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Social media is here, embedded and in daily use for many of us. The death of Steve Jobs last month broke all tweeting records as mourners and those wanting to pay tribute tweeted over 10,000 tweets per second in the hours following the news announcement.

The use of social media has grown beyond the domain of the young, and positive business case studies are evolving about profits made from social media campaigns. But the prominence of social media in the business world adds a whole new set of complications and rules for us as business owners.

We have helped friends, business leaders and clients overcome their social media hurdles and the result for some is that social media has become a highly useful tool. It is estimated that approximately 800 million people use Facebook alone. For some industries however it is still emerging and yet to take hold.

After following the ups and downs of social media use in my industry and around the world on my travels, I have noticed four real stand out factors which reflect almost all social media users and non-users.

Type A – The over achiever

While successfully reaching more followers online may take thought and strategy, the amount of time it takes for those same to un-follow is far less. In today’s online world, it’s all about choice and flexibility. People watch, read and listen to what they want, when they want. They can follow who they are interested in and block those they are not. And while it may take a business energy and time to enlist even one follower, the time it takes for that same follower to block them is as quick as the click of a mouse. This is why overly aggressive marketing and advertising online is a no-no from the word go.

Treated in the same way as spam, if your audience feels your social media sites offer nothing but an overload of company deals and information, they quickly become unengaged. Expect a backlash from the online community, even your own followers, if your strategy for social media engagement misses the mark.

The over achiever gets  hold of social media and goes too hard too fast. Strategise your social media offering. Connect with your audience in a way that engages them, interests and inspires them to encourage others to follow you. One of the biggest social media mistakes I have see are businesses who see social media as a free form of advertising. Don’t bombard your audience.

Type B – The commitment phobe

You wouldn’t let the phone ring out in your office or not answer the door. And it would be rare to go to work and not respond to your inbox. Having an out of date, abandoned social media site is one of the worst mistakes you can make. Using social media is an ongoing commitment that needs strategy and policy. Simply establishing a Facebook page is not enough for you to dust your hands off and be happy with your effort. A blank Twitter feed implies you have had nothing of value to report  – not a good message to send to prospects and certainly a risk around connectivity for your business.

Users who do not check and update their profiles frequently are likely to miss valuable opportunities to celebrate successes, comment on trending social topics, answer customer queries and quell complaints. Being an active social media user is the only way to generate followers and maintain your relevance online. A complaint left on your Facebook wall for weeks at a time is a missed opportunity to publicly control the situation. Like having a phone number but no telephone connection, having an outdated, bare social media site is negligent and an opportunity wasted.

Type C – The blind optimist

Do something right or not at all! If you know you will not commit to a social media strategy or policy it is better to stay away from it all together. Unrestricted and thoughtless social media use can have a devastating impact on a company, influencing share prices and ending successful political, sporting and leadership careers. Your office needs an employee social media strategy and policy.

Why? Firstly because you need to set goals that reflect what you aim to get out of your social media use. If you aren’t engaging and proving your social value, you run the risk of looking boring or uninteresting, so why use it at all? Secondly, every member of your office may draw the line in a different place on what is good “netiquette” and what is not. A social media policy is a clear guideline of how staff may and may not use social media in connection with your company and outlines the consequences of misuse. If you consider that any message dictated by the official company profile or staff member’s site is an extension of the company itself, it is a risk not to have these spokespeople specially trained for managing your online community. Protect your company’s online brand, educate yourself and your team and have all social media activity approved as if it were a media release.

Type D – The resister

Like an ostrich who sticks his head in the sand, the company that does not acknowledge social media appears ignorant and out of touch with society. With so much opportunity to connect with your online audience, there really is no excuse for remaining invisible – unless of course you have good reason not to be found.

The most obvious risk is that an industry search by prospective clients will not find your company as result, which means you are losing business to competitors. It demonstrates you are out of touch with the way that people are communicating and in some cases missing out on purchase decisions. By not engaging, you lose a channel of communication with your target audience, are unable to monitor industry conversations on LinkedIn and Twitter and you can’t take advantage of good SEO.

Don’t rely on others to carry you on social media and be sure to educate your staff on proper office social media policy; what is and is not appropriate and what will not be tolerated. Most of all, enjoy. Social media is a great way to generate leads, have fun, rekindle existing relationships and keep audiences engaged.

–Sharon Williams is founder and CEO of Taurus Marketing

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Sharon Williams

Sharon Williams

Sharon Williams is the founder and CEO of Taurus Marketing. She has founded a number of businesses and organisations and has more than 25 years experience in marketing and PR from the UK and Europe to Asia, and now Australia.

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