What do Kenneth Cole, CNN’s Roland Martin, Ashton Kutcher and Greek triple jumper Paraskevi Papachristou have in common? All found themselves backpedaling following controversial remarks made on Twitter. In recent years, the social media channel has become an increasingly valuable tool for communication, powerful enough to help spur uprisings in the Middle East that have toppled governments. But when used carelessly, those 140 characters or less can seriously damage a reputation.
It’s a lesson some Olympic athletes have learned the hard way. Last month, the Hellenic Olympic Committee banned Papachristou from participating in the games for posting an offensive comment about African immigrants on Twitter. And after his team lost to South Korea, Swiss soccer player Michel Morganella came under fire for his racist tweets targeting South Koreans. These types of social media gaffes are not limited to just athletes and celebrities. Earlier this year, Starbucks apologized for a tweet that asked the coffee giant’s Irish followers what makes them “proud to be British.” Oops. And when Twitter user @theconnor was offered a job at Cisco, she immediately posted this gem: “Cisco just offered me a job! Now I have to weigh the utility of a fatty paycheck against the daily commute to San Jose and hating the work.” That choice was made for her when a company representative saw the tweet and the job offer was pulled.
With more than 140 million active users and an average of 340 million tweets each day, Twitter has begun to play a key role in shaping company marketing strategies and providing a channel for businesses to interact with and receive feedback from their targets. At the same time, Twitter has taken a toll on some corporations who struggled to recover from tweet-related mishaps.
Here are a few things to keep in mind as you’re pulling together a Twitter strategy for your business:
- Follow Twitter etiquette. As my colleague pointed out in a previous post, it’s important to be considerate, thank someone if you feel like you ought to thank them, engage followers in a conversation, but – most importantly – tweet them the way you want to be tweeted.
- Mix it up. Don’t just plug your company or product’s services. Contribute to the online conversation and tweet quality content that followers would want to read and share. After all, simple, thoughtful interaction is much more effective than an aggressive hunt for compliments and conversation.
- Personalize the page. When used correctly, Twitter can help build relationships with a broad audience. This type of connection is more possible if you personalize the page with your own photo, bio or company logo.
- Don’t court controversy. Avoid hot-button topics such as politics, religion and race. There is a time and a place to discuss these types of issues, and it’s not on a company’s social media feed.
- Own up to your mistakes. If you do tweet something offensive or erroneous, respond quickly and accept responsibility. Issue an apology if needed, and connect with those affected. When an American Red Cross employee accidentally tweeted a beer-related post to the charity’s Twitter account last year, rather than to her personal account, it could have proved problematic until Red Cross responded with enough humor to inspire a slew of web donations. A timely tweet may not solve your crisis, but it can help minimize the damage.
Remember, just like the old advice “think before you speak,” you should also think before you tweet. The wide reach of Twitter can prove extremely beneficial – or extremely devastating – to business. Whether you’re trying to stir the pot or just be funny, sarcasm and humor isn’t always apparent on social media channels. One insensitive remark could wreak havoc on your bottom line, so take the appropriate steps to avoid controversy and protect your online reputation.