Does your business have a social media presence? How many people have access? Do you remember to revoke their access/change passwords when someone leaves? How much training have they had? Are your brand guidelines documented in an accessible and easy to read format?

Every flipping day there’s another story around a misleading / rogue / rude / racist / inflammatory / factually incorrect or tone-deaf social media update or reply. Deftly followed by a ‘we was hacked (sic)/it was the intern/we are investigating’ statement. It’s not always down to a disgruntled ex-employee, or hacking, or an over-enthusiastic but untrained intern (statements abound with these excuses); sometimes it’s just plain old human error, misjudgement, ignorance or one or all of the above.

Just this week there was a monumentally offensive update on Facebook from a national gym chain with devolved social media. The local gyms have their own SM and update locally. It was one person, a PT at the gym, who’d devised a workout for Black History Month, themed around the film 12 years a slave. The update included the words ‘slavery is hard and so is this workout’. The update was promptly deleted and an apology statement issued from the national gym’s main SM account. The story did get picked up by some national online news sites, naming the gym and the PT who posted it (which I won’t). I really feel for the poor bloke behind it (and it’s important to remember there is always a human behind these things). I believe it came from a place of ignorance, not malice. This was a black guy with a social feed full of black lives matter updates aiming to educate and inform. I’m sure he’s now had a lot of unsolicited advice on how he got this one spectacularly wrong. But what damage to the gym brand, and what lessons can be learned?

I want to go hard here on the who has access thing and what guidelines they have been given. I’m ALL for localised content on social media – local flavour from and for local people – for multiple people having access, particularly for larger organisations, BUT with caveats aplenty.

You can’t just give someone the password and let them crack on. I’m not arrogant enough to say there’s only one way of doing social media, and I’m not arrogant enough to say it should only be done by copywriters/comms bods. I do think anyone with a decent level of language skills, and the right training and parameters can do it. But they do need the training and those parameters.

As I said above, there are tons of examples of when social media goes wrong. In the last month or so there was as an issue with the Co-op brand and the publisher The Spectator. The Co-op account tweeted a reply to someone claiming a policy which was in actual fact contra to their stated policy. There was a big hoo-ha online with some bold statements made. It was though apparently swiftly sorted offline. Peace was restored (AKA commercial relationships were restored) and this one was blamed on ‘underlings’ and ‘junior marketing types’(!).

As I’ve already said, it’s important to remember the human behind these things (not always a poor intern), and as I’ve often said, we all have an unconscious bias (which no amount of training will overcome, in my opinion) and we all have views and opinions. There’s a real power in having access to a brand’s SM and being a brand guardian. And, as we all know, with great power comes great responsibility. Checks and balances need to be put in place to ensure that any account stays on brand.

One SM update from a small gym down south got some unwelcome, but maybe justified, negative PR. It could just as easily be a policy issue, a public health one (I’m not going to open the can of worms that is local/national coronavirus restrictions here and ‘interpretations’ of them by public bodies), criminal – ie hate crime/harassment, or just your bog-standard off-brand. And they are different, and range from genuine mistakes to not having a chuffing clue and also to deliberately going off-brand/rogue for personal reasons – think just fired bod who still has access.

My top tips for squeaky clean on brand SM would be

  • be careful who has the login/passwords and revoke them at the end of a contract (I’m pretty sure I could still get into to some accounts I’ve managed over the years, even though it’s in my end of contract docs that they change the login)

  • training, training and more training

  • scheduling in advance and a second pair of eyes on everything

  • very clear brand guidelines – accessible and easy to read

  • don’t fob off the job to the person who gives good GIF

  • if in doubt 1. pause, 2. ask

There isn’t a one size fits all to managing social media, but one rogue update can’t half do some damage – ranging from short term, to long term, to trust, to reputation and ultimately to the bottom line. Good GIF won’t get you out of a big hole.