Twidiots, Pinheads and Facebook Fools: Protecting Your Brand on Social Media

The title of this article says it all—”social” and “media.” Are you prepared to use both to your best advantage? Do you know how to control both? What do you do when both go haywire beyond your control? Whether you handle your own social media outreach or trust it to someone else, you need to know what is said for you, about you and to you. One slip and negativity about you and your brand is there for all to see forever!

Years ago, when I had a position as the gatekeeper of an iconic magazine, it was my unpleasant task of turning down people whose dream was to work for the magazine. Being in the position of having to dash hopes for what was the good of the brand, which also included wrangling freelancers and having to let some go when they couldn’t deliver on time or what was asked of them made me the target of hatred and spite. No matter how nice I was about it, when I would say, “I’m sorry but you just don’t fit our needs right now but please keep in touch,” which was the generic turn-down for the publishing industry, people no doubt heard me cursing and ripping out their hearts. For that, my name was trashed in chat rooms across the net.

People Remember the Worst

Luckily, many years later, nobody seems to remember the passing insults and labels attached to me as most, if not all of those chart rooms were killed by technological advances and my name became mine to ruin across the internet. Quite a relief! Still, for several years after leaving that position, I would have to answer a question here or there about did I say this or that or really kick puppies, etc. I felt out of control about so many lies others so callously place on the web due to their own insecurities.

If you have a personal Facebook page and were not in a coma for the past few months, chances are you saw or were part of a discussion or flame war about the presidential candidates. You probably had a few open-palm-to-forehead moments at what other people said. Well, when your time in the spotlight comes, what will you do to reverse the damage? When it was my turn, I ignored what was being said and hoped my real reputation would cancel out the complaints as hot air from a few idiots. That was about a dozen years ago. Today there are better and more immediate ways needed to keep a clean web reputation.

Putting Yourself in Harm’s Way

When you post an opinion, either through an article, a Facebook post, a Pinterest post or a tweet, you invite others to comment and/or reply. Look at the example of Donald Trump’s election night tweets. His opinion’s brought damage to his reputation that will NEVER be forgotten and may have him explaining himself to the Secret Service on charges of inciting treason. While many think it was solely based on self-promotion, he chose the wrong route to get people talking about him and the damage is beyond control. Trump’s only choice is to fade into the background and wait for someone else to create a new scandal or to simply apologize and blame a chemical imbalance. The negativity, political pronouncements and fighting between democrats and republicans, liberals and conservatives, blacks, Latinos and whites, rich and poor will be felt and resented for years. No one knows how or if it will go away and that will hurt the business of this nation.

Several company CEOs have joined the fray by announcing firings, layoffs and hiring freezes due to the reelection of President Obama. It’s too early for them to comment about the backlash of their public announcements and the effect their businesses will feel. When the CEO of Chick-fil-A let his feelings on gay marriage known to the public, business for the chain took a reported income nose dive as well as receiving opposition from the mayors of Boston and Chicago to the building of new restaurants in those cities (although even THOSE response brought a backlash). It wasn’t long before he softened his stance to the public. Naturally, the businesses who stepped up in support of LGBT rights, such as Target and Amazon, took hits as well from those who support Chick-fil-A’s position.

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The lesson learned is that sensitive topics that deal with sex, politics or religion has no place outside your own mind, in public. Free speech is a right but not a license to harm others and certainly not a right you want to exercise without considering the ramifications. Every word, every sentence and every thought will have a reaction. Business is, after all, business.

Letting Someone Else Do Your Talking

As too many businesses have found, having someone else do their social media outreach, unchecked, has brought similar problems of an angry public. In the Complex magazine article, ‘Bad Business: The 8 Worst Corporate Twitter Fails,’ there are some examples you might not think were breaking Twitter protocol. For instance:

When UK-based furniture store, Habitat, joined Twitter, it thought it unlocked the secret to getting its tweets in front of as many eyes as possible. Too bad all it did was find a new way to spam the Twitterverse. How? With hastag abuse. For a short period of time every tweet that came from the HabitatUK account contained one of the day’s top-searched, or trending hashtags that had nothing to do with the message of the tweet, placing the company’s tweets high in Twitter’s search results. All that resulted in was people crying foul and Habitat changing its ways.

Seemingly apropos of nothing, a Vodafone UK employee tasked with handling the telecommunication company’s Twitter account let loose an attack on homosexuals. The tweet was immediately removed and the employee, who tweeted, ‘VodafoneUK is fed up of dirty homo’s and is going after beaver’ on the company Twitter account, was fired.

Simultaneously managing two Twitter accounts could have dire consequences. Case in point: Instead of Tweeting from her personal account, American Red Cross worker Gloria Huang told the nation’s premier humanitarian organization’s 400,000 followers that she was about to get twistedly drunk with a friend. It was eventually taken down.

You know what’s not funny? Revolution. While people in Cairo were protesting and risking their lives for their freedom, Kenneth Cole decided to not only use the heavily searched #Cairo hashtag to prop up his results standings, but made light of the uprising with an off-colored joke by tweeting, ‘Millions are in uproar in #Cairo. Rumor has it they heard our new spring collection is in now available online.’ He later apologized for not being funny.

An employee of New Media Strategies, the company that handles Chrysler’s social media efforts, saw fit to voice his opinion of D-Town’s drivers to all of Chrysler’s followers by tweeting, ‘I find it Ironic that Detroit is known as the #motorcity and yet no one here knows how to fucking drive.’ Chrysler immediately had the “social media expert” fired and issued an apology.

While the company looked for someone to manage its Twitter account full time, Marc Jacobs CEO, Robert Duffy, thought it wise to put an intern in charge and solicit resumes. When the job proved too difficult the intern cracked and with three tweets created a harmful message:

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‘You guys and gals have no idea how difficult Robert is. I am only an intern. My last day is tomorrow. I wouldn’t be tweeting this if not! Good luck! I pray for you all. If you get the job! I’m out of here. See ya! Don’t want to be ya! Roberts a tyrant! Seriously! He is tough! I can call him out! I’m out! Won’t work in this town again! I know that! Learned a lot. But, I don’t have the energy for what is expected! Yea, walk in my MJ shoes! Don’t judge me! I’m alone in this office having to try and entertain you all. This isn’t easy. I have tried. Done!’

A day after Amy Winehouse’s tragic, untimely passing, Microsoft’s UK PR team thought it’d be a good idea to encourage fans of the British superstar to pay tribute by going to its Zune store and buying her last album. The body wasn’t even cold!

An intern in charge of using social media outreach? Unfortunately, this is not the only example of such a foolish decision. A financial institution got into some hot water when two tweets appeared seconds apart with different loan rates:

‘Our rates come with a guarantee – lock this in for the next 30 days, 4.9%…’

‘We have great loan rates, really low, 5.3%.’

The reason this happened is because two people were tweeting remotely on the same account without talking to each other.

Some of the examples above just can’t be helped when an employee goes off their medication or just goes insane during the workday. Then again, some businesses, aside from feeling interns can handle all social media outreach, don’t understand the medium and hire Twidiots.

Personal Reputation

Experts say LinkedIn is a great way to increase the power of your personal brand. Post links to gain attention, answer questions to establish a reputation of being an expert in your field/industry and join groups to network and further establish professional reputation and connections. It never ceases to amaze me who people abuse the medium or embarrass themselves in front of peers on these groups. I often cite the words of the late Jackie Gleason (some say it was actually Walter Winchell), “be nice to those you meet on the way up, because they are the same folks you’ll meet on the way down.”

When eBay, for instance, announced its rebranding and showed its new logo, graphic design message boards on design groups were overactive with opinions on the logo design. Who were these people and were their opinions valid? Were they informed about the inner process that came up with the final solution? Were they just blathering rants of jealousy and bravado? From a group of professionals that are so adamant against design-by-committee, they sure formed their own committee to trash the design and the design firm that provided the work. I all of this internet declarations, what were they telling their peers about their own temperament and professionalism? Did they raise others’ opinions about their own capabilities through these critiques or did they seem mean spirited and invite critiques on their own work via links to their own portfolios, acting only to lower opinions about their professional standing?

When you flame someone, make false statements, bogus claims, show unwarranted bravado or put forth your opinion when it’s not appropriate, you are creating a reputation among peers you probably don’t want. As with social media managers who go insane in mid-tweet or those who decided I should be punished for not hiring them or demanding they actually meet deadlines, some people are just mean. Here’s an article that has some vile examples of personal attacks that affected people’s reputation and business. While the article recommends a professional reputation repair firm and that might be necessary for those who aren’t savvy about social media, there are other remedies.

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The biggest mistake people make is ignoring their online reputation. Use several search engines and enter in your name (use several spellings, just use your first initial with your last name, any nicknames, etc.). Read everything! Do this regularly. If you find any really potentially harmful information about yourself that should be immediately removed, contact the owner of the site. If you do not get a response, a support team from the search engine should be able to help you have the harmful content removed.

Everyone agrees that negative comments should be addressed immediately. It’s best to keep a level head and answer/query why the person has posted something negative, how you can satisfy them (if they are a dissatisfied customer) or appear sympathetic to their view but correct any false facts or accusations calmly and in a conversational tone. In most cases, they will not respond but anyone who reads the thread will admire you for your stance and give little or no credence to the negative comment.

Nothing is private! Friends sometimes tag you in a photo with which you’d rather not be associated, someone mentions you in a tweet, etc. You can control what you make available through common sense… albeit in rare quantities these days. If a friend posts or tags something inappropriate, simply ask them to remove it.

Sometimes you can’t make the negative things disappear completely but you can always try to make it appear lower in search results where people are less likely to see it. ‘If you can get stuff that you want people to see to outperform the stuff you don’t want them to see, you’ll be able to reduce the amount of harm that that negative or embarrassing content can do to your reputation,’ says Google’s guide to protecting your personal information. Google and other search engines favor newer content, so it helps if this content is produced on a regular basis (for example: blog posts, Twitter and Facebook updates, press releases).

I had a boss who told me when I was hired that no matter what, apologize, even if you weren’t wrong. He knew this because he was always wrong and always apologizing for his actions. Sometimes you’re responsible for the mistake. A central tenet of crisis communications is to apologize as quickly as possible, so you don’t inflame the public or your bosses by appearing clueless or defiant. My boss held the belief that even if you’re not responsible for a mistake, it will placate people if you apologize. Learning to swallow your own pride is hard but necessary and usually before you open your mouth in the first place.

When You Can Rest

The answer is; never. Vigilance is now part of social media and social media is part of business. Whether you are a huge corporation, a small store or a freelancer/service provider, you need to be aware of your reputation. Part of marketing via social media is to constantly check what you are putting out there and how it is being received. An important part of social media, as mentioned in the first sentence of this article, is to BE social and that includes the general rules of manners and decorum. The practice of hiding behind the anonymity of a keyboard and screen name is for trolls and gamers. In business, transparency and professional demeanor is the utmost. Sometimes you just have to work really hard to make sure everyone is on board with the same dedication.

Images ©GL Stock Images

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