For an individual user, social media is a playground. There are small risks you can face with irresponsible posts, such as offending a close friend or seeming less professional to a prospective employer, but ultimately, you’re free to post whatever you want, however you want. For a brand, social media is a divisive battleground; following the right strategy can earn you tons of new followers, and making too many mistakes can cause you to lose those followers forever.
Though some of these mistakes may seem innocuous, all of them have the potential to ruin your reputation for at least one demographic:
1. Posting inconsistently. This could happen for a variety of reasons. Maybe you don’t have time to dedicate to social media marketing and you’ve resisted the use of a scheduling tool. Maybe your enthusiasm for the strategy waxes and wanes. Whatever the case, your posts are inconsistent in volume and purpose, and you can bet your followers will take notice. If users don’t know what to expect from you, they won’t stick around for long. Your schedule doesn’t have to be rigorous, but it does have to be solid and coherent.
2. Using an inconsistent voice. This is problem faced by most brands that rely on multiple people to manage a single account, but it can be overcome relatively easily once you get everyone on the same page. Identify key characteristics of your brand’s voice (such as formality, temperament, and vocabulary), and use those as your basis for any and all contributors you have under your brand’s platform. Again, users need something they can count on.
3. Selling constantly. Yes, social media is a tool you can use to get more sales, but don’t make the mistake of thinking it’s only a sales tool. People use social media because it’s social—they want to see and interact with other individuals and brands. If you constantly advertise your products, you’ll seem insincere and possibly deceptive, compromising your reputation entirely. Pitch your products and services occasionally, but the majority of your strategy should be focused on building social relatability.
4. Relying on formulaic responses. You’ve probably seen this before. Every time someone asks a brand a question on social media, they respond with the same message, word for word, like “please contact our help desk for more support (link).” This may save you a bit of time, but it will cost you your reputation by making you seem robotic, callous, and insincere. Take the time to write unique messages to all your followers and inquiries.
5. Spamming your followers. Don’t send messages or post content that could be perceived as annoying by your followers; do this enough times, and they’ll unfollow you permanently. Examples of this behavior include posting too many messages a day, posting the same message repeatedly, or direct messaging individual users with an advertising message. If you’re worried about this, think about what you would want as an individual user of social media. Would this message be valuable to you?
6. Making an inappropriate joke. Humor isn’t just acceptable on social media; it’s a favorable strategy. Humor shows personality, and makes your followers feel closer to you. However, not all jokes are acceptable, and there’s a fine line between what your audience would consider appropriate and inappropriate. Be careful when you tread this line, and if you’re in doubt, don’t post it.
7. Calling on a trend you don’t understand. It may seem like a good idea to take advantage of a trending hashtag or topic on social media for the extra visibility, but be careful how you do this. History is rife with examples of brands who took such measures, but didn’t fully understand the hashtag in question before posting. This makes you appear ignorant at best and exploitative at worst, and could even offend the original intended audience of the trend.
8. Showing insensitivity. Be careful what topics you choose to explore on social media and what level of attention you give to complainers on social media. Broaching a sensitive topic too soon or in a way that could seem exploitative (such as responding to a national tragedy with a sale) could deeply cut your reputation. The same goes for ignoring any users who need your attention.
9. Ignoring your followers. When someone asks your brand a question, answer it. When someone compliments you, thank them. These are basic tenets of responsible social interaction, and if you ignore them, you’ll lose ground in the respect department—not only from the followers you ignored, but also from any other users who witnessed the snub.
10. Lying or propagating misinformation. Though you would never willingly lie to your audience, you might mistakenly post something that contains inaccurate or misleading information. People have a natural distrust of brands, so any misstep in the trust department could be a major blow. Double check every post before it goes out, and verify your sources.
Tread carefully as you venture into the world of social media marketing. There are many opportunities for growth and reputation building, but even small errors can seriously harm your reputation (especially as you grow bigger). If you do make a mistake—and we all do eventually—don’t panic. Acknowledge the error, sincerely apologize, and make it right with any followers you might have offended. The true destructive potential of these mistakes (or at least most of them) comes out only after repetition.