Social media is extremely valuable for connecting businesses with consumers, but what hidden risks does it pose? While social media is often great for creating positive interactions with potential customers, it can also amplify slip-ups by businesses, ruining brand reputation. The internet has a long memory, so viral PR incidents can haunt businesses for years if they are not careful.

It is possible for you to make a positive impact on social media, though, and use it to build a welcoming and loyal community around your brand. Social media can seem intimidating to navigate, especially in the 2020s when virtually everyone is online, spending hours on social media every day. You can make sure your business stays on the right track by avoiding these five common risks for businesses on social media platforms.

1. Insulting or Making Fun of People

One of the most common risks businesses take when posting on social media is attempting to appear humorous by insulting or “roasting” other social media users. The Wendy’s Twitter account is famous for doing this. However, businesses should proceed with caution because this approach to comedic social posts can quickly backfire. For most businesses, it is not worth the risk.

A joke that some users may find funny could be extremely offensive to others and alienate customers, who won’t enjoy being ridiculed online. It is important to remember that strategies like those used by Wendy’s are challenging to pull off, with success dependent on customer expectations more than anything else. There are other ways of creating funny content on social media that have less risk of being misinterpreted by your audience, such as appropriately captioned memes.

2. Getting Involved in Controversy

In the 2020s, it may seem critical to join the dialogue on social media when controversial events occur. This can be a slippery slope, though, and one that businesses will have to navigate carefully. Commenting on controversial issues will almost always alienate some customers, even if it strengthens brand loyalty with others.

This is especially important to remember since social media platforms may only promote one side of the story to many users. For example, Facebook was criticized for its use of psychometrics for political targeting during the 2016 election, which led to dramatically polarizing differences in users’ news and post feeds.

For some businesses, the risks are worth it when it comes to issues that a business views as crucial to its values or brand. Sharing opinions or taking sides on behalf of your business on every controversial event, figure, or movement that comes up is unwise, though. It is critical to choose your battles and fight them with caution.

If you do feel your business should take a stance on an issue on social media, make sure your post is respectful of those on all sides of the issue and avoid incendiary language. Businesses have polarized their customers and been boycotted online for becoming too involved in politics and current events. For example, the once-popular bedding company My Pillow is facing declining sales and dwindling partnerships after the company’s founder began spreading controversial messages on social media.

3. Insensitive or Ambiguous Wording

Arguably the most commonly encountered risk for businesses on social media is simply using the wrong wording. A tweet or Facebook post that was meant to be entirely harmless can come across as offensive, insensitive, or inappropriate if the wording is not double-checked.

One example of this is a tweet posted by Adidas in 2017, which congratulated runners in the Boston Marathon for “surviving.” The insensitive tweet faced instant criticism online and went viral, eventually leading to a formal apology from Adidas. Had Adidas said “finishing” or “completing” the Boston Marathon rather than “surviving” it, they might have avoided the backlash.

There are also instances where businesses post content that is meant to be humorous but crosses a line in terms of content appropriateness or timing. For example, pastry company Cinnabon faced scrutiny on Twitter in 2016 for posting an insensitive cinnamon bun-related joke about famed “Star Wars” actress Carrie Fisher. At that time Fisher had recently passed away. If Fisher had still been alive when the tweet was posted, it might not have received much criticism, but it was received as insensitive and disrespectful to the late actress, especially for fans who were still grieving her loss.

4. Allowing Unnecessary Account Access

While content is what creates trouble for businesses on social media, many instances of inappropriate or inflammatory content are caused by a social media team member slipping up. Sometimes this is an embarrassing matter of an employee forgetting to log out of the corporate social media account and into their personal account before posting. Other times, employees with the corporate account login credentials abuse the business’s platform to share content or opinions that can be insulting, triggering, or inappropriate.

There are also cases of employee risks going unchecked that leak or go viral somehow and create backlash for the business the employee in question worked for.

The solution to this issue comes down to keeping a close eye on who has the login information for your business’s social media accounts. Limit login access to only individuals who are absolutely necessary and prohibit them from sharing their login credentials. Not only will this reduce the risk of employees posting unfiltered content, but it will also increase the overall security of your account. It may be tempting to allow more people access to the business accounts in order to increase productivity, but corporate social media blunders of the past prove that it is not worth the risk.

5. Inappropriate or Triggering Photos

A common theme among corporate pitfalls on social media is poorly designed comedy. Whether it is a single post or a whole marketing campaign, businesses face a serious risk of backlash on social media for sharing content that isn’t as funny as advertisers may think.

One example of this is a series of ads posted online by Pepsi’s Swedish branch in 2013. The photos went viral on social media for showing a famous soccer player as a voodoo doll in distressing circumstances. The player in question, superstar Christiano Ronaldo, took serious offense to the posts and rallied fans to create Pepsi boycott groups hundreds of thousands strong all around the world.

It is important to remember when posting any content on social media that businesses are held to a higher standard of decency than individuals. Consumers have expectations for the behavior that businesses display on social media since businesses are trying to create connections that generate leads and help grow their brands. As a result, you have to be extremely careful about what you post, especially when it comes to humorous content.

Pepsi’s Ronaldo posts may have indeed been funny to people who do not like Christiano Ronaldo, but the negative response from those who did like the soccer player was much more impactful. As a general rule of thumb, any content that is violent, depicts harm, contains explicit language or imagery, or may be otherwise triggering to users should not be posted, even if it is intended comedically.

Using Social Media for Good

Social media is a powerful platform for businesses, allowing you to spread your message around the whole world with only your phone and an internet connection. While some businesses may run into trouble for misusing the microphone that social media provides, others succeed in forging genuine connections with their audience online. Social media is a place for you to meet consumers where they are and share content that energizes, motivates, and inspires them.

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