Digital Insights

Three Social Media Posting Mistakes That Can Cause a PR Disaster


Published: January 22, 2015

Social media posting mistakes can and do happen – to experienced communicators as well as to newly-minted social interns. Many of these oversights and outright errors in judgment can be handled with a minimum of fuss and little or no long-term damage. Some bloopers, however, can be absolutely devastating, and cause a serious PR crisis that might damage your brand’s reputation in the marketplace for a long time to come.

Common Types of Social Media Blunders
While every social media mistake is unique, there are a few common denominators that are characteristic of a PR disaster just waiting to happen.

  • Inappropriate or insensitive posts or tweets about sensitive or inflammatory topics that inspire strong emotions from the audience.
  • Unintended consequences or reactions generated from seemingly harmless post content.
  • Unintentional posting of personal content to business social media accounts.

Two Examples of Social Media Gone Wrong
The usually sure-footed Home Depot chain recently stumbled badly with a highly insensitive racist tweet attributed to an independent social media handler. A photo of two African-Americans and a man in a gorilla suit playing the drums was captioned, “Which drummer is not like the others?” Home Depot quickly deleted the tweet, terminated the outside social media agency responsible, and issued an apology.

Screenshot from @imfromraleigh

A gender-based social media misstep cost PGA of America president Ted Bishop his office over Twitter and Facebook posts that chided golfer Ian Poulter for acting like “a little girl.” Poulter’s recently published autobiography No Limits criticized the leadership of Ryder Cup captains Nick Faldo and Tom Watson, prompting Bishop to rise to their defense. Bishop’s posts likened Poulter’s comments to those of “a little school girl squealing during recess.” A PGA of America spokesperson announced Bishop’s dismissal the day after the remarks were published, and apologized “to any individual or group that felt diminished in any way by this unacceptable incident.”

How to Avoid Costly Social Media Mistakes
You need to start with a detailed social media strategy. Identify the most appropriate social media channels for reaching your target audience. Determine what type of content will interest your audience as well as how often they expect to see fresh content. Choose appropriate team members who will be responsible for creating and posting social media content, and be sure to designate a responsible and level-headed staffer to provide content oversight.

Remember that even seasoned senior staffers can make social media mistakes. Manage your social media efforts wisely by providing your social team with adequate training, clearly defined goals, and documented rules and guidelines.

Find the sweet spot between real-time responsiveness and adequate checks and balances. Social media frequently calls for a fast response which can contribute to mistakes. Create a safety net of responsible staffers from such departments as human resources, legal affairs, and public relations who can quickly provide your social media team with content input as needed.

Inadvertently sending personal content to business social media accounts happens more frequently than many would care to admit. Establish and enforce a firm policy of no posting to personal accounts during business hours.

Choose your social media content carefully, and remember that it’s extremely difficult to put the mustard back into the squeeze bottle. If mistakes occur, get the offending material removed promptly and be prepared to make appropriate apologies. Document what went wrong and adjust your policies and guidelines as needed. Repeat offenders should be denied posting access to your company’s social accounts.