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PHOTO: Bill Ward

At the start of 2020, 3.8 billion people were active on social media. While the scale of social media activity is probably unsurprising, the “Digital in 2020: New Decade, New Milestones” collaborative report from We Are Social and Hootsuite also underscored the impact of the internet as a branding tool for emerging markets, stating that “almost 300 million people came online for the first time over the past 12 months, with the majority of those new users living in developing economies.” Therefore, one can infer that a company’s social media presence is to successful branding as successful branding is to a profitable business: the latter cannot exist without the former.

However, it is not enough to simply maintain a social media presence. A company’s online brand must be curated to maximize their platforms’ features in addition to their business mission, products and services, audience and conversion potential, all the while rising above the internet traps of divisiveness, salaciousness and overselling. Effective social media branding should be relevant, and reflect the business’s company culture, without acting as a distraction to the business’s core values.

For business owners unsure about where to draw principled lines for off-limits online topics, or social media managers interested in refreshing their company’s online conduct policies, begin with this examination of what not to talk about on company social media accounts, as well as six best practices to share with social media teams.

What NOT to Post on Company Social Media Accounts

1. Derogatory Comments About Customers or Employees

Company social media accounts are not sounding boards for professional or personal grievances and “gotcha” moments. While Wendy’s is arguably one of the most recognizable businesses to have made social snark and confrontation part of a successful social media plan, not every business account is the Wendy’s Twitter account. Remember that negativity is not always overt, so also refrain from using negatively slanted verbiage, phrasing and analogies when discussing company developments and achievements, regardless of personal opinions about these matters.

2. Confidential Information of Any Kind

Whether shared intentionally or accidentally, company accounts should never share sensitive information like customer names and addresses, client budgets, account passwords, details about deals, and employee records. Doing so could endanger clients, customers and employees, weaken the company’s reputation, result in insurmountable business losses, and lead to civil or criminal legal action.

3. The Wrong Content

Choosing the right content for a business social media account is nuanced but essential. Social media teams should work together with managers and employers to devise social content guidelines and a posting calendar to avoid sharing tactless content faux pas like the following:

  • Social content irrelevant to the company’s vertical.
  • Statuses and posts, whether text-only or visual in origin, that have not been proofread and screened for elements like quality, grammar, spelling, profanity and legality.
  • Violent, abusive, insensitive, discriminatory or not safe for work (NSFW) content.
  • Copyrighted content, plagiarized work or content shared without attributing the original creator.
  • Inconsistently branded content that mixes or confuses elements like the company’s mission statement, logos and data.

6 Best Practices Business Owners Should Share with Social Media Teams

Social media is one of the most dynamic elements of modern marketing. What works for social media reach and relevance can change by the hour, let alone the day. But while trends shift organically based on news, popular culture and viral blips in the social stratosphere, the key to long-term effectiveness is to build social media practices on a foundation of common sense philosophies and actions that can support additional guidance reflecting current events.

These six best practices can be implemented universally across social media teams in any industry: 

1. Don't mistake company social media accounts for personal accounts. This practice is especially important for social media apps like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which are frequently used via mobile devices and, with only a few clicks, allow users to toggle between accounts.

2. Stay truly up to date on trending topics. A business does not want to fall into the category of a bandwagon brand sharing memes now deemed inappropriate or seem like a company trying to capitalize on trends that have already had their moments in the sun.

3. When it comes to trending topics, generally speaking, less is more where hashtagging is concerned. For example, Twitter recommends including no more than two hashtags per tweet, although using more hashtags is permitted. Meanwhile, Instagram is more liberal with hashtagging rules and allows users up to 30 hashtags per post.

4. Respond to audience comments and inbox messages in a timely manner. Ideally, as soon as possible. Companies should also display expected wait times (e.g. “For in-depth customer service questions, we will respond to your message within two business days.”) on their social media profiles. Facebook, for example, encourages businesses to earn a public “Very responsive to messages” profile badge when their page meets criteria like a 90% message response rate and a 15-minute response time over a one-week period.

5. Evaluate social media automation levels and reduce automation prevalence as appropriate. Social media automation tools, such as Hootsuite, TweetDeck, Sprout Social and Buffer all have their uses, but do not let the convenience of automation detract from personal engagements and experiences with followers and potential new customers. Keep in mind that these interactions should also not be hyper-sales focused. Meaningful (and profitable) customer relationships are formed when companies find ways to relate to their audience rather than spamming them with special offers and promotions.

6. Refrain from limiting the business’s social media presence to only one platform. While the major social media sites can be counted on two hands, there are dozens of social media sites available to expand marketing efforts and reach a broader audience. In fact, more than half of all brand discovery occurs in public social media feeds, according to the We Are Social and Hootsuite report.

Build a Culture of Accountability

Given how vital social media presence is to branding and, in turn, business success, creating boundaries for appropriate social media content and conduct is critical for companies. Outlining what not to talk about on company social media accounts and establishing best practices for social media use builds a culture of transparency and measurable accountability that will ensure business reputations and social media teams are all informed and protected.