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When used effectively, social media can be a boon for small business. Unfortunately – for every SMB that gets it right, countless more have yet to master this marketing tool. If you’re among this number, here are the 7 social media sins you need to avoid.

In the first of the Small Business Success Professional Indemnity series, GIO presents instalment four: ‘Picking the right social attitude.’

The social media world can be daunting, congested, and time consuming. But with almost 50 percent of small to medium enterprises in Australia using some form of social channel, there must be an apparent philosophy – and success rate – for why people are using it. Over 62 percent of Australians are using social media to consume, endorse, follow, pin, and tweet; the commodity of the ‘follower’ is much more inherent given their ability to make/break a product or service through trending, joining, commenting, and ‘liking’. But how does a small to medium business owner facilitate the needs of their newly created social media channels and effectively engage with their online audience?

What is remarkable about the recent social media phenomenon is that small business owners do not need to have a degree in marketing, or business marketing for that matter, to effectively strategise a social media campaign for their enterprise. There are countless examples of businesses which have not used social media effectively, which has in turn affected their brand image – this should set an example for business start-ups everywhere.

Learn from these 7 social media fails:

1. Not being strategic

There is always weight within the notion of quality vs quantity. Leisurely hours navigating social channels without focus can quickly add up and detract from time spent elsewhere within the business. Tailor a simple social marketing plan for yourself so you have a clear outline of who, when and how to engage your audience. This only needs to be page at the most. Intel offer a simple example of this with their social media plan. 

2. Over-saturation

Signing up to as many social media channels as possible in an attempt to expose the business to more followers is a blank canvassing approach and may not tailor for ongoing marketing needs; different channels means different types of followers, and different needs. Facebook, Google+ and Twitter are considered the staple social media channels for any company looking to grow followers however more niche channels like Pinterest have a very specific, and non-generic audience. The easiest way to decide which channel suits your SME business needs best is to see how other competitors in your industry are using social media and implement strategies from their example as a template.

3. Lack of engagement and personalisation

Now that you have followers how often do you regularly engage with them? And what tone of voice are you using when interacting with them? Too often businesses have an ‘automated response’ tone and immediately lose the one-on-one personalisation when interacting with followers. News fans signing up to a business profile want to know that their input is valued.

Ways for building a rapport with an online audience can be as simple as offering an incentive; a free eBook or discounter offer. If you run a service industry business you could offer a new Twitter follower a 10 percent discount on their new purchase if they follow your Facebook page as well.

Engagement also pertains to be heavily active on comment, photo, and trending threads. Replying to comments, addressing the follower by their first name and tagging follower names adds to the online engagement of your audience, as well as adding to the personalised tone. If you wish to tweet over five times a day make sure your updates are scheduled as well. Further expansion on audience engagement see lack of presence (below).

Direct message fail

4. Bashtag Campaigns

These campaigns could potentially be the biggest social media threat to your business if not navigated properly. What can start as an innocent marketing concept – or a fiscal, corporately-driven campaign – can spiral out of control very quickly and is hard to manage once live. A number of large corporate organisations have fallen into this trap over the last 12 months, receiving huge backlash for using hashtag (“bashtag”) campaigns as a blatant marketing tactic.

In January 2012 a large fast food giant created the #McDStories hashtag campaign in order to capture positive stories behind the hardworking individuals that delivered their product:

McDonalds Tweet fail

Within two hours the campaign was pulled due to an overwhelming, hostile response from past employees, customers, and the general public through the hijacking of their hashtag:

McDonalds fail

A tactful, tasteful hashtag campaign can be a fast way to engage with online audiences but only if it is relevant. A bad social media campaign can not only cost you time, but also your reputation…as recently seen with a major online retailer with their #Aurora hashtag in light of the recent shootings in Colorado.

5. Lack of presence

Think of your social media followers as presenting engaged children. They are highly receptive and require frequent, stimulating content. If they are not actively engaged in the present moment they will take or devote their attention elsewhere. This theory applies to social media channels. If followers are not engaged on a daily basis, they will take their interest elsewhere. Whether this means an ‘un-follow’ or a new love for an industry competitor is entirely dependent on the individual, however the reasoning remains the same – be active or be unfollowed. Surprisingly many companies still uphold to the ‘Ghost Town’ profile, exhibiting no activity for months and looking heavily un-engaged in the online world; they might as well delete their profile

6. It’s not all about you

Social media is designed as a forum for sharing information. And as much as it might help your business profile its sole purpose and focus should be around the industry that your business is in and sharing like-minded content. Sharing industry information in addition to promoting your product or services displays a holistic approach to your audience, and followers will appreciate the diversity. In percentage terms, think of the 80/20 rule: 80 percent industry/20 percent your business.

7. Dirty laundry

Another potentially damaging social media threat if not avoided from the beginnings. As with personal Facebook pages, business pages should be forums for engaging content and not airing personal opinions, especially if on a professional and public platform. There is a vast difference between social critique and blasphemy. Unless mentioning someone for the purpose of publicity or worthy note it is better to stay clear of publicly mentioning a name, organisation, product or entity that dims their profile with any shades of negativity.

Be safe and social

Social media is the best free and online option to reach your audience and have a one-on-one engagement. If you tread safely at first, and develop and adapt your online voice to suit your brand and audience, you will avoid the mistakes most often encountered by many organisations. A humble, informed and genuine approach to your social media attitude will make all the difference.

Additional social media guidelines can be found at the National Library of Australia.

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Tony Young

Tony Young

Tony Young is the Executive Manager for <a href="http://www.suncorp.com.au/insurance">Suncorp</a> Commercial Insurance Distribution. Tony holds a Bachelor of Economics (SYD University) and is a qualified Charted Accountant. He is recognised for developing the online, over the phone and relationship managed customer value proposition for the <a href="http://www.gio.com.au/business-insurance">Suncorp</a> direct business insurance channels.

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