7 mistakes your business is making on social media

Facebook and Twitter might seem like free and easy advertising opportunities, but there are many potential pitfalls.

by Jack Torrance
Last Updated: 25 May 2017

It’s 2017 so by now you’re surely alive to the potential benefits of being on ‘social meeja’. But while there are plenty of firms that made good use of Twitter and Facebook to boost their brand and ultimately grow their business, there are just as many who get it totally wrong.

Just ask the marketeers at Walkers Crisps, who were left red-faced today when their latest Gary Lineker-fronted campaign #WalkersWave was hijacked by devilish Twitter users. The brand's account was tricked into tweeting animations of serial killers Fred West, Peter Sutcliffe and Harold Shipman performing a Mexican wave.  

Of course, most #socialmediafails are a lot more mundane. MT bent the ear of a few marketing experts to find out what they think small businesses should be doing better.

1. Not having a plan

‘Social media can be something that businesses know they need, but aren’t really sure why, or how to use it so dive headfirst without much thought, ‘ says Bethan Lewis, comms director at Brighter Comms. ‘I see so many companies operating social media without a clear strategy, which results in confused messaging.’

The reason(s) for being on social media will vary from business to business – and between different platforms too. If you’re trying to recruit new hires then you’ll have probably more luck on LinkedIn than on Instagram. If you’re a manufacturer of stainless steel industrial nozzles then there’s not much point in joining Pinterest. Define what you want to get out of social media and then plan how you use it accordingly.

2. Boring your audience to death

This isn’t free advertising so cut the heavy sales pitches and get creative. ‘All too often businesses just produce dull social content that is overly promotional or self-serving,’ says Adam Ward, social strategist at HeyHuman. ‘They forget that social is about engaging with an audience and talking to them like real people, one on one.’

‘Content needs to be head-turning, consumer-centric and above all, relevant,’ adds OLIVER marketing manager Helen Barclay. ‘It needs to capture the minds and hearts of your audience, so be hard on yourself. Don’t automatically think you’re onto a killer campaign, because it may well become white noise.’

That said, you don’t need to be totally shy of chasing sales. Sarah Alonze, senior campaign director at Babel, suggests following the ‘golden ration of 30:60:10’ - 30% of posts pushing your own content like blog posts and brand news, 60% interesting links or data about your industry, and 10% promotional. ‘This ratio works across most channels and ensures your profiles are engaging and constantly changing.’

3. Same stuff, different channel

What works well on Pinterest may not go down so well on Twitter. ‘Every social media channel favours a different type, size and shape of media, so do your research and optimise your assets before posting,’ says Sara Beirne, head of digital at Eulogy.

‘Cross-posting appears lazy and careless, because you’re implying you don’t have the time or inclination to tailor your messages to your audience,’ adds Libby Bearman, CRO manager at Browser media. 

4. Trying to be everywhere at once

You don’t have to be on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Tumblr, Instagram, Snapchat, Pinterest AND LinkedIn. ‘Spreading yourself too thinly can result in sluggish audience growth overall, and create too much work in generating tailored content for each platform,’ says Romain Ouzeau, CEO of social media analytics firm Iconosquare. ‘Instead, focus on one or two platforms that will really move the needle for your business and grow from there.’

5. Not putting the time in

You don’t necessarily need to hire somebody to work on your social channels full-time but equally it’s not something you can do get away with devoting just a few minutes a week to. ‘10 minutes a day is enough to make sure you’re posting consistent and thoughtful updates, but it’s not enough to grow your following - being able to dedicate just an extra 20 minutes can make a huge difference,’ says Olivia Vandyk, founder of Gingham Cloud.

‘Many users underestimate the resources required to run engaging, up-to-date and impactful social media channels,’ adds Alonze. ‘Make sure you’re realistic about how much time you’re willing and able to spend, test the waters, and if you’re not seeing results, change things up.’

6. Why so serious?

‘Regardless of who you are and what you are representing, don’t be afraid to show your personality. The most engaging social profiles are the ones that offer a mix of content, visuals and text, and employ humour at the right moment, in the right context,’ says Alonze.

‘This doesn’t mean making inappropriate comments or jokes, or commenting on things that are wildly unrelated to your brand – especially if it’s a corporate profile, rather than an individual spokesperson’s profile. Find a balance of humour and sensibility, keep your content relevant to your audience, but don’t be afraid to be human. People buy people after all.'

7.The silent treatment

Facebook and Twitter aren’t just marketing mediums. ‘Social is also a perfect customer service channel and that means you have to be ready to provide appropriate answers fast,’ says Ward. ‘Companies big and small need to be all over social when things go wrong – you simply don’t have a choice, so make sure you plan for that – there is nowhere to hide!’

If your pages are attracting negative comments then be sure to swiftly nip them in the bud. ‘If prospective customers think you don't care about your existing ones, they're hardly likely to want to do business with you,’ says PR expert Janet Murray. ‘In fact, being seen to respond to criticism quickly and efficiently can actually be good for business - it shows you care about your customers' happiness and that counts for a lot.’


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