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If the phrase "social media mishap" were a listing in the dictionary, chances are you'd find these real-life companies included as definition examples: Amy's Baking Company, Taco Bell, and Epicurious.

Whether because of a Facebook posts gone wrong (as in the case of Amy's Baking Company and Taco Bell) or a Twitter post that has received outrage from readers and the press (Epicurious), these companies all landed in the same spot: in the middle of a huge public backlash after making a social media mistake.

Although some people believe there's no such thing as bad publicity, most businesses would prefer to stay out of the spotlight of a social media mistake.

Here are four steps you can take to avoid making social media mistakes that may give you a negative reputation online.

1. Think before you post

No company wants to be the recipient of negative comments on social media, and there's one simple way to help prevent their occurrence: Think before you post.

In the case of Amy's Baking Company, the company's owners started to receive media attention in 2010 after responding negatively to a Yelp review about their restaurant. They also posted insulting comments about their detractors on the company's own Facebook page shortly thereafter. The owners claimed someone unknown to them had hacked their Facebook account and posted the insults.

Regardless of who posted the disparaging remarks, the key takeaway is this: Don't post rude comments or become overly defensive to the point of insulting others on your social media pages. Doing so is one of the quickest ways to land in the middle of a social media nightmare.

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image of Amy Neeley

Amy Neeley is a content marketing manager at ReachLocal. She helps small and midsize businesses navigate the online marketing world.

LinkedIn: Amy L. Neeley

Twitter: @AmyLNeeley