How #NOT to do social media marketing

August 28, 2015

Social media marketing is not witchcraft, but it can nevertheless backfire. Nobody “likes” your posts and your page has no fans. The initial enthusiasm and motivation disappears in a puff of smoke and an originally admirable attempt slowly falls asleep as if under a spell. What ought to have been a lively hub of information and knowledgeable exchange shrivels up into little more than a textual wasteland. It’s all because of poor decisions and common mistakes which persist to this day.

A recurring, basic problem is that particularly traditional brands and conservative industries still confuse social media marketing with advertising. They worry about their brand essence and image which have been carefully cultivated over the years, and find it hard to engage in dialogue and conversation. Instead, the focus remains fixed on the product, anchored in the belief that advertising equals profit. And it shows in their posts and tweets, constantly pushing their own brand, their latest service, their amazing product. And they’re not shy about it either; the audience is bombarded with endless advertising.

The golden rule: put yourself in the user’s shoes

The starting point in social media is not you, the poster, but rather those who read your posts. Ask yourself the following question: what useful, interesting, entertaining or new information can my input bring to the conversation? And answer it as honestly as possible without thinking about profits and spreadsheets. It’s long been accepted that a strong social media presence pays off, but it doesn’t come overnight. A business must be prepared to invest time and effort in creating good content, good ideas and valuable information. And yes, you guessed it, this costs money. To dispel another myth which perpetuates to this day – social media marketing is not free.

Social Media Marketing is a professional job

In an age where Facebook is gradually strangling organic search, there’s just no getting away from the need for a social media budget and a professional editorial staff. Gone are the days when you could leave your social media channels in the (less than?) capable hand of interns or the office work experience. The industry has gone professional and the demands and expectations of fans and followers have risen accordingly. If you are going to use social media in your business, you need super-interns. Or even better, professionals.

Just last year, the US fashion label American Apparel learnt the hard way when, on Independence Day on 4th July, the company’s Tumblr page posted a well-known photo of the Challenger Space Shuttle disaster, presumably mistaking it for fireworks. The space shuttle had exploded seconds after lift-off in January 1986, killing all seven crew members. In an apology, the company said that their social media manager had been born after the event and therefore hadn’t known what the photograph was.

Whether you conduct your social media marketing internally or outsource to an agency or freelancer, it still costs time and money. And let’s bust another myth while we’re at it – no, you can’t just tweet, post or blog on the side whenever you have a moment. Of course, you may have a brainwave every now and again that you can tweet about or compose a quick blog post around, but long term social media marketing demands planning, text composition, image editing, video production and industry interaction. And all that takes time.

This brings us to the first of our five deadly sins of social media marketing.

1. No time

You can’t “just do a quick bit” of social media marketing. If you think a few minutes here and a few quick clicks there is enough then you’re barking up the wrong tree. When you make the decision to use social media for your business, you must be prepared to allocate appropriate resources for it. Blogs and status updates need to be written and photos need to be taken – and then edited, and uploaded, and commented. All activities must be monitored and evaluated, and it all takes time! Costs can vary depending on how many portals and networks a company is using, as can the appropriate frequency of posts and the time required to construct them. At the end of the day, an employee whose job description is already complicated enough cannot be expected to look after social media marketing as well.

2. Minimum requirements

The truth is, we are good at the things we like. A seller is only doing a good job when he or she becomes an effective persuader. This applies to social media more than most – if you are going to get involved, then you have to do it properly. Businesses which just quickly log in, post a standard message and then disappear again get found out pretty quickly. Take frozen pizza company DiGirono’s Pizza for example.

Wanting to make an amusing contribution to the trending hashtag #WhyIStayed, the company tweeted “#WhyIStayed You had pizza”. Very funny. The only problem was that the hashtag was being used in a general discussion about violence against women. The tweeter had clearly not familiarized him or herself with the context of the hashtag and the tweet was highly inappropriate.

Regardless of the constant hype around social media marketing, it is important to make it clear that it is not necessarily for everyone. If it is not taken seriously and carried out appropriately, it’s probably better not to do it at all.

3. Can’t handle criticism

Negative feedback and criticism in social media is inevitable, and you’d think it was obvious that the worst thing you can do in response is to delete the comments. Apparently not. Businesses still insist on simply hitting the delete button whenever anyone criticizes their brand. This can have much further-reaching consequences than just an angry exchange with an unhappy customer, as the example of J.M. Smucker demonstrates …

In November 2014, the American jam manufacturer tried to avoid a debate over the use of genetically modified ingredients in its products by nonchalantly deleting negative comments. This only served to enrage concerned customers even more, the media picked up on the dispute and the situation spiralled out of control.

When it gets to this point, it has got far beyond the initial issue and is more indicative of general poor conduct on the part of the company. Posts on social media should only be deleted when they contain racist, insulting, threatening or illegal content. Businesses should develop a coherent strategy for dealing with negative feedback – or avoid social media altogether.

4. Lack of community spirit

Social media is exactly that: “social” media. You are part of a community and as such should show interest in other people. This is true in real life away from the computer screen and applies to the digital world too. Nobody wants to feel like an anonymous number or be treated purely as profit generating potential. So, when interacting with your social media following, it is important not just to throw links and marketing messages around but also to ask questions and get involved. And most importantly – listen!

Businesses who pay genuine attention to their online communities and engage with customers appropriately also learn a lot. Many businesses discover new target audiences for their products via social media, which their initial market research may have missed. This is one of the major advantages of social media – discovering new markets! New online customers are often right before a company’s eyes but, due to lack of interest and lazy social media marketing, they go unnoticed. Openness and curiosity are key.

5. Inauthenticity

Last but certainly not least, the deadliest sin in social media marketing – inauthentic businesses don’t get anywhere. It’s a fine balancing act, I know, but by no means impossible.

Authenticity in business requires a combination of openness, transparency and a willingness to communicate. Under no circumstances should you try to come across as something you are not! Define what your brand stands for and attempt to convey that as interestingly and as diversely as possible.


About the author
Barbara Ward may have already published three books on content marketing but she nevertheless feels most at home online. An experienced business woman, Barbara studied media marketing and journalism and spent a long time living abroad in the English-speaking world, where she was among the first to start using nascent social networks as marketing instruments. She has therefore been tweeting and posting and liking and sharing since 2006 – even once whilst stuck in a lift! Nowadays, she writes for and advises businesses, publishing houses and agencies on all things social media marketing.

Author Barbara Ward

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