“I’ve learned that mistakes can often be as good a teacher as success”
Jack Welch, legendary former CEO of General Electric
Because social media represents a new way of doing business, it is inevitable that some companies will make mistakes.
Sometimes those mistakes will generate some negative publicity for the company concerned. If the mistakes are serious enough and generate enough online “heat”, there can be damage to the brand’s reputation. Various case studies show that even the biggest, best resourced companies can get social media wrong, so it should not come as a surprise that small businesses can too.
Five of the most common mistakes are:
- Expecting instant results
- Broadcasting, not listening and engaging
- Not going where the customers and prospects are
- Not committing resources
- Not being strategic
With careful planning and sensible management, these mistakes can be avoided.
Expecting instant results
One of the most common mistakes is expecting that social media will deliver quick results.
This expectation of short-term results—and the disillusion when they fail to materialise—can often be due to thinking that social media is really just another form of traditional marketing, with results able to be achieved by spending a wad of money on a promotional exercise on Facebook or Twitter. In other words, don’t think of social media as a “campaign”.
If you are approached by anyone promising instant results when you have done nothing to establish yourself and your brand in the social media space, you should quickly decline and save your money for more productive purposes. With social media, you need to think like a long distance runner, not a sprinter.
Social media is ultimately about building relationships of trust, especially with current and prospective customers. An enduring lesson of business and life generally is that even with love at first sight, you have to put in some work over time if you want to build a strong relationship.
Broadcasting, not listening and engaging
Another very common mistake is to use social media platforms, such as Twitter and Facebook, to relentlessly pump out messages about your company and its products and services, without any attempt to engage in conversation. You don’t want one-way traffic.
Businesses need to ask themselves some simple questions here, such as “Do we really think our customers and prospects wake up each morning eager to read a series of Twitter or Facebook messages from us, telling them how marvellous we are, without us seeming to show any interest in what their concerns are?”
Some companies seek to get around this issue by offering discounts or special offers which are only promoted through those social media channels.
That’s one way of doing things and could in fact be a valuable part of a thought-out social media strategy, but generally it’s likely to deliver only limited returns. It’s also more likely to work for B2C businesses than B2B. And if yours is a B2B company, how many times can you offer discounts or special deals on your services? And can you do that several times a day?
A good analogy for understanding how to use social media more effectively is to think of how you might behave at a cocktail party, or even a business networking function. If your approach on joining a group of people were to immediately launch into a recitation of what your company does, listing its wonderful products and services, how much interested attention would you expect to get? It’s so much smarter to listen for a while, and mention your company, products or services when the conversation sensibly allows that.
Not going where the customers and prospects are
There’s an old saying, often used in talking about sales, that “if you want to catch fish, then fish where the fish are”.
When talking about social media, the most obvious application of that principle is to know on which social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and so on – you are likely to find your customers and prospects. What conversations are they are having there? What are their interests and concerns? But I find time and again that some people in business want to be very selective about where they focus their effort in social media, not based on any real research but more on their own preconceptions or prejudices.
They say “I don’t like Facebook”, or “Twitter is a waste of time” or “LinkedIn is boring”. That’s like a small business owner being told “There’s this café where your customers go and hang out with like-minded people—y u should drop in and get introduced” and responding “But I don’t drink coffee.”
Savvy business owners will do research, both online and with existing customers (for instance via a regular newsletter or with some phone calls) to build a picture of how their market uses social media, including the use patterns for specific platforms, so as to know where social media effort is likely to be most productive. Also, knowing that behaviours and preferences change, business owners should repeat that research from time to time.
Not committing resources
Two social media myths for businesses not to buy into:
- You can do social media in five minutes a day
- Social media is free
Yes, of course you can “do” social media in five minutes a day, but don’t expect to see any worthwhile results from that.
A lot of social media platforms are free to use, but getting worthwhile business results will involve committing resources, usually a combination of a financial outlay and a time commitment by the business owner and/or staff.
How much time is enough?
I haven’t met a small business owner yet who will admit to having any spare time. On the contrary, people often tell me they have no time to commit to social media.
But for those who have decided that their business needs to establish some social media presence and interaction, and on the understanding that specific circumstances will differ, I suggest what’s needed is a minimum 6 hours a week, whether by one person or by a few people in combination. And it’s best if that is spread out over the week, rather than one big burst once a week. Of course that will usually entail some re-prioritising of time commitments.
What financial expenditure is involved?
That too will depend on circumstances, but expenditure will typically be for hiring some external support, paying for staff training, online advertising, or paying for the use of social media monitoring tools. Some companies may decide they need to hire dedicated staff for the purpose.
Where there is no evident scope for new allocations, the expenditure may have to be covered by re-allocating some of an existing marketing budget.
The Sensis Yellow Social Media Report 2012 shows that 70% of Australian small businesses using social media in 2012 reported some financial expenditure on social media, from less than $500 to $50,000 and over, with the average commitment being $3,410, and averaging 15% of the overall marketing spend.
Not being strategic
While any business worth its salt will have at least an implicit business strategy and preferably one that is documented and updated regularly, many businesses do not have a strategy when they start using social media. The reality is that many businesses start using social media on a “diving in” basis, rather than working out a strategy first.
The “diving in” approach is sometimes a response to a keen (usually younger) member of staff who sees opportunity for the company by engaging on Facebook or some other social media platform, or in response to a pitch by someone to get the business 10,000 fans on Facebook or followers on Twitter.
And while some “learning by doing” can be a good thing, there is a real risk that continuing on that basis can involve unproductive expenditure or even land a business in trouble. At the very least, having no clear strategy means not being able to determine the effectiveness of what is being done.
Whether your business has already made some investment of time and or money in social media, or is still at the just-thinking-about-it stage, it is never too soon to develop and document a strategy with clear goals and a manageable plan for implementation.
Start by having a brainstorming session with your team on the subject “How can social media fit with our business goals?”
Then, before you launch, check out where your customers are on the social web and what conversations they are engaged in there. Because that’s where you’ll want to start fishing.