4 Critical Social Media Mistakes Organizations Make Every Day

Social Media.

Let's take a moment to soak in the coolness of it all.

Just typing the words made my blog a little more hip.

Talking about social media in any setting seems to have universal appeal. Everybody experiences it in some way. Even people who refuse to have anything to do with it have a place in the conversation (their place is to talk about how they won't get themselves all caught up in it like the ladies at the office do).

Count how many times a day you hear someone say, "Did you see what (insert name) posted last night?" or "Oh yeah, I saw that on Facebook."

It's everywhere.

But the clincher was about three years ago, when your grandma got a Facebook account to share pictures of her cat. On that day, it was settled: social media has now officially impacted everyone's life in some way.

What Does This Mean For Us?

The implications of this are enormous, and have been well documented on every blog, podcast, and news show in the English speaking world (and probably beyond that), so we don't have to make a big case about it here. Half a billion people spend at least a few minutes a day on Facebook. They willingly invite it into their homes. They carry it with them wherever they go. They use it to share ideas with the people around them.

Oh sure, they invite television signals into their homes, too. But, the TV talks to them; social media lets them talk.

Sure, they carry the newspaper with them, too. But a newspaper reader passively consumes the content; social media allows everyone to actively respond and give their own opinions.

And of course, for decades the telephone has allowed us to share our thoughts with others; but never with upwards of 200,000,000 people at one time.

Waking Up to the Possibilities

Naturally, organizations all over the world began to wake up to the incredible opportunities this new medium presented. For almost no cost, anyone who owned a business, ran a non-profit, sold a product, or offered a service could literally present their message to people who had previously been out of reach, as often as they wanted, until people finally cried "uncle" and emptied out their wallets. It was simply breathtaking!

Today, the Social Media Marketing Revolution is well under way, redefining how organizations of every stripe position themselves, but some folks just don't get it. They have this amazing technology available to them, but they aren't realizing all of the potential benefits. There are many reasons for this, but I've found that they boil down to four common mistakes that organizations make in regards to their use of social media.

Mistake #1: They don't bother with social media at all.

Yes, I swear, it's true. No, really. There are still businesses and non-profits out there that don't have a social media presence at all, or they dabble with it periodically, which is the same thing. They are not using the power of social media to reach untold masses of willing customers.

Some business leaders either a) don't have time to sit at their computer and chat idly with every potential client, or b) are intimidated by social media.

As funny as it may sound to some ears, there are people who are uncomfortable with the world of social media, either because they consider the Internet to be a big, spooky place that they are too old to understand ("I leave the techy stuff to the young people") or they are afraid that getting results from Social Media requires in-depth knowledge of mysterious strategies that are unique to the high-tech world ("Ileave the techy stuff to the young people").

The easy answer is to hire someone (or assign a staff member) to manage your social media presence. Still, some business owners don't see the value of it.

There was a time when it would have been considered unwise to operate a local business without buying an ad in the local phone book. Then Google entered the picture, and the market rewarded businesses that traditional online search engines could find easily.

The rise of smartphones changed things again. Traditional websites designed for the desktop environment don't always translate well to mobile. Volumes were written on tech sites regarding the struggle Facebook and Google faced to remain relevant in what was dubbed "Internet 2.0." Their interfaces, which were best-in-class for the desktop, had become a hindrance to them in the smartphone/tablet/phablet arena. With a rising percentage of the world leaving their desktop computers in the attic next to their rotary phones, online businesses needed to reestablish themselves in the new mobile context.

To be fair, it is easy to overstate the importance of social media marketing, and there are countless websites that make their livelihood doing just that. But that being said, if your business is entirely online (or even if you have a brick-and-mortar location with a web presence), no marketing program is complete without a social media strategy.

Said another way, a daily helping of social media is an important part of a balanced marketing diet.

Mistake #2: They expect it to be a magic customer generator.

I'll call him "Tom." Tom is a heavy-set, aggressive real estate agent in his mid-fifties who sees social media as a marketing gold mine - his quick ticket to East Street. Recently, he attended a workshop on increasing web traffic through social media, and was clearly perturbed. He had been hammering Facebook with real estate listings and his picture and phone number for months and it hadn't generated a single lead. When asked what he was doing to interact with people online, Tom was clearly annoyed: "I don't have time for all that nonsense. I just want people to call on the listings."

Tom reminds me of the guy who hawks remote-control helicopters in the mall food court during the holiday shopping season, but without the charming personality or sales skills. He just expects people to come and do business with him just because he is in their faces.

In the social media realm, if you want people to do business with you, you need to do three things:

  1. Be Relatable. Because people prefer to do business with people they like and trust, so you need to build friendly professional relationships online, just like you did when you joined the Chamber of Commerce or that early-morning networking group. Instead of always talking about yourself and your business, ask them about themselves. Use social media to find out what people are looking for. Ask about their interests, families, needs, goals and values. Social media marketing (and, if we're honest with ourselves, all marketing) runs on relationships and trust.
  2. Be Valuable. I don't mean selling your product or service for a good price; rather, I mean, sharing things with people that help them get what they want. If you see a great article that you know will resonate with your typical customers, share it with them. Find a report on trends in your industry? Summarize it in about five bullets and then give them a link to read more. You want potential clients to see you as a credible expert and a source of information they want. When they begin to recognize that you always seem to have an article that helps them make better decisions (or even a picture that makes them laugh), they will keep coming back to you, and looking forward to your next post.
  3. Be Consistent. The tone of your posts needs to match the tone of your website. If you bought ad space in a magazine, on a billboard, and on TV, you would want to use the same colors, fonts, photos, logos, and messaging. Continuity in your branding is a key to building name recognition. Your company has a voice, whether it's conservative and professional, or quirky and fun, or friendly and personable. That voice needs to carry through all your materials, from your tri-fold brochure to your website to your social media presence.

There are hundreds of gimmicks out there that promise clicks, but they don't last, because people can sense when they're being manipulated, and it violates trust. What lasts in social media marketing is the same principles that make brick-and-mortar marketing work.

A side note on this: While Social Media is a great way to get the word out about your message, you are setting yourself up for trouble if you make a platform like your Facebook wall be the centerpiece of your marketing strategy. If Facebook changes the rules about how you can present your product, service, or message on their website, you may have to abandon your whole marketing strategy and start over, and there is not one thing you can do about it. The folks at Copyblogger call it "Digital Sharecropping," they wrote an insightful article about it here.

Mistake #3: They post haphazardly.

Like I mentioned earlier, social media is just one component of an over-arching marketing plan, so it has to have a purpose that fits with everything else you do.

Why do you want people to like your Facebook page? What will that do for your business? More importantly, what will it do for them? Does it lead them down the "sales funnel"? (Editor's Note: I don't believe it's a funnel; I think it's a circle with long-term relationship at the center).

When you post, what action do you want them to take? Why do you want them to take that action? Where do they go from there? Do you want them to go to your website? Is there a call to action there? Do you want them to share it with friends? What's in it for them if they do?

What kind of content do what plan to share? Funny photos? Client testimonies? Professionally-crafted sales copy? A video message from your iPhone?

Why are you doing what you do?

Mistake #3b: They don't have a consistent voice.

A related mistake is shuffling the Social Media work around to whomever in the office is available at the moment. Just like you want to be consistent in the scheduling of your activity, you need to be consistent with your voice. If your online voice is cheeky and snarky one day, professional and authoritative the next, your audience won't know what to expect from you. Any kind of uncertainty in the prospect's mind is a violation of their trust, and that hurts their relationship with you. You've seen what happens when companies change their names or packaging without a clear transition strategy - it throws everyone off and confuses their prospects. Your online voice is like any other branding; it needs to be consistent.

Be strategic about how you interact with prospects and clients. If you've never thought about it before, sit down with a professional marketing writer and map out a plan.

Mistake #4: They hire the wrong people to manage their Social Media presence.

Let's say you have two people in your office and you need to choose one of them to start building your Social Media presence:

  • A 22-year-old receptionist with a communications degree and a bunch of idle time. Her cell phone chirps all day long with texts and Facebook notifications from all her friends.
  • A sales assistant in her 40s who only uses her computer for Microsoft Office functions, but knows all the ins and outs of the products and has great people skills.

If you chose the 22-year-old, you're like many small business owners.

And you're dead wrong, just like they are.

Too often, we associate "Social Media marketing" with "social life" and "high tech" and "young people." While there is some validity to the notion that Social Media is largely the domain of people under 30, marketing is a business strategy, no matter what medium you use. The ability to carry on comment streams with twenty people at a time, while impressive in it's own right, is not a substitute for the principles of marketing: knowing your customer's interests, needs and goals; recognizing your competition and your place in the customer's mind; and crafting a message that resonates with people on an emotional level.

What you need is a trained writer who understands your business, your value proposition, and most importantly, how to convey your message to your audience in a compelling way. The best writers are the best listeners, so look for a professional writer who asks good questions about your business and then takes notes while you tell your story.

What most professionals do when they recognize their need for a website and a Social Media presence is hire their college-aged niece because she's on her computer all the time and she "gets" this whole social media thing (and they can pay her $8 an hour to do it). It might be an inexpensive way to get your name out there for awhile, but it's not a good long-term strategy. A better plan is to contract a freelance writer who will work with you on a monthly retainer. That will ensure you a professional product, a consistent voice over the long term, and a predictable monthly Marketing budget.

It will also help you avoid these critical social media mistakes.

If this article was helpful to you, please return the favor and share it. Somebody you know may be wondering why their social media is flagging, and these simple tips could make the difference for them.

On the other hand, if you are marketing a small business of your own and you would like to find ways to advance your marketing strategies, let’s grab a cup of coffee (or a phone call) together. We can talk about where you are right now and where you’d like to go. I’d be glad to help you tell your story.

E-mail me at chadketchermedia (at) gmail.com or find me on Facebook at chadketcher.media.

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