As companies large and small have developed active Twitter and Facebook profiles, their ability to interact directly with their client base has reached an unprecedented level. Given how frequently people are on social media-according to Statistic Brain, there are approximately 9,100 tweets sent per second-it may be tempting to reach out to this clientele as often as possible. But an ill-timed or misguided use of social media can lead to angry customers, potentially lost sales, and embarrassing headlines.
In a piece for Mashable titled "11 Biggest Social Media Disasters of 2012," Seth Fiegerman made note of two blunders related to the July 20 movie theater shootings in Aurora, Colo. One appeared to be a case of poor timing: the National Rifle Association-affiliated journal American Rifleman tweeted, "Good morning, shooters. Happy Friday! Weekend plans?" as news of the shootings was unfolding. Fiegerman noted the tweet seemed to be prescheduled, via HootSuite, but still, as he wrote, "[N]eedless to say, it struck a nerve."
Another tweet from that same day appeared, Fiegerman wrote, as "incredibly insensitive." The online store Celeb Boutique tweeted, "#Aurora is trending, clearly about our Kim K inspired #Aurora dress." The tweet also included an emoticon and a link to purchase the dress. Fiegerman hypothesized that the company "apparently did not take the time to read up on why Aurora was trending. ..."
Of course, social media gaffes aren't limited to unfortunate Twitter posts. In a similarly themed piece, "Social Media Mistakes: The Memorable Messes on Twitter and Facebook in 2012," Chicago Tribune reporter Scott Kleinberg made mention of a woman named Sandy Tremblay commenting on the Facebook page for the restaurant Pigalle Boston to complain about a terrible meal she'd had there. Tremblay didn't pull any punches-but, in a surprising departure from the standard "the customer is always right" mantra, neither did the restaurant, as it wrote back, "Hey Sandy, go f-k yourself!!" Kleinberg wrote in reference to this exchange, "Customers have a right to take to the Internet to complain, and businesses have a duty to listen [to] and address those complaints with dignity and grace, not with curse words."
Of course, being oblivious to the day's events or slamming customers may seem like obvious blunders to avoid. But what are some of the more subtle things to avoid, instances of "it seemed like a good idea at the time" that, in reality, may do your company more harm than good? A variety of experts and those in the social media industry shared their thoughts on the definitive do's and don'ts of social media marketing.
Do: Listen to-And Engage With-Your Audience
Steve Goldner, a digital and social marketing executive consultant, feels it's important to "[k]now your target audience well and have deep empathy for them." He adds, "Listen to them on social channels-not just your own. Engage with them where the conversation is happening. Understand the type of information they value, as opposed to what you want to push. Be a valued source for your target audience."
Paige Musto, senior manager of public relations and social media at the marketing automation company Act-On Software, also believes engagement is key. "Engage often with prospects, customers and industry thought leaders," she says. "Share, RT and comment on their content to let them know you are interested."
Don't: Be Silent
"Social media is a conversation," Paul Gillin says. Gillin, a technology journalist and speaker who advises marketers and business executives on ways to optimize their use of social media to cost-effectively reach buyers, also says, "If you're going to play, be aware that people will ask you questions and they will expect answers. If you fail to respond, you'll just look clueless. Better to stay away from social media entirely than to misuse it." Similarly, Goldner feels another important "do not" is to "talk without listening." "Make sure you listen and respond to your audience," he says.
Do: Use Free Tools Available to You
"Listen to your market and customers using tools like Twitter filters, Google Alerts and LinkedIn searches. This is free research that complements your existing market intelligence and provides real-time insight on what people are saying about your company and your market," Gillin says.
Don't: Overinvest in One Thing
"To stay relevant in the social media world, businesses are looking to continually produce, test, and iterate content," says Catherine Gluckstein, president of SumAll, a company that offers social media tips and data analysis. "Don't over-invest in any one project and where possible help build your users into advocates with user-generated content."