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What to Do When Tweets Go Wrong: 4 Common Twitter Mistakes

We previously discussed how Twitter can be used as an effective social media strategy. It helps you connect with your community and industry, and keeps your brand fresh through regular updates. However, just like every other form of social media, think before you post. Is what you’re going to say in line with your company’s voice and values? Will it represent your company positively?

It doesn’t seem like a day goes by that we don’t hear about a tweet that either widely offended or backfired. There are four types of Twitter snafus I’ve identified while looking through tweets that didn’t go quite as planned:

  • An employee uses the company’s handle instead of their personal one (either on purpose or accidentally)
  • A hashtag meant to start a conversation generates poor publicity
  • A poorly timed tweet posts in the wake of a tragedy or other hot-button topic
  • A Twitter user doesn’t bother to research why a topic is trending

The Internet is a harsh mistress. As demonstrated in the above links, it’s not hard to find poorly judged tweets even if they have been long deleted. If the mislead tweet is left up for five minutes before it’s caught and removed, it can be retweeted hundreds of times thanks to how fast social media reacts.

Wrong Handle: Using the Company Account

What Went Wrong: An employee used the company’s handle instead of their own.

An employee using the company handle instead of their personal one is not unheard of. If your employees have access to your company account, there is the danger of them using it for their own purposes like posting their individual opinion. While it’s not always intentional (and sometimes it is), it can prove quite embarrassing for your brand.

But it’s not all bad news. Even if this type of situation does occur, especially if it was an honest mistake, it can be turned around and used for good. Take the Red Cross as a shining example: an employee accidentally tweeted a call for beer from the company’s handle instead of her personal account. The Red Cross gracefully rectified the mistake and turned it into a rallying cause. The way they handled the mistake and interacted with their community sparked positive conversation and publicity for both the brewing company mentioned and themselves.

To help companies avoid this mistake, HootSuite has set up a message approval system. Before a tweet is posted, it will go through a two-step approval process. It also has limited permissions. Therefore, even if a company’s social media account has many people involved in it, only a select few can actually post.

Bad Publicity: When Good Campaigns Go Bad

What Went Wrong: A hashtag meant to start a conversation generated poor publicity.

Sometimes Twitter campaigns don’t go as planned and may generate bad publicity for your company. I would argue that last year’s Twitter campaign by the New York Police Department, #myNYPD, is the best example of a Twitter campaign not going the way it was intended. #myNYPD was originally meant to be a community outreach campaign: “Do you have a photo with a member of the NYPD? Tweet us and tag it.” Users quickly flooded the page with images of officers at odds with citizens. While the images didn’t necessarily show any police misconduct, it did generate a bad image for the department.

The same thing happened to McDonalds and their #McDStories campaign. Customers took the opportunity to mock the restaurant and relate horror stories. The campaign lasted less than two hours.

Before starting a Twitter campaign, have a backup plan in case something goes wrong. If you do find that your Twitter campaign has turned on you, try to make the best of it (NYPD) and switch tactics (McDonalds).

Scheduling Mishaps: Bad Luck Bots

What Went Wrong: A poorly timed tweet posted in the wake of a tragedy or other hot-button topic.

Posting a poorly timed tweet in the wake of a hot-button issue or tragedy can be embarrassing. Sometimes, it’s just bad luck, pure and simple—especially if your tweets are scheduled through services like HootSuite. If a tragedy occurs even a few minutes before your tweet is auto-posted, there is honestly not much you can do about it. Unless you’re a psychic, there’s no way to know that you need to stop that tweet from going up.

If the event happened an hour or so before your post was scheduled to go public, you need to make sure it’s edited accordingly or removed altogether. If you have the mentality of, “I had this planned days beforehand, I shouldn’t have to change it” you need to reevaluate your strategy.

Finally, having a bot tweet or reply for you is very obvious. Trust me, no one is fooled. Running afoul of tweeting automation can put your brand in hot water. Twitter does have its own rules and regulations when it comes to tweet automation.

As it has been pointed out numerous times already, the Internet doesn’t forget or forgive easily. If you refuse to take down a post that’s causing concern amongst your followers or don’t respond personally to a complaint, you will be branded as a company that doesn’t care about its customers. Take the time to personally respond to your community and address their concerns and questions.

Lack of Research: What’s Going On?

What Went Wrong: A Twitter user didn’t bother to research why a topic is trending.

Not researching why a topic is trending before using it is a very bad idea, so be sure to keep up with current news. As evidenced by the unfortunate Aurora tweet sent out by UK-based CelebBoutique linked above, it’s essential to research a trending topic before using it. If you use a trending topic that’s connected with something like a tragedy to promote a product or service, you will look like you’re taking advantage of the situation.

Sadly, there are some brands that will intentionally put out a sales promotion or product announcement at inappropriate times. If a topic is trending that you think can be related to you, research what it means before you use it. This will save you a public Internet-shaming.

Managing Damage Control

No matter when or how you find yourself in the middle of a social media firestorm, handle the mistake with grace and dignity. Don’t get defensive or it will hurt your image even more.

While damage control doesn’t necessarily “fix” the mistake, there are steps you can take that can minimize the fallout and allow you to feel more proactive should something happen:

  • Remain positive
  • Communicate openly
  • Don’t ignore the problem
Remain Positive

Starting a slander campaign against your opponent will not help you. Not only is it unprofessional, it will damage your reputation and cause your followers to question your integrity. Take the high ground and speak positively about the situation and your opponent.

Communicate Openly

Remain accessible to conversations and be able to answer questions thrown at you. As just stated, do not get snarky or defensive. That point cannot be emphasized enough. While communicating, make sure that you don’t make any untrue statements. They will be quickly found out.

Don’t Ignore the Problem

Who remembers this piece of advice from their childhood: “They just want to get a reaction out of you.” Or, “If you ignore the bully, he’ll go away.” But let’s be brutally realistic here, it doesn’t work at all. Ignoring something will not make it go away. Quite the opposite: it will make the problem worse. If you don’t respond to the problem it gives the impression that you have something to hide.

Ignoring the problem can also lead to a breach of trust with customers. If a customer voices a complaint and you don’t respond to it, relations will deteriorate. You don’t want to have a reputation as a company that doesn’t address customer concerns.

Don’t let the potential downsides scare you away from Twitter or social media as a whole. The benefits really do outweigh the risks. If you educate yourself about the world of social media, you can effortlessly navigate it with minimal mishap.

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