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8 social media sins to avoid

Chris Aarons
8 social media sins to avoid Chris Aarons

As marketers continue the rush to enter the social media space and implement social media components into their marketing campaigns, the success stories and case studies are piling up. But, for every success story, there are dozens of failures, which include campaigns that spent far more than they returned.

Co-author Geoff Nelson is co-founder of Ivy Worldwide.
When setting out to create and deploy a social media marketing campaign, it is important to keep in mind the social media integration required to emerge as a success story. And this balance becomes even more challenging to maintain as the drive to join the space enhances.

According to Adam Sarner, an analyst with market research firm Gartner, while more than 75 percent of Fortune 1000 companies with an existing online presence will have undertaken some kind of online social-networking initiative for marketing or customer relations purposes, some 50 percent of those campaigns will be classified as failures.

As brands are strengthening their campaigns, this legacy of success -- or more likely, failure -- will follow them in their new online marketing efforts. If you're a part of one of those companies that have been in the space for a while and may have seen some success, it's fairly certain that you often ask yourself, "What could we have done differently?" And rightly so. After all, those who fail to learn from history should be prepared to repeat its lessons.

Below, we delve into the eight deadly sins of social media -- the most common mistakes that turn companies anti-social in a social world -- as well as provide some tips on how to overcome these sins so you are better armed to pacify this nagging dilemma.

1. Viral equals social success
Viral is an outcome from a solid social media and marketing strategy. If you believe you can extract a positive outcome from a viral effort, you may find yourself in the same situation as Elfyourself.com -- a lot of content and participation, but very little sales or even brand awareness from the campaign. In fact, test your friends. Ask them if they remember the campaign and ask them which brand did it? When we have asked this question, about 1 in 500 knew it was OfficeMax. Did you?

While thinking outside the box is critical in the creation of a viral campaign, going too far away from the grain of social media may ensure the campaign fails to deliver the ROI that will justify budget approval for next year. Walking this line is difficult, and failing to recognize that viral does not guarantee social success will ensure social failure.

Takeaway: Good strategy results in viral, but viral is not a strategy.

Takeaway: What someone says about you is more important than what you say about yourself.

3. Social is the content and the campaign
Social media is about intersecting with people doing what is in their best interest, not yours or your company's. Requiring people to upload content that benefits only you and your brand is a recipe for disaster. When Sheraton (like many other brands) launched a user-generated content campaign to drive awareness, there was a clear disconnect between the idea and the result. In response to the call-to-action, only 703 videos were uploaded. However, most of these came from people not in the key target markets for Sheraton. With this poor targeting and response, the campaign saw minimal return.

This may be hard to swallow for some brands, but -- believe it or not -- customers are not waiting for your next campaign to create a video for you. In fact, only about 10 percent of the population enters contests. Those who will participate are motivated by the ease-of-entry, like simply giving basic information (not creating a video) or skill-based (creative content judged on merit) components of the campaign. A great counter-example to this is the "Win $57,000 make a commercial for Heinz Ketchup" campaign, which included a prize that was big enough to justify the effort.

The real question to ask yourself is what do you want from your customers? Heinz wanted a new crowd-sourced commercial to use in its campaign; Sheraton needed people doing the wave to get content for its microsite. Do you recognize the difference?

Takeaway: People are already motivated to do many different things. By identifying where their motivation intersects with yours, you can avoid creating a contrived campaign. However, if you are ready and able to compensate people for their effort, the likelihood of participation goes up exponentially.

4. Social prostitution
The main motivation behind launching a social media campaign is to achieve a key component for driving sales -- third-party endorsements. If you try to deceive, your audience will find out. Much like in romantic relationships, the benefit of creating legitimate relationships comes from the growth and connection you develop with your significant other, which, in this case, is your audience.

Eliminating these relationship components from your social media campaign by paying bloggers (pay-per-post) to do your bidding is one way to show the world you cannot be trusted, even if you disclose that the content is sponsored. Remember, it is called "social" media and thus requires that you be genuinely social to get real results.

Should the threat of honest assessment in social media prove greater than the potential benefits of engaging your audience in an honest conversation about your products, brands, or company? Remember our previous point: If someone's going to say something bad about you online, odds are they already are.

If you are considering paying for blog posts, ask yourself these two questions:

  • Why do you think you need to pay someone to talk about your product? Is it that bad? In other words, will honest assessments hurt us as a company or brand?

  • What are you going to do about the backlash when people start questioning your product or motivation for pay-for-post when they find out? (And eventually they will.)

Takeaway: Money isn't the best social currency; relationships and knowledge are.

5. Social is PR
Social media is too big for one department. By defining social media in a purely public relations or communications capacity, it limits the scope of your campaign. Keep in mind that in employing social media, there are functionalities and benefits to other departments (e.g. product development, service and support, research), so include those departments as ways to deepen and continue your engagement with consumers. Your audience wants to know more about you than just what you're selling; they want to know about what you do, who does it, and how you do it.

One way to ensure you avoid the pitfall of operating social media in a silo is to ask yourself who else in the organization should participate, and how else can you leverage your social presence beyond just product launches and news events?

Takeaway: PR is great for news and launches, but social media creates the ongoing and sustained interest between news and launches.

6. Adver-social
In social media, many marketers are puzzled by how to gauge the quality of the results achieved by a campaign. One method that has proven to be especially relevant in reflecting a program's success is the social media "superfecta." The superfecta consists of sales results, Google results, third-party endorsements, and user-generated content delivered by real people carrying the message in unison to other forums, venues and, ultimately, to more consumers.

When you place your message in a controlled environment like an ad box, you lose the potential for any of these four elements to occur. Additionally, you eliminate the opportunity for search engine optimization to drive traffic back to your site, which results in both driving up the cost and lowering the results of the campaign, versus engaging in real interaction with your audience and the blogs they read. Tricks like asking questions or giving information in an ad unit on a blog may look social to you, but in reality, they lack real third-party endorsement and rarely spur customers to pass the information along to other venues and forums.

Unless going this route supports other elements in a rich social media program, betting your entire social campaign on something that is far less than social in nature, like an ad box, limits your ability to engage bloggers and the online community.

Takeaway: Buying advertising space on social media sites doesn't return a quarter of the value you could be getting. Further, the costs of the campaign drive up the ROI bar you need to justify it.

7. Social = Social
Not all social media platforms are the same, just like not all marketing is the same. However, like with marketing campaigns, it is important to fully consider your goals, objectives, and what your company is ready for before entering the social media space. This assessment will help you determine the right technologies, approaches, and platforms to use based on your goals and ability to follow through.

Despite the presence of a handful of successful examples, corporate blogs or online corporate communities are not right for everyone and require a long-term commitment. However, should you decide to pursue this route, identifying a way to interact with your audience -- not just putting up talking points and press releases -- is critical to your success. A lot of blogs and Twitter channels focus on customer complaints, forcing these outlets to become reactive instead of proactive. While blogs and Twitter are both great for handling these customer issues, exposing the company's "dirty laundry" to potential customers is not the best way to get new customers, and clearly shows how one size does not fit all when it comes to social media.

Also, how you interact with the blogging community requires a very good understanding of the value of bloggers and their readers, both big and small. Targeting just the big bloggers guarantees you will miss key vertical markets, and it has proven to produce much thinner coverage, since the bigger sites have more content to work with and often resort to quickie posts to generate more news items and discussion topics. In addition, many of the bigger sites pick up content from the smaller ones by linking to them and their deeper posts. And isn't such deep, knowledgeable vertical treatment really what your product deserves?

Have you really thought about these things before jumping in or running your campaign? Or if you had to do it all over again from scratch, would you do it the same way? Most people would say no.

Takeaway: Social media sites, people, and applications have vastly differing capabilities. Random, unplanned usage of these tactics will deliver poor results.

8. Social is the program
Social media amplifies and augments traditional marketing tactics and can make your total marketing program greater than the sum of its parts. However, social media alone generally yields sub-optimal results, at best.

For example, Skittles recently redesigned its homepage to serve as a portal to the various social networks the brand has a presence on -- Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube. While Skittles received publicity around its efforts, most experts didn't see the value or sales beyond the hype. This became especially true once the site was hijacked, so to speak, and numerous people posted less than flattering and profane comments, all of which showed up on the Skittles homepage.

As a result of these comments and backlash, Skittles was forced to redefine its homepage mission and determine clear parameters for its social media campaign. Are you prepared for this? Do you have a back-up plan? (Skittles did not.)

Takeaway: Social media is a strategic amplifier for your campaign, not the entire campaign.

Knowing what not to do can sometimes be more important than knowing exactly what to do. Listening and getting involved isn't a good enough strategy for social media any more. Be purposeful, knowledgeable, and strategic, and you can avoid the blunders of those who are going blindly into social media to "see what happens."

Although the above focus more heavily on the bad examples of these eight social media sins, not all is for naught when it comes to social media marketing -- there are plenty of examples of campaigns that gainfully employed refinements of these ideas, avoided the traps, and had great success. We are confident the brands mentioned learned their lessons the hard way on how not to repeat these mistakes in the future. But, when used incorrectly without a cohesive marketing strategy to enfranchise consumers, the tactics become anti-social.

In light of these examples, we'd love to hear about the campaigns you have witnessed, or even employed, that you feel either completely missed the mark or really excelled in the social media space. Please feel free to leave a comment below or contact us directly. We look forward to chatting with you and learning more about social media and word-of-mouth through your experiences!

Chris Aarons and Geoff Nelson are co- founders of Ivy Worldwide, formerly Buzz Corps.

On Twitter? Follow iMedia Connection at @iMediaTweet.


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