by Lisa Barone, September 15, 2008
As the buzz around social media continues to get louder, companies are becoming more desperate to cash in. They're stumbling blindly into blogging, microblogging, building new platforms and creating profiles on every social media site they can point their mouse at. The mission is to quickly scoop up backlinks, to attract new eyeballs and to collect instant search engine rankings. However, when companies launch into social media unprepared the only thing they really earn themselves is a bad reputation as a social media spammer.
The mistakes made by companies in social media shouldn't be taken lightly. The way you present yourself in the new social Web will affect your company's overall reputation and your ability to connect with users and potential customers in the future. So what are the most common mistakes companies make when they try to jump in at the deep end of the pool?
Completely Ignoring Social Media
This may be one of the most egregious social media blunders of them all. It's what happens when companies think they're too traditional, too big, too small or too whatever to benefit from social media. Last year in the Bruce Clay, Inc. blog, we wrote about why social media belongs in your Internet marketing campaign, highlighting how even the most traditional institution of all - a library - was able to use social media to increase its search engine rankings and visibility. Too many companies have this notion that social media is "silly" or a "waste of time". They're discouraging folks in their company from getting involved and they're doing that at their own detriment. Social media isn't silly. It's where your customers go to hang out. You want to be there to engage with them, to listen to them, to get them excited and to let them bring you into their world and show you what they want and what they respond to. But you have to do it right. The goal is to listen so that you can make your company better and reach more people. By doing that, you present your company as the one best suited to fit their needs because, unlike your competition, you understand them. And unlike your competition, you're there. You didn't ignore social media.
A bare social media profile is the mark of a spammer lurking in the community. It's akin to moving into a new house and never buying any furniture. At some point, your neighbors are going to question whether you're there for good or just passing through. The first step to gaining street cred and acceptance is to fill out your profile and let members know that you're invested in the community. You want them to see that you've taken up shop there and that you're not just visiting. The more care you put into building out an attractive, engaging profile, the more you'll encourage users to engage with you. Your profile should include a custom background when possible, a photo, contact information, and a list of interests to help people get to know you better. It should represent who you are as a company - your sense of humor, your style, your online persona. It should look and feel exactly like you. Better yet, it should look and feel like your customers. Ask yourself how your users would design your profile page if they were given the keys. Use your social media profile as a tool to engage the community. You don't want it to be the lone empty house on the block.
Every few weeks we'll see a new company blasted in the blogosphere for faking its social media efforts. Over the past few years we've seen Walmart and its fake blog, fake avatars running amuck, companies updating their own Wikipedia page, users being to act as brand evangelists, etc. Each time it's a slightly different tale from a company that didn't learn from the missteps of others. If you can't invest the time to create an authentic social media profile, then don't bother creating one at all. Your customers want to interact with you, not a bot that's programmed to automatically leave wall messages, friend people on command and spit back key phrases like a parrot. That isn't social media. It is social spamming and it will hurt your company. A lot of companies look at this type of behavior as a "quick fix" - they get to engage in social media without putting in any real effort. It may sound good, but eventually people will figure out that you've been lying to them and your brand reputation will take a nose dive once you're outed and flamed through the blogosphere.
Trying to Control It
If you're stepping into social media with that notion that you'll be able to control your profile page, your Facebook group or even the conversation, you're in for a rude awakening. Control in social media isn't possible and old media needs to get over its control issues and realize that. Despite your best efforts, it is the community that controls everything. They own the conversation, the tone, its direction, every element of it. You won't be able to simply push something out with the expectation that the community will react in some predetermined way. You have to be more original than that, more real. You have to give them a reason to be interested in you and a reason to interact. Your best bet is to make yourself a part of that community and fight for acceptance. In most cases, they want to give it to you. But they won't until you fully let go. Give them the keys; let them tell you what they want from your brand, and then find a way to give it to them, while still supporting your own goals.
Trying to Sell Users Instead of Listening
Leave the sales pitches at the door. They don't belong in social media. That's not why you're there. You want to develop a presence in social media in order to listen. You want to hear customer concerns, to learn about them, to find out what gets them excited, what they like about your product, what they still want, etc. You're not there to pitch and sell and mass email and spam and become a full-fledge bane on their existence. That's how social media campaigns backfire and how companies inadvertently end up annoying and alienating their life blood. Be a good social media citizen and listen before you speak and offer before you take. Otherwise, you're going to be written off as yet another company that doesn't know how to use social media and who is only interested in promoting themselves. You have add value to the communities you're participating in - value for your customers, not yourself.
Using Traditional Media Tactics
Trying to pass of your stale press release as content on Facebook will produce the same reaction as showing up barefoot to a black tie event - if you're dumb enough to do it, be prepare to be shunned, mocked and tossed back out. There are so many interesting things you can do with social media that your customers won't accept anything else. You can create useful widgets that showcase the best of your site, you can create rooms to give brand evangelists a place to congregate, you can find new ways to spread content - what you can't do is try and push old marketing tactics and hope they work. Stop pushing and start engaging. Expect it to be a dialog with your actual users and clients instead of using journalists as your beta testers or sending out statements with no room for response.
Launching, then Ignoring
Social media is similar to search engine optimization in that you can't just set it and then step away. It's a real investment and one that your company must take seriously in order to be successful. Once you set up that rich profile, you have to go out into the community and find the conversations and the members who are talking about you. And once you find them, you have to stay on top of them. If you want your customers to stay engaged, you have to keep producing great content yourselves. Keep writing blog posts, creating widgets and being active in the community. Social media is real work. It's not just goofing around. I think that's what a lot of companies don't realize.