Earlier this week Business Secretary Grant Shapps was called out by Twitter users after posting an image that appeared to edit out former Prime Minister Boris Johnson.
While the post was swiftly deleted and sources close to Shapps deny he knew the post had been edited, the incident serves as an important reminder on the integrity, accuracy, and reliability of social media content.
It also raises interesting questions about how brands and individuals should react when they make mistakes. Is it best to bury your head in the sand and hope no one notices? Or should you not only lean in, but throw yourself into the mistake, raising its profile but at least owning the narrative?
Here are our three top tips on how to make social media work for you – and what to do when things go wrong.
1. Check before your post
The most important tip also happens to be the simplest. Remember to double check – and then triple check – all content before you post it.
After all, who can forget former shadow chancellor Ed Balls inadvertently posting his own name on Twitter, giving rise to a day dedicated to his honour each year? Or the thousands of British shoppers and Christmas advert devotees who tag the US-based man John Lewis each year instead of the retailer’s handle.
And as Grant Shapps’ slip-up shows, it’s not just what you post, but how you post it. Remember to check all imagery (crediting copyright owners where appropriate) and ensure links send your followers to the right place.
2. Own your mistakes
Despite the highly-anticipated ‘edit’ function on Twitter being trialed by verified users in select countries, editing your way out of a mistake currently isn’t an option.
This leaves red-faced users with two options: delete the post in question or issue a clarification.
As a rule of thumb, if a social media post contains minor errors but has already been shared widely it’s probably not worth deleting as it is unlikely a repost would gain the same traction. In this case, commenting on a post or setting up a Twitter thread clarifying the original tweet is the best course of action.
On the other hand, anything offensive or widely inaccurate should be deleted immediately. Keep in mind this doesn’t necessarily remove it from the public domain, given the speed and interactivity of social media platforms, the ability to screenshot content using smartphones, and Twitter accounts such as @deletedbyMPs.
3. React quickly
Whichever approach you decide to take, do it quickly and be prepared for questions from your followers, stakeholders or even the media.
If you think a social media mistake could generate significant critical attention, make sure you consider potential scenarios and agree a handling plan in advance.
As well as taking obvious steps such as pausing scheduled tweets, you should consider your wider company profile, which includes advising senior spokesperson they could face online scrutiny and thinking carefully about planned marketing activity that could come under fire.
At the end of the day, as long as you own up and take appropriate action most social media mistakes are quickly forgiven and forgotten – and it’s very unlikely you’ll make the same mistake again.