Business Week outlines 5 major mistakes companies make in their social media efforts. I've excerpted portions of the article here. I've also added my own thoughts where noted.
1. Not (or Barely) Monitoring: Companies that do not first "listen" and observe how their evangelists and detractors talk about their brand risk jumping into a cyclone of unanticipated activity. Constant monitoring is a must.
Even a well-liked Internet brand can fall victim to lack of social media monitoring. In 2009, hackers exploited a vulnerability in online retailer Amazon.com's (AMZN) site, causing all books by GLBT (Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Transgender) authors to disappear. Over the course of a weekend, thousands of consumers on Twitter, Facebook, and forums voiced their concern, suspecting that Amazon had made the authors unavailable deliberately. Two days later, when Amazon made an attempt to explain the glitch, people on Twitter already had created a hashtag further ridiculing the company's ineptitude.
Dan's take: If you wait too long to get involved in the social conversation after an issue spikes, you will have no shot at addressing the issue and protecting your company's viewpoint. A non-response is often perceived as a lack of interest in the conversation. "No comment," intentionally or unintentionally, rarely ever works out for a company under fire, as BP found out in the first couple weeks of the Gulf of Mexico oil spill debacle. They never gave themselves a chance to earn some early credibility and participate in the discussion from the beginning.
2. "Down-sourcing" to Interns or Junior Staff: The fresh, young digital natives at your company embody a crucial resource in helping to navigate the emerging media waters. In some cases, however, their lack of business experience could imperil your brand's "social voice."
Recently, Nestlé's (NESN) Facebook page erupted in a flame war when Greenpeace staged a protest of the chocolate maker's alleged use of palm oil from deforested areas in Indonesia. The "official" posts in response to comments were overly flippant and defensive, which only fueled the firestorm.
Dan's take: Junior staff may know how to use social media better than seasoned staff, but they may lack the experience and diplomacy to deal with an issue properly. Why not pair up a junior staffer with a senior staffer and let them help each other?
3. Fast Beats Perfect: In the digital world, content can spread like wildfire. Immediate, authentic, and humble acknowledgements of your brand's social media kerfuffles are not only necessary but also expected. Taking the time to craft a perfect corporate response with layers of bureaucratic approvals will only cause more damage to your brand's social reputation.
In a matter of days, the now infamous Domino's YouTube video, in which employees did some highly unappetizing things to the chain's food, erupted into a full-fledged crisis. Although the chief executive officer provided a video statement/response, some felt the company's reply took far too long. (The company has since redeemed itself with its highly successful Pizza Turnaround campaign.)
Dan's take: In social media, speed trumps perfection every time. When you only have a short time to get into the conversation, you can't get bogged down by three layers of approvals before something can be posted. Your company's social media policy should be posted where any employee can find it, and should be written in language that is clear and easy to understand. You have a company social media policy, right?
4. Faking It: If you've failed to foster and energize a legitimate set of brand evangelists, don't attempt to disguise false engagement by having employees pretend to be customers (known as "astroturfing"). It will most certainly be found out.
Earlier this year, speculation was that Wal-Mart's (WMT) local Chicago PR agency was behind a fake community support group commenting on blogs in favor of the retail store coming to town.
Dan's take: You know what they say... "You can't fool all of the people all of the time." The savvy folks in the net can smell a rat, and they will out you immediately when you are caught. Don't take a chance - it will only add gasoline to the fire of any controversy and erode your credibility.
5. Having an "Off" Switch: Your brand's involvement in social media should never have an end date, since at its core, that involvement is about nurturing customer relationships. While campaigns that have a social media extension may come and go, you must maintain an "always on" approach and outlook.
TGI Friday's September 2009 cross-channel campaign reached its goal of winning 500,000 fans of fictional character "Woody" on Facebook. In fact, it got close to 1 million fans. TGI Friday's ended the campaign and deleted the Facebook page without those fans converting to TGI Friday's official Facebook page, losing all the social capital built up over the course of the campaign.
Dan's take: Social media efforts never end. Rather than treating social media as a form of "Damage control," think of it as a way to build credibility so if something controversial surfaces, you already have fans who will back you up and help you get through a crisis.
As we're still in somewhat of a nascent period in social media marketing, brands will inevitably make mistakes and learn from them along the way. This learning process is exciting and offers marketers some unique opportunities to connect directly with consumers.
At the end of the day, brands must earn their "social currency." There are no shortcuts or substitutes to authentic engagement in the realm of social media.
Mike Proulx was the author of the Business Week article. He leads digital strategy for Hill Holliday, an ad agency in Boston.