The Dirty Dozen Top 12 Social Media Mistakes to Avoid

There have been numerous posts written about the pitfalls of social media marketing (including helpful pieces from Online Social Networking, Sysomos, and  one I wrote for HubSpot). But the list below is a summary of the most common mistakes based on both my client experience and research for this recent presentation:

Avoid these dirty dozen of the most common social media marketing mistakes and you’ll be well on your way making social media not just an effective vehicle for marketing and PR, but a productive tool across your organization.

Failing to LISTEN. Social media is about having a conversati0n with your prospects, not broadcasting to them. You can’t have a conversation without listening. Trying to treat social media like the old world of interruption-based advertising won’t work. It will backfire.

Assigning it to an intern. Your social media presence is, for many of the people you’re trying to reach, now the public face of your company. Your social media strategist is your public spokesperson. It takes business savvy and years of industry experience to do this well. It’s far easier to teach a subject matter expert in your company how to use social media tools than it is to try to magically impart product, company, industry and business knowledge to a social media intern.

Failing to plan. Social media efforts should be based on understanding of which tools to use (based on where your customers, partners and industry influencers congregate), who will be responsible for what tasks, what your objectives are, and how you will measure success. Otherwise, you’re flailing.

Using social media as a direct response vehicle. Except in rare cases (e.g., a restaurant tweeting out lunch specials to area businesses at late morning) social media is just not effective as a direct marketing / direct response tool. Particularly in the b2b world, your fans, followers and connections are looking for helpful information and interaction; blatant promotion is more likely to turn them away than to turn them into customers.

Trying to automate interaction. Conversations can’t be automated. Automated welcome DMs on Twitter and the like are obnoxious. While there are places for automation in social media (such as monitoring and automatically submitting blog posts to various social networking and bookmarking sites), it’s best used carefully and sparingly.

Expecting instant results. Social media success is based on content and trust. It takes time to build a critical mass of both. Search traffic to blogs increases over time as the blog establishes authority and amasses content. Followers, fans and connections increase as trust and dialog are developed. By all means, expect and measure results from social media. Just don’t have unrealistic expectations of achieving those results overnight.

Allocating insufficient time and resources. Some marketers (and even CFOs) mistakenly view social media as “free.” While it’s true you don’t have to pay a fee to put up a Facebook page or start tweeting, there is nothing free about successfully using social media to reach and engage with customers and prospects. It takes time and effort to create content, promote it, monitor social media conversations, and participate in dialog. Social media marketing requires adequate allocation of time and budget just like any other tactic; the specific line items are just different.

Sending mixed signals or messages. Virtually every organization that has employees is already participating in social media, whether “officially” or not.  With three-quarters of Internet users now using social media, your employees are already out there. And just as almost everyone talks about work about work outside the workplace, most people will tweet or post about their employment from time to time as well. It’s critical to communicate your social media objectives and messages to employees, establish and communicate a social media policy, and train them in the proper business use of social networks. Proper training dramatically reduces the risk of an employee releasing sensitive information, inappropriate comments or just plain muddled messages (e.g. Kmart as the place for fashion, or Oracle as ideal for small business) to the market.

Being dishonest or misrepresenting the facts. As noted above, social media success requires building trust with your audience; nothing shatters that trust like being untruthful or even less than transparent in social media. The Walmart blogging scandal is a classic case study in what not to do, but the problem isn’t limited to big companies or to the b2c world. A blog represented as being by the CEO better contain the CEO’s words. Corporate Twitter accounts should reveal who’s behind them whenever possible. It’s far easier to just do the right thing from the start than to try to repair a damaged reputation later.

Failing to provide fresh, relevant and valued content. In less than two decades, we’ve gone from a world of information scarcity to information overload. To stand out and make an impact, your content needs to be both original and helpful to your audience. Traditional marketing materials (e.g. product brochures and case studies) are not content; they still have their place, but that is later in the sales cycle after a sales dialog has been established, not at the exploration and initial interest stage where much social media interaction occurs.

Being negative. On the Internet, your words live forever. There’s rarely any benefit from making enemies, and prospective customers respond far more positively to constructive information than to trash talk. That’s not to say of course that you can’t objectively describe a disappointment with a vendor or be a bit controversial at times, but personal attacks and derogatory statements about competitors are more likely to damage the source than the target.

Treating social media as a silo. Social media is, ultimately, a sophisticated communications tool; it’s utility extends far beyond marketing and PR to product development, HR, customer service and other groups. In the most advanced stage of social media adoption, companies truly integrate the use of social media across the organization. For those organizations in earlier stages, the key is to train your marketers and subject matter experts on the proper use of social media tools, not to treat social media as a distinct function separated from business knowledge or function.

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  1. I think failing to listen is probably one of the most common. People tend to forget about it because they aren’t face to face or even on the phone with someone.

    I advise people to stick a post it note next to their computer that reads something like “I talk to real people.” 😛

  2. Great point Brandon. Talking without listening is simply advertising, and approach tends to work poorly (or even backfire) in social media. I like the Post-It tip!

  3. Hi Dolphus – when creating a dashboard, think about the metrics you’ll want to measure, such as the number of visits to your website driven from social media sources and the number of mentions of your brand each month in Twitter. You can measure these things using tools like Google Analytics, Twitter search and social media monitoring software. And you can measure them even if your company isn’t officially “doing” anything in social media. Other measures — such as Twitter interactions — are items you know you’ll want to include but are metrics you won’t be able to measure until your programs get started. That’s okay; the dashboard can evolve over time as your use of social media gets more sophisticated. Hope that helps!

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  5. Der Webiquity,

    Like most good articles written by knowledgeable persons, I both agree and disagree with much I’ve read. Social media, if anything, is soooooo much a one size does not fit all world. I sell over retail products made from my licensed images. 99.9% of people do not know how to talk about that; not even in a friendly engaged conversation. Been there done that and been on Twitter 3 years and facebook about 4 years. I use it as I would any other medium as a broadcast system using repetition. Since the graphic describes immediately what I couldn’t come close in 140 characters much less 10,000 characters, job is done, and often product bought. Same is true of my wife and her brand products. We do blog and add descriptions and pics of some of our products but with almost 300,000 unique products it would take a lifetime. Our way is not for everyone. In fact only a few. But trust me we’ve tried the conventional wisdom/engage, one on one, etc etc. and nothing. Went back to our broadcast and can barely keep up with the sales. I hate that’s true; we still spend about 10% personal talk, but if we did it as other businesses did, we’d be bankrupt within about 30 days. I wish someone would write an article about what works for one, is poison to another. Thanks, Rick

  6. Rick – what you say is true. I often see people on Twitter violating many or most of these rules, people I wouldn’t follow in a million years, who nonetheless have 40 or 50 thousand followers. That’s why I wrote How to Suck a Twitter (And Still Appear Successful) a while back. Sometimes breaking the rules is what wins the game. Apple violates all standards of open computing, and yet iTunes and the iPhone are hugely successful. Go figure.

    I still advise people to do what works most of the time. Breaking the rules can lead to a big payoff, but is a big risk that most often leads to big failure. Congrats on your success.

  7. I get more and more upset by these “Experts” telling us that everything has to have a Strategy and can’t be personal. These people hang on to their past success in traditional marketing and don’t “get” that Spcial Media is called “Social” for a reason.
    If you look at who is really successful in Social Media, it’s the real people having fun sharing, interacting, being people before being a brand.

  8. Spot on, Hannah. People who treat this as a dialogue (“social”) are successful. Those who view it as another form of broadcast / advertising tend to get little traction.

  9. The biggest mistake I made on social media was I added my Boss as friend and one of my friend shared a very funny picture about bosses and my foolishness I made a comment on that, my boss saw that comment and he stopped my appraisal. So be very careful on social media. :'(