The first rule of conducting business on Twitter: Don’t embarrass your brand online

by Ron on September 16, 2013

Computer keyboard with Oops KeyTwitter announced its long-awaited IPO last week and it drove home just how important a communications channel it has become for businesses, but we also saw last week with the 9/11 anniversary that businesses need to be careful how they engage with customers on Twitter.

Because it’s all too easy to offend.

Mashable reported that several businesses including AT&T got into trouble when they posted tweets in remembrance of the 9/11 anniversary. That’s because some people perceived these businesses as taking advantage of the tragedy to advance their brand. And as you can imagine that didn’t go over too well.

The brands contacted by Mashable were careful to point out they were just trying to pay their respects, but it drove home the fine line that brands must walk when they engage directly with customers online. There are certainly many advantages to having an online presence including the ability to communicate directly with consumers, but the danger lies in not knowing when those consumers could bite back.

That  is not to say, however that you should be afraid of Twitter because as a mid-size business today, you can’t stay away from Twitter anymore than you could television. You need to go where the consumers are, and there are millions of people on Twitter every day.

In fact according to, there are more than 554 million registered Twitter users today with 135,000 coming on board every day. People send 58 million tweets every day. A conversation can spring up about your brand any time, anywhere in the world, and you have to be monitoring Twitter and other social channels because people are talking about you whether you’re there or not.

And that kind of amplification is simply too big to ignore.

But if you want to truly take advantage of Twitter, you don’t simply use it to prevent disasters from happening in real time, you can also use it to promote your brand too. As AT&T learned this week, you can’t take that engagement for granted and you need to understand that people are really paying attention to what you tweet under your brand’s account.

Sometimes brands can get a lift from being a little wacky or off-beat. Let’s face it, that’s how content goes viral and of course every brand wants to have that positive viral content associated with their company, but you have to be careful.

Sometimes companies are tone deaf without intending to be and that can lead to unexpected trouble as it did for AT&T and others on the 9/11 anniversary. Simply posting a picture that many people also posted seemed harmless enough and I’m sure the social media team at AT&T did not believe they were being controversial when they did it.

They did the right thing and tweeted out an apology (and they deleted the offensive tweet), but you want to avoid that kind of situation if you can by being sensitive to your audience without being too cautious because if you’re too buttoned down, nobody is going to find your account very interesting and you won’t be able to take advantage of the broadcast medium that is Twitter.

There are no hard and fast rules, except to not be tone deaf. Sometimes you might offend without meaning to, and if you do, apologize as quickly as possible and try to diffuse the situation before it does more damage to your brand.

But keep experimenting, keep trying and don’t be afraid to be bold. You may find that some tweets backfire on you, but learn from the experience and move on. Twitter’s too big to ignore, so you have to find the proper balance.

Photo Credit: (c) Can Stock Photo

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

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{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Jayden Barbour September 30, 2013 at 1:52 am

“Keep experimenting, keep trying and don’t be afraid to be bold.” Very well said. This is what makes social media fun and how it works is basically a constant evolution as consumer bahaviour always changes. I couldn’t agree more to this article.

2 Ron September 30, 2013 at 6:52 am

Thanks, Jayden. 🙂

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