Today’s article is a guest post from Marketing Specialist Asher Elran.

Many businesses are finding that social media is an invaluable part of their online marketing program. But social media can be a two-edged sword. Used correctly, it can allow you to interact and engage customers and potential clients. Used incorrectly, it can wreck your reputation in ways that may be hard to fix. Here are 20 things to watch out for:

1. Be Careful What You Say – You Can’t Take It Back
The rapid spread of information via social sharing is one of its biggest draws, but it is also one of your most vulnerable areas. Once the ripples start spreading, it is virtually impossible to find every instance, so any momentary lapses of reason may well become a permanent stain on your reputation. Always think twice before making a post.

2. The High Price of Speed
Things, especially juicy, scandalous things, seem to spread at the speed of thought. Clips and quotes from many years ago can be found, resurface and spread beyond your ability to react. Unfortunately, most people are getting quick sound bites and forming quick opinions. And just that quickly, your business reputation can be trashed. Be watchful and aware that no issue is ever really dead.

3. Spell Checker
Most social media allows abbreviations, slang and acronyms to be used with impunity. That may be fine for a young user talking about their social life, but it lacks the sophistication that customers expect out of the companies they do business with. Even worse are misspellings. They will always be spotted and magnified, and completely destroy credibility.

4. Unprofessional Responses
While some businesses try to interact or even do customer service via social channels that needs to be approached very cautiously. If an employee having a bad day on the telephone reacts badly to an irate or complaining customer that is a private interaction that can usually be fixed. If that same employee reacts inappropriately in a social network, it is out there for the entire world to see. Damage control is a lot harder.

5. Too Casual
Social media is supposed to be a fun and free form way to interact with the public, but there is such a thing as being too casual. Unfortunately, the format doesn’t usually allow for extended explanations. Things that are meant to be short and sweet and maybe a little funny may turn out to be completely offensive, especially when taken out of context. For example, one tweet out of a long back and forth conversation may portray your company in the worst possible light. A certain level of professionalism needs to be maintained.

6. Lack of Experience
Much social media is the playground of the younger generations, and it can be challenging when a company allows younger, less experienced employees free reign. There are many examples of posts or comments from a social marketing team that never would have been allowed by older, more experienced managers and executives. Make sure your social team accurately reflects the principles and goals of your business.

7. Don’t Talk Politics
Many businesses operate under strict guidelines, even moral codes. Often, these come from the deeply held beliefs of an owner, founder or high level executive. Unfortunately, not everyone shares those same beliefs, and there are often people who are violently opposed. Even an innocent statement about a potentially divisive moral belief can quickly turn into a protest or boycott.

8. Work or Play?
One of the advantages to social media is the ability to let customers see inside your business. But what happens if employees get their work and personal accounts confused, or start to get a little too personal in the business channels? Personal opinions or even personal attacks can start to spread via the official business channel. A statement later that this view didn’t express the company’s opinion probably won’t even get noticed in the hail of negative publicity.

9. The Court of Public Opinion
Sometimes, businesses make decisions that many people don’t agree with. If it is an internal matter, it is a company problem. If you are spreading out all of your decisions in full public view, don’t be surprised when people start to take exception to them. It is possible to share too much of the internal workings of your business.

10. Out of Control
While it is a good forum to interact with customers, social media can also spin quickly out of control. All it takes is someone to make a snide comment or post a complaint, and the bandwagon can really get rolling. Unfortunately, there is no filter on the discussion stream, so even a positive story from an official company source can quickly go in a completely damaging direction. Have measures in place if you see this starting to develop in the company channels.

11. Who’s Watching the Store?
If a company allows unmoderated comments to go out by official channels, they run the risk of having their social stream hijacked. If left unchecked, the company can go on spreading negative news and views for quite some time, all under the official company banner. Never trust the company channel to run by itself.

12. Bad Timing
Many businesses plan their social posts far in advance. They may have promotions or events that they want to publicize, and they set up an automatic schedule to send them out. However, a crisis, either internal or external, may turn those carefully planned posts into a stream of nonsensical or even offensive comments, especially when interspersed with whatever is going on in the stream at the time. If you are dealing with a crisis, make sure that the automatic posts get shut off or delayed.

13. Violating a Contract
It is important for both businesses and employees to remember that they have an obligation to each other. Apart from sharing personal views that get misconstrued as official policy, there is also the danger of dissatisfaction and disagreement between bosses and employees. That’s the kind of thing that should be worked out in private, not in front of the public.
14. Standards of Decency
As old standards get replaced, many people feel a new freedom to live their lives however they feel like they want to. Unfortunately, as we mentioned, it seems like nothing ever dies on the web, and old photos, text messages and emails can come back to haunt you. And for the businesses we deal with, we expect a certain level of decorum, so finding naked pictures of the CEO on the beach floating around on the social sites will definitely hurt a company’s reputation.

15. Brake Failure
We have all said things we shouldn’t have. Social media multiplies that problem. Sites like Twitter allow every random thought to be broadcast to the world. Unfortunately, some things that looked funny or clever at the time can look really inappropriate with the benefit of hindsight. A business might want to put a set of checks and balances in place. You don’t want to stifle creativity or spontaneity, but sometimes you need to put the brakes on and slow down.

16. Broken Confidence
It is bad enough to let a secret slip. It is even worse when it happens on line and people start to spread it. In business, this can derail a project, tip off a competitor or even become a legally actionable offense.

17. Lack of Transparency
While the public may be able to set up fake accounts to try to manipulate social channels, a business can never do this. Once the deception is found out, and it will be, the damage to credibility may be irreparable.

18. Free Speech Can Be Costly
Companies need to realize that social media is a two way communication, and there isn’t a lot of censorship. No matter what is being said, there will always be someone who takes exception, and they can easily start a negative thread on the company channel. Be aware that anyone reading through will see all the comments, the bad with the good. Be sure to react quickly.

19. Under the Radar
There are plenty of social channels available, and any business will have a hard time trying to monitor everything that is being said about them. Unfortunately, if an unscrupulous individual decides to defame your company, there are plenty of dissatisfied individuals out there just looking for a soapbox to stand on. They will rally behind any cause, even without all of the facts, and before you know it, there is a tidal wave of ill will headed at your business. Sadly, by the time it hits, no one may even care what started it all. Do your best to keep track of what people are saying about you.

20. Bad Intentions
Unfortunately for businesses, many social media users hide behind the anonymity of their accounts and use them to be completely horrible people. Things they would never say in person spew forth into the social channels. And once that gets started, it can draw a lot of others into the game. Contests and other events need to be closely monitored to make sure that they aren’t hijacked and spun off into completely inappropriate directions. Shut down something that shows signs of going in a damaging direction.

So, while social media can be a marketer’s dream, it can just as quickly turn into the company’s worst nightmare. This doesn’t mean that companies shouldn’t embrace the power of social media. They just need to be careful to avoid the potholes in the road.

About the Author: Asher Elran is a practical software engineer and a marketing specialist. CEO at Dynamic Search and founder of Web Ethics. Asher is enthusiastic about all things concern killer content, creative marketing, and CRO.

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