As we talk more and more with businesses trying to get serious about using social media in their day to day operations, we begin to see trends and hear the same questions from different people. The business owners I speak with are all very intelligent individuals and have proven their understanding and competence in business. Yet the questions I hear and the mistakes I've seen still pop up. To me, this is a matter of perspective and understanding than it is a matter of competence. To help put some more perspective around these mistakes and my observations, I've assembled the following list of the top five things I see businesses doing wrong and how these mistakes would fit into the context of an offline social interaction.
1) Spamming, Excessive Promoting/Advertising, Not Becoming Engaged
How many "friends" do you have in the real world that only seem to call you when they want or need something? These are the people we almost wish we never knew. But if all you ever do online is push and promote your own products without caring enough to listen and engage back, you'll come across as that friend we all know and dislike. How do you think your customers view your brand online? Are you the brand that actually cares and has a conscience or are you just asking people to do something that benefits you?
2) Trying to "Measure" Social Media
When was the last time you sat down and tried to put a numerical value on your friendships? Or how about when you calculated the ROI of holding the door for someone? Or what about asking how someone's day was? Or when you figured out that giving someone 6 minutes of free advice will pay back 10% of the time at a rate of x%? I really hope you've never done this (or if you have, I hope the days are long gone). Because if you still do, I wouldn't want to be your friend - who would? Why are we now trying to measure the monetary gain in caring about someone else? Why are we trying to de-personalize something that, at its core, is about bringing people together? We take pride in our message of online accountability and ROI, but you need to stop trying so hard to measure the return on something as organic as relationships. This is especially damaging when you dedicate more time trying to measure it than you do anything else.
3) Giving Up Before You Have a Chance to Succeed
Remember when you first tried to ride a bike, when you were brave enough to step into the medium speed pitch batting cage or when you finally built up the courage to ask out your first crush? Do you also remember falling off your bike, swinging and missing, or getting rejected? Failing is often a necessity in succeeding, so why are we throwing in the towel after only a few months of playing in online social spaces? Did you really expect to just jump in and make it work perfectly the first time around? Those who have been successful spent years doing it wrong in order to do it right. Give yourself and your team a fighting chance and be prepared to not have anything to show for it for a while. Hard work and dedication has a way of being rewarded.
4) You Follow Too Many “Rules” of Social Media/You're Trying Too Hard
Be honest, when you first started talking to the opposite sex over the phone, did you ever make a list of the things you would talk about during the phone call? Think about how unnatural this must have sounded. Yet here we are, as adults doing the same thing online. Stop trying to follow a rulebook for every interaction. Let things develop as organically as possible - like you learned to do growing up. If, as a business, you don't trust the person acting as the voice of your company online, replace them with someone who can speak on the company's behalf without needing approval for every word. The online social space is very much a realtime platform. Overly calculated and pre-planned interactions to a person or community sound as lame as they did back in middle school.
5) Not Dedicating Significant Time/Expect Instant Results
If I had a nickel for every friend that's built a business while only investing a few hours a week I'd….be broke. The media and your inboxes are overflowing with articles on why "social media" is this great new thing (guess we're guilty of that too…sorry), but please don't confuse the excitement with free money and instant business. Friendships, loyalty and businesses all take a lot of time to nurture and grow. The social web is no different. Expecting to get something worthwhile in only a few month of minimal engagement using social media is one small step above buying an ab machine from a late night infomercial and thinking you're going to get a rock solid six-pack in time for beach season. Great things take time to build.
If in your day to day efforts to utilize social media tools you find yourself struggling, try to put things in an offline context. This not only helps add a new perspective, but it enables you to apply the experience you've developed in your years doing business offline. Once you've done that, it doesn't seem nearly as foreign.