2012 was a big year for social media.Facebook officially took over the world, Twitter collectively told the world they didn’t want to play anymore by locking up their API, and Pinterest made everybody with time to kill happy by sucking them into a near endless supply of beautiful food imagery and cat pictures.
2012 was also, quite possibly, the most irritating year of social media to date, particularly in the “social media for brands” department—including gems such as offering a 20% coupon to help the victims of Hurricane Sandy deal with their “boredom,” epic #McDStories (who didn’t see that coming?), and hijacked hashtags. Come on, guys.
Now that it is officially 2013 and we’ve all had a few days to let the last bits of 2012 wash over us, we can effectively identify some of the most epic social media fails of all time. I present to you, brand social marketers and social media enthusiasts, a list of 7 things not to do with branded social media in 2013.
1. Run (or allow employees to run) your brand social channels through personal publishing platforms.
Keep your accounts separate. Not 1, not 2, but 6 of the biggest brand social media fails of 2012 were people posting ridiculous personal tweets to major brand accounts. To wit:
● American Red Cross
Making sure your brand accounts are separated from the personal accounts of those moderating them by a thick layer of security and 16-character passwords protects you (and your brand reputation) from terrible user error, surly employees (and ex-employees), and random drunken exploits.
It may be a pain to login to a separate account, but that pain is minuscule in comparison to something as reputation-ruining as the above examples. It also protects you from the inevitable “John was the only one with account access and he just got hit by a bus/decided to join a commune/got poached by Apple” problem. Is it a little paranoid? Yes. Is it worth it? Yes.
Sign up for a brand-only account. It takes 2 minutes and will provide an invaluable central hub for all your branded content distribution. Social media is inherently risky — it is OK to manage some of that risk.
2. #Hashjacking (Stealing a hashtag to broaden the reach of your tweet)
Twitter hashtags are great. They’re the reason for trending topics, tweet chats, and so many other amazing things about social media. That said, they’re also one of the most dangerous things about Twitter for a brand.
There’s no need to ever “hijack” a trending hashtag to include it in your completely unrelated tweet to attempt expanding the reach of said tweet. If you do do this, you have no soul, specifically if you hijack a hashtag about a world event or tragedy. This behaviour will not help you and people will respond very negatively.
To correctly use hashtags, study trends and only use those that can be relevant to your messages. Share relevant content with groups of people in tweet chats. “Tag” your tweets with appropriate subjects. Studies have shown that tweets including hashtags garner more engagement, but only if you’re doing it right.
3. Overpost (even Facebook cracked down on your spam!)
Imagine you’re face to face with your customers. You have one hour to give them the most important information they need to know about your brand, your industry, and how knowledgeable you are of both. Do you (a) throw every single piece of information you’ve ever found on your industry at them as rapidly as possible or (b) thoughtfully select the most important things to tell them and build a conversation around these points? If this seems like a no-brainer, that’s because it is. The same goes for social media. If you’re posting too much, your followers and fans are more likely to unsubscribe or report you as spam, which means your message is heard by no one. Fail.
4. Over-automate (Scheduling too much content in advance)
We are not BORG-assimilated robot zombies. People don’t like BORG-assimilated robot zombies (remember those porn spam bots on AIM and Yahoo Messenger? How much did we all love those?) Removing the human element organising your social media presence makes for intolerably ignorant mistakes like this tweet from the NRA Rifleman’s Association on the morning of the Aurora shooting. I know it is tempting to schedule all of your content on the 1st of the month and then never think about it again; we all have busy lives and awesome tools like Hootsuite and Buffer make it very easy to fall prey to over-automation. I certainly have!
The thing that makes social media so special is that it acts like a beautiful, living, breathing creature. It has very specific collective opinions and is permanently forcing current events to the top of our collective attention, and we should take notice. Your brand’s reputation will never recover from this type of muck up, accidental or otherwise. It is worth the time investment to do a daily perfunctory audit of world events against your planned content.
5. Ignore.. well, any element of your social presence. (Pretending people don’t exist)
Maintaining your social media presence is a lot like getting a puppy. Yes, it’s all wiggly and adorable and gives us the warm-fuzzies, but that feeling quickly falls away when that adorable wiggle machine has chewed up your Rolex. It’s still your puppy, and you have to take the good along with the bad.
Managing a social media presence can be quite a task. Social media is now one of the top channels that customers use to talk to brands and customers are beginning to expect a quick, friendly response from branded social media presences.
If nothing else, be there for them. No brand is too important or too busy to answer to its customers. In fact, without customers, brands would cease to exist, which makes this relationship pretty much your most important asset. Take time each day to respond to your customers who are reaching out to you; you won’t regret making the people who keep your business alive happy.
We don’t get to pick and choose who and what we respond to. That lady who is totally freaking out that her package is a day late? We can’t ignore her. The person asking you a legitimate question about your product? Definitely can’t ignore them. And that guy who has asked every single question on your FAQ list? Can’t ignore them either, and just sending them a link to your FAQ isn’t acceptable anymore. Engage your social community and nurture that puppy!
6. Talk about yourself (Spend too much time spreading product news, press releases, etc)
How many times do we have to be told this before we finally stop doing it? Dave Kerpen, CEO of Likeable Media, once compared social media to a cocktail party. He explains that you remember people from cocktail parties that talk about interesting things and also listen to what you have to say.
Remember that time you went to that awesome party and there was that one guy who followed you around and wouldn’t stop talking to you about himself and all of the amazing things he does? Remember the next time you saw him? No? That’s because it never happened — you thought he was a jerk. If you keep talking about yourself and ignoring the rest of the world on social media, people won’t like you either.
If you’re unsure how much of your content should be focused specifically on marketing, you can use this easy ratio to keep yourself in check: 60/20/20. 60% of your content should be proactive engagement with your audience. 20% should be spreading relevant content that your audience will care about, and the last 20% should be talking about yourself.
7. Using identical language for all brand social networks (Sacrifice quality for convenience)
This one is two-fold.
Firstly, it’s easy to send a message out to multiple social media platforms at once. But, in reality, this practice is really only saving you about two minutes and makes your brand look like it doesn’t care about its audience or their customer experience. Posting a Twitter hashtag on Facebook is probably the best (and worst) example of this amateur behaviour. To add to that, remember that tweets are restricted to 140 characters. What you’re posting on Facebook might not exactly fit there, and sending half a tweet is never cool.
(Pro Tip: Please, please, please when shortening your messages for Twitter — don’t just take out vowels. Rethink your message and find a way to say it in fewer words.)
Secondly, your brand does not need a presence on every single social platform that exists on the internet. It really doesn’t. Take a breath and step back from the syringe. We all know (and love) that social media is an incredibly effective way to reach a multitude of audiences, but sometimes those audiences really don’t make sense for your product! If you’re selling IRAs, why are you posting on Reddit?! It makes no sense and you will see minuscule (if any) ROI on this time investment. You are only fragmenting your attention away from social marketing that could actually push the needle for your brand. Focus on the networks with audiences that are a natural fit for your product and crush it with them.
If you have to use a tool like Hootsuite simply to remember all the places your brand has a presence and publishes content, you are probably doing too much. Eliminate social properties that don’t make sense for your brand and use the time you’ve saved no longer maintaining those properties to publish top quality, optimised content to the networks you keep.
At the end of the day, what this list is really doing is encouraging brands to place priority on maintaining an honest and relevant presence online. There is so much noise in the social space; the people and brands who will win the day can handle this noise, cut through it, and scale their own voice authentically. As brand marketers and social enthusiasts, we are responsible for remembering that behind the veil of internet anonymity, the people watching, interacting with, and supporting your brand are still people, and we should treat them this way.
Down with corporate-style sales speak! Down with FREE in all caps! Up with genuine conversations, eager interactions that don’t feel like a chore, and relationship building. If you consider yourself a social media pro (in any sense) and can’t name three of your top engagers online, then there is something amiss, and you should step back and reconsider your priorities and how you are speaking to your audience. If you can, congratulations, you are definitely on the right track to do social right in 2013.
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