Avoid and Recover From These Social Media Faux Pas

Misspellings, inconsistent posting, and embarrassing mix-ups are mistakes that could land you in the digital marketing doghouse.

Not all social media faux pas are created equally. Some marketing crimes represent a creative misstep. Others are the product of under-thinking, overthinking – or not thinking at all. Social media can be a boon for businesses and organizations of all sizes; creating a platform to connect with customers and grow recognition. But social media also comes with risks. Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook each operate a little differently, but all are public forums that call for quick reactions and fast action. In other words, the stage is set to make a mistake!

Hopefully, careful planning and experience can help seasoned marketers avoid issues. After all, when you know how things might go wrong, you can formulate a plan to avoid walking down the wrong path. Get to know common social media faux pas and learn how to recover from making an online whoopsie.

Forgetting the Basics

In life and online, there’s a scale for bad behavior. For example, let’s say you’ve been invited to a housewarming party. Are you the guest that behaves badly, adequately, or checks all the etiquette boxes? Similarly, there are also levels of meeting (or not meeting) social expectations – and each also depends on the expectations attached to the party or platform. Consider the basic actions: Did you RSVP in time? Did you bring a gift for the host? Then consider the more unique situations: Did you bring your dog unprompted and the family has allergies? Did the invite say it was a formal sit-down dinner and you’re in a bathing suit on the way home from the pool?

Even though mess-ups can be memorable, sometimes they don’t come from a place of flagrant error. Sometimes, messing up is as simple as ignoring an invitation or forgetting to say “thank you” as you leave a party. It’s not that bad, but it’s also not A-plus-plus behavior. Online, a misstep could fall into one of these lower categories.

A social media faux pas could arise when your brand forgets the basics. Here are three examples:

  • Inconsistent and careless posting
  • Ignoring messages and replies
  • Being too promotional – or seeming to hide from attention
Image of person giving thumbs down against colorful red background

These social media faux pas go back to social media management 101. Engage with your audience regularly, monitor for replies and messages, and understand the social contract your brand is signing by being part of a platform. Your audience wants to hear from you, engage with you, and expects appropriate and relevant content. Sometimes, just showing up is the most important step. Understandably, it can be really hard! Make a content calendar to master your regular messages, and establish a routine of checking in.  

Alienating Your Audience

When your social media faux pas goes from “whoops” to “yikes” there’s a little more trouble brewing. Think about when you’ve seen a cringeworthy message on social media. Perhaps the post was simply outrageous. It could have capitalized on a serious matter in the wrong way, or been grossly inappropriate for the intended audience. Or maybe it was simply tone deaf. Is your audience experiencing a crisis? If so, it’s the wrong moment to say “look at me!” Remember, social media is about relationships and conversations. So, part of that includes taking time to be quiet, listen to others, and be aware of needs.

Another way to alienate your audience is by being too vocal. Just as seeming disconnected from current events can come off poorly, so can being way too involved. Don’t engage haters on your platforms and blow up their content. Instead, have a social media action plan so that your entire team and audience knows how trolls are dealt with.

Committed a Social Media Faux Pas?

The thing you didn’t want to happen has happened. Here’s what to do when your brand has inadvertently committed a social media faux pas. Don’t ignore it, don’t run away, and don’t get defensive. Do understand how it came to happen internally. Learn from the mistake and take steps to avoid it happening in the future. Own up to it, Consider exactly what went wrong and how it affected your audience.

When your brand commits a social media faux pas, there is no prescribed message to share. Errors happen, but the level of the mistake, the brand, and the audience will dictate the next steps. Sometimes, a social media faux pas – like posting a personal message meant for a private account to a public brand account – can come off as charming or funny. Like, when a social media editor shared a story about their infant daughter in an NPR tweet. The solution? Quickly post an edit to recognize and correct the mistake. The unexpected consequence? The audience didn’t mind. In fact, the incident went viral and created lighthearted conversation.

However, it’s important to recognize that may have happened because the person was calm and professional under pressure. It was a human mistake, and owned up to swiftly. This reaction cannot always be guaranteed. And some mistakes are much larger. In such cases, an official statement and time to reflect are needed. The right reply – and saying sorry – can go a long way to earn back the audience’s trust and move forward.

Why Mistakes Matter

Like, share, love, comment. Interactions are central to social media. This can be great, but it also really applies the pressure. Brands want to be liked, loved, and laughed with (not at!). They want to be part of the moment and not forgotten or left behind. But as exciting as the social media world can be, it still involves real people, real events, and real time.

While social media faux pas happen in the virtual world, a mistake can leave anyone red-faced and feeling awful. Mistakes remind us that we are human, that we have more work to do, that we need to rely on each other for creative ideas and gut checks. When brands demonstrate how they perform under pressure, and how they recover from a misstep, they can remind their audience of their authenticity and ultimately improve.