A stressed businessman running with a tabletBranding through social media allows for instant feedback, personalization and a two-way dialogue. Before now, companies engaged their audience in a one-way conversation. It was more of a “We’ll call you” relationship. Now that social media is so heavily engrained in our society, the audience is taking center stage. Customers and employees now have a voice, and it’s a loud one.

This new voice has given customers and employees the power to demand services and support in a public arena. The rise of social media has forced companies to become more transparent and more accountable than ever.

Here are a few completely avoidable social media blunders from the past:

When You Screw Up, Fix It

We all remember the dude with the guitar that got destroyed by a United Airlines baggage handler. But did you know that Dave Carroll (dude with the guitar) went back and forth with the airline for 9 months, and he also gave the company fair warning before creating and posting the videos that brought United to its knees?

Companies, especially large ones, may still have the false sense of security that no one will listen to wronged customers or employees. But using social media as a tool to be heard is becoming more and more common. The backlash that comes when things like this go viral is intense and not easily fixed.

Apologizing and paying for the guitar would have saved United from the backlash of literally millions of people from all around the world. Most people understand that mistakes will happen. Carroll didn’t seek revenge because they broke his guitar. He did what he did because the company refused to make it right.

Be Smart About Automated Tweets

Yet another airline got social media all wrong. American Airlines sent out pretty much nothing but automated response tweets for a full month. When someone tweets, “Congrats to @AmericanAir and @USAirWAys on creating the largest, [insert bad word here] airline in the world”, it makes very little sense to receive a tweet like this, “Thanks for your support, we look forward to a bright future as #newAmerican.”

We all do it; we all fill up buffers and HootSuite and other tools to schedule much of our social media posts. Just be smart about it. Automated responses should be well thought out and relevant. In their pursuit to engage with everyone, they ended up looking insincere and incapable.

Never Avoid, Always Address

What is it with travel companies? This next one comes to us from Carnival Cruises after their major crash in 2012. After the crash of one of their ships, killing 32 people, Carnival decided to shut down their social media channels. In an effort to “show respect”, Carnival ended up looking like a coward. Thousands responded to their decision quite negatively.

By not engaging with customers and employees in a time of crisis, you have essentially shut down that two-way dialogue. To the audience it’s almost like a child plugging their ears and yelling, “La, la, la, I can’t hear you.” It is during these times that your audience expects and deserves more interaction from companies. It is important to realize that the discussion will go on with or without you. It’s far better to be involved.

Social media grants companies so many opportunities to grow and engage, but it can also be a virtual minefield. A push toward more thoughtful interactions and practices can go a long way in safeguarding the reputation of a company. What happens online stays online. These companies don’t get a do-over; they simply have to make it right. That can often mean building relationships from the ground up.

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