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10 Biggest Social Media Mistakes Businesses Make

6 min

There’s no doubt that social media is the most powerful tool of our time. It can be used to break news, sell to a target audience and communicate with customers.

Every company in the Western world uses social media to some extent, but there are some glaring examples of when social media is abused rather than used. Let’s take a look at some of the most spectacular social media mistakes that businesses make, and how you can avoid making them.

1. Relying on automation

There are plenty of tools out there that allow you to automate your social media activity. It’s less time-consuming to schedule your tweets or automate responses to customers, but sometimes it can go wrong. American Airlines proved this in 2013, when a social media agency worker noticed that they automatically thanked an annoyed customer who had tweeted a complaint:

social media mistakes

2. No consistent branding / off-brand content

Not branding your company’s social media profiles consistently can mean that your customers struggle to identify who you are on social media. There is something more dangerous than that though – sharing off-brand content. Audi are famous for their stunning luxury cars, but they confused their followers when they created the #PaidMyDues social media campaign. The campaign was designed to show the drivers behind the cars, but followers were disgruntled that Audi wasn’t posting pictures of cars – which was usually the reason that they were following them in the first place. When you’re thinking of a campaign, it’s good to come up with an unusual approach but you have to be careful not to alienate your followers in the process.

social media mistakes

3. Lack of interaction

The single most important thing that businesses need to do on social media is interact with their customers. Whether that’s helping them out with queries or just responding to mentions, you should never neglect any interaction. Yet, that’s exactly what CVS Pharmacy did when they protected the tweets of their @CVS_Cares account, meaning that only approved followers could interact with them, showing a lack of care towards their customers – especially ironic given the handle of the account.

social media mistakes

4. Access to everyone

As a business, you have to be careful who has access to your social media accounts. You should develop a social media strategy and have a team in charge of it, but then limit the access to just them. Opening it to everyone in the company can backfire, which British brand HMV found out in 2013 when they announced redundancies, only to find out that the whole process was being live tweeted using the hashtag #hmvXFactorFiring – amusingly, one tweet spoke of how the marketing director asked ‘how do I shut down Twitter?’.

social media mistakes

5. Bad hashtags

Hashtags on Twitter can be a great way to engage your customers and let them tell their stories about your brand. Yet, this only works from a PR perspective if the tweets are positive. There are two businesses we can look at for this – McDonalds found that their #McDStories hashtag backfired when customers began telling tales of bad food and bad service. Similarly, the NYPD tried to generate some positive publicity in the wake of countless police brutality stories in the media using the hashtag #MyNYPD – but the public were at the end of their tether, and instead shared negative photos from the recent press.

social media mistakes

6. Newsjacking

It can be great for companies to stay on top of current events, but some of them take it too far with newsjacking. This means that companies jump on a news story and try to promote themselves. There are plenty of examples of this, but perhaps the most famous is clothing retailer Gap who jumped on the back of the Hurricane Sandy warning to tell their customers to stay inside and shop online. The brand quickly apologized and said that the tweet was only meant to remind their followers to stay inside, but it definitely rubbed people up the wrong way.

social media mistakes

7. Not checking hashtags

This is like newsjacking but it can be much more damaging. Using hashtags is an effective way to get your company’s name in the trending topics, but it can go wrong if you fail to check what the hashtag is about in the first instance. There are two shocking examples of this – DiGiorno Pizza, who used a domestic violence hashtag (#WhyIStayed) from which women were sharing powerful stories to sell pizza, and fashion brand Celeb Boutique who tweeted that #Aurora was trending because of one of their dresses, not because people had been brutally murdered at a midnight showing of The Dark Knight Rises in Colorado.

social media mistakes
social media mistakes

8. Not knowing your target audience

If you’re going to use social media, you have to know your target audience inside out, and use the social media platforms that relate to them the most. Small town businesses might benefit from Facebook, whereas larger companies may benefit from Twitter. An example of not knowing the target audience of a platform well can be taken from the PR company of the actor Woody Harrelson. They had the actor take part in an ‘Ask me Anything’ discussion on Reddit – as the name of the forum goes, people will ask anything, but the PR company saw it as a sole opportunity to promote Harrelson’s most recent film, Rampart. This was not taken well by Reddit users with many convinced it was just the PR team answering their questions and today, the forum is still considered the worst AMA ever.

social media mistakes
social media mistakes

9. Taking too long to reply to complaints

Many customers use social media as a forum for complaints, as they generally find that they get a faster response from the company. So, businesses should always respond to complaints as quickly as possible. Not like the airline British Airways, who famously took eight hours to reply to a complaint from an angry customer, making him angrier in the process. In the time that they took to respond, the customer paid to promote his tweet and it was seen by over 70,000 people.

social media mistakes

10. Being rude

How many times do you hear the saying the ‘customer is always right’? This is particularly true on social media, where the world is watching how you respond to complaints. A restaurant in Boston, Pigalle, really shot itself in the foot when it responded to a complaint about a Thanksgiving meal. Instead of apologizing profusely and offering a discount, Pigalle’s chef told the customer to ‘go f— yourself’ amongst other expletives.

social media mistakes

How to avoid making the same mistakes

Now that you understand the mistakes that businesses make, here’s how you can avoid them.

  • Pick a relevant platform for your target audience and stick to it.
  • Employ someone to manage your social media and respond to every interaction, good or bad.
  • Always be polite and remember that the world is watching.
  • Brand your social media effectively and don’t stray from it.
  • Use automation sparingly.

How you use social media can be the difference between a successful business and one that barely breaks even. How do you use social media for your business? Share your story in the comments below.

And if you want to learn more, here’s how to write better social media stories for higher click-throughs.