August 22, 2017

How to Win at Social Media Without Letting It Destroy Your Brand


How to Win at Social Media Without Letting It Destroy Your Brand

Psychologist and social marketer Dr. Rachna Jain says, “social media is changing the foundation of the ways we relate.”

Many agree that it’s crucial for brands to be on social platforms. Social media use is so widespread (not to mention, free) that it would be foolish for companies not to engage with their customers on social media.

How to Win at Social Media Without Letting It Destroy Your Brand - Statista Social Media Awareness in the U.S. 2017

But if Dr. Jain is correct, businesses have an unmistakable interest in understanding the implications social media has for personal interactions.

Company leaders should be aware of how it affects their employees, their relationships with their clients, and them personally.

Major Dangers of Social Media

There are some very real dangers involved with using social media, as well as significant benefits. If you are savvy about how you implement it, social media can be an incredible asset to your brand. But if you blow it, here are four reasons it could take down your brand.

Everything Is Instant

One of the main perils of social media is that it encourages us to expect instant gratification and validation. Social platforms make it possible to receive a follow, share, or like within seconds.

Follows, shares, and likes make us feel heard and affirmed. If we are not careful, we can start to depend on social media for affirmation.

We might then bring our expectation for instant results and acceptance to work.

It doesn’t make it any easier that other aspects of American culture are reinforcing this tendency towards impatience (think fast food, streaming television, and how fast-paced our lives are).

Avoid Unrealistic Expectations

As an employer, this issue might play out by you being tempted to minimize the importance of quality in the interest of getting projects completed faster. It might mean you pressure and put unnecessary stress on your employees.

Employees, on the other hand, might have unrealistic expectations for their jobs. Sian from Revital has observed a tendency for the people around her to get annoyed when they don’t get what they want immediately.

This mentality is obviously as unrealistic one to have in the workplace.

She notes, “if you start a new job, you aren’t going to be praised for every little thing you do, your new colleagues aren’t going to instantly like you and see you as a friend, and you’re not going to get a promotion straight away.”

When it comes to interacting with your customers on social media, it is of the utmost importance that you recognize that the desire for instant results is everywhere.

Most people will expect you to deal with their problems immediately. If you don’t, they will perceive you as failing as a company.

Reputation Ruined

If people think you have blown it, social media gives them the opportunity to destroy your reputation on a massive scale.

Because social media makes our interactions more impersonal, it’s easy for us to emotionally distance ourselves from how harmful our words can be.

Social media also allows us to connect with thousands or even millions of people, so that negativity can cause widespread damage in a very short amount of time.

PR Nightmares

The most recent significant example of this is when United Airlines forced a passenger off one of its flights.

The airline had overbooked the flight, and when people didn’t accept flight credits to leave voluntarily, United randomly bumped four people from the plane.

Three left when asked to do so, but one man was a doctor who refused to get off because he had patients to see. So security literally dragged him out of the plane.

Passengers caught the situation on camera (including blood on the man’s face), and the video quickly went viral.

Even though United technically had the right to ask paying customers to leave, the company handled the incident so poorly that the episode became a PR nightmare.

As you can imagine, sarcastic and biting tweets abounded. One trending hashtag was #NewUnitedAirlinesMottos. Examples included “If we cannot beat our competitors, we beat our customers” and “Early boarding, late boarding, waterboarding, all the same to us!”

But you don’t have to make a major mistake to get roasted on social media. Even the best efforts of an organization can go bad. These platforms are full of people who enjoy causing trouble.



One example of such a scenario was when an internet troll set up a fake account as a customer service rep for Target. He then started offending people with rude and inappropriate comments.

Target handled the situation extremely well. When the company noticed the problem, its representatives had the fake account removed and posted a statement explaining what had happened.

But what was even better was they joked about the troublemaker by posting an image advertising that they were selling Troll Dolls.

Rather than losing their cool, they dealt with the problem, got the last laugh, and promoted a product before a large audience.

Give Up Social? No Way

Social media is volatile and fraught with potential hazards. Some even believe social media is killing relationships. But this fact does not mean you should avoid using it.

As far as personal use goes, it is wise to set boundaries in your workplace so that interactions with a screen don’t encroach on interactions with actual people.

Businesses should make it a policy to restrict cell phone use during office meetings. Have employees stack them on a table or set them aside in a basket.

Managers should set an example by giving people their full attention when talking to them and by not being distracted by phones and other technology.

Avoiding Negative PR

But when it comes to your customer relationships, staying off of social media does not mean you’ll avoid negative PR.

People will talk about your company on social media platforms whether you’re on them or not.

By staying away from social, you will actually miss opportunities to address customer complaints. Be active to take advantage of opportunities to build relationships with your followers and develop more dedicated customers.

How to Win at Social Media Without Letting It Destroy Your Brand - Share of US Population Who Uses Social Media 2008-2017

The very qualities that make social media dangerous are what also make it such an advantageous resource. It is a great equalizer, giving you direct access to your customers.

According to social media expert Tom Funk, “67 percent of Twitter users who become followers of a brand are more likely to buy the brand’s products.”

The reason why followers turn into buyers is that brands are able to leverage social for word of mouth marketing (WOMM) and convey their values directly to their fans.

Social media allows you to learn:

  • more about your customers in order to market and sell to them better
  • what your competitors are doing

For example, Burger King uses social media to discover where McDonald’s is opening new locations. This is a huge advantage because Burger King gets an edge competitively without spending any money doing so.

How to Win at Social Media: Principles for Building Your Network

Here are some tips on how to win at social media without destroying your brand:

  • Do not neglect networking with people face-to-face. Whether you’re building your network in person or online, the principles for building strong connections are primarily the same.
  • You need to be sincere, and you need to connect with people who have similar interests and values as you.
  • Yes, you are trying to build these connections for professional reasons. But that doesn’t change the importance of how you treat people.
  • Be vulnerable with your customers and make it clear that you are for them, that their interests are your interests. United would be an example of what failing at this looks like.
  • Make sure you are providing value to your customers. Help them before you ask them for something. If you mix the order of those actions, you will appear to be insincere — as, in fact, you will be.
  • Find more tips in this survival guide:

Brands clearly have every reason to pursue social media marketing. If you are smart about how you implement it, you can mitigate problems and help your company succeed.

Woman at Desk Photo via Shutterstock

10 Comments ▼

Gail Gardner


Gail Gardner Gail Gardner is the Small Business Marketing Strategist who founded GrowMap.com and co-founded the Blogger Mastermind Skype group. She mentors small businesses and freelancers, especially writers and social media marketing managers.

10 Reactions

  1. Aira Bongco

    The key is to be always open to communication. Address negative feedback promptly. That is really important.

    • Gail Gardner

      Hi Aira,

      I totally agree. Ignoring negative feedback is a mistake and deleting it can be even worse. When someone feels they are justified in complaining and you delete their feedback, they may decide to make it their passion to go bash your brand everywhere else they can.

      Many people simply want to feel heard and others expect brands to make a good-faith effort to resolve any issues that arise. Doing that well can even turn unhappy customers into brand advocates.

  2. Social media is intimidating to jump into, but you’re right; you can’t ignore it. It also now bridges the trust gap that has existed online when there isn’t a “face” to a small business or brand.

    • Gail Gardner

      Hi Missy,

      Yes, social media confuses many brands, but it can also be a huge advantage for those who do it well. I’m sure many brands are surprised when their customers turn to social media platforms to get answers because their support phone number always goes to voicemail.

  3. I enjoyed being here and thanks for sharing your thoughts and Quality services.
    Keeping safe our online presence is very competitive nowadays; We need Best, Content and marketing service. I was facing problems regarding my Social media Management, Marketing, and online visibility that’s landed me here, You are going to help me a lot to improve my steps for making new Strategy.
    Thank you for sharing your thoughts and Services, carry on the rewarding work.

    • Gail Gardner

      Hello Gaurav,

      We are all always still learning and adjusting strategies because what works changes over time. What works well for one site may not work as well for another. So the key is to keep evaluating how your social media is working to make adjustments for improvement.

  4. Alex Yong

    The troll who targeted Target should consider himself lucky if Target didn’t sue. That would be the ultimate last laugh

    • Gail Gardner

      Yes, they could, but most likely he wouldn’t have enough to get to make that financially wise. By turning the situation with humor, they benefited their brand and created good will. They may have even made some sales.

  5. Martin Lindeskog

    Gail: As a social media evangelist for 15+ years (I started blogging in 2002), I have seen many FTWins with social media activities. It is not rocket science, but it could take some time to master this kind of new media landscape.

  6. Gail Gardner

    You’re right, Martin. I think too many people are more afraid of social media than is warranted. It is confusing, especially at first. But there is a ton of helpful information available online and thousands of people around with experience to share.

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