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Like anything good, social media has its pitfalls. Keep these things in mind when planning a campaign.
Like anything good, social media has its pitfalls. Keep these things in mind when planning a campaign.

Social Media Pitfalls: 7 things to remember

Social media can be a boon for many businesses, but there are many pitfalls. Dean Millard provides helpful advice for developing a company social media policy.
More and more people and businesses are relying on the internet as a key form of communication in their personal and professional lives. But the transition from one-to-one communication to one-to-world communication has not been smooth for everyone.

It seems many are only conscious of what the last ‘w’ in ‘www’ stands for as they embrace the ‘web’ of communication opportunities before them. However, not being conscious of the fact everything you post instantly becomes ‘world wide’ gives some people confidence to write things they would never normally say in an open or public forum. This can be disastrous for businesses when it goes wrong.

A classic example of this was the furore that erupted when Bob Parsons, CEO of American domain host GoDaddy, tweeted a video of himself shooting an elephant in Zimbabwe. Animals rights campaign group PETA immediately closed its GoDaddy account and the photo garnered a lot of negative press; Parsons was even nicknamed ‘Bob the Butcher’. Parsons failed to carefully consider who the video would reach and how it would be received.

Similarly the ramifications of its decision were not properly considered when apparel brand Kenneth Cole looked to generate some publicity for its brand by piggy backing off the Egyptian riots in early 2011. It tweeted “Millions are in uproar #Cairo. Rumour is they heard our spring collection is now available online at [Kenneth Cole]”:
Kenneth Cole’s questionable Twitter update
Kenneth Cole’s questionable Twitter update

Attempting to twist civil unrest, death and rioting into a promotion for a new shoe line certainly earned publicity, but unfortunately it was the wrong kind. Situations like these demonstrate the importance of having a well documented and clear company policy that covers a whole range of internet activity, especially social media.

Such a policy should regulate the way employees use social media and also educate them about the nature of their online interactions. For example, Apple’s online media policy is an excellent starting point for anyone looking to create their own.

One of the policy’s first points reminds employees to “be thoughtful about how you present yourself in online networks. The lines between public and private, personal and professional are blurred in online social networks.”


Here are 7 general points that businesses might like to consider including in a social media policy to help keep you and your employees from inadvertently kicking a hornet’s nest.

1. Social conduct -
The online world is not some mythical place where the rules of appropriate social conduct are somehow different. Online social media is just a different method of communication and therefore still requires respect and manners. If you wouldn’t say it at the top of your voice on a train, in a café or the middle of the street, it’s probably not appropriate to put it on a permanent public record for the eyes of billions.

2. Honesty - Your honesty will be noted in the social media environment. If you are writing about your company or a competitor, use your real name, identify that you work for your company and be clear about your role. If you have a vested interest in what you are discussing, be the first to say so.

3. Don’t mislead - Never represent yourself or your company in a false or misleading way. All statements must be true and not misleading; all claims must be substantiated.

4. Politeness - When disagreeing with others’ opinions, keep it appropriate and polite. If you find yourself in a conversation online that looks as if it’s becoming antagonistic, do not get overly defensive or immediately disengage from the conversation. The person you are online reflects the person you are off it.

5. Caution - While it may be unwise to write about your competition, when doing so make sure you behave diplomatically and have the facts straight.

6. Lawyers can read - Never comment on anything related to legal matters, litigation, or any parties your company may be in litigation with. The laws of defamation relate to anything and everything you publish, anywhere!

7. Mr Google - Be smart about protecting yourself, your privacy, and your company’s confidential information. What you publish is widely accessible and will be around for a long time, so consider the content carefully. Google has a long memory.

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