5 Social Media Mistakes Businesses Make

by Sherrie A. Madia PhD

Think it's time for your business to start using Facebook or Twitter? Before you jump in with both feet, make sure you're not about to make one of these five social media mistakes.

Ready to jump into the social media world? Great! But before you do, know that being a user of social media, and understanding its strategic applications for your PR, marketing, and communications initiatives, are two dramatically different skill sets.

Some mistakes to avoid:
Mistake #1: Diving in without a strategic plan.

Don't start podcasting, blogging, tweeting, friending on Facebook, and posting YouTube videos until you know what your messages are, who will manage them, who your audience is, and how they and you are going to benefit from the content and relationships.

Mistake #2: Not having a social media policy.

Your social media policy needs to outline how employees behave in the online universe during and outside of work. It should include education on style preferences and confidentiality. All messaging coming from employees should be aligned with your company's values and brand.

Mistake #3: Failing to tailor the plan to your target audience.

Hone in on sites, tools, and applications your target audience is using. Is your audience out walking in the park most afternoons, without so much as a cell phone? Or are they technology lovers who are never parted with their BlackBerry or iPhone? Research your target market to find out who they are and how to reach them.



Mistake #4: Producing weak, unfocused, or unhelpful content.

The same messaging rules that apply to classic public relations and branding apply to social media. Create strong, smart, well-thought-out content that adds value to your customers' lives. Don't waste their time with self-serving promo. Give them something they can use -- tips, incentives, product information, new ideas, fun, and inspiration.

Mistake #5: Allowing your social media efforts to stagnate.

Gone are the days when companies could put up a website that sat on the screen like an electronic business card. Social media is about maintaining a dynamic conversation between you and your customers. Equip your content for the RSS-share-save-post-to revolution so it gets out there in multiple places. Answer blog, Flickr, and podcast posts; respond to tweets; engage "friends." Remember: Social media, done right, is not a one-off campaign by a handful of staff; it's a long-term corporate commitment.

Sherrie A. Madia PhD is Director of Communications at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, where she teaches Social Media and Communication Strategies. She also serves on the Advisory Board of EyeCatcher Digital, a tech strategy and marketing firm. With fellow social media strategist Paul Borgese, she is coauthor of The Social Media Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Grow Your Business Exponentially with Social Media (Second Edition). 

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