In the hyper-speeds of the internet, social media marketing can be both a blessing and curse. Instantaneous access to customers and live conversation can do wonders for the launch of a new product or service, but a marketing mistake can be very costly and curtail jaded customers from returning to your brand out of spite.

What’s the deal?

The key thing to remember when it comes to a marketing mishap through social media is that it is a violation of the customer’s convenience. Incorrect information or rude comments that are tweeted can inconvenience a potential patron by wasting their time, or annoying them in some way.

Let’s take a look at a few cases where companies have made some social media blunders:

During last year’s Superbowl, Toyota launched a series of automated messages on Twitter promoting the new Camry. The “CamryEffect” (and there were multiple accounts made by Toyota) tweeted thousands of annoying messages anytime someone use a hash-tag for the Superbowl. This is spam. The aftermath saw Toyota apologize for the inconvenience; what was supposed to be an expensive but effective marketing tactic instead alienated people and resulted a public apology. 

You can bet someone in the communications department got fired that week. 

In 2010, Dr. Pepper had Facebook users sign up to relinquish their statuses with an app that would post embarrassing updates. There were multiple levels of embarrassing things that could be said and folks signed up to receive a promotion for their online sacrifice. Except, some of the things that were said involved “2 Girls, 1 Cup” and an angry mother of a 14-year old who happened to have her status changed by Dr. Pepper. Despite the attempt at being cheeky with embarrassing statuses, Dr. Pepper instead had to apologize to the mother and issue a letter declaring that the promotion was over and that they would discontinue that program. 

Again, not a happy PR team.

How to avoid?

From both these examples, we can learn a few things. The first thing to learn is that these social media blunders are usually always avoidable. How so? Plan according to your brand strategy and don’t create a marketing campaign that involves humiliating or embarrassing the patrons. Don’t ever use a marketing campaign that, under any objective observation, would be deemed spam. Social media is special because it allows individual interaction; don’t take a production line attempt.

The second and probably most important takeaway is that all communications teams or marketers need to have an efficient and effective chain of command that checks the materials going out and is meticulous in its methodology. The avoidable mistakes we talked about above were bad marketing tactics, but they would have been stopped if the company had a better system of checking what gets said with their name. The brand of your organization is something that takes a long time to build and it can fall in a matter of a bad tweet. Don’t assume you’ll be safe and you’re team or business partners will know how to handle themselves online. Create the proper protocols and implement training. If you have the funds, hire a communications team leader who has PR experience. These are steps to safeguard your investment.

The last thing to learn from these examples is that a swift and thoroughly apologetic response is the best strategy in such a crisis. Yes, Dr. Pepper and Toyota have large budgets and can pay their PR team to fix a problem. But chances are, no matter the scale of your business, your marketing mistake will not be larger than your ability to pay for the damage control. If you make a mistake, admit it and apologize.

Remember, the customer is always right.

Kate Simmons is a freelance writer and occasional blogger on business topics, especially digital marketing and management training.

Marketing Mishaps   Social Media Mistakes To Avoid