What You Can Learn From the Dept. of Edyoomakayshun Tweet Fiasco

The social media mistakes the U.S. Department of Education recently made should be a lesson to everyone about why it is critical to closely monitor (and proofread) everything your company sends out.

For any readers living under a rock that didn’t see it, the DOE sent out a tweet to honor Black History Month. It quoted W.E.B. Du Bois, a 20th century civil rights leader and sociologist.  Unfortunately, the tweet misspelled Du Bois’s last name, “DeBois.” 

A little embarrassing to be sure, but not the end of the world. Nothing a quick apology tweet couldn’t fix, right? Unfortunately, they compounded the error by sending out an apology tweet that contained a typo as well. Two tweets … two typos … and social media exploded. You would think the Department of Education could send out tweets that don’t have typos, right? Under normal circumstances, it was awkward but something probably forgotten two weeks later.

But here’s the thing … it hadn’t been normal circumstances for a while around the DOE. The circus surrounding the confirmation hearings for the new education secretary was surreal at best and downright bizarre at worst. Certain things she said became instant (and unflattering) Internet memes the moment she uttered them on live TV. Finally, when she was confirmed in a historic way no Cabinet member had ever been confirmed in the 240-year history of the country, social media went crazy again. If there ever was a time when the social media managers for the DOE needed to be flawless, it was now. They failed.

But for now, the DOE isn’t going out of business any time soon. For those companies in the private sector however, social media mistakes can hurt your business. Some minor mistakes will just cause awkward moments, but major errors in judgment or presentation could close your doors permanently. At the very least, careers can be ruined … maybe yours. As it’s been said over the years, nothing that ever gets posted on social media really dies, even if you delete it two minutes after you send it. Somebody will have seen it and probably copied it or shared it with the world.

An individual person on social media can mangle language at will in their posts and generally won’t suffer consequences. However, a business that has typos and bad grammar in their posts costs them credibility and customers. And, in social media, credibility is the coin of the realm. Honestly, the Web is full of spelling and grammar trolls that live for the moment they can flame a company over a typo on Twitter. Just ask the DOE.

So what can you do to make sure social media mistakes don’t embarrass you or your company? Here are five of the biggest mistakes companies make:

  1. Lack of proofreading

We’ll start with this one, since it’s the main subject of this blog post. Let’s face it, you’re not posting a novel online, so it should only take you a few minutes to look something over before posting it. If you’re a business and have a proofreader on your payroll, giving them a 2,000-word blog to proof is an outstanding idea. But even if you don’t have a professional proofreader on staff, someone else should look it over for you. Tweets can literally take 30 seconds to proof before you hit the “Tweet” button. Having said that, there will be a time or two something gets autocorrected incorrectly and slips past you when it posts. Your readers will appreciate a quick apology and acknowledgement that a mistake was made. Just make sure the apology is correct.

  1. Mixing up your business account with personal ones

When posting as yourself in your individual account, feel free to write anything, anytime, anywhere. If something tragic happens, comment on it. Your followers probably appreciate your political views, so go for it. However, when you put on your business hat, think before you post. Making political or social commentary of any kind will probably tick off at least half of your organization’s followers and could lead to viral protests and boycotts against your company. If you’re going to take a stand on something in a business post, think it out first as a group with all the possible ramifications considered. If your leadership feels comfortable doing it, then you can proceed.

  1. Leaving the young Millennials in charge unattended

Because it’s social media, many companies put very young people in charge of it. However, what the younger half of the Millennial generation gives you in tech savvy as digital natives, they can also take away with the lack of experience dealing with or talking to your customers. That’s not a slam on twenty-somethings, but a realization that a certain amount of life experience and maturity helps if your customers are Gen Y or especially, Baby Boomers. Maturity in your posts does have its benefits. 

  1. Thinking of social media as a one-way street

The power of social media lies in its ability to help you engage your customers in a positive way. It’s one of the most effective ways to get conversations going. However, if your posts are just you doing all the talking with no interaction between you and your readers, everyone gets cheated. Post content that can start discussions and you’ll see growth in your social media marketing efforts. Show them you care about them and their issues.

  1. Emphasizing quantity over quality

Posting junk 20 times a day will do more harm to your social media efforts than posting quality content once. Therefore, make quality your focus every time for content says the Search Engine Journal. This is especially true in companies that are new to social media marketing. At times, worried execs will justify the expenditures of social media by wanting to see more of it. A lot more of it! Don’t fall into that trap.

Finally, while the DOE screw-up didn’t cause the Earth to stop rotating, it extended their really bad month. And, if social media has taught us anything, it may never die. Not as long as the embattled education secretary tries to get anything done in her job. Don’t put your company in that position with your social media endeavors.

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