Twitter has been around for more than five years, and most companies have been able to use the social media network for positive gains. It can be a great way to connect with clients, promote products, and resolve customer service problems.

However, we’ve seen that social media is not free from mistakes and errors made by corporations — be they on Facebook or on Pinterest. Even today, some people and brands experience very public scandals and snafus on Twitter. Most of these errors were lapses in common sense, but others are examples we can all learn from.

Here are four powerful examples of mistakes to avoid on Twitter — don’t do what these brands did.

1. Tweeting From the Wrong Account

It’s an easy mistake to make. A social media manager for a company has access to his or her personal account as well as to the brand’s official feed. Without double-checking, it’s entirely possible for a tweet to appear on the wrong account.

An infamous example of this occurred in 2011 when somebody tweeted from the official Twitter account for the Red Cross about drinking Dogfish Head beer — including the hashtag #gettngslizzerd. It was an embarrassing situation for the charity, but the Red Cross deleted the erroneous post and took the error in stride.

In fact, the mistake turned into a positive event for the Red Cross. It’s followers, and the followers of small brewery Dogfish Head, responded with a blood drive and fundraising campaign for the organization. So, while it’s important to be alert and protect against this type of situation, your actions in the aftermath — if it does occur — will play a big part in how the social media world views your company.

2. Tweeting Rather Than Direct Messaging

Similar to the situation above, this mistake in tweeting can make private information very public. Without knowing the difference between a Twitter mention and a direct message, the wrong content will potentially go to the wrong audience.

Rep. Anthony Weiner of New York exemplified a lack of knowledge about Twitter with a very public fiasco in 2011. He publicly posted a sexually explicit photo instead of sending it as a direct message to its recipient. The ensuing scandal derailed his political career.

This is an extreme example, but there are many similar stories where human errors created problems for corporate brands. To minimize these risks, make certain that you trust anyone who has access to your company’s Twitter account and that they are trained to use the platform. If an accident happens, be as sincere and speedy as possible in tweeting an apology. In the social media universe, ignoring a problem will only make it worse.

3. Spamming Rather Than Promoting

Communication is a two-way street, and that is just as true on a social media network as it is in person. Spamming the platform’s members does not further communication and will only garner you a negative reputation.

During the 2012 Super Bowl, Toyota decided to create a bunch of additional accounts on Twitter. It used these accounts to tweet promotions to people using hashtags related to the football game. At least six verified Twitter accounts tweeted about a giveaway for winning a Toyota car — which obviously had nothing to do with the Super Bowl. This created a lot of ill will toward the car company.

The company’s manager of national digital marketing and social media later issued an apology, stating that “We were excited to share the message of our Camry Effect campaign in a new way.” The lesson here is that you must be certain that your Twitter conversations are relevant to your audience. Spam will not be well-received!

4. Hashtags Going Viral For the Wrong Reasons

One public example of a hashtag gone awry is Qantas, an Australian airline. It asked followers to describe their ideal luxury in-flight experience with the hashtag #QantasLuxury. The airline launched the campaign the day after cutting off union negotiations with its staff. The whole Qantas fleet was grounded during the bargaining process and its staff was locked out for 48 hours. As a result, Qantas received thousands of angry tweets criticizing its approach to the union contracts.

Whether these mistakes were caused by poor timing or a lack of understanding, both caused uproars that cast a negative light on the companies. Remember that you cannot control how Twitter members will interpret or skew your hashtags!

Do you have advice for avoiding mistakes on Twitter? Let us know in the comments.

[Image credits: designatednaphourAlex Proimos, Tuomas Puikkonen, Jon Parise, freezelight, Jason Taellious]