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9 social media mistakes your business must avoid

Christopher Null | May 20, 2013
One errant or rogue post can derail your business’s reputation. Learn what not to do from these real-world cautionary tales.

In recent months, we've seen American Apparel and Gap get raked over the coals for suggesting that people do their shopping during Hurricane #Sandy, Celeb Boutique spanked for encouraging people to buy its #Aurora dress, and Kenneth Cole get beaten up for suggesting that riots in #Cairo were due to his new spring collection. (For Cole's part, the obliviousness appears intentional. He was back at it again last month with a #gunreform tweet that was related to selling shoes.)

Sure, the Internet is hardly a place where common sense and good taste rule the day, but the hive loves nothing more than to jump on someone who tries to profit from the misery of others. Leveraging (or even mentioning) current events that involve human suffering (or death) simply shouldn't be part of any business's social media strategy, ever.

5. Fail to understand corporate confidentiality
Here's a tip: If you're the CFO of a public company, don't attend a private board meeting and then tweet "Board meeting. Good numbers=Happy Board." That's exactly what Gene Morphis, CFO for women's clothing retailer Francesca's, did last year, promptly causing the company's stock price to spike 15 percent. Such behavior is unfortunately illegal, a practice known as selective disclosure, in which private information is divulged to a few--in this case, Morphis's 238 Twitter followers--instead of to the world at large. A later investigation (after Morphis got fired) revealed a long history of inappropriate sharing on Facebook and Twitter.

Thinking about going public someday? Make sure that you personally follow all of your financially oriented employees on social networks and conduct regular audits to keep tabs on what they're telling the world.

6. Ask for potentially hostile users to chime in
It sure sounds like a good idea: Build some Twitter and Facebook juice by asking those who follow you to write something about your company on the network. Sadly, that concept often doesn't work out--it doesn't matter how many people love you, because plenty of people out there surely hate you just as much, and they follow your Twitter account, too.

Just ask McDonald's, which created a hashtag (#McDstories) and encouraged its use among McFanatics to talk up the burger chain. Of course, the McTrolls got there first, with a flood of tweets like "Ordered a McDouble, something in the damn thing chipped my molar. #McDStories." It's a problem that keeps cropping up, with hashtag hijacks hitting Qantas's #QantasLuxury and luxe UK retailer Waitrose with #WaitroseReasons.


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