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Big brand social media mistakes your small business can learn from

By Janah Jackman - September 16, 2017

It’s easy to make mistakes on social media – it’s a very fast-paced business and a race to stay at the top of the news feeds.

But big brands are showing us that it’s more important than ever to take your time with your social media content and campaigns.

Big brands usually have thousands of followers, meaning that mistakes are detected quickly and can often spell disaster. This is good news for small businesses, because you can learn from these mistakes and make sure they don’t happen to you.

Here are some big brand slip-ups that went viral, and the lessons we can take away from them.

Don’t neglect your social media

One of the reasons that big brands get so many followers on social media is that consumers love to be able to communicate with a brand directly, especially when any problems arise.

The quicker you can resolve your customer’s issue, the better customer service they will feel they have received.

This makes the opposite true too – and when they don’t get any response at all? That’s reputation-damaging territory.

This is what happened back in 2012 when NatWest suffered a technical glitch which prevented their customers from being able to access their accounts.

Naturally, many customers took to social media to find out what was going on, but received no responses from the bank which appeared to be offline throughout the whole thing. As a result, they received major backlash.

One thing that can’t be avoided are technical glitches, but it’s how you handle them that is going to really matter to your customers. Understandably, you might be occupied trying to sort out whatever has gone wrong, but it’s important to remember your social media during these times too – it’s when your customers will need your support the most.

When customers aren’t happy with your service, social media gives them the platform to say whatever they want about your business.

So if you can respond or deal with an issue quickly enough, you can avoid a very embarrassing or even damaging situation.

Unfortunately, Odeon Cinemas were not quick enough to address an unhappy customer who left a negative review on their Facebook page. The post went viral and received almost 300,000 likes and 24,000 comments. This was back in 2012, and 5 years later it’s still receiving new comments.

Lesson learned: It only takes one negative event to do lasting damage to your brand, so always keep on top of your social media.

Handle mistakes appropriately

Because mistakes do happen sometimes. But it’s how you handle them that will leave a lasting impression with your audience.

Last year, British Airways accidentally shared a post on their Facebook page by their rivals, Virgin Atlantic.

This post was shared over 100,000 times and Virgin Atlantic were quick to capitalise on the attention – they responded with this:

When your business makes a mistake that goes viral, people are going to be waiting for you to address the situation. There’s nothing worse than going silent or deleting your account at a time like this. Consider the situation and the most appropriate response – in this case it was a light-hearted slip-up that caused no offence, so British Airways responded in an admirable way:

Lesson learned: This could have all been avoided if British Airways had done the following:

Double check everything

Once you click ‘post’ there’s no getting it back – it’s out there for good. Even if you delete it, by the time you realise you’ve slipped up, it’s already been screenshot and retweeted hundreds of times. If you want to avoid anything that could end up doing lasting damage to your brand, it’s important to double check everything you post before you post it.

Attention to detail is crucial when it comes to social media. LG France learned this the hard way back in 2014.

At the time, Apple customers were reporting a problem with the iPhone 6 Plus – it was bending in their pockets. LG France decided to make light of the situation to promote their own phone, sending out a Tweet that said theirs wouldn’t bend.

Unfortunately for them, they sent it from an iPhone. A fact which was displayed by Twitter and caught by many of their followers.

Speaking of Twitter…

The Twitter CEO, Anthony Noto, had his very own slip up when he accidently tweeted what appeared to be a direct message.

Social media is used by many businesses and brands, so understandably it can sometimes be tempting to post something without paying too much attention. You just want to get something out there quickly, to avoid getting lost in a sea of content. But an embarrassing mistake can set you back a long way, especially when you’re just starting out.

Lesson learned: taking a few extra moments to double check everything before you post could save you a huge amount of embarrassment in the long run – it’s worth it.

Choose your topics carefully

What’s worse than having people laughing at your business? Not much, except upsetting or offending your potential customers.

While it’s a commonly used, and often successful strategy to weigh in on trending topics, it’s very important to do your research before doing so and make sure you’ve picked an appropriate topic – especially if the goal of your post is to drive sales.

It probably wasn’t the best idea for American Apparel to use Hurricane Sandy as a tool to promote their sale. This post caused a lot of backlash for the brand – their followers saw it as exploitation and insensitive, with some even threatening to boycott the company.

What’s worse is that, despite the offence caused, they issued no apology at the time. Later, American Apparel chose to defend their actions.

While chiming in on a trending topic is a great way to gain some exposure for your brand, choosing your topic carefully is crucial if you want this strategy to work in your favour. And even so, you can’t please everyone – so if you accidently cause offence or upset, a sincere acknowledgement and apology should gain you back some forgiveness.

Lesson learned: if you do want to get involved in a sensitive topic, it may not be a good idea to try and flog a sale.

Anticipate negativity

There are millions of people with access to the internet, and not all of them are going to be well behaved!

With a larger campaign, it’s important to consider all possible outcomes, positive and negative – not everyone will have the same vision as your brand.

An example we can learn from is a Walkers Crisp campaign that went wrong recently. Twitter users were encouraged to tweet photos of themselves that would be uploaded to the Walkers Twitter account, in a photo frame with Gary Lineker holding it up.

Sounds like a great idea – what could have gone wrong?

Well, people began uploading photos of famous criminals to the feed, causing widespread offence and resulting in the termination of the campaign.

Encouraging interactivity with your followers is great for a brand. It’s exciting for your audience and helps them to feel more connected with you. But the bigger your campaign is, the more thought you should put into all the different directions things can go.

Lesson learned: As a small business, you may think you’re less likely to experience something on this scale. But it’s important to remember that anything can go viral online, regardless of how many followers you have or how well-known your brand is.

Wrapping up

When your business reputation is on the line, you can’t afford to make too many mistakes – especially when they can be avoided by paying a little extra attention to the details.

Learn from the mistakes of the big brands, so your small business doesn’t end up on a list like this!