We've all heard stories about a misjudged tweet costing a candidate a job - or seriously denting a company's reputation. No doubt Gap marketers regretted using Hurricane Sandy to promote their online store, after they came under fire for their lack of sensitivity. And when Kieran Allen quit a London media planning firm, his scathing resignation letter became a Twitter sensation. It's unlikely his former bosses found it quite as funny as most readers!
Of course some mistakes are easy to avoid. For example, confusing private and official Twitter accounts - as the UK's ambassador to Chile did recently - is a recipe for a PR disaster. But in today's hyper-connected world, it's all too easy for companies to inadvertently make the wrong impression.
More and more customers are turning to social media to complain, sound off or simply ask questions. And what's more, they expect a prompt response - one survey found 42 per cent expect one in under an hour, but most companies still aren't delivering.
Add in the countless blogs, message boards and forums, and looking out for your online reputation can seem an impossible task. It's especially hard if you're operating on a global scale. But here are a few tips for making the right impression in a "nowhere-to-hide world".
1) Use monitoring tools
There are plenty of free tools that can monitor your brand name, company or keywords across the social web. SocialMention is a great tool for analyzing your chosen words across social networks, as well as top hashtags, users, and their reach. Twilert, TweetDeck, and Wildfire will also help keep an eye on your name - and competitors.
2) Don't forget blogs, forums, message boards and review sites
With numerous ways to spread the word, it can be tough keeping up. Tools such as Technorati and BlogPulse can help. Google Alerts can be invaluable for tracking mentions across multiple languages.
3) Be active and responsive
Ignoring negative comments obviously won't make them go away. A recent study by Maritz Research found that most customers resorted to Twitter because they'd failed to get a response through other channels. And, astoundingly, two-thirds of companies failed to respond! Respond as promptly as possible, and try to continue the conversation via email or private messages.
4) If you get it wrong, admit it
Everyone makes mistakes, but apologizing can help repair the damage. The American Red Cross ended up red-faced after a social media manager misfired a tweet about drinking beer with friends. By admitting the mistake and making fun of themselves, they showed they had a sense of humor - and even won new supporters.
5) Encourage positive comments and reviews
There's little doubt word-of-mouth marketing is one of the best ways to build a positive reputation. Customers tend to trust their peers and online community, with more and more using review sites or social media recommendations. There are many ways to encourage interaction, such as including links to your preferred review sites on your website, emails, and social networks. You could even offer a gift or discount for reviewers - whether their comments are positive or negative.