Five Social Media Mistakes Your Startup Must Avoid

While using social media can be an effective marketing idea for startup companies on a small budget, executing them isn't always foolproof. Falling victim to any of the common flubs can end up damaging your business's reputation and chances for success.

Here are five of the most common social media mistakes and how you can avoid making them.

No. 1: Starting without a plan. 
If you are tempted to skip creating a social media strategic plan for your business that outlines your goals and the resources you'll need to accomplish them, don't do it. By developing a plan, you create a critical foundation for which the rest of your social media efforts are based on.

Your first step to creating a strategic plan for your social media operation is to answer the following questions:

a. Do you know who your target audience is?
b. How do you plan to talk to them?
c. Do you know how your social media campaign ties into your traditional marketing plan?
d. Do you know who is going to staff your social media efforts?
e. Do you know your social media business objectives?
f. How will you measure your success?

Answer these questions along with your core team members -- your lead sales, marketing and programming people. As you do so, take time to compare them to other social media strategies to help identify and fill gaps. For instance, web strategist Jeremiah Owyang has a frequently-updated list of social media strategies from larger companies.

Related: More Social Media Mistakes

Once your plan is set, determine who on your staff will be responsible for carrying it out and hold him or her accountable.

No. 2: Poorly timing social media posts. 
One of the biggest mistakes I've seen startups make is not knowing who the customer is and how he or she behaves on the social web. For instance, a report from my marketing analytics firm KISSmetrics shows that nearly 50 percent of the U.S. population who use social media live in the Eastern Time Zone, and more than 30 percent are in the Central Time Zone. The report suggests that tweets posted at about 5 p.m. have the highest chance of being clicked on and shared. So, for example, if your business is on Pacific Time and you tweet at 5 p.m., you'd miss the "sweet spot" of more than 80 percent of the U.S. population.

Related: What Time Is Your Facebook Sweet Spot?

No. 3: Breaking social media rules of etiquette. 
Don't start a social media campaign without having at least a basic understanding of some of the rules. Here is a simple list I follow:

  • Start conversations by asking thought-provoking questions. Tapping into trends can be a great way to increase engagement among your social followers. You can find these trends on What the Trend or the home pages of general and industry news sites.
     
  • Don't follow someone on Twitter, then unfollow them when they follow you. The only reason you should follow a person or a brand is because you value the content he or she shares.
     
  • Promote other people as well as your own brand. For every personal social media mention you share, you should mention another person or business five times. When you do self-promote, make it a short mention that focuses on the benefit for your readers.
     
  • Don't spread yourself too thin. Focus on using four networks or fewer at a time. Otherwise, you might not have the time to consistently provide relevant content that engages users.

No. 4: Failing to measure social media success. 
Although it might not be easy to measure something like a conversation, you are able to measure factors such as your total online community size, the number of mentions of your brand across the social web and all the traffic referred to your business's website. The following tools can help you stay on top these important metrics:

  • PageLever is a paid tool that helps you see your impressions for any date range on Facebook.
     
  • Simply Measured is a paid tool that can collect social media data such as engagement per blog post, or tweet distribution per country into an Excel report.
     
  • SocialMention is a free search engine that allows you to have alerts sent to you daily containing mentions made online of you and your brand.

Related: Does Your Company's 'Social Personality' Need a Makeover?

No. 5: Ignoring your competitors. 
Knowing who your competitors are and what they are doing is just as important as knowing everything about your own business.

To keep an eye on your competitors over social media, look at their website, locate the social media icons, sign up as a fan and start watching what they do. It's just as important to see what their fans are saying and use those reactions to improve your own business. For example:

  • Are your competitors' fans complaining about a missing feature? Can you easily and profitably include that feature into your product?
     
  • Are they praising something both you and your competitor do, but you aren't actively promoting it in your ads? Maybe you should.
     
  • What emotions do their fans seem to connect with in regard to your competitors' products? Can you tap into that same emotion?

If you have a strategic plan, and avoid the above mistakes, social media can give your startup a cost-effective marketing boost. Additionally, your plan help remind you why you're spending time on social networks and how to improve your efforts moving forward.