Social media initiatives have become standard components of companies' marketing and communications strategies. Large or small—from the local bakery to General Motors (GM)—businesses see the value of engaging in online conversations already taking place about their brands. While social media best practices have emerged, brands still struggle with how best to engage with their consumers. Here are five common mistakes:
1. Not (or Barely) Monitoring: Companies that do not first "listen" and observe how their evangelists and detractors talk about their brand risk jumping into a cyclone of unanticipated activity. Constant monitoring is a must.
Even a well-liked Internet brand can fall victim to lack of social media monitoring. In 2009, hackers exploited a vulnerability in online retailer Amazon.com's (AMZN) site, causing all books by GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender) authors to disappear. Over the course of a weekend, thousands of consumers on Twitter, Facebook, and forums voiced their concern, suspecting that Amazon had made the authors unavailable deliberately. Two days later, when Amazon made an attempt to explain the glitch, people on Twitter already had created a hashtag further ridiculing the company's ineptitude.
2. "Down-sourcing" to Interns or Junior Staff: The fresh, young digital natives at your company embody a crucial resource in helping to navigate the emerging media waters. In some cases, however, their lack of business experience could imperil your brand's "social voice."
Recently, Nestlé's (NESN) Facebook page erupted in a flame war when Greenpeace staged a protest of the chocolate maker's alleged use of palm oil from deforested areas in Indonesia. The "official" posts in response to comments were overly flippant and defensive, which only fueled the firestorm.
3. Fast Beats Perfect: In the digital world, content can spread like wildfire. Immediate, authentic, and humble acknowledgements of your brand's social media kerfuffles are not only necessary but also expected. Taking the time to craft a perfect corporate response with layers of bureaucratic approvals will only cause more damage to your brand's social reputation.
In a matter of days, the now infamous Domino's YouTube video, in which employees did some highly unappetizing things to the chain's food, erupted into a full-fledged crisis. Although the chief executive officer provided a video statement/response, some felt the company's reply took far too long. (The company has since redeemed itself with its highly successful Pizza Turnaround campaign.)
4. Faking It: If you've failed to foster and energize a legitimate set of brand evangelists, don't attempt to disguise false engagement by having employees pretend to be customers (known as "astroturfing"). It will most certainly be found out.
Earlier this year, speculation was that Wal-Mart's (WMT) local Chicago PR agency was behind a fake community support group commenting on blogs in favor of the retail store coming to town.
5. Having an "Off" Switch: Your brand's involvement in social media should never have an end date, since at its core, that involvement is about nurturing customer relationships. While campaigns that have a social media extension may come and go, you must maintain an "always on" approach and outlook.
TGI Friday's September 2009 cross-channel campaign reached its goal of winning 500,000 fans of fictional character "Woody" on Facebook. In fact, it got close to 1 million fans. TGI Friday's ended the campaign and deleted the Facebook page without those fans converting to TGI Friday's official Facebook page, losing all the social capital built up over the course of the campaign.
As we're still in somewhat of a nascent period in social media marketing, brands will inevitably make mistakes and learn from them along the way. This learning process is exciting and offers marketers some unique opportunities to connect directly with consumers.
At the end of the day, brands must earn their "social currency." There are no shortcuts or substitutes to authentic engagement in the realm of social media.