Conversing with your partners, prospects and customers via social media is an effective way to build relationships, gain exposure and position yourself and your company as an expert in your industry. Not to mention that it’s FREE! So what’s the catch? And the catch is that you have a very little room for mistake.

Social media allows you to carefully craft (and even schedule) your messages and responses, so when you post something inappropriate, you can’t just say you didn’t mean it. Yes, you have an option to delete your posts, but if you don’t act immediately your mishap won’t go unnoticed.

It’s not the reason to get scared and drop whatever you are doing on social media. Just be careful and mindful of other people’s feelings. Think before you post! And to make it easier, I put together a cheat-sheet of what not to do on social media.

Don’t tie your name to negative news

It helps you gain more visibility when you post about hot topics and use trending hashtags, but be careful what you put your name under. You want your business to be associated with positive things like innovation or success, rather than wars, conflicts and disasters. Kenneth Cole (KC) learned its lesson the hard way.

Kenneth Cole tweetThis inconsiderate tweet outraged many people and had the company apologizing for a while. Not only it conveys that KC merchandise is more important than protests in Egypt, but it also implies that the company is taking the situation lightly. KC came across as a “capitalist pig,” because all those “in uproar in Cairo” neither were interested in KC’s spring collection nor could afford it. Drawing parallels between your business and a military or social conflict is never a good idea.

Don’t attempt to capitalize on disasters

This piece of advice is quite similar to the previous one. However, unlike Kenneth Cole who used poor judgement while hijacking a popular hashtag, American Apparel and GAP actually used natural disaster (Hurricane Sandy) to try and get more business. (Or to compensate for the business they lost due to temporary store closures, as AA later explained).

No matter how good your intentions are, asking people to shop during a life-threatening storm is extremely insensitive and is guaranteed to cause negative feedback. Moreover, many people lost power, so online shopping was definitely out of the question. Sometimes, you just have to let that sale go.

hurricane sandy sale













Don’t joke about serious matters

The KC example could illustrate this point as well, but KC didn’t mean their tweet to sound like a joke. Comedian Gilbert Gottfried, on the other hand, deliberately posted jokes about tsunami in Japan.

A tweet from Gilbert Gottfried about an earthquake







Needless to say, many people didn’t find Gottfried funny including Aflac that fired him as their voice-over for the company’s duck mascot.  Make sure whoever is writing your company’s blog and managing its social media accounts has a sense of “appropriateness.” If you have outside company representatives, spokespeople or just a large number of employees who are active on social media, consider integrating a social media policy.

Don’t take sides

It is an easy way out, but if you are new to social media or unsure how to position your business or word your message, just don’t take sides when you don’t have to. What I mean by taking sides is expressing your opinion on a controversial topic. People always have strong opinions about such debates as pro-life/pro-choice, occupy Wall St., presidential elections, etc. If you pick a side in an argument, you will inevitably become a target for people who don’t share your point of view. Avoid commenting on issues that have to do with religion, politics, gender, social movements and race, because someone will eventually get offended by what you said.

Don’t mix business and private life

There are two parts to this point. First of all, don’t accidentally post anything private on your official business profile. It happened before and it will happen again, hopefully not to you. Be especially cautious if you are experimenting with multiple social media managing tools, because it’s very easy to press the wrong button, especially on a mobile device. KitchenAid has recently experienced the consequences of having an irresponsible member on their Twitter team. The “Obama grandma” tweet caused quite a disturbance in Twittersphere.

kitchenaid obama tweet










Second of all, the bigger your business, the less private your social media life is. Things you share through your personal profile positively or negatively reflect not only on you, but on your business as well. This certainly didn’t cross the mind of GoDaddy’s CEO when he tweeted a link to a video of him shooting an elephant. This move made him a target for animal rights defenders and allowed competitors to capitalize on GoDaddy’s bad PR.

Don’t post if you are not sure

When in doubt – throw it out: also true for social media. If you suspect someone might get offended by what you say, then say something else that will at least appeal to the majority of your audience. Another important point is to get your facts straight before you post.

Ashton Kutcher's tweetDon’t make Ashton Kutcher’s mistake by stating an opinion not supported by facts or preliminary research. Kutcher confessed he was not up to date on the Penn State scandal when he tweeted in support of Joe Paterno.



Unless igniting controversy and upsetting people is part of your social media strategy, follow the above rules and they should keep you out of trouble. In case you still post something inappropriate, delete it as soon as possible. It is very easy for any internet user to document your mistake in the world where every keyboard is equipped with a PrintScreen button. Be mindful of your audience when you post updates, and remember that it takes just one offended person to affect your business’s reputation and potentially sales.