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Along with all the excitement over the potential power of social media, a handful of common bad strategies and decisions have begun to pop up.

These aren’t just small issues, either. Several of them are serious enough to critically damage your overall social media efforts, and could even stop your program dead in its tracks. I’ve seen several of these terrible mistakes appear repeatedly across companies of all sizes.



Shining a light on these common social media missteps will help you (or your clients) avoid the same mistakes.

1. The "Shoot First, Then Aim" Mentality



It’s amazing that there are still many companies and organizations who launch their social media presence without first establishing a clear purpose and goal for it. Who are they targeting? What’s the ideal outcome? These, and most other basic questions that must be identified and answered, are left ignored.

I’ve witnessed Facebook pages that grow to tens of thousands of Likes based completely on the strength of a brand. It’s only a matter of time before your fans realize that the overall strategy is missing and call you on it. Updates are sporadic, the information shared is not exclusive, and questions go unanswered.

I believe one of the best ways to view your social media presence is this: Think of it as a small town/city. If you had a town of 10,000 or 100,000 citizens, do you think it could run effectively without some sort of governance and leadership?

If you hope to have an effective presence, start with this in mind and be sure you know how you (and who) will govern it.

2. Using the "If You Build It, They Will Come" Strategy



There are Facebook pages and Twitter accounts that catch fire with little promotion. These are edge cases; perhaps it’s a big, recognizable brand or a celebrity that already has a big following offline.

It’s more common to see the opposite: A social media presence that’s launched with no marketing and no existent fan base. Much like the early days of forums, blogs, and e-commerce, many companies set up Facebook pages and Twitter accounts because everyone else is doing it. And they expect fans will eagerly beat a path to their door.

There are dozens of articles, books and blogs that can help to promote your social media presence. Use of online as well as offline promotion is vital to building momentum and developing an effective Facebook page, blog, or Twitter account.

3. "Our Public Relations Agency Will Take Care of It"



Agencies can be a great help in launching your presence, but that’s just the first step. What about the long term? Do you plan to have the agency continue to develop and promote your presence one year from now? Three years from now?

In most cases, the cost of an agency can make a long-term relationship cost prohibitive. Have a vision of how you plan to handle the care and feeding of your presence over the long term.

In addition, social media users seek authenticity. They want to hear updates directly from those that run the company — the developers, the CEO, the secretary, the new intern. It’s no fun getting updates from people who aren’t engaged directly in the company’s day-to-day.

Be sure to consider how you might manage customer care via social media as well. If you do a great job of building awareness and relationships, it’s only a matter of time before your customers and prospects begin to use it as a core communication channel for customer service and support. Who will monitor your social graph and respond? What tools could you use to make social media engagement more fruitful and efficient?

Odds are that your agency is great at marketing and promotion, but they are not close enough to your product to effectively offer customer care. Look to the model you use for offering customer support via phone and email and consider leveraging the same resources to support customers through social media. That can be a more effective and possibly more affordable way to offer support compared to using a public relations, advertising or marketing firm.

4. Neglecting Traditional Media ("Social Media is All We Need")



Just like print ads or any other media, social media should not stand on its own. It should be supported by broader strategies for both marketing and customer support. Over the past two years, too many businesses have pushed aside traditional approaches to building their brands in favor of social media.

No doubt that social media is vitally important and is here to stay, but only as a component of a bigger overall strategy. If your entire strategy is social media, you would probably be best off to pause and reevaluate your approach.

5. Anyone Can Be a Social Media Strategist



The good news is that many companies now realize that social media is not an easy thing to do. That means there are more people taking it seriously and not asking a niece or nephew or an in-house Facebook aficionado to manage social media on behalf of the entire company.

The bad news is that it can be hard to tell who is truly qualified to help. It seems everyone’s become social media gurus.

In my opinion, social media has evolved so quickly that almost no one should claim to be a guru or expert. Even the most veteran "Facebook guru," at most, only has seven years of experience, and that’s if they helped Zuckerberg build it!

Odds are, most self-proclaimed experts have two or three years of experience in a field that is shifting and evolving rapidly. Take any statements of anybody claiming to be an "expert" regarding their level of expertise with a grain of salt.

My general rule is if someone refers to themselves as a "guru" or "expert", run away. Fast.

A few suggestions that can help you avoid the false gurus:

  • Gather and follow up on references with needs similar to yours. How did the project go, and what has the ongoing involvement been?
  • Do your best to understand if they have a complete understanding of how the various components of marketing and customer care fit in with social media. If they don’t have broad experience in these areas, it will be difficult for them to understand how social media fits in.
Launching and growing a social media presence is a long-term proposition, so be sure you choose a partner who will be there to support you over the long term, even when social media becomes old news.

Conclusion

Social media needs to be a part of your overall marketing and customer care strategies. It should not stand on its own, and it needs long-term goals to have any chance of real success.

If you or your clients decide to venture into this space, take the time up front to develop a strategy, ask for expert help, and put a long-term plan in place with concrete goals.

What mistakes have you seen? What would you add to this list? I’d love to hear your ideas, so share them in the comments.

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About the Author

Jason Schubring has built more than 100 websites and delivered e-mail campaigns for companies of all sizes. His strategic, design, and Web development background creates a unique perspective on effectively combining digital and traditional marketing. To connect with him, follow him on Twitter @jasonschubring or find him on LinkedIn.




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