Testing the Water in the Social Media Pool

By: Chris Michaels, Sr. Account Manager, Fusion LA

If you’re reading this, chances are that you’re somewhat literate in Social Media. From news bureaus talking about their Twitter accounts to major blogs running in syndication on the NY Times and other “traditional media” outlets; social media is the buzz. In fact, VMS recently calculated the advertising equivalency of Twitter’s media coverage to be valued more than what Microsoft planned to spend on advertising for Bing.

With all of the buzz, it’s understandable why companies want to jump into the Social Media pool, head first. Often even PR practitioners recommend it to clients to avoid getting left behind or failing to engage target markets. Inherently, with the name, the burgeoning platforms are incredibly “social;” bridging a gap between individuals, companies and even the media. This level of personalization and relationship building can be immeasurably valuable to companies as it draws them closer to potential customers and advocates.

But before even testing the waters, companies need to know the actual risks and behaviors to avoid. To provide some insight to caution, I reached out to several social media experts to get their opinions on the one thing that companies need to avoid when getting social. While there were too many responses to dive into, here are the top behaviors to steer clear of:

1) Don’t participate in explicitly slanderous activities (my thought).

This should go without saying, and most corporate attorneys would agree. You never want to call out someone or a company in a post that could be interpreted as slanderous. For example, on Mashable today, Pete Cashmore writes of a Chicago woman who is being sued by her former landlords for $50,000, with charges of libel. The woman for posted a Tweet about the mold in her old apartment, which would upset almost anyone. However, instead of just complaining about the mold, she took it one step further by stating that the “[management company] realty thinks it’s okay.” Case or not, you never know who might “sue first, ask questions later.”

2) “Don’t respond to customer complaints slowly, or with ‘defensive’ behavior.” (Serena Ehrlich, EVP of Social Media, Startup Army)

Who likes a snowball fight? Well, most kids until someone get hit with an ice ball. Fighting with someone on social platforms can only lead to trouble. Because of the “personalization” factor to social media, it’s easy to offend someone directly and quickly degrade your brand. Moreover, because you’re opening up a direct communications channel, and participating with a community of current or future customers, there’s bound to be complaints and unhappy people. It’s easy for companies to defend their products and brand, but direct attacks to the complainer only serve to enrage the community. Serena recommends that companies instead, “anticipate negative posts and quickly res
pond with positive messages, without getting mired in company policy.”

3) “Don’t put more value on promoting products and services than building relationships” (Brian Cuban, General Counsel, Dallas Mavericks)

This is a common mistake from a lot of companies. Often, the thought is, “social media is another free way for me to get the word out.” But it’s so much more. As previously mentioned, the point of social media, is inherently in the name. It’s about getting “social” through establishing a personal relationship with your customer base, not bombarding the community at-large with links to press releases about products, your Web site or other promotional activities. Using Twitter, Facebook pages, or other tools needs to be about providing value, a sense of belonging to a community, or personalization through engagement. It’s has to be viewed as more than a sounding-board, but as a collective of individuals in a common place.

4) “Listen. Always make sure you are listening – really listening – to the feedback and responding appropriately, when necessary.” (Jeremy Pepper, Public Relations Manager, Boingo Wireless)

I know, this isn’t a “don’t,” but Jeremy’s right. Focusing on the “don’t, don’t, don’t – doesn’t say what to do.” When you’re engaging people, be cognoscente of their responses, beliefs and how they are choosing to participate. Apple learned this lesson, when first and second iterations of the iPhone didn’t have much requested video capabilities and ultimately made users feel like their opinions counted. Finally, with the last version the trumpets sounded and clouds parted for iPhone fans, as video was unveiled front and center.

There are a number of experts who have weighed-in and have excellent insights. Check them out below, and if something’s missing, add your own recommendation:
  • “Don’t jump In. Period. End of Story. Companies that do not spend the time to research their motives & lay out a plan of attack are fools. Period.” (Wm. Marc Salsberry, Entrepreneur/Photographer)
  • “Don’t inject yourself into conversations uninvited and unwanted.” (Brian Morrissey, Reporter, AdWeek)
  • “Don’t fail to listen and become part of the community. Broadcasting only w/o engagement is a recipe for disaster.” (Steffan Antonas, Contributer, ReadWriteWeb)
  • “Do not to let a comment go on deaf ears. People who reach out to you want a reply back.” (Richard Krueger, CEO, Samepoint.com)
  • “Don’t start a social media effort and not finish it or maintain it at the level it launched. If they take the plunge, got to go all the way.” (James Lee, President, Lee Strategy Group)
  • “Don’t ignore customer complaints.” (Lance Ulanoff, Editor-in-Chief, PC Magazine)
  • “Don’t tweet every half an hour. When you try to communicate too much with a very picky consumer, they will become annoyed and remove you from their list. It should be a conversation, not an attack.” (Angela Megrey, Director New Media, MOJO)
  • “Don’t expect instant results; [Social Media] isn’t a magic switch that will bring traffic.” (Chris Easter, Founder, TheManRegistry.com)
  • “Do not to start SM campaigns that they weren’t prepared to back up in real life with real products or services.” (Jeffrey Davis, President & COO, AGY)
  • “Don’t try to terrace your tone. Everyone’s going to find out who and what you are eventually; so be cautious, but candid.” (Angela Natividad, Editor-in-Chief, Marketing Vox)
  • “Don’t be afraid. If you fail big or make a mistake or offend someone, appologize, learn, change & try again.” (Chris Heuer, Founder, Social Media Club)
  • “Don’t create a presence if you’re not willing to welcome, listen & engage in user conversation. Don’t let content get stale.” (Chris Guerra, CEO, Brand Orders)
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