Setting up a social media presence for a business is easy. The hard part is using that presence to promote your brand in a positive way. And sometimes there are events and issues that are simply out of your control. It’s how you handle them that will make the difference between loyal customers and vehement detractors.

British department store, Debenhams, now knows this all too well. A couple of weeks ago, a man died in Debenhams’ flagship store in Oxford Street, London, after falling from an escalator. His actions had a tragic result for his family and for the many shoppers, including children, who witnessed the incident.

Two hours after the man was pronounced dead at the scene, Debenhams sent out a Facebook post encouraging people to come into the Oxford Street store that weekend for “the perfect party dress”. The timing was more than just awkward, it was a massive error and it resulted in a social media storm of outrage.

While the assumption is that this was an automated post, scheduled for that time well in advance of the tragedy, the fact remains that a social media presence must have a human monitor to make sure things like this don’t happen. The post should have been stopped before it ever appeared. Debenhams could then take some time to craft a message of condolence for the man’s family and the shoppers who witnessed the incident.

Social media is not a set-and-forget tactic. It requires constant input and thought. The best examples of social media use by brands are those that make it very clear that a human being was involved right then and there. A famous example happened during the 2013 Superbowl, which is watched on television by more than 110 million people.

During the game the power went out at the stadium. The quick-thinking Oreo social media team tweeted a simple image of an Oreo cookie with the tagline: “You can still dunk in the dark”. The message was retweeted 10,000 times in one hour, making it potentially more successful than their Superbowl advertisement, which cost millions to produce.

It was impossible for the Oreo team to know that the power would go out in advance but, by keeping a close eye on the event and considering possible social media responses, they turned it into a massive marketing win.

Debenhams stands to lose some face and possibly customers because of their insensitive handling of a tragic event. Oreo, on the other hand, gained massive positive exposure with their witty response to a real-time event.

The comparison illustrates that maintaining close control over social media posts is vital. Automating some posts may make sense in terms of utilising company resources effectively but, if someone isn’t paying attention to the context and standing by to pull the plug on inappropriate posts, this approach could be significantly detrimental to your brand.