12 Lessons Communications Pros Learned From Social Media Faux Pas

No one likes to make a mistake, especially at work. Thinking you’ve done a fine job only to realize later that it may have been better left undone is a humbling experience most professionals will face at some point, if not many times.

If you are new to the world of professional communications and working with social media, you know that even minor mistakes in execution—from taking the wrong tone and using an off-brand voice, image or word choice to getting the timing of a post all wrong—can impact not only your organization’s reputation but also your own.

Take a cue from these 12 members of Forbes Communications Council and avoid some not-so-inevitable missteps by reading about the lessons they learned from their biggest social media faux pas below.

1. Never Forget To Proofread Your Content

There’s nothing worse than pressing send on a social post and realizing immediately after that you’ve misspelled a name or missed a word. Just as you would with any email or printed materials, always proofread your content before posting it, whether that means running it through spellcheck, asking someone to give it a once-over or reading it aloud to yourself before putting it out there. – Melea McRae, Crux KC

2. Know What Content Your Audience Wants

Not understanding your audience or what content they may or may not want is a big fail when it comes to engagement on social media. Utilize surveys, polls and easy like/dislike questions to engage your followers and make them feel heard. Then, using the data you collected from your audience, customize your content to make it shareable and impressionable. – Maura Kennedy, Strategic Elements

3. Keep Work-Related Accounts Off Of Your Phone

Everyone has accidentally posted something to the corporate account when we thought we were on our personal account. For that reason alone, I’ve since kept all of my work-related social media accounts off of my mobile phone. – Tracy Sestili, Intellimize

4. Don’t Assume Your Brand Belongs In Every Conversation

Assuming that consumers wanted to hear from my brand on a certain topic was a faux pas. Every brand wants to be part of the relevant conversations, but you have to ask yourself what role your brand and category can and should play in the conversation. Not every conversation is for you, no matter how viral that conversation is. – Keith Bendes, Linqia

Forbes Communications Council is an invitation-only community for executives in successful public relations, media strategy, creative and advertising agencies. Do I qualify?

5. Beware Of Emojis

This is so embarrassing: One of our locations is next to a house, and on the homeowner’s fence, there is always a political sign or flag. On social media, one of our customers asked us to remove it. I let them know that it wasn’t ours to remove and that we do not take political sides in any matter. I used the emoji that has the straight-line face. It did not go over well! Note to self: no emojis! – Jenny Beadle, Woodie’s Wash Shack

6. Don’t Try To Be Something Your Audience Is Not

I think the biggest faux pas is often the internal assumptions we make about our target audience. For example, a fintech company should be careful about trying to be funny if its audience is actually very serious. Avoid sharing content that simply does not suit your audience. – Anthony Wong, Attensi

7. Don’t Argue Or Address Complaints In Comments

Most of the time, trying to argue or address complaints in the comment section is a losing battle. As a business, it is better to respond to complaints from commenters by confirming that you hear them and publicly sharing that you will follow up with them directly to address them. It shows other customers that you are engaged but also professional. – Charlie Terenzio, Newswire

8. Don’t Try To Defend Yourself In A Public Forum

In the early days of my career, I got defensive on my company’s social media accounts. This is a no-no. If there’s ever a dispute with a customer, take it to a private channel. The worst thing you can do is to try to defend yourself in a public forum. It comes off as desperate and unprofessional. – Amine Rahal, IronMonk Solutions

9. Leverage Content Calendars

When rushing to get a social media post done, I have accidentally tagged the wrong company in that post. Since social media posting happens so quickly, and often in real time, it’s easy to make a misstep like this, but leveraging content calendars and putting all information—such as the exact profile to tag and links to add to your captions—into that content calendar will save time and help avoid errors. – Victoria Zelefsky, The Menkiti Group

10. Consider Possible Audience Perceptions Twice, Post Once

Proofread and make sure that the content you post on social media is not perceived differently from your intentions. Once you post something online, it is impossible to fully delete it, so understand the possible audience perceptions before posting. – Patrick Ward, Rootstrap

11. Keep Politics Out Of It

My biggest faux pas was sharing my political beliefs on a social media page where business was being conducted. I learned to keep business and politics separate unless you have no other choice. – Christian Anderson, Lost Boy Entertainment Company

12. Go Back To The Drawing Board If Audiences Disengage

If your audience isn’t engaged, you can’t just throw more of the same content their way and expect them to react or your pages to grow. You must go back to the drawing board, figure out why your messages aren’t sticking, then create content with intention and purpose. You’ll know once you’ve successfully shifted your audience from unengaged to excited because you’ll see them start to really care. – Melissa Kandel, little word studio