Oh no, she didn’t: What to do if you mess up (big time or small) on social media

by | Sep 28, 2023 | Connection, Need to Know, Oh Snap! News, Social Media

There’s a saying on the-site-formerly-known-as-Twitter that the internet has a main character every day – and that your job is not to be it. Those are fine words to live by. But look, if you spend enough time on social media, you’re going to mess up. Your mistake might be a small oopsies, or it might be a massive cringefest that has people telling you to delete your account. Here’s what to do if you do something problematic online (and how to avoid it in the first place.)

Everyone hates me. Please help!

Welp, you’ve done it. You’ve inspired the ire of the internet. Maybe you made it to the front page of Reddit. Either way, you need to act before you end up in social media jail. Here’s what to do.

Be real about the degree of criticism.

Being spicy on social media is going to get you some engagement. There are going to be dissenting opinions and people chiming in with thoughts that don’t mirror your own. But before you freak out that you’re being canceled or censored or whatever, reflect on what’s actually going on. Is it just healthy criticism? Are you just getting the kind of flack that comes with a viral post? (Remember, the rule: 500 replies, and the post is no longer “yours” – it belongs to the internet now. If that’s the case, mute those replies and carry on with life!) 

Own the goof.

In the case of a legit goof, don’t bury it and hope it blows over. Similarly, don’t pass the buck, and don’t do one of those one of those half-apologies where you backhandedly blame people for getting offended. Let the world know that you’ve made a mistake, that you take full responsibility for it, and what steps you’re taking to do better in future. 

Move fast to deal with the mistake.

The faster you move, the less fallout you’ll have to deal with. If your account is small and the post has limited engagement, you might be able to get away with deleting it. (But be aware that it’s still possible that someone has taken a screenshot.) The faster you move forward with a deletion, edit or apology, the more likely you’ll be able to avoid going viral. The right move here depends on who you are, how big your brand is, how big the goof is, and who’s calling you out.   

Don’t yell at people in the replies!

It shouldn’t have to be said, but no matter how much you feel like you’re the one suffering here, don’t go yelling at people in the replies. Avoid snarky “clarifying” quote posts that will only serve to dig a deeper hole. Even if you’re well intentioned, it’ll just look like a pile on, and no one wants that after a mess up. 

Talk to your PR or social media team!

If you’re working with a PR or social media team, get on the phone and work out a solution to the issue. Generally, there’s a way through whatever you’re facing, and a pro team can help you figure it out (without having to go off grid for the rest of your life.)

Phew. Scared of dealing with all of that? Here’s how to get ahead of a slipup.

If the idea of being the internet’s daily baddie is so not your thing, the good news is that there are steps you can take to minimize the risk of that happening. Here’s how: 

Install social media monitoring tools.

These let you know when sentiment around your brand starts turning negative – so that you if you’ve goofed you can immediately deal with the issue. At the very least, keep a close on mentions of your brand and any posts that are starting to gain traction. 

Get a second set of eyes on your posts.

Posting something timely, topical, or – gulp – political? Run your post past some trusted people first, and depending on the topic try flagging down an accuracy or sensitivity reader to make sure you’re aware of your blind spots. 

Have brand guidelines in place.

It’s easier to avoid messing up in the first place when you’ve got a solid set of social media guidelines to work from. This is even more important if you have multiple people running your account – or if the intern has your login details. Be clear about what’s okay or not on your account, and whether there are any topics, terms, or behavior to behave (like being a Regina George on social, for example.) 

Focus on putting good into the world.

Finally, strive to be proactive, not reactive in your posts. Before you post anything, think about the value that you’re putting out there and how it can help your audience. Reflecting a bit before you start typing will help avoid those messy posts or problematic replies in the first place. If you’re about to chime in on something super contentious, think about whether you’re knowledgeable about the topic and whether your voice is important – or whether you’re just piping up for the clout. It’s like Gran says: if you haven’t got anything nice to say, don’t say anything.

So there you have it! What’s the worst trouble you’ve been in on the internet, and how did you get through it? Drop me a message on Instagram, because I’d love to hear it!