Never underestimate the reach of social media. Posting racially insensitive remarks, Halloween costumes in poor taste, and jokes gone awry have all gotten people fired. It doesn’t just happen to individuals. Companies have also been on the receiving end of scathing criticism from social media users, whether it be Facebook, Twitter, or any other social media site.

Sometimes an apology isn’t enough to keep loyal customers from leaving in droves. Don’t let that happen to you. Here are some guidelines I’ve developed over the years to ensure my social media posts hit all the right notes:

Formulate a Plan

How often do you update your social media feeds? I hope you were able to answer that right away. If not, I think I found our first problem. Consider social media as you would any other marketing. What are your goals and what’s your strategy to reach them? What is it you want to accomplish – more leads, more sales, positive name recognition? Think this through before you act.

Plan your posts as you would advertising and public relations. How many times do you want to post something each week? I recommend 3-5 times a week, it keeps you relevant without becoming a nuisance. Determine what the important issues are for your company coming up next week, next month, and six months from now and decide how you want to present them and on which sites.

So, once your plan is in place the hard work is done. Now you can sit back with your social media marketing on cruise control, right? Whoa, not so fast. Social media moves faster than any business can. Your social media team can’t keep up with 300 million Twitter users. You want to be a trending topic for the right reasons, not from a PR disaster. Monitor your posts and tweak your plan when you can take advantage of related topics, or to avoid being associated with negative news.

Choose Wisely

The most expensive computer you own is the one that sits unused. What’s the point of having it if you don’t use it? That’s what I think about social media sites. If you’re not going to keep updating them, why bother posting on them at all? It just makes your company look bad.

Here’s what I suggest – don’t go all-in. Start small and work your way up. Pick one site, like Facebook, and work on keeping it active and relevant. Build your following. Post regularly. Once you’ve got a handle on one social media site, it’s time to move on to the next one. OK, now it’s time to tackle Twitter. That doesn’t mean you forget about Facebook. Keep the momentum going there, but work Twitter into your schedule.

As you become comfortable with each new platform, branch out into new ones. You’ll want to choose the best sites for your company. Does it make sense for you to be on Instagram, Snapchat, or Pinterest? You’ll never know until you try. Eventually, you’ll discover which sites generate the most response for you. Keep working on those and jettison the rest of them.

Pick the Right People

I know, this seems like a no-brainer, but you’d be surprised how many companies have the wrong people in charge of their social media presence. Your IT department probably shouldn’t be in charge of managing your online posts. Choose a team that’s dedicated to online marketing.

However, there are many companies that have hired social media managers who look good on paper, but don’t pan out. Think about it, if you’re not a techie, you might be impressed with a person’s resume, but their skills may not translate to the needs of your business. Just because someone is an expert at posting videos of themselves on YouTube doesn’t mean they know anything about social media marketing for a company. They must also possess the marketing savvy to make smart choices for your business posts. Which brings us to the next step…

Set up clear guidelines for how content gets posted on social media sites. What kind of formal approval process do you want in place to minimize the risk of ill-conceived posts? Decide who you want to have access to posting on the sites. There have been instances where employees thought they were posting on their personal Twitter account only to find out it was on the company’s account. It’s like letting a toddler play with a book of matches. Eventually, something will go horribly wrong.

Post Appropriately

I’m not necessarily talking about the content of the post, I want you to consider the types of content you’re posting. For instance, are your posts always promoting your products or services? Sometimes it’s hard to find the right balance to keep people interested without turning them off. Some marketing experts invoke the 80/20 rule. That means you post product information 80 percent of the time, and other topics 20 percent of the time.

Don’t be afraid to give your followers some variety in your posts. Of course, you’ll want to talk about new products, services, and clients. In addition to posting, you also want to re-post other people’s content. This is an excellent way to connect with like-minded people and can really have a domino effect with your online presence. Building upon reciprocal relationships can increase the likelihood of your posts and links to your website reaching a growing number of people.

Another way you can get noticed on Twitter is by hashtagging a trending topic. To be effective, your post needs to be relevant to the topic. For instance, if #AcademyAwards is trending, you could use the hashtag to promote your company’s award-winning products.

Newsjacking, as it’s called, can be a fickle beast. Take the apparel company that newsjacked the #aurora trending topic to promote their Aurora line of clothing. Unfortunately, #aurora was trending because of the theater shooting in Aurora, Colorado. Going back to what I said earlier, that is exactly why you need a formal approval process. Although that was an inadvertent incident, a good rule of thumb is to never, ever use a tragedy to promote your company.

Think Before You Post

Learning from others’ mistakes is one way to better manage your online presence, because once your post is out there, it’s on the Internet forever. Choose your posts wisely to help your company from becoming a social media outcast. With a clear plan, executed by the right team, you can set the stage for some powerful social media performance.

About the Author

Lindsay Dicks

Lindsay Dicks is an “Online Branding Agent” dedicated to helping clients create an online buzz about themselves and their businesses as well as make more money using content marketing and social media. Lindsay is also the CEO of CelebritySites®, COO of Te Dicks + Nanton Celebrity Branding Agency, a multiple Best-Selling Author®, speaker, coach and an avid Gator fan. To fnd out how Lindsay can help your digital DNA