In Social Media, Everyone Has 'The Right' To Be Offended

  |  December 19, 2013   |  Comments

You can't please everyone all of the time. This is especially true in social media, where simple mistakes can turn into international media incidents.

lianaevansdecsocialImagine this: you're out for a night of fun with your friends and you decide to send out pictures to all your friends on Twitter about the fun you all are having... but guess what, it's your work account you tweeted from.

Or how about this, your social media team has planned out several messages timed for certain holidays, weekends or to coincide with special events. Unfortunately, one of your tweets coincides with a national tragedy.

Perhaps you've also been in a situation where you're at an event and you just meet someone who's heard about you and then would like to take a "selfie" and show all of their friends just how excited they were to meet you.

Any of these situations sound familiar?

They should; they were all innocent "blunders" that happened to companies or prominent people that followers or the general public got "offended" by, causing the incident to make national or global news.

Unfortunately, some of these innocent social blunders are taken out of context, spun around 180 degrees by the media for ratings and then blown out of proportion by those with an axe to grind. So what's a company to do?

Don't Panic

One of the worst things a company can do is overreact to what - in many cases - may be an overreaction in itself. These days, social media seems to give everyone the "right to be offended" and gives them the tools to be able to proclaim the offense to anyone who'll listen. Those who already have issues with you look for these types of situations to point further blame upon your company. Don't fall into the trap of reacting.

Stop and assess the situation, understand the perception and work from that point on.

The case I described above with the timed messages on Twitter was the fate of American Rifleman, who can be a lightning rod for the offended. They had a series of preloaded messages, but the message on their Twitter stream the day of the massacre in the Aurora, CO movie theater happened to be, "Good Morning Shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend Plans?"

Certainly, it wasn't planned insensitivity, but intended to start a conversation on what should have been "just another day" with their readers. They didn't panic though; once the news hit, they deleted the tweet, apologized for the insensitivity and moved on.

Don't Ignore

lianaevansdecsocial2There are those companies who think that ignoring the situation will make it go away. With the growing significance of social networks in our lives and work, situations that cause people to be severely offended don't go away fast by ignoring them. It only allows those who are offended to keep grinding away at your company's "lack of sincerity" or "lack of caring."

It's time to take your head out of the proverbial sand and realize, the faster you address the situation and put a plan in motion to resolve it, the faster the hubbub will die down.

When you don't address situations like these, it puts the power of the situation in someone else's hands. That someone else becomes the media most of the time, because "outrage" draws viewers. People always slow down for a train or a car wreck to see what happens. Don't let an innocent social media blunder become your train wreck.

Have a Plan

The best way to overcome situations like these is to have a general plan of action ready to go. This allows your company to get out in front of a story before it hits major headlines.

If it means "taking the keys away" to someone's Twitter account or revoking someone's ability to post to a Facebook page, then do it. If it's issuing an apology and getting an interview with the digital technology expert at CNN, do it.

The best way to make a "story" a "non-story" is to own the situation and control the spin before it spins out of control. Assign responsibilities for action when emergencies arise, from monitoring the social sphere to responding to fans and media. Know what to do before your fingers even hit the keyboard.

Own Up and Apologize

Finally, own up to your mistake and apologize. Humans naturally want to forgive, because as individuals we want the same consideration when we mess up on our own. Sometimes it can even lead to unexpected accolades or opportunities. The example I mentioned in the beginning of the good time that was Tweeted on the wrong account happened with the Red Cross. One of their employees mistakenly tweeted about her night of fun with DogFish Head Beer on the Red Cross Twitter account instead of her own.

The Red Cross didn't miss a beat, tweeting out, "We've deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we've confiscated the keys." Using a simple sense of humor, they diffused what could have been a serious blunder. Along with that, the opportunity arose to partner with DogFish Head Beer for a "beer for blood" campaign.

Realize Anyone Can Be Offended These Days

Just keep in mind the old adage that "You can't please everyone all of the time, but you can please some people all of the time." That's even truer in social media, since now you are opening your company up to a global audience.

The best thing any company can do is plan ahead, don't panic and if you do offend someone or some group, then own up and apologize; it can go a long way!

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Liana Evans

Liana "Li" Evans is the author of the award winning social media marketing book, "Social Media Marketing: Engaging Strategies for Facebook, Twitter & Other Social Media" and she is the president and CEO of Da Li Social, as well as an adjunct professor for Rutgers University's Mini MBA Program. Liana has also been featured in the books "Online Marketing Heroes" and "Video Marketing An Hour a Day." As an established online marketing industry veteran with over 15 years of experience she's focused her unique skillset to specialize in integrated marketing and how companies can successfully strategize integrating all online marketing channels as well as offline traditional media. Her deep technical combined with a public relations background enables her to partner with clients for establishing successful online marketing campaigns that combine cross-channel tactics cohesively.

Li was the search engine optimization (SEO) and social media marketing architect for such companies as QVC and Comcast (Fancast) and has consulted with several other different sized companies such as AOL MovieFone. Her wealth of knowledge in dealing with large e-commerce and content sites allows her a wider perspective into what it takes to launch successful marketing campaigns in the online space.

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