Social media are a bit like flies on a wild animal—they start buzzing at the slightest jarring activity. This week, social denizens spotted a real thump of an error in a Delta Airlines tweet meant to congratulate the U.S. team on its 2-1 victory over Ghana. 

In an attempt to cleverly brag up the USA, Delta posted a photo of the Statue of Liberty with the number 2 next to it alongside a photo of a giraffe adjacent to the number 1. The country of Ghana has no giraffes, however, and the tweet was viewed by the twitterverse as a negative stereotyping of an African country.

While individuals may be able to toss out a rant or accusation in 140 characters with relative impunity, a business must be much be much more cautious before it posts anything that that might denigrate another person or entity—even when a tweet is meant as a joke. Before you tweet, post, comment or pin, consider these points of advice:

Do your homework. Understand both the audience for whom you’re writing and the context of recent conversations that may provoke a negative reaction. (E.g., the campaign by the New York Police Department urging people to post photos of themselves with officers backfired when the hashtag began swarming with photos of police brutality.) And, while you’re at it, check out where to find giraffes.

Avoid controversial topics. While debates over religion, politics, gay rights and controversial TV shows make for rich Facebook feeds, they generally don’t help businesses. 

Relate your tweets and posts to your brand. Focus your social network posts on aspects of your corporate messaging, products, services and consumer tips. Delta may have been better served by sticking to images showing people traveling to the World Cup or by creating a “fan of the day” series that strengthened its brand story as the preferred airline for traveling to important events.

Listen actively. Don’t rush to the keyboard every time your company’s name appears in a post or comment. Take time to understand the situation that prompted the mention and complement the conversation in your own responses. That said, be active in commenting on and answering the questions posed in social media so that followers feel you are listening to them and care about their concerns.

Consider social networks as another important channel for your messages, and take the same precautions you would use in writing an ad or shooting a TV spot. The World Cup is exciting enough without your handle taking a header into the ’Net.