5 ways brands fail in social media

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Social media is young and remains undefined in many ways. Even the most successful early adopters of Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, blogging, etc., had a few stumbles along the way before they hit their strides.

The following failures are examples of common mistakes made by many brands in social media. As best practices are more widely adopted across industries and individual organizations, mistakes like these will become less commonplace. But one thing is for certain: Large brands that still refuse to adopt a social media strategy are embarrassing themselves. It can be scary, but even a less-than-perfect social media strategy is essential.

The good news is that the world of social media moves so quickly that a mistake (even a big one) will likely be quickly forgotten. Now let's talk about five different ways that brands mess things up, again and again, in social media.

Waiting too long to respond or not responding at all

Why it's bad: One of the first conversations a social media marketing consultant has with a client usually starts with, "You don't control online discussions about your brand. People are talking about you whether you want them to or not." The conversation is already out there, and one of the smartest things a brand can do is to learn how to be a part of it. If there is big news or a scandal, people expect the brand to respond with a comment. If the brand waits too long to chime-in, or worse, doesn't say anything at all, people begin to speculate and create their own truths.

The culprit: Tiger Woods. Is everybody wearing their irony hats? Good. Check out this Oct. 14 update from Tiger's official Facebook page:

Oops. For the uninitiated (including people who don't stand in grocery store checkout lines), Tiger wrecked his car in late November, which for some reason fanned the flames of a tabloid rumor about one or more extramarital affairs. Tiger waited until Dec. 2, which is an eternity in internet gossip time, to write a vague response on his official website that only served to create more rumors.

The solution: It's still probably not too late for Tiger to issue a statement that would put many rumors to rest and help mitigate some of the damage that has been done to his brand (only time will tell what Nike thinks of all of this). It's hard to argue that his credibility as a spokesperson, at least in the short term, has been thrashed. But considering that his celebrity grew from some actual talent, the Tiger Woods brand will likely come out of this scandal relatively undamaged.

Using social media only to push your own marketing agenda

Why it's bad: The entire purpose of social media is to interact with other people out there on the big old web. When a brand uses Twitter, for example, to do nothing more than inform you of its latest advertisements, then the conversation is one-sided and boring. Twitter should encourage discussion, which is pretty hard to do when every update says something like, "Check out our new line of Dwayne-Johnson-designed handbags! 20% off through Sunday!" There is nothing wrong with sharing coupons or other deals with your followers -- in fact, this is one of the reasons that people follow brands on Twitter. But it's much better if the offer is exclusive to those followers. If so, you are rewarding that coterie for taking the time to follow you.

Remember to bring the proverbial bottle of wine to the party. Encourage conversation and engage these folks who clearly support your brand enough to have sought you out in the first place. Offer behind-the-scenes photos, videos, or even gossip. Eventually, your followers might largely drive the conversations themselves, which can be a great thing.

The culprit: Gucci. As of right now, Gucci has a little more than 3,500 followers. It's is not a huge amount, but it's a great start. The brand's updates are infrequent, but when it does tweet it is always about Gucci. This one-sided, repetitive behavior gets old fast, even for devoted fans of the brand.

The solution: Gucci needs to update more often, at least a few times per day. When it updates, it should involve its followers as frequently as possible. A great way to do this is to ask questions. Another way would be to ask for photos. After all, people love Gucci bags, so why not request photos of people with their handbags?

Incentivize people's participation. Perhaps Gucci could run a contest once per week. For example, it could ask, "What is the strangest thing you ever used your handbag for? Funniest answer in the next hour wins a $20 gift card." Remember to leave a little room for retweets (don't use the full 140 characters).

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