Social media don'tsIn attempts to be current, funny and engaging on social media, there’s the risk of putting your foot in your mouth.

Trending topics, current events and amusing concepts are what makes social media tick. Brands, quite rightly, feel the need to be a part of it – there’s little value in carrying out social media marketing if you’re just going to turn it into a sales platform.

However, you really need to be careful not to say or do the wrong thing. Your marketing team needs to be tuned in to what’s funny (but can’t be construed as offensive) and when it’s the right time to post something.

Otherwise, things can get messy.

Gordon Ramsay

So how can you prevent things from going pear-shaped? Fast Company has come up with five practices to avoid:

1. Don’t draft ALL your posts in advance

Social media scheduling tools are a godsend for marketers. They allow us to daft posts in advance, so that even if meetings are scheduled for optimum times of the day, we have the ability to auto-post at a predetermined time in the future, helping ensure our content gets as many eyes as possible.

However, you don’t want to give your followers the impression that all your posts are preprogrammed. If you become too reliant on auto-posting, people will stop engaging. Why would they bother engaging, knowing that they’re not going to get a reply?

There needs to be a nice mix of in-the-moment posts, too, to stop your stream becoming generic, dull and predictable.

2. Don’t post in the immediate aftermath of a tragedy

Unfortunately, we now live in a world where tragedies are commonplace, be it a school shooting, natural disaster, or terror attack. For many, social media is the place they go to vent their frustrations, express their empathy and discuss political issues.

In these moments of tragedy, brands should take a backseat and respect that people’s mindsets will likely have shifted from the norm. A sincere post that is fitting of the situation is fine, but don’t risk aggravating your followers by posting something that is unrelated to what has unfolded. They will see this as insensitive and might lambaste you for it.

3. Don’t always try to be funny

We very much advocate brands who use humour in their social media strategies. Truly funny posts get shared more – great for a brand’s reach – and can have an indelible impact on those who read them, with the brand behind it living long in the memory.

In a way, unfunny – or worse, offensive – posts have a similar effect. Sure, they get shared and create a lasting impression, but for all the wrong reasons. There are countless examples of brands who have tried to be funny, only to fall flat on their face. We live in an easily offended world now – don’t give your followers an excuse to take offence.

Leave the near-the-knuckle stuff to this man:

Ricky Gervais

4. Don’t aimlessly hijack trending topics

Unless a trending topic is a natural fit for your brand, leave it well alone. Awkwardly piggybacking on a trending topic comes across as desperate – as though you’ll do anything to get some comments or views, and you can expect some negative sentiment towards your brand if you contribute in a topic that really has nothing to do with you.

It’s like those people who have something to say about EVERYTHING – how annoying are they? Sure, if you’ve got something relevant or funny to contribute on a topic, speak up. If not, don’t force it.

5. Don’t ignore your critics

In signing up your brand to social media, you hope to see loads of positive posts regarding your products or services. However, it’s not always going to be rainbows and butterflies. Some posts might be less than favourable.

It’s not the end of the world if you do find your brand on the receiving end of a critical post – as long as you treat it with the care and consideration it deserves (assuming it’s not ill-founded criticism, of course). Address the post and the customer who made it and try to make amends. Showing that, as a brand, you care about all your customers – not just the satisfied ones – goes a long way.

Similarly, if your critics then go on to get trolled for their negative review, don’t just sit there, letting the attack ensue. Step in before the trolling gets out of hand.

We love social media, we really do. But it can prove more problematic than it’s worth, if you don’t know what you’re doing. Running a social media account requires you to understand the nuances of the platform – it’s not just a case of writing content, then using social media to promote it. Assuming that could leave you in a spot of bother…