Crisis management expert Allan Mayer lays out steps to avoid making social media faux pas, which have the potential to ruin a user's reputation in an instant.
Allan Mayer is a leading specialist in crisis management.
Prominent names from the entertainment industry such as Johnny Depp, Eminem and Universal Studios have used his services.
But when it comes to social media, people have never been under the spotlight they find themselves today.
A random tweet shared as a joke, a Facebook post interpreted in a completely different context or a statement made in haste could easily spiral into a career-spoiling scandal within minutes, he says.
"Most of the time the problem arises when people don't tell their own stories on social media and leave the job to someone else," Mayer told a communications conference in Istanbul on Thursday.
"Media abhors vacuum and when someone else tells your story, then chances are you wouldn't like it."
People make mistakes but they shouldn't shy away from clearing their position afterwards, he added.
Mayer, often referred to as a spin doctor by the press, shared three advises that could help avoid making the mistake of falling on the wrong side of the internet.
"Think Before You Post"
This might sound like an obvious suggestion, but Mayer says impulsive behaviour on social media is the biggest cause for getting caught up in a storm of unwanted attention.
In December 2013, Justine Sacco, a senior public relations executive at the InterActive Corporation, made the mistake of posting a casual tweet without giving it a second thought.
Before boarding an 11-hour long flight from London to Cape Town, she tweeted: "Going to Africa. Hope I don't get AIDS. Just kidding. I am white!"
She only had 170 followers and the tweet was intended as a joke she shared with a few friends.
"By the time her plane landed, the tweet had been shared thousands of times and she had already lost her job," Mayer said.
"There is no such thing as a private conversation on social media."
"Avoid Jumping Onto The Bandwagon"
Mayer says people are quick to add their voice to ongoing discussions and trending topics on social media.
In November 2011, famous Hollywood actor Ashton Kutcher tweeted about something he wasn't sure about.
Penn State football coach Joe Paterno was fired for not doing enough to stop child abuse by his assistant.
Kutcher, a big fan of the coach, saw the news on television and tweeted without bothering to dig deeper into the story.
He tweeted: "How do you fire Jo Pa? #insult #noclass as a hawkeye I find it in poor taste."
What followed was a barrage of insults from thousands of his followers who thought Kutcher was insensitive to the feelings of sexual abuse victims.
The sudden outpour forced him to delete his tweets and he stopped using twitter for some time.
"Don't jump onto the hashtags," suggests Mayer.
"If you don't know about the subject, then it's better to just shut up."
"Get The Context Right"
It's not just individuals that make the mistake of touching off a sensitive subject unintentionally.
French company BIC, famous for its disposables pens, lighters and shavers, shared a Facebook post in South Africa last year on International Women's Day that was meant to celebrate women.
Instead the post which read, "look like a girl, act like a lady, think like a man, work like a boss" went viral and drew accusations for being sexist.
"BIC's sales in South Africa haven't recovered since then," Mayer said.
These cases aside, social media can also be a powerful tool for people and companies.
"Internet helps you reach out to viewers directly," he says.
But this comes with a warning: "Remember that the first blow is always self-inflicted."
Author: Saad Hasan