Social media is a much-discussed topic, and with good reason: the phenomenon is all around us, and everyone has questions to ask about it because it’s still so new.

Of course, of great interest is how to avoid making crucial mistakes when using social media for your business. There are a number of errors companies make when ‘going social’ and this article presents five common mistakes companies make when using social media. Learn from others’ mistakes so you don’t go through them yourself!

1. Ignoring the social media

The first mistake companies make is to ignore social media and think that just because they don’t ‘do social media’ themselves, then they’re not on the social networks anyway. Fact is, nowadays, you don’t get to choose whether your company or brand has a presence on social media – it’s already there. With every unaddressed and ignored complaint people post about your brand, you only slide down further into social media infamy. It’s far better to maintain a social presence and have a generally good standing, marred only occasionally with a complaint or two, than to be completely absent except for a flow of complaints (of which you are not even aware).

2. It’s NOT advertising

Social media doesn’t work like a radio or a newspaper advert. Every social network has an element of feedback and dialogue built into it, hence the ‘social’ aspect. The social media are not a broadcast media where companies can just beam out messages; in social media messages are sent and received in a constant ebb and flow. A strong dialogue with social media followers brings many advantages, such as the easy access to feedback, among others.

3. Great expectations

Far too many companies have incorrect expectations of the social media. Without a proper plan and realistic targets, you will be disappointed. Don’t just go and ‘do social media’. Research, compare what the competition is doing, set goals and targets, plan and start executing, and then measure success and adjust thereafter.

Set goals which are aligned to your business strategy. Simply saying “I want 6,000 Facebook likes by the end of six months” without identifying the reasons why you want this and what you will attempt to do with the likes thereafter is a very poor goal indeed. Companies have paid good money to have a number of likes without having any inkling or plan of what to actually do with those Facebook likes once they did get them.

With managed expectations and well-managed social media programmes, large gains can be made, but not without.

4 . Free speech

This is a sore point for many: You can’t shut people up. People, especially younger, more tech-savvy audiences, know they have the power and will use it. If you delete a disparaging comment hoping you won’t have to deal with it, be prepared for a screenshot of that comment to appear on a consumer’s group on Facebook. If you fail to honour a warranty or a promise, be prepared for a social assault.

Deal with criticism just as you would in your brick-and-mortar place of business: with a professional attitude and genuine concern. Be courteous, and move the issue off the public timeline and into personal messages or e-mail as soon as possible.

5. Nothing is free

Social media is not free. The ‘let’s create a Facebook page and post once a week’ attitude is an erroneous one to have. Yes, the basic tools are free and Facebook doesn’t charge for Facebook pages but social media requires content, stories to share, business intelligence and acumen, and – most of all – common sense and people skills. All of these take time to grow and foster in individuals. Needless to say, time is money, and experience even more so.

Mark Debono runs the online marketing consultancy firm Systemato.

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