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7 Tips to avoid Social Media Controversies

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The current storm over the tweet from Justine Sacco and the subsequent backlash spurs me to recap advice I give companies and organizations when speaking about social media marketing and online communication strategy. My advice here is not directly related to the current topic of controversy and I hope these simple check list will help all of us who work in the marketing and communications arena.

7 Tips to consider while using social media while working for a business

1) Don’t be flippant: If you are a business or work for a business, humor is always good in your communications but it has to be something that everyone will find humorous. Avoid exclusionary humor or disrespectful tweets.

2) Think before you tweet : As you are composing your tweet if for any reason you doubt the appropriateness of a tweet, don’t tweet it.

3) Avoid being snarky: We love criticizing, but remember this is an open public media where the reach of your update could be huge. People follow you for the value you offer in terms of topical knowledge, expertise or adventures. Snarkiness doesn't buy you good will and is usually not very useful either.

4) Second Set of Eyes: Especially if you are working for a brand, always see if you can run something crucial by a colleague or team member. I have had friends give me opinions on tweet drafts especially when I felt I wanted to convey an accurate message. 140 characters are hardly enough to convey the spirit. Use a blog to explain issues.

5) People in glass houses should not throw stones: If you are working for a brand I would caution against capitalizing on another brand’s misery. There may come a day when you may be in the same situation and what you said may come back to haunt you.

6) Keep your work and personal tweets stream clean: Despite any disclaimers you have on your social media accounts it is always better to remember that your clients and employers may be reading your updates. If a client is in a controversy that is not even remotely connected with your business, I would be careful on approaching it. Do the same thing you would do if you were meeting the client face to face. How would you ask them or comment in real life about their controversy. Chances are you will empathize or ignore it totally and that should be applicable to your online conversations as well.

7) Always be civil even in disagreement: Recently the Head of the Montgomery County Schools Kenneth Starr called for online civility when some of the student tweets about school closing s were obscene and threatening. His advice is not just for kids but applies to all of us. There is no reason to be anything but civil or polite online as is expected offline. When there is a need to explain context use a medium like a blog post, email or phone to continue the conversation offline. 140 characters are not enough.

I try to practice a thought discipline not even to think thoughts that are anything but positive. This gives me confidence to say that I usually talk and write like I think. Despite our best intentions we are human after all and mistakes will be made. We should make every effort to avoid making mistakes and if we did then make every effort to correct it soon. With the real-time nature of social media, crisis guru Jim Lukaszewski says you need to react within 29 minutes and so specially be careful of what you tweet before you go on a long flight and cause a #HasJustineLandedYet.

It is always a good idea to keep your work profiles on a separate app from your personal profiles so that they never get mixed up by human error.Specifically it may be a good idea not to post anything that may draw a reaction on Friday evening or when you or your team is not going to be available.

What are your tips for avoiding communication faux pas?

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