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The proliferation of social media agencies and training tools has failed to slow the march of organizations getting in trouble on Twitter. Two of the most well-known examples highlight some of the dos and don'ts when it comes to managing corporate Twitter accounts.

Just last week, Durex found itself in the middle of a controversy when the company's South Africa team embarked on a Twitter campaign comprising of a series of sexual jokes of questionable taste. The hashtag #DurexJoke quickly began trending and users fuelled the fire with their own submissions. Durex quickly drew the ire of leading feminist groups in South Africa for the insensitive and sexist nature of their jokes and people worldwide began to tune in.

Durex initially defended the jokes, saying they were in the spirit of its Twitter community, before issuing a formal apology and deleting all the tweets.

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A markedly different example in terms of action and outcome comes from the Red Cross earlier this year. One of its employees accidentally tweeted from the @RedCross account that she had found some extra beers and was #gettingslizzerd. The tweet was taken down about an hour later and the Red Cross apologized, keeping it light and saying: "We've deleted the rogue tweet but rest assured the Red Cross is sober and we've confiscated the keys."

People realized it was an honest mistake, noticed the sensible response from the Red Cross and turned the hashtag #gettingslizzerd into a rallying cry to drive donations for the organization. Spurred by fans of Dogfish Head beer – mentioned in the initial tweet – and communities built around bars that serve it, the Red Cross received an unexpected funding surge.

There are a few key points we can take away from these examples:

Be careful who you give control to

Although of a different magnitude, both of these Twitter mistakes were caused by poor judgment. The first step is to set up a system that limits employees from mistaking corporate accounts for personal ones – it could be as simple as a dedicated mobile device or Twitter client.

This goes for the agency you choose as well. One thing I didn't mention about the Durex example is that its agency made the tweets, same goes for Chrysler's Twitter controversy in March. When you hand over the keys to one of your organization's most public fronts, make sure they go to someone you trust.

Be prepared for mistakes

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Social media can be a handful to manage. It's instant, provides a wide reach and you can't take back what you say. While you can't hope for a result like the Red Cross example, how you acknowledge your mistakes will go a long way toward determining how the story is told. If you made a mistake, review all the facts and apologize quickly, honestly and to the right people. We'll never know for sure, but had Durex not initially defended the jokes it may have attracted a lot less attention.

Companies that have been the most successful on social media know their audiences and what they like. They engage with them in an honest and personable way. Taking risks and being creative is good, just make sure you consider the consequences and that you are ready to respond.

Special to The Globe and Mail

Mia Pearson is the co-founder of North Strategic . She has more than two decades of experience in creating and growing communications agencies, and her experience spans many sectors, including financial, technology, consumer and lifestyle.

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