Social Media Is Like a Loaded Gun — Aim Carefully

Social media is like a loaded gun: You can use it to protect yourself or, as Anthony Weiner, Brett Favre and so many others have aptly demonstrated, you can also shoot yourself in the, um, foot, while the world watches — and retweets it.


But that doesn’t mean that you should ban guns — or snub social media like Facebook and Twitter. Companies shouldn’t be afraid of social media just because a few people shot themselves in the foot.

In fact, you’re making a big mistake if you’re NOT using social media. Twitter says it has about 200 million registered users and Facebook claims 600 million active users — you can’t ignore perhaps nearly a billion potential customers.

“If you’re not going where everyone is going to sit and talk and chat, then you’re going to miss out on an opportunity to be part of the conversation,” said Jason Sadler, who runs social media company “I Wear Your Shirt.”And here’s the best part, it’s cheap! You can sign up for a Twitter or Facebook account for free. And it's far cheaper to hire a social media expert — in house or through a company like "I Wear Your Shirt" — than it is to make a commercial or buy advertising. In fact, social media companies like "I Wear Your Shirt" saw their business soar during the recession because they could get a lot of bang for a couple of bucks.

Plus, it’s a great way to interact with your most loyal fans and even reward them with things like free content and deals.

Your best “experts” when it comes to social media are your interns and junior employees. They grew up on this technology, using it every day, and they've probably experienced a mishap — either personally or through one of their friends. But, you can't just hand it over to them carte blanche. Use them for their expertise but treat it like any corporate correspondence and make sure it's vetted first. And make sure it's clear to the person you have updating your pages: No updating their personal account at work.

One of my favorite Twitter feeds is from the Zappos CEO. That's right, from a SHOE WEB SITE. Why? He makes you feel like you're friends with him, sending you interesting links about business and technology, offering a few personal anecdotes and then working in a few promos. You can't just use it for promos — no one's going to want to tune in just for advertising!

And don’t be afraid to be funny! What are some of the links you send around the most? The funny ones. So, it never hurts to have fun on your Twitter feed. Just keep it in check. Don't tell any jokes you wouldn't say in front of your kids.

And here’s the most important thing — If you goof, own it. So many times when politicians or others goof, they try to deny it and hope it will go away. The Internet will never let something like that go away. So, the best way to deal with it is to own it.

When the Red Cross’s social media person accidentally posted a Tweet meant for her personal account about buying beer, they immediately apologized, and, owned it — with a dash of humor. They came back with this Tweet: "We've deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we've confiscated the keys."

Pony Treats You Can Safely Retweet: