Originally published April 2014 on GPO blog*

The Total Idiot’s Guide to Manners on Social Media

Photo by Lord Jim - Flickr Creative Commons

Photo by Lord Jim - Flickr Creative Commons

Admit it: you love social media schadenfreude.  Watching a business squirm under the backlash of a misguided tweet or laughably offensive post leaves you free to sit back and think, “Wow. I’m so glad that’s not me.”

But if you head up the social media efforts at your company, you know that dealing with emergencies as the face of a business can pose some challenges.  Walking the social media tightrope means knowing the difference between funny and offensive, relevant and overly opportunistic, cheesy and hip, and that balancing act is no mean feat.

Even so, it seems like there are a few basic rules that some social media could do with remembering.  In case of emergency, break out this guide.  Here are 8 things to remember when dealing with disasters (natural and manmade alike) on social media.

Undergo Some Sensitivity Training

This one is fairly simple, and may be the most important.  Not sure if your impending post is totally P.C. in light of recent events?  Ask yourself these two questions:

1.       If I were affected by this situation, would I find this post useful?
2.       If I knew someone affected by this situation, would I find this post useful?

If the answer to either of those questions is “no,” or even “maybe not,” hold off posting.

Know When to Shut It Down

The last thing you want to do when disaster strikes is carry on posting like nothing happened.  At best, it makes you look out of touch; at worst, you look wildly insensitive. Both can generate negative buzz.  Stay proactive and in the know by getting a news app that pushes breaking new alerts to your phone, and have a procedure in place in case of emergencies that dictates whether and how to suspend all social media account activity.

Not Every Moment Is an Oreo Moment

Lots of other companies did it first, but Oreo nabbed a special spot in the Social Media Hall of Fame for the viral popularity of its “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet during the 2013 Superbowl blackout.  Plenty of companies would kill for this kind of free PR, and unfortunately some will newsjack any event to try and get it.  But remember, folks: disasters of any kind are off-limits to this philosophy.  Epicurious learned this the hard way with some truly insensitive tweets after the Boston Marathon bombing.  The takeaway here: pick and choose your moments and your messages.  Be smart, be sincere, and stay true to your brand.

Check Your Hashtags

Before you choose a hashtag check what’s trending and why it’s trending.  If you don’t, you run the risk of responding unwisely to an irrelevant or negative trend.  Celeb Boutique either didn’t notice or didn’t care when it capitalized on the trending “#Aurora” hashtag to advertise a dress after the July 2012 shooting in Aurora, Colorado. So if you think #YOLO stands for “You Obviously Like Owls,” think again.

Proofreading Is Imperative

When you only have 140 characters, an Instagram caption, a G+ update, or a short Facebook post, your post had better be perfect.  Triple-check your grammar, spelling, and punctuation before scheduling them and pushing anything live.  One letter could be the difference between “public speaking” and… well, you know.

Keep Your Passwords Secure

The social media universe is rife with password snafus.  For example, in January 2013, recently-laid off HMV employees (who still held the company’s Twitter passwords) live-tweeted the mass layoffs and their subsequent, er, displeasure.  To avoid taking your place on the Twitter Wall of Shame, hand your social media passwords out sparingly, change them as employees come and go, and change them often.  (For a full guide to securing social media accounts, see our post about keeping your business safe on social media.)

Never Type When Angry

Need we remember the Amy’s Baking Company social media meltdown?  This disaster spanned Facebook, Yelp, and Reddit.  To avoid the kind of infamy earned by ABC’s irate posts, establish a protocol for responding to Internet backlash, and never, ever respond in the heat of the moment.

Keep Personal Accounts Personal

If you are a social media manager on the go, you probably have the company account hooked up to your phone.  So before you post anything on social media, triple-check which account you are posting it from.  (So you can avoid situations like the ones Red Cross and KitchenAid faced.)


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