Over the last decade businesses of all sizes have flocked to social media platforms such as Facebook, Instagram and Twitter to increase their public profile and promote a myriad of goods and services. Amongst this relatively recent flood of commercial social media users are many small business operators attempting to navigate the potentially choppy seas of online platforms, clamouring to find a way to distinguish themselves from the competition, increase their followers, and ultimately improve sales, meanwhile avoiding criticism or potentially damaging social media campaigns. As most business owners are acutely aware, injudicious use of social media can seriously damage a company’s reputation and prove quite costly. There is no doubt that while there are many potential benefits of using social media to promote your business, there are also significant pitfalls to avoid.
At TTP we’ve brainstormed a few ideas to help guide you through the social media minefield. These are based on our own observations and best practices:
1. Make posts relevant, useful and sparing in quantity
Where possible, post material that is directly relevant to your business and the industry you work in. This will help you to establish your own brand and to gain loyal followers. Also make your posts useful in some way: for example, try to motivate, amuse, or provide informative content to potential customers and business contacts. In particular, avoid bombarding people with a sea of unnecessary or repetitive material as this appears unprofessional.
2. Double-check appropriate terminology, especially for disadvantaged groups in society
When making reference to disadvantaged groups, ensure that you use the correct descriptive language for your region, as old-fashioned or incorrect labels can cause offence. For instance, “Deaf”, “deaf”, “hard of hearing” and “hearing impairment” are examples of terminology used in Australia when referring to a person who is unable to hear sound, however each of these refers to specific circumstances and correct usage should be checked before posting to social media. Another commonly misused term is “schizophrenic”, often erroneously used to describe someone with a “split personality”. This term has a completely different meaning and is considered offensive by those suffering from schizophrenia.
3. Don’t be a keyboard warrior
Display respect towards others at all times, being mindful of sensitivities that may exist within your audience. This is particularly relevant when referring to Australia’s ANZACS, indigenous persons, and other cultural groups. Avoid causing offence with ethnic slurs, misguided humour or discriminatory remarks.
It is worth noting here that not only is the use of the word ANZAC protected by Australian law (permission from the Minister for Veterans’ Affairs is required to use it in a commercial context), your organisation may be seen as engaging in cheap commercialism if you misappropriate the term (or related images) for commercial benefit. Such behaviour could result in serious adverse consequences on social media and elsewhere.
4. Steer clear of political, religious or social commentary
Avoid posting personal opinions about politics, religion or social issues – especially regarding sensitive topics such as same-sex marriage. These are polarising subjects that may upset or alienate followers and customers. In the worst case, a serious faux pas in this area could lead to a public relations disaster and other devastating outcomes for your business. TTP adheres to strict ethical guidelines in this regard, ensuring respect for all others on social media.
5. Be scrupulously honest and accurate
Research material such as “Did you know?” facts before posting them, as many myths and falsehoods are perpetuated and shared online, sometimes on multiple websites. Likewise, avoid making sensational or misleading claims about your business, as dishonesty will come back to haunt you.
6. Make sure that your posts are typographically correct
Ensure that the spelling, grammar and punctuation in any text you are posting is correct, as typos are unprofessional, particularly if your business specialises in skills such as writing, blogging, social media or transcription. At TTP we are incredibly careful with this!
7. Be responsive to your audience
It is polite to acknowledge any comments on social media posts in a respectful and timely manner. By responding quickly people can see that your business is active, engaged, efficient, and that it values feedback. From this people are likely to extrapolate that your organisation cares about its customers and provides great service.
There are many things that you can do to avoid irritating your followers, stepping on a land mine or hurling an unintentional social media grenade. These include making posts relevant, useful and sparing in quantity; ensuring the use of appropriate terminology when referring to sensitive groups in society; avoiding political, social or religious commentary; being honest and accurate; and responding to your audience in a timely fashion. The core tenet in all of these points is remembering to show other social media users consideration and respect. By showing respect to others you are likely to develop mutually beneficial online relationships, a loyal group of followers, and ultimately grow your business with the help of social media!