Avoiding a Toxic Social Presence

By Richard Parkin

You know how important social media can be for your business – and you’ve probably seen what happens when social media marketing goes wrong. In this guide, I’ll be taking you through some of the most critical takeaways I’ve gained after years of social media management, showing you exactly how to avoid some of the most common social media pitfalls.

Social media can end up being a two-edged sword for practically any business. On the one hand, running high-quality social media is an incredibly powerful way to improve sales, keep customers engaged, and boost CLTV. 

On the other hand, getting it wrong can cause some serious problems, costing you money and damaging your reputation. The old claim that ‘all publicity is good publicity’ is categorically not true – social media mismanagement has a provable cost.

That said, keeping your social channels productive doesn’t have to be complicated. I’ve managed and worked on social media for major international businesses for years, so I’ve had a chance to understand what really counts when it comes to social media.

Here are five simple but important lessons I’ve learned over the years, all set to help you avoid costly errors, whatever platforms you’re working with:

When Not to Get Involved

Here’s the single most important lesson I can teach you about social media: you do not have to post about everything.

For many social media managers, building a connection between your brand and every trending topic seems logical: you want to be getting the message out there as much as possible.

In some cases, this can deliver fantastic results – brands like Oreo and Wendy’s have built up serious engagement and revenue gains by getting involved with entirely unrelated topics.

Results like these are incredibly rare, and 6-figure social advertising budgets typically back them. It’s far more common for branded posts to fall by the wayside or come across as desperate. In other words, if you’re trying to jump on the bandwagon, you should be prepared to see absolutely no results for your work.

In some cases, the outcomes can be worse – take the classic example of DiGiorno Pizza. In 2014, the company completely halted all social media activity after adding a pizza-related punchline to a trending discussion on domestic abuse. 

Even years later, the company hasn’t quite escaped the fallout from this, with the tweet still an autofill option for DiGiorno’s name. Similarly, SpaghettiOs’ bizarre 2013 tweet for Pearl Harbor Remembrance Day looks set to be a permanent part of the brand’s social presence – an embarrassing, costly, and utterly unnecessary mistake.

Handling Bad Reviews

No matter how good you are, you’re going to get bad reviews, and the way that social media works can make negative feedback hit a lot closer to home.

I’ve personally seen how demoralizing social media complaints can be. In a previous role, after a few minutes of unavoidable downtime one day, certain customers sent complaints for hours on end, often getting incredibly personal.

Being able to create some separation is vital here. There’s nothing to be gained by escalating the conversation, even if you’re directly insulted. Social media can often be cruel, but you’ve got to learn how to avoid taking it personally.

When to Go Private

You almost definitely don’t want to be dealing with complaints and service questions out in the open, particularly when sensitive data is involved, such as a client’s address and phone number. 

However, it’s not quite as simple as immediately taking any questions to the DMs – there’s occasionally a perfect reason to leave your responses and support out in the open. 

If you’re able to provide useful, direct support publicly, you might see some real benefits. People like knowing that they’re buying from someone with good support, and social media can be an effective way to demonstrate just how good yours is.

Of course, you’re not going to be able to answer everything in public – knowing when to ask a customer to message you privately is a crucial social skill.

Avoiding Canned Posts

While having some automation can help your social media management (I’ve seen great results with Facebook autoresponders, as an example), you don’t want to rely on bots for posting.

The fact is that pretty much no one likes dealing with marketing bots. Seeing an automated response to a tweet is almost always going to be frustrating, especially when the settings are poorly calibrated, resulting in irrelevant posts.

If you’re using a social autoresponder, make sure you keep a close watch on how it performs, and whether it’s actually helping your customers.

Overvaluing Engagement

With every social media channel providing a vast array of analytics, it’s tempting to think of social engagement as a key metric for your business. While engagement can be important, it’s very common to overvalue it – unless it leads to actual, real income, it often doesn’t really matter if you’ve picked up dozens of likes for a tweet.

That said, your social media shouldn’t be exclusively revenue-focused, or you’re not going to build any real audience. Balancing engaging content with revenue-driving posts can be complicated, but it’s a critical skill for unlocking the full potential of social media.

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