: Establish an internal program designed to teach social media literacy and aptitude, provide continued education efforts and reward employees for successfully practicing these skills. You may wish to consider regular skills refreshers, training sessions, certification courses and gamification-based programs to reinforce these maxims.

– Be straightforward and specific about what’s expected in terms of tone, attitude, end results and output from your social media pros, and regularly monitor and assess how well they’re aligning with and meeting these goals. Providing running feedback and commentary to help them grow and improve is a vital way to bolster performance in these areas. To this extent, you may wish to have team leaders provide sample tweets, posts or updates to provide a sense of how to better shape these communications efforts.

For the sake of clarity and assurance of appropriate conduct, also post formal guidelines for communication within your own blogs, communities and online venues, public-facing or otherwise. Having established guidelines in place helps set expectations up front, provides a level playing field and helps you address any issues that may arise, such as having to ban argumentative users or remove inappropriate posts.

Posts from a business or brand do not have to be made by the same individual every time, or by an officer of the organization. However, all should maintain a consistent personality, tone and level of value creation. Always be thinking of how you can contribute positively to public dialogue and add information or insights of worth to social network connections. In every case, be sure that all representatives of your organization who do post are courteous, respectful and customer-focused, as well as cognizant of brand and style guidelines.

Make sure you or your employees have allocated and scheduled enough workday time to respond and engage within various social media communities. If you can’t post content or respond to incoming queries in a timely manner, your fans or customers may come to believe that you aren’t listening to them. Not responding to a tweet or a Facebook post can be seen by some as the equivalent of not returning a phone call or email.

Remember that each social network has its own features, personality and community. Study the outlets you participate in and understand the different nuances so that your message is not simply carbon-copied across each forum in the exact same way. Audiences differ, as do consumption models across social media vehicles; a one-size-fits-all approach won’t work here. However, while social vehicles may vary, make sure your message and brand are consistent and cross-promoted across channels. Establishing a style guide and dedicated social team or member can be tremendously helpful to helping maintain consistency of tone, image and overall user impression and takeaway.


For Individuals

– Social networks may seem like informal settings, but they should be treated with the same respect as any public place of business. Professionalism is imperative; if you wouldn’t say it in a social or work setting, don’t say it online, in the most public of forums. Don’t forget to maintain a positive tone and attitude, too: Negativity, complaints and condescending messages often reflect poorly on the poster.

– Be advised that conversational nuances and subtle shifts in tone or personality may be lost in translation, and that individual users may interpret messages differently. Consider how posts will be read and interpreted before sending. A note to outspoken individuals: Sharing extremely opinionated viewpoints (e.g. political leanings or thoughts on controversial topics) can be a lightning rod online. Think twice before liking supporting status updates or posting such opinions, which can incite and aggravate others (and live on in perpetuity).

– Before connecting with your colleagues on social networks, consider if you’d still want to be connected to them if they weren’t your coworkers, i.e. if you ever leave the position. Prior to requesting or accepting connections from coworkers, think about material you’re apt to share as well — is it appropriate for their consumption? Consider that connecting with colleagues and supervisors may expose you or them to information and influences that may make either party uncomfortable; be certain to understand the risk you’re taking in doing so.

– Note that images can easily be taken out of context online. Posting embarrassing, revealing or negative photos of yourself should be avoided at all costs. Remember: Pictures you share may be taken at face value, and/or viewed as representative of your character — not to mention live on forever on the internet. What seems cute in high school or college may not seem quite so endearing to potential employers.

– Avoid posting on social networks unless you have a tight grasp on your privacy settings and are completely comfortable with the group of online friends that your updates will be shared with. Also note that anything shared online, although designated as private and confidential, has the potential to become public at any time. If it’s best left unsaid, don’t say it.

– Understand that various online forums (social networks, blogs, digital communities) have their own rules of conduct, social norms and methods of interaction. Before utilizing one, take a moment to step back and observe how interactions take place, so you can discern appropriate rules of posting, sharing and behavior. Never forget, either, that despite their seeming intimacy, social networks and online forums are among the most public of spaces; it’s important to conduct yourself on them as you would in any shared setting. 

Award-winning professional speaker Scott Steinberg is the bestselling author of “Netiquette Essentials: New Rules for Minding Your Manners in a Digital World,” “Make Change Work for You: 10 Ways to Future-Proof Yourself, Fearlessly Innovate and Succeed Despite Uncertainty” and “Millennial Marketing: Bridging the Generation Gap.” The founder of Select nightlife magazine and host of Next Up on NewsWatch, his website is

Categories: Human Resources, Startup