For individuals and brands, alike, one of their main concerns about having a social media presence is that they will somehow manage to offend people or a group of people by ‘saying the wrong thing’. Adding fuel to the fire are the stories of people losing their jobs and companies losing business or even having to shut down their online platforms to escape the backlash.
The more worrying element of these stories is that they’ve usually begun with a seemingly innocuous post, tweet or comment and by having just one person ‘take it the wrong way’, utter chaos has ensued. Here’s our guide to not offending anyone on social media.
Offending people on social media: the “how not to” guide
Firstly, bear in mind:
1. By ‘offended’ on social media, we mean making a negative impression on someone to the extent they become alienated by your brand or a response or action is initiated. This, we do not want. Of course, nothing actually happens to someone when they get ‘offended’ – it’s just a choice. But they might also not choose to buy from you. Ever.
2. Some people are easily offended. Sometimes, they’re not even offended, they just fancy kicking up a fuss because they’re either bored or an antagonist; a troll, if you will. This means there is a wide variety of things someone could take the wrong way including politics, equality issues, and personal opinions, amongst others.
N.B. If you’re reading this too late and you have already offended someone, you’d be better off heading to our page on dealing with complaints.
For the rest of you(!), we’ve put together a list of eight top tips that will keep your brand safe from offending and alienating your audience.
In order to have a flourishing social media presence without offending anyone…
1. Remember your brand’s voice. Your voice dictates both what you talk about and how you say it. For certain brands and individuals, being controversial is part of their identity; think Katie Hopkins and Frankie Boyle. Remaining consistent will guide you in you content delivery and also stand you in good stead if someone ever calls you up on something – you’ll have been posting about similar topics in a similar way, offering opinions etc, for years.
2. Tone is very difficult to infer in text. Ever received emails from someone who seemed short or irritated with you but they were really nice in person or over the phone? They probably weren’t writing those emails in the way you interpreted them. Tone and emphasis get completely lost online. Try to read your post in as many different ways as possible to determine all the ways it could be construed.
3. Senses of humour vary wildly. Some people get ‘offended’ by bad jokes (i.e. jokes that aren’t funny), let alone jokes which are anywhere near the knuckle. It’s a shame if you have a dry sense of humour but, in general, you’ll need to be quite obvious with your jokes.
Add points two and three together and you can see why there will almost always be someone taking your clearly sarcastic comment deadly seriously!
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4. Politics is a no-go area. This should go without saying but it still happens. Even if the comment is about a particular MP or policy rather than a political party or view, people read into your post.
Don’t even comment on their choice of clothes if your account doesn’t have any relevancy to it – it will either imply affinity or dislike to them, their views and their policies. Even if you say “I like the guy, but look at his shoes!” there’s a chance someone will pick up the “I like the guy” bit or even make a comment around what he might do with his shoes. Depending on your brand, this is an area in which you should play it safe, even though 99% of people will take the comment at face value.
5. Race and gender issues are fine to comment upon provided you are calling for equality. Sexism is, as usual, a top priority for people and it is too easy to make comments which tread the line. Avoid drawing on gender, race, sexuality or disability for your content or interaction remarks.
6. Under no circumstances mention religion in any form. End of.
7. Never assume something about a person based on insufficient evidence. This is something very important, especially if your social strategy involves significant social media interaction. What we mean by this is that just because someone lives in Birmingham, for example, don’t assume they are British. Just because someone mentioned they like a Tory MP’s new shoes, don’t assume that they vote Conservative.
Don’t assume that because someone likes Steps and Gucci shoes that they are female. In social media terms, these can be fatal errors. A far better approach is to confirm that assumption. For example an excellent reply to:
“We hope you’re watching that with your children!” or something along those lines. Of course, if you suspect something about a person based on a tweet, you will often be able to confirm this by looking through their tweet history, their pictures or their bio. This helps draw the correct conclusions.
8. Retweets and likes are seen as endorsements (of sorts). This is what makes them both such powerful tools in online marketing and communication. In general, they are going to help you and won’t cause you problems but endorsing controversial people or politicians will offend some people regardless of the content of their tweet.
If the tweet is not something you would say yourself, think carefully about how using someone else to make that statement reflects upon you.
Recently, Twitter added a feature to enable users to comment on a retweet which might help you explain yourself a little better, if needed.
We hope this will be of use to you in guiding your content and interaction strategy. Social media is an arena in which you have to be present as a business, and it is completely safe provided you stick to the advice above. Of course, if you’re not worried about offending some people, then, by all means, push the boundaries when it comes to topics of interest, language used and your sense of humour! Read more about Twitter for business and social media interaction.