By Elizabeth Hudson, director and co-founder of multi-award winning PR & marketing communications agency, Cream

Would you put an apprentice on stage at a conference representing your business? Or send the office junior to an interview with a journalist? No? I didn’t think so. Most business owners would immediately recognise the risks of either of those actions. Yet when it comes to social media, it seems many business owners still don’t appreciate the reputational risks associated with passing down responsibility to the youngest member of the team.

Earlier this month, a Sheffield law firm found themselves in the press for all the wrong reasons when they tweeted 'Been injured in a roller coaster crash?! We're experts in Personal Injury!! #Smiler #AltonTowers.' The insensitive tweet was then blamed by the company on ‘a junior member of staff’ who made a ‘severe error of judgement.’

Now I’m not for a minute suggesting that living a bit longer makes us all immune to poor judgement – just ask Sir Tim Hunt - but it seems reasonable to believe that a few years’ professional experience might make gaffs like these less likely.

As a communications professional, I’m astonished by the number of people who will spend large amounts of cash making sure that their branding, corporate brochure and website represent their company image in the right way, yet take the cheapest option when it comes to publishing content that could be viewed by the entire world.

Publishing, whether it’s on social media or in more traditional formats, can open you up to all kinds of legal and reputational risks. At the most serious end of the spectrum, careless use of social media can impact a company’s share price, lead to a defamation claim or even land a user in the criminal courts on a contempt of court charge. Asking a junior team member to take on that level of responsibility seems both unfair to the junior and reckless in terms of risk management.

That’s not to say that younger staff can’t be a superb asset when it comes to social media. After all, they’ve grown up with it and can navigate a social media platform more easily and quickly than the older ones amongst us. But they need the right support and guidance if they are managing the company’s very public online presence. So what should you do to minimise the chance of getting caught up in a social media storm?

1) Check, check and check again!

You wouldn’t send a press release out to media without a senior team member casting their eye over it and checking they were happy with it, so have the same sign off procedures for social. Ask junior staff to draft updates in advance, sign them off, and then give them responsibility for ensuring they’re shared across your channels. Let them use their knowhow on the techy stuff and leave the overall responsibility for comms with someone more senior.

2) Clear guidelines

Brand guidelines are essential for protecting your company’s image. Make sure you have equally robust guidelines for use of social media. Think about tone, language, the use of humour and the type of content you’d like sharing. The more guidance you give, the less room for slip ups.

3) Training

Make sure anyone with responsibility for social media keeps their skills and knowledge up to date. As well as staying on top of the latest platforms, the law is constantly playing catch up with social media. Regular training can help make sure your team fully understand the latest developments in this fast moving world.

4) If it’s borderline, don’t risk it!

If you have to spend too long thinking about how to word a social update or you’ve got the slightest concern about it, don’t do it! Make this a key part of your social media guidelines and get a second opinion if you’re at all unsure about anything. The cost of not saying something on social can be much, much less than saying the wrong thing.