Social Media Activities that can Hurt Your Voice (and thus Your Brand)

A Caution Sign in Front of Storm Clouds Warning of the Dangers of Social Media.

Let me tell you a story about a woman named Justine Sacco. She was Director of Corporate Communications at IAC, an American holding company with some of the most recognizable brands on the planet. Ms. Sacco had a Twitter account with about 170 followers. In December 2013, she used her account to post tweets during a plane trip from New York City to Cape Town. One tweet went like this:

Weird German Dude: You’re in First Class. It’s 2014. Get some deodorant.

While on a layover at Heathrow, she made another tweet:

Going to Africa. Hope I don’t get AIDS. Just kidding. I’m white!

Ms. Sacco then boarded the plane for an 11-hour flight, completely unaware of the maelstrom that awaited her when she landed in Cape Town.

During the flight, her tweet went viral and captured the attention of bloggers, celebrities and multiple news outlets. She was publicly villainized, and most importantly, she lost her job. The hashtag #HasJustineLandedYet was created as the world waited for Justine to land and realize her fate.

As of 2018, Justine Sacco is now running corporate communications at a spin-off of IAC. Despite her fortune, this certainly isn’t an “all’s well that ends well” moment for Ms. Sacco: she endured being publicly fired and shamed because of one off-color tweet. You don’t want to spend years resurrecting your career and reputation because of a post. So let’s talk about what social media mistakes you want to avoid from the beginning.

Don’t be that Person

Now that you have a brand, it has a reputation too. By extension, you have a reputation too. You must defend this reputation at all costs. One careless mistake can cost you your tribe, future tribe members, and money. Good luck selling anything once you’ve ostracized your base.

So before you add content, be sure you:

Make sure that your brand’s voice is heard. If your brand is classy, keep it classy. If it’s masculine, make sure it will resonate with your male audience.

Think a bit about the tone. Is this is a laidback conversation or a bit more serious?

Proofread your posts. A few typos can hurt your credibility. We all make mistakes (and forgive me if you find any here), but many of these mistakes can be avoided with a quick once-over before posting.

Edit your posts. I’m not talking about in a grammatical sense. You might not always feel like it, but you’re a professional, even on social media. Nobody wants to interact with a negative, arrogant, or obnoxious social media personality. Make sure you check your content for decency before posting online. Think carefully about things like:

  1. Swearing
  • Tongue-in-cheek references

And just say no to:

  1. Vulgarity
  • Obscenity
  • Discriminatory references

Avoid attacking anybody in your posts. You want to avoid attacking competitors, members of your Tribe, or people who gave your book negative reviews. Again, you’re a professional. And professionals don’t launch crusades. If someone else is managing your site, be sure to set clear expectations and have a style guide available. You want to ensure that your brand’s voice is properly heard.

By extension, don’t gossip. Unless you’re Perez Hilton and unless your Page is meant to dish out the hottest celebrity gossip, avoid trash talking others altogether. This includes not only fans, but your boss, your local representatives, your ex, the guy on the plane whose snoring disturbed your reading, and the British Royal Family. I’m sure I missed some things, but you get the point. Don’t gossip.

Don’t be a dictator. You run a Page, not a prison. A few community guidelines can create a welcoming community, but too many will make your fans feel oppressed. Your Tribe should be able to disagree with you without fearing retaliation. Similarly, they should feel as if they can provide constructive criticism without being blocked.

Host a party. We don’t like dictators, but we do like party hosts. What makes a great party host? They make their guests feel welcomed. They provide an environment and enough tools to facilitate conversation. Then, they back off and let people enjoy themselves. Every so often, the host checks in with their guests to see if they’re having a good time. They ask if they can get them anything. They host the party while being part of the party. That’s what you should do for your Tribe: give them everything they need to have a good time, then step back and let them have a good time. And remember, you’re a member of the group too: you have every right to interact with your Tribe and have fun too!

Don’t share too much either. It’s easy to overshare on social media, but you want to engage, not overshare. You can develop a sense of familiarity about your Tribe without endangering yourself or your brand. Things you might want to share include:

  1. J.K. Rowling just released a new book (this assumes that your Tribe also likes J.K. Rowling)!
  • Your new rescue dog!
  • Milestones (your book just launched on Amazon! Your book got 50 reviews on Amazon! The size of your Tribe has tripled in the last five months!)! Your Tribe wants to celebrate with you!

There are also some posts that aren’t worth sharing because they’re not beneficial to your Tribe. Remember, you always want to keep them in mind when creating content:

  1. What you ate last night, or anything along those lines.
  • Any content your Tribe won’t get immediately. Posts are like jokes: if you have to explain the context, then it wasn’t that good.
  • Cryptic, dramatic, or suspenseful posts. The only exception is if your Tribe can expect something very cool in their feed tomorrow.
  • Anything that falls under the banner of TMI. No one wants to know about your bowel movements, your recent visit to your proctologist, or the minutiae of how your body works. Let’s keep it professional here.

Finally, there are things you should never post. Not only are these kind of posts too personal, but revealing this kind of information could be dangerous:

  1. Where you live.
  • The fact that you’re staying at X resort in Y country on Z days.
  • Any photos or posts that can be used to locate you.
  • An argument with your significant other, your boss, your landlord, etc.
  • Private message communications.
  • Inappropriate photos of yourself.
  • Unsubstantiated claims about someone else, especially if it could damage their reputation. You could also be in legal trouble if you’re caught.
  • Complaints or comments about others, because it could damage your reputation.
  • Videos and photos of others without their permission.
  1. Any personal information about others without their information (see note about children).

Note about children: If it’s not your kid, don’t post images of them, even if they’re your relatives.  Or at least not without their parents’ permission. You can get in trouble for that. If the photographed kid in question is your kid, be prudent and consider your child’s privacy as well. Photos of children are shared among creeps at an alarming rate on Facebook.

All of these seem intuitive, but we are a society of oversharers, and many of us don’t think twice before uploading to Facebook. You have to be even more cognizant of your sharing tendencies now that you’re marketing a brand. Facebook is not a professional site like LinkedIn, but you’re effectively using it like LinkedIn. So keep it that way.

Don’t spam. How annoyed are you when you get spammy Emails from a store where you bought a pair of pants from once five years ago? Your Tribe will likely feel the same way about being bombarded with chats, personal messages, and Emails. Exercise restraint when communicating with the members of your Tribe.

And don’t forget…this is not your online store! Many businesses indeed have online stores, but they’re typically not on Facebook. Your Facebook Page is a social media forum, not a marketplace.

You can use your Facebook page to announce book launches and new products with links to the appropriate sites. Your Facebook Page or Groups are also good places to find your next beta readers. If they like you and like your content, they will likely appreciate your book as well…

Don’t Create a Divided House

This is an extension of the “Don’t be that Person” section. Your Tribe is your community, and community members want to feel like they belong. Your Tribe will share the common interests that brought them to your Page, but they might be different in other regards. It’s critical to make every member of your Tribe feel welcomed regardless of their background. To do that, you might want to avoid the following topics:

  1. Politics and political figures.
  • Race.
  • Religion.
  • Geopolitical discussions.
  • Cultural discussions.
  • Money and personal finances.

The exception is, of course, if you’re moderating a Facebook Page dedicated to having these kinds of conversations.

And think pretty hard before talking about:

  1. Sex and sexuality.
  • Gender differences.
  • Age differences.
  • Ableism.
  • Personal relationships.
  • “The Good Old Days.” The world’s still working on equality, so while you were enjoying the “golden days,” of yore, someone else was likely fighting for basic rights.

These topics are good ways to ostracize the members of your Tribe who don’t share your opinions. They can also cause unnecessary drama among Tribe members. If you misstep, apologize, and quickly. You’re not perfect, but you need to realize when it’s time to take ownership of a faux pas. Everyone has their own way of apologizing, but here’s an effective strategy for online acts of contrition:

  1. Be authentic. Avoid the “I’m sorry, but…” kind of apologies. The “I’m sorry you took it that way” variety of apologies isn’t very useful either. While your apology might contain an explanation for your behavior (I was misinformed about the stereotypes surrounding the dinosaur community), it certainly shouldn’t contain an excuse (I didn’t know this was such a sensitive issue for you). Note that your apology doesn’t even need an explanation in most cases.
  • Be specific. This ensures your audience that you know why you’re apologizing. Sometimes you will have to apologize for your behavior, and sometimes you will have to apologize for how your behavior made someone feel (even if this wasn’t an expected or desired effect). This is the difference between intent and impact, or how the message was intended versus how it was received.

If you find yourself saying “I definitely didn’t mean it like that!” there may have been a difference between what you said and how others took it. And in some cases, they’re right for being offended. In today’s world of increasing political correctness (which isn’t always a bad thing), ignorance of prevalent stereotypes is no longer an excuse. But in cases where’s it not entirely clear (to you) why someone is offended, you need to convey that you recognize that they’re offended and apologize for it, even if you’re not sure why they were offended. Why? Because even though it wasn’t your intent, your post had a negative impact on your community, and you never, ever want that. So explain yourself, and apologize for any misunderstandings.

  • Explain why it was wrong. If it’s a clear-cut case of foot-in-mouth disease, your audience wants to know that you’ve learned from your mistakes. Saying “I’m sorry for what I said yesterday” isn’t going to cut it unless what you said was so offensive that it should never be repeated. Saying “I apologize for saying that all Quirks are Dirks, when in reality some Quirks are also Irks” is more specific, and it tells your audience that you’ve reflected on where you went wrong.
  • Say you won’t do it again. And then don’t do it. Ever. On any platform. And if you’re wise, you won’t even make a similar mistake, because someone on your platform can and will resurrect old posts to prove that you have a habit of making the same insensitive comments. You don’t want your Tribe to think that you didn’t learn your lesson the first time. That’s a classic case of “first time, shame on you, second time, shame on me.” They will leave before being shamed again.
  • Don’t be dismissive. There’s one thing that’s worse than messing up online, and that’s being unapologetic about it. Refusing to apologize, diffusing blame, and dismissiveness will not gain you any fans.

But what if someone from the Tribe initiated the conversation? There’s a way to reduce the chances of this happening. A good social listening program can help you identify potential issues before they turn into a crisis. Examples of social listening programs include:

But what if you don’t have (or can’t afford) and of these programs? Then the first course of action is to address it immediately! Your Tribe will respect you for de-escalating the situation, but you’ll appear spineless if you don’t. Also, if something is glaringly wrong, your Tribe will expect you to intervene.

After that, there are some ways to diffuse and mitigate an online crisis:

  1. Make sure it’s a crisis. Some people are very rude online, but their opinions are not crises. Negative comments aren’t always crises either. Sometimes, they’re good feedback about how to improve your Page and your brand.
  • Decide what you’re going to say. If it is a crisis, you’ll want to respond appropriately. Part of this is acting quickly. The other part is knowing what to say. Your response needs to convey that the crisis has your attention, you’re taking the situation seriously, and your plan of action. If a Tribe member is combative, respond, but do not escalate. Do not get into an argument online, and do not appear threatening or confrontational. Discourage other members from getting involved, and try to move the conversation into a private message.

Learn from the experience. Reflect on the crisis. What more could you have done? How could you have handled the situation better? What worked? What didn’t? Now might be the time to develop or modify your social media communication plan to prevent a similar crisis in the future.

Ooooops, you have reached the end of this article! If you liked it, you may consider purchasing Build Your Tribe as a Published Author book as it’s designed for YOU!

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