Even if you understand the ins and outs of using social media from your personal experience, running a social media account for your business is a whole different ballgame. One insensitive post can garner negative coverage and public backlash, and even has the potential to ruin your business.

Take the U.K. butcher who shared his business’s tribute to Prince – purple sausages in honor of Prince’s Purple Rain album. The problem? Prince was vegan. While the sausages allegedly sold out in the store, the butcher faced a barrage of negative social media engagement and traditional media coverage. He later had to apologize and explain via his Facebook page that he was unaware that Prince was vegan and a strong supporter of PETA. Most likely, this was not the response the butcher had in mind when he originally came up with his plan.

What NOT to Do With Your Small Business’s Social Media Accounts

To help you avoid ordeals similar to the butcher’s, we’ve rounded up some of the most common and most damaging mistakes businesses can make on social media, so you can use these tools as a boon for — rather than a blight on — your business.

1. DON’T allow an intern or consultant free reign to run your social media accounts.

Instead: If no one on your team has the know-how, try offering social media as a development opportunity for a current employee. If you truly must get help from an intern or freelancer, then develop specific guidelines as to the types of posts and language you’re okay with for your business.

And, whatever you do, ensure that you are the administrator and manager of all accounts. This will allow you to grant access to others who can manage it, without risking that they could quit without ever giving you the passwords, or worse, become disgruntled and cause problems for your company. (Yes, this has happened and it doesn’t just happen to small businesses either.)

2. DON’T build audiences that don’t fit your target customer base.

Instead: Make sure that whoever runs your social media accounts understands your customer types and develops a strategy that will attract and appeal to that group, adding value to their day and hopefully building credibility and trust for your business.

Although it can be tempting to go after “vanity” metrics like followers and likes, don’t sacrifice an actual social media strategy for humor and memes just to garner engagement that doesn’t turn into dollars.

3. DON’T neglect to establish a “voice” for your company.

Instead: Discover your company’s personality by starting with your customers — what appeals to them and the way you talk to them as a business owner. What’s your brand promise and how does that factor into the way you communicate with your customers? Use this as guidance for how to write social media posts that will engage.

4. DON’T delete bad reviews.

Instead: Even if a review isn’t fair, do not delete it. This could look like you have something to hide, and can generate further ire from the person who posted it. Instead, use this as an opportunity to publicly remedy any situations that need attention — and make sure to respectfully address the poster. Research has shown that addressing bad reviews publicly can actually benefit your business.

5. DON’T post only promotional content.

Instead: Keep in mind that social media is called social media for a reason. Inform your followers of topics related to your product or service, like how Oreo shared Olympic viewing party recipe ideas. Ask them questions. Get feedback on products and flavors, And, of course, answer any questions that come your way.

6. DON’T allow scheduled posts to continue following a crisis. This appears extremely insensitive.

Instead: Cancel or postpone all posts until a respectable time period has passed. People often use social media to check on loved ones following a tragedy and it’s considered good etiquette during these times to keep the noise down on anything unrelated — avoid situations like Epicurious’s scone recipe tweet following the Boston Marathon bombing.

7. DON’T publicly argue with or attack current or would-be customers, like the infamous Amy’s Baking Company Facebook war.

Instead: Publicly respond by giving customers a number or email where they can reach you directly and then take the conversation offline.

8. DON’T forget to give your followers special treatment.

Instead: Give your audience a reason to follow you. Psst! Exclusive discounts, anyone? Do special things for your followers and you could even end up building a tribe — one that others want to join. Plus, this is a great way to get online followers to translate into actual customers.

9. DON’T misuse trending hashtags and memes.

Instead: Research any trending hashtags you plan to use before you tweet or post with hopes of catching a ride on the bandwagon. Some may have meanings or associations you wouldn’t expect. Take DiGiorno’s gaffe. The company tried to inject humor into a tweet and become part of a larger conversation via the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed, joking that the reason was, “You had pizza.” But they didn’t look into the hashtag’s meaning and purpose — it was for sharing stories related to surviving domestic abuse.

While social media can be a great tool for building a loyal following and staying relevant in today’s consumer landscape, you definitely need to know how to use it wisely. One wrong move, and you could be issuing mass apologies or even facing a boycott. Don’t let your social media strategy and practices create a potential liability, when meaningful social interaction could instead offer real benefits to you and your business.

12 Responses to "The 9 Worst Things Your Business Can Do on Social Media (And What to Do Instead)"

    • patrick lee | January 15, 2019 at 10:08 pm

      Great suggestions.

      • Hannah Sullivan | January 17, 2019 at 8:36 am

        Thank you, Patrick!

    • Rae Elizalde | January 15, 2019 at 10:12 pm

      Great information! Thank u again

      • Hannah Sullivan | January 17, 2019 at 8:37 am

        We appreciate your feedback, Rae!

    • Victoria Muir | January 15, 2019 at 10:14 pm

      Your advice not to use a freelancer/consultant for social media management/posting is 100% wrong. Many small businesses do not have in-house knowledge of how to make the most of social media (or even how to do it competently), nor do they have someone in-house with the time to do social media right. A qualified professional social media consultant will cost more than a Craigslist freelancer or unpaid intern or making the administrative assistant to the vice president add social media posting to their already-full schedule, but are well worth it because they will keep posts on-brand, avoid posting pitfalls, and make sure that new content hits social media channels on a regular schedule. I work in this field, and the majority of clients who come to us for social media assistance have tried to do it in-house for a few months to a year before realizing they are doing it poorly, suffering insufficient/erratic posting, poorly worded/proofread posts, crappy graphics, etc.

    • Doreen Gregory | January 15, 2019 at 10:57 pm

      Very needed advice.

    • Antiques Country Store | January 16, 2019 at 12:30 am

      We are a Small Business Thanks for this article. Helpful

    • Phillip Britt | January 16, 2019 at 12:38 am

      Thanks fot sharing this information. Great information to adhere to and it’s also good information to share with our customers. Value added carrier.

      • Hannah Sullivan | January 17, 2019 at 8:53 am

        Thank you Phillip!

    • Jim | January 16, 2019 at 2:41 am

      A tenth one would be: Steer clear of divisive issues, i.e., politics, LGBTQ, abortion, feminism, etc. You easily can alienate half (or more)of your potential customer base.

    • Fay | January 16, 2019 at 9:50 am

      This is all very relevant!

    • Jim | January 17, 2019 at 5:50 pm

      With respect to Jim’s comment of steering clear of divisive issues, that depends on your audience. Over half of our clientele is LGBTQ. A lot think of themselves as feminists and care deeply about these “divisive” issues. I say, speak to the issues your clients care most about. They want to know where you stand. I have lost a client or two for speaking up. Clients leave for all sorts of reasons.

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