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July 1, 2014

Six Social Media Mistakes Businesses Should Avoid

Social media allows companies to reach consumers in a way most never dreamed possible. The problem is that many jump right into the arena without much strategy.

Pretty much all the experts agree that step one should be to create a long-term proposal for social media that includes the goals you’d like to achieve. “Without a clear plan of execution — which social outlets, what type of content, what is the tone, what message do we want to send to customers, etc. — it is easy for social to be executed poorly and thus discounted as an ineffective medium,” writes Michelle Brammer, marketing and PR manager for the online advertising company, in an e-mail.

And there are many other mistakes you’re probably making too. But don’t beat yourself up. Social media marketing is new to everyone, so most are in the same boat. Recently, several experts responded to an e-mail questionnaire about the common blunders companies make when participating in social media. Here’s a list of six errors they would like you to stop committing right now:

1. You reach the wrong people.

Snagging thousands of followers is always a good thing, right? Not exactly. If most of them are other marketers or spammers, and not people who are actually going to use your service or product, then it doesn’t matter how many followers you have. “Companies sometimes jump on the social media bandwagon without a clear strategy, and focus too much on growing their audience (e.g., number of followers) without ensuring that they are reaching the right people in the right way,” writes Olivier Toubia, Glaubinger professor of business at Columbia Business School.

Instead, you should profile your target audience and collect as much data as possible (and that’s a lot, thanks to social media) on the customers engaging with you on these platforms, adds Toubia. Manually check on a few accounts to make sure these are real people and not bots, and pay attention to the people with whom you are connecting, he adds. “If you are an industrial B2B company,” writes Toubia, “and realize that most of your Twitter followers are also following Justin Bieber, then maybe you have a problem.”

2. You’re acting as though it’s the Wild West.

Businesses thrive when there is structure, but sometimes it’s more like utter anarchy online. “Not only must businesses understand why they want to use social media, they need to manage this powerful tool effectively,” writes Mike Lesczinski, a faculty instructor at Excelsior College School of Business and Technology. “This includes setting up a governance policy that empowers and protects both the brand and the employees.” In other words, the marketing team has to set some rules and create procedures for participating on social media. You don’t want employees to broadcast their biased opinions and pass them off as the company’s on your Facebook page, for example. So, make sure no one has the chance to do that by setting standards for everything from how many times to comment per day to how to respond to an angry customer.

3. You’re misguided about whom to put in charge.

Lots of people are really great at “liking” their aunt’s posts about the holiday dinner she made or their college friends’ zillionth new baby shot, but that doesn’t mean they will be good online representatives for your business. “If you don’t have someone on staff who is trained to post engaging content (photos, videos, relevant posts) regularly — I always recommend a daily minimum — invest in training someone internally or outsource your social media management,” writes Sam Parker, director of Marketing at Commuter Advertising and an award-winning social media expert. “There are expert, qualified firms ready to translate your communication strategies into multiple social platforms.” Just be sure to do your homework about the firms, warns Parker, because she adds, “not all social media management firms are created equally.”

4. You’re mucking up #hashtags.

Incorrectly using hashtags for keywords you’re pushing or misguidedly jumping on a hashtag trend are two mistakes that can be damaging for a business, writes Jonathan Goodman, president of Halyard Consulting. He suggests using to research words already being used by your audience. Then, he says to dig a little deeper. Find out exactly what conversations these hashtags are popping up in. “The last thing you want to do,” warns Goodman, “is advertise your product around a negative hashtag.”

5. You’re not properly investing in social media.

Companies often mistakenly pay firms that say they can guarantee a certain number of fans or followers, only to discover the whole thing is a scam and most of the accounts are fakes. Another mistake is to invest a lot of money in pumping up your social media presence while ignoring key demographic groups, writes Joseph J. Sherman, dean of Israel Business School in Jerusalem, Israel. “Women are a massive shopping and online traffic base, and yet most advertising agencies fail to hire a significant number of women,” writes Sherman. “With ads shifting to social media, there is a massive potential for companies that are relevant to women.”

6. You’re acting like a used car salesperson.

Social media is not the place to openly and constantly pitch product. Besides, you’re probably not going to make billions of dollars on Twitter or Facebook. “Social media is a two-way conversation, and your return is the relationships that you build, which you can then turn into leads if your goal is sales,” writes Donna Vieira, vice president of marketing at Grow Socially. “Don’t be salesy. Be conversational, and engage others often. Focus on value, education, and share-worthy content if you want to be socially successful.” Basically, hang up your suit and tie and remember what it was like to be a regular Joe or Josephine. Being human is probably the best way to make a sale online or off.


Francesca Di Meglio wrote about business schools for Businessweek for nearly 10 years. An expert in MBA programs, she has also written about higher education in general, small businesses, entrepreneurs, marriage and relationships, family travel, and all things Italian. She is a freelance writer based in New Jersey, where she balances — or at least tries to — writing assignments, raising her toddler son, and her checkbook. You can follow her life and work at or on Twitter @ItalianMamma10.  See more at: