How to Avoid Elon Musk’s Social Media Blunders


The growing reach, power and influence of online social networks have elevated social media marketingOpens a new window  into a key element for most campaigns. For most industries – B2B and B2C alike – they have become invaluable vehicles for marketing, audience engagement and brand voice.

However, the real-time nature of these platforms, coupled with the near-instant accountability consumers now expectOpens a new window from brands operating on these digital networks, can also hinder companies that fail to get their social media messaging right.

Consider the scandal Snapchat caused with an ad on its social media platform last year. In what I can only guess was an attempt to be provocative and spark debate, the app ran an ad for the mobile game “Would You Rather?” offering users two options: “Slap Rihanna” or Punch Chris Brown.”

Clearly referencing Brown’s conviction for assaulting Rihanna in 2009, the ad was widely criticized for making light of domestic violence. After Rihanna publicly slammed the company, Snapchat’s share prices dropped by nearly 4%, knocking $800 million off the company’s market value.

Similarly, Elon Musk’s ongoing legal battle with the Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC)Opens a new window highlights why companies and public figures who represent their brands – be it a CEO or a celebrity spokesperson – to tread carefully when on these digital networks.

Companies that don’t set clear rules and strategies for their social media activity – including responses when those guidelines aren’t followed – will run into trouble. Look no further than Tesla’s headaches from its founders online behavior.

Indeed, Musk has made multiple Twitter faux pas. One led to a lawsuit and settlement with the SEC that forced Musk to step down as Tesla’s chairman for three years, and fined Musk and Tesla $20 million each.

Let’s look at the actions marketers can take to ensure their brand avoids the most common – and preventable – social media marketing mistakes.

Have a plan and strategy in place

A pattern I’ve noticed among brands with a ‘let’s just go for it’ approach to their social media posting is a decision to focus on social media based on emotion, not as the outcome of planning and preparation.

The result? A social presence that operates on improvisation and off-the-cuff creativity.

This lack of strategy, planning and editorial guidelines will trigger various negative impacts, ending in uninspired social media management, sporadic posts and limited sharing of content and marketing material – translating into missed marketing and advertising opportunities, and greater risk of an insensitive Tweet or Facebook post.

Social media marketing should be treated as any other campaign: Specific goals, budgets and KPIs defined,  a clear plan of action and goals developed, tactics and resources necessary for achieving them and metrics enumerated to evaluate results.

Writing for social media news site Social Media Today, Rachel Strella outlinesOpens a new window  the behavior that delivers key benefits:

  • You channel efforts constructively towards achieving specific, defined goals, which raises the chances for success.
  • You use time and resources more effectively with a plan that you stick to – and are less likely to get distracted.
  • You streamline social media campaigns to ensure the desired level of impact on your target audience.
  • You measure your results, and tweak them on the way, helping to drive future campaigns to increased profitability.

In the strategy phase, marketers should consider their brand’s distinct social media voice and identity, populate a social media editorial calendar and develop a policy for all social media activity.

Focus on the human element

Audiences follow and interact online with brands that inspire them, and whose values align with theirs. A purely corporate voice and tone will never work.

Think about how your social media content will engage people online. For instance, you won’t get results by simply sharing and publishing promotional material across your various networks.

Avoid talking only about your company and what it offers. Talk to followers about their experiences with your product or service. Ask for feedback. Answer people when they engage with your brand online and show them your unique brand identityOpens a new window .

Also, don’t rely too heavily on automated posting. While automation is great in many respects for social media management, it can disassociate people if messages come off as impersonal or spammy.

By focusing on the human element, social media marketers inherently prove they’re listening to their followers, showing they value them, and that they don’t consider the public merely as potential sales marks.

Prove your value

Too many marketers focus on pushing their brand, product or service without providing value to social media audiences.

As Lilach Bullock writes on Forbes: “While you may believe it’s smart to use social media exclusively to build awareness, users gravitate to these platforms to engage and interact – not to buy.”

Social is a medium where engagement is key to success. Brands should share a variety of topical and interesting content on social media. If possible, they should even create their own content – video, blog posts, infographics – that are relevant to their target audience.

Nike’s controversial ad campaign sponsoring Colin KaepernickOpens a new window  and Gillette’s contentious ad that took on bullying and “toxic masculinity”Opens a new window  were successful because they resonated with audiences, evoking emotions and touching on topics relating to social responsibility.

Ultimately, content that entertains, enlightens and provokes a gut reaction from people will perform far better than traditional sales materials.