How Twitter Can Enhance — Or Ruin — Your Online Reputation

Twitter is something of a mixed blessing. There is no doubt that it can be an invaluable and effective tool for reaching out to online users. If you doubt it, simply survey the long list of celebrities and political figures who use Twitter to send their messages to the masses. At the same time, however, most of us can think of a few instances in which social media faux pas did significant damage to a corporation’s public image, suggesting that perhaps Twitter can prove detrimental, at least when used improperly.

What is it, though, that separates the companies in these two groups — those that harness Twitter to effectively build their brand, and those that stumble into one Twitter PR blunder after another? There are many factors to consider, but the bottom line is that the most effective corporate Twitter users tend to be the ones that have a strong and specific strategy in place. That strategy involves understanding the risks that come with Twitter, safeguarding against them, and recognizing how Twitter can be used to build a strong and authoritative online brand.

The Dangers of Twitter

First, businesses should understand the dangers of Twitter. It goes without saying that any Twitter post that is offensive, racist, sexist, defamatory, or insensitively-worded can cause a company grave damage — but there are other, more innocent ways in which Twitter blunders happen.

One example comes from the American Red Cross. Months back, the charity’s social media manger logged into her personal Twitter account to post something about how drunk she was. The problem was that it wasn’t tweeted through her personal Twitter account. It was the corporate one, and her tweet did not go over well with those who prefer to think of the American Red Cross as a totally upright and above-board healthcare organization.

Meanwhile, we can all think of plenty of companies that have sought to use current political headlines — including tragedies — to sell their products. Doing so causes companies to come across as brutish and uncaring.

Setting Boundaries

The point is simply that there are many ways in which even the best-intentioned companies can fall into common Twitter pitfalls. Thankfully, a written, corporate Twitter policy can help to ward off these potential problems. There are three specific things that a company’s social media policy should address:

1. Determine Twitter Ownership

For starters, the policy should specify who is tasked with updating the Twitter account — whether it is your CEO, a VP of Marketing, a designated social media team member, or someone else. It is advised that this person be someone other than an intern or part-time employee — that is, it should be someone who really understands your company’s vision.

2. Protect Your Passwords

Your Twitter policy might also denote that passwords are to be changed every week or two, to help protect against mishaps like the one that befell the Red Cross.

3. Set Clear Goals

Finally, your company’s social media policy should address your company’s broad Twitter objectives; exactly who are you trying to reach, and what are you trying to accomplish? Clearly setting goals can help keep things on-message, and it prevents against many of the ill-advised tweets that tend to happen when companies are flying blind.

The Benefits of Twitter

Companies can really get the most out of Twitter by acknowledging that it is more than just a potential PR deathtrap. It is also a powerful tool for building a strong, positive, and authoritative brand identity. To use Twitter for the purposes of online reputation management and brand enhancement, companies need to think critically about the kind of tweets they are sending out.

For starters, remember that Twitter is a great way to show your expertise within your industry or niche. When breaking news sweeps your industry, use Twitter to share some basic opinions and insights. Also use it to provide customers with illuminating tips, guidelines, how-tos, and strategies — even post links to relevant industry blog articles. Use Twitter to educate and to engage, not simply to promote.

Another tip: You can use Twitter to brand your company as socially responsible and charitable. Use Twitter to send links to non-profits that you support. If a member of your organization spends a day serving soup at a soup kitchen, or building a Habitat for Humanity house, send out some Twitpics.

Finally, businesses can use Twitter to make their brands more relatable — to show off their “human” side, as it were. Something as simple as a behind-the-scenes photo or anecdote, involving your team, can go a long way toward building this kind of emotional resonance.

In other words, Twitter is neither a blessing nor a curse. It is as helpful as companies wish to make it, and approaching it strategically can indeed result in significant brand enhancement.

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