A couple weeks ago, I wrote a blog post titled, “3 Reasons Brands Should Engage With Their Audiences on Social Media.” After all, what is “social media” if you’re not “social” with your audience? However, as beneficial as engaging with your audience is, there are consequences if you don’t go about it in a calculated and careful manner. I’ll highlight three of the most common mistakes I see when organizations engage with their audience on social media:

1. Give false information

One of the main reasons our audience interacts with us anywhere, not just on social media, is to ask us questions about our organization (our products, services, etc.). This tells us that the person 1) trusts us to give them correct information and 2) expects an answer in a reasonable timeframe (I’ll hit on this in point number two). It seems fairly simple, but when someone asks about something on social media, give them the correct information. This requires constant communication between the social media department/person and the rest of the organization. To give a personal example, I work for a Minor League Baseball team and I’m often sent questions about the cost/availability of merchandise. To ensure I am giving the correct information, I will often send the link to the product on our website. The distribution of false information can lead to the loss of a sale and, more importantly, the trust of your audience.

2. Not timely

Social media, specifically Twitter, moves so fast that you are doing a disservice to your audience if you take a long time to respond to them. I’ll use another example specific to me: One of my focuses during the baseball season every year is to be increasingly better about monitoring our social media feeds during the games. Whether it’s where someone can get a specialty food item or someone’s seat is broken, people are talking to us during the game and we would be remiss if we did not listen. If I respond to someone too late, it comes off as though either we are too oblivious to know people are talking to us or we are just ignoring them. Both are bad and can be avoided if you just pay attention to feeds as often as you can.

3. Overstep the snarky/annoying line

This one is near and dear to my heart. Nowadays, it seems like organizations are just trying to be the next Wendy’s or MoonPie and respond to people with snarky comments in an attempt to go viral. I understand the fascination and I even do it sometimes. I tell people that my favorite part of my job is trolling people from a verified Twitter account and I’m only kind of kidding when I say that. My point is not to avoid doing it altogether. My point is to avoid it if it is not in the same “voice” that the rest of your Twitter feed is. If you’re going to be snarky and playful, you need to commit to being snarky and playful. Where organizations get into trouble with this is if their voice is more serious and formal and then they (the social media coordinator) all the sudden want to be “funny” that day. In Sprout Social’s Q2 2017 Sprout Social Index, they presented some interesting data on what the overall sentiment is about snarky comments from organizations on social media. The two most interesting graphs are the ones below:

                 

Only 33% of social media users want snarky comments from brands. Whether the outrage about a snarky comment is justified or not does not matter. The fact that you may lose business because 67% of people don’t find how you’re responding to your audience to be funny is something on which you should focus. Another interesting point is that 88% of consumers think it’s annoying when brands make fun of customers on social media. You may see it as funny and harmless while the rest of your audience might find it offensive. From my personal account, I often engage with the #smsports (social media in sport) hashtag. Someone recently asked a very interesting question about brands being snarky on social media and you can find the thread here. If your voice is that along the same lines as Wendy’s, by all means, be witty. If not (chances are it’s not), play it safe and smart and respond in your voice.

There are many, many mistakes to avoid when responding to people on social media, but these three are the general ones I see most often. Other ones are more situational and can be addressed on a case-by-case basis. I hope you had a Merry Christmas and have a Happy New Year. Meanwhile, I’m my way to the mountaintops to yell “DON’T POST IT IF IT’S NOT IN YOUR VOICE” in hopes that the whole Twitterverse hears it.

Kyle Martin

Kyle is the New Media Engagement and Promotions Manager for the Columbia Fireflies, a Minor League Baseball team affiliated with the New York Mets. Follow him on Twitter @Kyl3Martin.