25/07/2011

By Colette Mason

If you’re new to promoting your business with social media, it can feel like there are lots of pitfalls waiting to trip you up. IT expert Colette Mason lists the 5 most common mistakes, she comes across when she’s helping businesses with their social media strategies.

1. Broadcasting

As someone who markets my own products, courses and consultancy services online, if you ask me what the number one no-no is in social media, I’ll give you the top answer within a nanosecond.

It’s “BROADCASTING” your sales messages, instead of providing followers with helpful, relevant information and engaging with them on a continual basis to build a strong, loyal relationship with them.

But just because you can use Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter to tell a potentially global audience about your products and services, it does not mean you should do it frequently and blatantly. Social media is all about authenticity, warmth, empathy, relationships and connection.

The online community will see right through you if your company is acting in a self-interested manner. You definitely won’t be popular if you’re too pushy; too overtly commercial. Equally, it’s important not to go too much the other way. You must do some promotional updates to get a return, otherwise what’s the point? Always remember the mantra, “People First, Money Second”

In the early stages, focus on building relationships and trust. Don’t launch into a full-on attack on your followers, crashing around like a bull in a china shop, desperate to part them from their money.

2. Not investing adequate time

Another common mistake is underestimating the amount of regular time a successful social media marketing strategy can entail. It might only be 10 minutes twice a day on average to keep on top of developments for most businesses, but you need to make a regular commitment. You can’t decide to stop for a couple of weeks then put in half a day’s work in one long stint – effective social media interactions don’t operate that way. A little often is much better than a lengthy “stop-go” cycle.

Social Media is not like “Advertising” in a trade directory. So many times I see businesses adopting a “set it and forget it” mentality to their social media profiles especially among small businesses.

There’s the tell-tale signs of a couple of lone status updates about six months ago, and a fairly empty set of profile details making people who view your profile wonder if you’re still in business…(i.e. alive!)

Just like a real-life business networking event, if you sit, silently, alone, thoughtfully sipping your coffee in a far corner of the room, you’re not really going to start up meaningful conversations with anyone. You have to “mingle” with other attendees to stand a chance of success.

3. Being boring or predictable

It’s important to let down your professional guard a little when using social media. Social Media Land is, surprise surprise, a “Social Place”.

People share things they find funny, thought-provoking, interesting or useful with their connections as well as serious or business related information. It’s important to pay close attention to the more light-hearted subject matter you can share with your followers.

Also, vary the format of your updates, with pure text, adding links, uploading a photo or sharing a video. Keep things fresh. Updates that are predictable, boring or annoying undermine the relationship with your followers.

Tempting though it is, do avoid taking the easy route by constantly auto-publishing content from your blog, or republishing your tweets as a Facebook status update, or syndicating someone else’s (Really Simple Syndication)RSS feed for weeks on end. Your followers will spot these updates for the automated “filler” it really is not good.

4. Failing to learn about social media mechanics and tools

Since social media is a relatively new way of communicating, some businesses have yet to explore all the main social media website features and profile settings and miss out on opportunities to create an enjoyable, rewarding and informative experience for their followers.

One of the biggest mistakes is failing to fully complete all the profile information boxes that are relevant to your business.

Your profile information and profile settings are where you can choose how you introduce yourself to your audience. This is the place where you say what your business is all about, plus add contact information like your website URL (Uniform Resource Locator), your address, your phone number and email details.

Not everyone knows that on Facebook you can even add things like your opening times, payment details, information for visitors using public transport and more.

For LinkedIn, few people fill out all their profile details, make the most of the 3 URL links they can add, neglect to embed their sales presentations and so on. Always click around all the places you can edit your profiles and make sure nothing important is left out.

5. Violating terms and conditions

Just like driving, if you don’t know the rules of the road you can easily end up in hot water. It’s worth keeping an eye on Facebook, LinkedIn and Twitter’s terms and conditions. They change periodically.

The terms and conditions link is usually in the footer menu of each site, or can be found quickly on Google if you need it in a hurry.

In general, to avoid breaking terms and conditions on social media sites, always come from a position of being helpful and respectful to other social media users – then you are much less likely to encounter any difficulties. The more you push the boundaries, the more you’ll find yourself wading through small print checking it’s OK to do something, without risking getting your account shut down. Do yourself a favor – don’t be that guy!

Show people the same courtesy online that you do offline, and you’ll be well on the way to doing things properly. Invest some time in learning about these ocial media platforms. Click around. Explore. Try out some changes. Your increased understanding will pay dividends later.

Colette Mason runs an international online consultancy which shows businesses and entrepreneurs how to use the internet and social media to boost their business online. With an IT background, which started in support and development and moving on to usability and online marketing techniques, she has worked on some of the biggest projects in Europe. After running a ‘traditional’ UK based IT contacting business for 15 years, Colette now shares her specialist knowledge and experience with others as an online business strategist, mentor and public speaker with a worldwide audience. For more information please visit, www.colettemason.com

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