By Jack Miles and Rhiannon Price of Northstar Research Partners UK

Many brands and businesses believe they need a strong online presence in order to compete in today’s ever expanding digital society. For the small and medium-sized enterprise (SME), embracing and harnessing social media can also be a lifesaving reply to small marketing budgets.

However, if done incorrectly, could it be more damaging than helpful?

Below are some common social media crimes that SMEs risk committing:

1.Social Media For The Sake Of It

•Crime: Often in a rush to establish a social media presence, SMEs might not consider the extent of the continuous effort needed to maintain a strong online profile. Often this results in an abandoned Facebook page or a Twitter account with minimal followers and very few tweets.

•How potential audiences read it: Such a business may be one that simply follows trends – but does not lead them. But even worse, a business that cannot fully deliver on its own commitments, let alone deliver to its customers.

•Lesson learned: Stagnant social media accounts are worse than none at all. A social media strategy and dedicated personnel should be assigned before establishing a social media presence.

2.Brazen Self Promotion

•Crime: Social media isn’t all about self promotion (although this does play a part). Brands and companies can often make the mistake of overly promoting themselves on social media without giving back to their customers – something that can be achieved by sharing interesting information or offering social media based promotions.

•How potential audiences read it: Potentially irritating and untrustworthy. Over self promotion clogs up your audience’s feeds with self centred content without rewarding their following. Audiences can potentially interpret an organisation behind such actions as a company that simply ‘sells to’ as opposed to ‘interacts with’ its customers.

•Lesson learned: Social Media is a medium built on networking and digital word of mouth. Therefore, subtle self promotion and letting customers realise your strengths for themselves is often more effective.

3.Shying Away From Social Media For Fear Of Negative Publicity

•Crime: Worrying that having a social media presence leaves you exposed to public criticism and thinking that not having a Facebook page, Twitter account etc. will provide a barrier to negative feedback.

•How potential audiences read it: A company that is out of date and out of touch with its customers. Or, even worse, a company that does not want to have a two-way conversation with its customers.

•Lesson learned: ‘You have to be in it to win it!’ As social media continues to gain traction, those that do not embrace it will be left behind and be without as many marketing, customer service and idea generation opportunities as their social media savvy competitors.

4.Ignoring Feedback on Social Media Channels

•Crime: Being defensive of customer feedback by one or more of the following: a) not responding to acknowledge criticism, b) not rectifying the problem meaning other customers are likely to also be disappointed or c) attacking customers who feedback negatively.

•How potential audiences read it: A company that does not listen to its customers, is not interested in customer relations and a company who does not prescribe to ‘the customer is always right’ school of thought.

•Lesson learned: Being seen to respond both in terms of communications and rectifying problems can actually be a very strong and encouraging message to potential customers.

5.Only Engaging With Potential Customers and Not Potential Competition

•Crime: Only following, joining groups, reading blogs etc. of potential business opportunities and ignoring competitors in your industry. Also, not engaging with companies that do not appear obviously relevant but that could be a source of collaboration, inspiration or a new (less obvious) business contact.

•How potential audiences read it: Such companies are only engaged in social media for direct revenue potential, may be out of touch with their own industry and are not bigger picture thinkers.

•Lesson learned: Engaging with your competition and a less obvious audience is a great way of keeping up to date on industry trends and marketing techniques of successful businesses in your sphere, whilst allowing you to potentially gain competitive intelligence.

So, if done well, social media can provide a great way for SMEs to market themselves, communicate with their customers (current and potential), increase their geographical reach and develop their overall proposition – all for a relatively small financial investment.