By Meredith Carson, Action Global Communications Group

Marketers spend their lives trying to create The Next Big Thing and now that social media’s rocked up at the party, everyone is tripping over themselves to grab a piece of the action. Involving a brand in social media requires intense application of common sense, responsibility and at times, restraint (none of which is popular at a party). Following are three common mistakes companies make and ways to avoid them.

Mistake #1. Jump in, the water’s warm!

When marketers consider establishing a presence for their brand on social media, the first question they should ask themselves is: why am I doing this? It’s amazing how often people either draw a blank or realise that it’s only because social media’s become a marketing bandwagon.

For brands, a social media investment needs research, time, experience and communications expertise. You need to have the right tools in place (and in the right order); to measure and monitor the conversation to find out what others are saying about the brand, where they’re saying it and what influence these people have. Do this before you do anything - it will really help guide your strategy. If you just jump in without understanding popular sentiment, you might find yourself in hot water.

Mistake #2. Social Media’s just another marketing channel.

There’s a smug little saying that goes something along the lines of: if you walked up to someone on the street and spoke to them in the way ads speak to people, that person would probably either walk past you, giving you a look of horror - or smack you in the face. Too often, brands see social media as a way to advertise, talk at and spam their followers where instead they should be building a relationship with them.

The brand monologue approach found in traditional media, which marketers are used to, needs to become a dialogue. Social media is for people to socialise - hence the term. If - and it’s a big if - brands can earn their way into the conversation, they need to respect that their followers have chosen to engage with the brand. They should join the dialogue and and provide content which is

a) useful
b) interesting
c) helpful

This might mean utilising social media channels as a form of customer relations, answering people’s questions, giving them a ‘sneak peek’, rewarding them for participating with the brand online. Starting to see opportunities? Listening, engaging and interacting with your audiences can be really illuminating and rewarding.

Mistake #3. Being a smarty pants just because you can.

So, you have your integrated cross-platform multimedia social strategy with push and pull tactics, which you have confidently presented to a thoroughly confused CEO. Congratulations. Now what? Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Keep things simple - examine the opportunities social media presents - can it help drive your business goals?

Also, be where your people are. There’s no sense investing resources in maintaining a Twitter account, if your key market is on forums, for instance. Senior business executives may spend more time reading the FT online and a few key blogs, rather than lolling around on LinkedIn - maybe the investment is better placed with a digital and social media release. Doing some research first - even if it’s only using free tools - will really help you track down your target market and help identify the correct platforms and communities within which to engage.