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We've asked a coterie of marketing experts to join Entrepreneur's Team Digital to provide answers to your common questions about building an online presence. Got a question? Ask it in our comment section below or on Twitter using #TeamDigital. Each week, we'll spotlight a different topic, and twice a month we'll host Google Hangouts (our next is July 10) where Team Digital will chat about best strategies for managing an online reputation, marketing through social media and using mobile techniques to attract customers.
In this week's column, our Team Digital answers: What's a big social-media mistake that business owners make?
Ignoring social media altogether, because they don't have time to understand its impact. They write it off in the name of focusing on other more pressing priorities -- or they misinterpret social media as distractions, silly networks and apps that kids use. Another mistake business owners make is they jump in to all of the hottest social properties without considering the importance of behavior. Let's stop talking about social media and start talking about how customers can connect, learn, share. Take the time to really think about how you can use social (and mobile) to deliver value to customers and strengthen your brand promise.
Inconsistent branding on different social media sites. So many entrepreneurs have one look, feel and message on their web site, but then totally different ones on their Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn profiles. Presenting one consistent brand in logo, look and message is critical. To do this, use only one or two photos for all your social-media sites. Customize your Twitter and Facebook backgrounds using elements from your website. Keep the keywords and core descriptions of who you are and what you do relatively the same across all sites. Oh and make sure all information is up to date and current.
Talking about themselves too much. Social media is much more of a conversation than anything. A real conversation is a two-way street where people are actively engaging and listening to each other instead of blasting out updates about your newest product or promotion. If you find yourself being too promotional, try being helpful with others in your niche and sharing helpful content not only from yourself, but from other people as well. You'll find that you'll start to 'get' social media a lot better once you start doing so.
Using Vine. Kidding, but not really. Each new platform that comes along is a new bell or whistle. It's easy to get lost in the buzz and fun of something new and exciting and there is merit in trying to be first in your competitive set to figure something out and win the hearts and minds of customers. But we're overthinking things. There are several hundred blog posts about how to use Vine for business or how to use the new Instagram Video (InstaVid?) for business out there and these services are months, if not weeks old. Social media is a unique channel of communications, but it's still just a channel to communicate with an audience. If you need a consultant or blogger to tell you how to leverage six seconds of video to communicate with your customers, you probably shouldn't use the platform at all. Define your audience. Know what they would see, read or hear and say, "Holy Smokes! That's cool!" Then go produce that using the channel in question. This ain't rocket surgery.
Jumping in without thinking. The biggest social media mistake I see is believing that everyone must do social media, diving in without a strategy and without knowing which platform your market is focused on.
Jumping in but not staying in. If you are going to participate in social media, then you have to maintain a consistent presence. Continually engaging with your followers, contributing to the dialogue, becoming a member of the community. Social media is not a "one and done" vehicle... it's a living breathing being that you have to commit to.
Jumping into various channels full-on without figuring out if that's actually where their audience is. Look, let's face it - We're a society that loves "ooh, shiny!" But putting your eggs into the shiniest basket just because it's shiny is more than likely going to be a failure. You need to be where your audience is. Casey Stengel (the famous baseball coach) once said, when asked how he won so many games, "we simply hit 'em where they ain't." The opposite is true in social media. You need to know where your audience IS, and hit them where they ARE. Do that, and you'll hit a home run, or at least a double, every time.
Trying to be active on every social media platform is a big mistake. Make a plan or sit down with someone who can help you make a plan about what social-media channels align with your goals as an organization. Time is money and the more channels you are active on, the more time they require for upkeep. Take a look at each channel and understand what audience is active on that network and if they match your customer base and your company's messaging. A healthy starting point for most organizations is using Facebook, Twitter and Instagram at first since each have a broad user base and can help many different types of businesses reach their goals.
Thinking that simply having a Facebook page and a Twitter account means they're doing social-media marketing. A successful social-media campaign requires engagement and dialogue with your audience, and that doesn't mean one or two "updates" a week. It means participating in discussions and "humanizing" your brand. This is what builds brand loyalty, authority and credibility.
Thinking social media is free. Too many clients think that they can just start a Facebook and Twitter page and not have to pay for marketing. That is not correct. To be effective, social media requires strategic planning and dedicated resources. If you're going to half-ass it, don't bother. You need to understand what you're trying to accomplish, what channels you'll use, how you're going to use them, who will be doing the using. If you're a business owner who loves Twitter, that's awesome, but if you're not, you need to make sure you have someone on your team with ownership and accountability. David Ogilvy used to say "if you pay peanuts, you get monkeys."
Misusing transparency. I am a big fan of keeping your social-media updates personal and authentic as a small-business owner. You should be talking about how the day went, what's new in your business, and what you are up to. However, sometimes small-business owners take it a step too far and post about challenging customers, complaints about interactions with them or overall information that is just too personal when you are representing a small business. Don't forget that these social channels act as both a conversation platform and a discovery engine. Make sure to use transparency effectively, but not go too far.
Forgeting the "social" part of social media. Yes, social media is another channel, but it's unique in that it really allows your true voice to be heard. If used properly, social media can be use to "humanize" your brand. Keep it interesting. Share good stuff. Don't be afraid to let a bit of your personality shine through. People do business with people, not companies. Oh, and what Jason Falls said. That too.