Social Media marketing can be a tricky business. In a world where businesses are expected to be personable and funny on social media sites, countless businesses are forced to try and be playful without being offensive or tasteless. For a larger organization, a social media gaffe might spark some negative publicity, but that flak is nothing that a well-branded big business can’t push through. Eventually that mistake will have vanished from the public eye.

But you can’t say the same thing for a smaller business making the same mistake. That’s why it’s so important to forgo being a social media trailblazer and carefully watch your peers. After all, learning from your own mistakes is effective but costly. Learning from another’s online marketing mistakes can be just as effective, and comes without the cost.


American Airlines Automation

In the first quarter of 2013, American Airlines began getting flak from the Twittersphere for responding to every customer with a form-letter tweet that read “Thanks for your support! We look forward to a bright future as the #newAmerican.” This automation mixed with Twitter’s inherent social elements like oil and water, and it created a firestorm of negative feedback. Bank of America suffered a similar failure later, in July, when several of their own Tweets were found to be automated .

The takeaway here is that individuality and personability are critical elements in any social media marketing campaign. Anything that drives away the perception that your brand is personable is a stain on your page. At best you drive away customers who try to engage with you, at worst you offend those who do interact with your page.


Burger King Hacked

A few months back, an Internet hacker posing as McDonald’s managed to gain access to Burger King’s Twitter account, and began posting strange obscenities for more than an hour. Twitter suspended the account, Burger King apologized, and life goes on for Burger King. But that debacle does raise some serious questions about social media security. If one of the world’s largest fast food chains can be hacked, who is above security concerns?

It’s not terribly difficult to take your social network password safety seriously. Usually an account can be protected by keeping in mind all conventional password wisdom. There are only three things that are important to add: Change your passwords often, restrict access among your staff, and be very careful about which apps you allow account access.


Inappropriate Timing and Sensitivity

Recently Epicurious, one of the Internet’s most popular cooking sites, seemed to think they could help their Twitter readers overcome the tragedy of the Boston Marathon bombing and promote a recipe at the same time. Tweeting “In honor of Boston and New England, may we suggest: whole-grain cranberry scones!” and another tweet in a similar vein, suffice it to say the response from the community at large was not positive.

Brands attempting to exploit a tragedy almost inevitably have it explode in their face as a consequence. Only a few months back, in December, SpaghettiO’s penned a Pearl Harbor tweet that included a photo of a smiling mascot holding an American flag. Many people felt this was trivializing the event and callous to attempt to capitalize on, and SpaghettiO’s ultimately deleted the tweet and issued an apology.

The lesson here is that unless you have compelling reason to ignore this advice, you should steer clear of sensitive topical issues, because the same forces that make social media marketing so effective and powerful also make social media a very dangerous place to be even somewhat offensive.

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