Avoiding Social Media Blunders

Two stories on social media blunders spread like wildfire after the Super Bowl. And although social and real-time marketing is always risky, the risk can be well worth the reward if you put the right measures in place.

All businesses should make sure they have protocols in place to avoid big-time mistakes that are easily preventable. Take JCPenney's Super Bowl tweets, which were misspelled to the point that accusations of inebriation were made. Misspellings are bad enough, but jumbled communications spell social media disaster. This incident was quickly turned into a media story that highlighted the continued missteps of the national retail chain.

The other media blunder that caught my attention was the Esurance tweet contest that, although attracting many contestants and retweeters, was derailed by negative tweets. Many tweets, which included the name of the company as part of a contest to win $1.5 million, contained offensive words and messages.

For every social media debacle, there's an equally stunning success story, like the recent win by Arby's during the Grammy Awards. How can your brand be more like Arby's and less like JCPenney, getting creative without risking the brand? Below are five tips businesses should keep in mind when it comes to marketing and social media.

Vet your ideas. It's okay to experiment, and creativity is essential, but companies must always highlight the values of the brand. If you sell clothes, your tweets and messages should be about the uniforms or staying warm, not the game's score. This makes your message seem less contrived and more on target. Your messages should be about the face, personality, and core values of your brand so that you connect with your audience.

Don't do stupid things just because you like them. Being brave in this job requires you to put yourself out there, try something new, go out on a limb. However, it also means making sure to look at every angle of an idea and then putting a process in place for people to poke holes in your strategy. If your ideas hold up to a close inspection, put them into action. When done right, creativity sets you apart.

Set up an approval protocol for tweets and live communication. To tweet and update social media platforms on the fly is risky, so make sure you have approved content and a strategy before the big day. Social media should be part of your overall communication strategy and not done in a silo by one person. Don't have someone tweeting on behalf of your company without knowing if things have been checked. And checked. And checked again.

Consider all the angles. Something that's funny to one person may offend another, or worse yet, spark an uproar and cause your effort to become the butt of jokes and the subject of "what not to dos" in future marketing manuals. One major rule of thumb is to stay away from the topics of politics, sex, and religion. As important as it is to build a list of topics to stay away from, it's also important to build a list of topics to embrace.

Tread lightly when inserting yourself into an external conversation. Inserting yourself into a trending topic is tricky, and should be well thought out. Real-time marketing is gold, as in the case of Arby's retweet of music producer Pharrell's hat at the Grammys, when aligned with your brand's values, messaging, and ambassadors. Keep the topic light with a focus on your brand, and when you can, insert humor—140 characters that will make someone laugh at first glance and not question your intentions.

Gabie Boko is the executive vice president of marketing at Sage North America.

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