Don’t poison your own business online: some social media rules

The immediacy of social media means that it can be a huge benefit to your business. But that same immediacy means you can poison your own business extremely quickly if you don’t follow some social media rules.

We’ve all seen instances of when a business owner ruined a business brand by saying the wrong thing. In 1991, Gerald Ratner, the CEO of the Ratners high street jewellery chain managed to devalue his company by almost £500m after giving a speech where he was less than careful with his choice of words. This was before social media and the effect could have been even more pronounced had the platforms been available then.

In the social media age, we’ve seen significant negative impacts on businesses from remarks and posts of individuals. You only need to look at the pub chain JD Wetherspoons to see an example of just that. Its chairman, Tim Martin, has been extremely outspoken on subjects like Brexit and the coronavirus public health emergency. He has commented on social media and in traditional media. This has resulted in a backlash against the pub chain, seeing groups forming online to boycott Wetherspoons and resulting in huge losses for the company.

Knowing that social media can be a lethal double-edged sword, it makes sense to try to get the positive benefits from it and to avoid the negativity it can also bring. That’s why you should stick to some sensible social media rules.

Social media rules to live by

Would you say it to someone’s face?

There’s a long-held belief that people are happy to write things in social media posts that they would never be prepared to say to someone in person. This is a good self-check that we should all think about before we post anything on any of the social media platforms.

This simple check means that we’re much less likely to post something abusive or contentious that could reflect badly on you personally or on your brand.

Never post if you’ve been drinking

We all like to surf Twitter and Facebook in the evening, when the kids have gone to bed and the house is quiet. That’s also the time that we like to unwind and maybe have a glass of wine or a beer.

But when you’ve a had a drink, even a small one, your judgement can be impaired. You could find you’re more likely to say something that you could come to regret. So put the phone or the iPad away and watch the TV, read a book or chat to loved ones. After a relaxing drink, you should avoid social media – it’s just not the time.

Is this subject relevant to your audience and customers?

What is the subject that you’re considering posting about? Ask yourself how it relates to your customer base. Getting into subjects that are not your business’s area of specialism can see you getting bogged down in a conversation you didn’t want to have, in full view of your customer base.

If it’s not relevant to your business but you still have a valid point to make (subject to all the other social media rules here), consider using your personal accounts instead.

Is this fake news?

Fake news can be difficult to identify but questioning the veracity of something we see on platforms like Twitter or Facebook is something that we should all do as second nature.

Taking the global coronavirus pandemic and the vaccine roll-outs as an example, being found to have shared fake news that could be damaging to people’s health and well-being is very difficult to recover from.

Having a little statement on your account that says shares or retweets are not endorsements is meaningless. If you share it, you’re promoting it. Question and read what you share, before your share it – always.

What will the impact of this post be?

Before you hit the Post button, consider what impact the post will have. Are you saying something contentious? Is a portion of your customer base likely to be offended or scared away by what you’re saying? If the answer to either of these is yes, then think very carefully before you post it. Maybe even wait and sleep on it. There’s nothing wrong with saying something contentious. That’s how we get intelligent debate after all, but there’s often a fine line between contentious and offensive. Look carefully at the subject matter and understand how people react to that subject on social media before getting involved.

Can you back up what you’re saying with facts?

Being able to back up a statement on social media with facts doesn’t always make the trolls pipe down, but sensible people will follow your links and do their own research to see if they agree with you. Provide your links and consider how to make your point using that information.

Posting knee-jerk opinion makes great entertainment, but can be damaging to your business if you get it wrong. Point to sources and ask your followers or connections for other sources. You have a much better chance of an adult conversation rather than the often-seen toddler stand-off between two accounts.

Stick to your social media rules

Adhering to basic social media rules like these should help to safeguard your business against the potential damage that a bad post can inflict. Social media is so immediate that your business can suffer within hours and minutes and the damage can take months and years to undo. If indeed it can be undone at all.

Be sure to check out more of our MicroArticles for more tips about running your microbusiness.