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Top 10 Pitfalls To Avoid When Going Social In Business

Businesses can gain a lot from building a “Social Nation,” but only by networking smart.

Social Media PitfallIf you were to make a list of up-and-coming business trends, social media strategies would probably be near the top. Actually, scratch that “up-and-coming” part—social media are already here. However, thousands of companies are rushing headlong into the profile-creating, news-tweeting, blog-posting frenzy, only to find that their valiant efforts are not getting the results they had hoped. If you’re looking for fans, followers and friends to build a “Social Nation” around your business, don’t panic. There is simple advice that will help businesses avoid the pitfalls and make a strong online impact.

It’s true: there are countless benefits to joining what I call the Social Nation revolution—but just like any strategy for growth, social media aren’t foolproof. If you don’t want your company’s social strategy to fall flat, there are some guidelines you’ll need to follow.

When it comes to building a successful social network for your company, you need to understand that there’s a lot of prep work to be done. You can’t just set up a Facebook profile for your company, tweet once or twice a day, and expect public interest in your company to shoot through the roof. Far from it, actually.

Think about it this way: if you were in charge of your company’s booth at a trade show or conference, you wouldn’t just slap your company’s logo onto a piece of poster board, place your business cards on the table and hope for the best, would you? Of course not. Yet that’s exactly how some companies approach social media—and that’s why so many of these initiatives fail.

If you want to become a meaningful part of social conversations and interactions, you must know who your target fan base is, where they spend their time online, and what sorts of content and programming are valuable and relevant to them and will foster their continued interest and participation. You also need to make sure you have the wherewithal to commit to growing and sustaining your Social Nation, and you’ve got to make sure that you have buy-in from within your company. And that’s just for starters.

Sure, it may sound intimidating, but don’t give up yet. Half the battle is knowing which mistakes not to make. Here are the top 10 social media pitfalls I’ve seen organizations fall victim to in the past.

#1: Running a Social Nation Like a Traditional Business
If you want to run a social company, you first need to understand that almost everything you do is a two-way street. That is to say, you’re not going to prosper if your products and services are designed solely by folks on the inside. You need to embrace the perspectives and contributions of your employees, as well as those of customers and partners.

#2: Underinvesting in Social Initiatives and Abandoning Them Too Soon
Understand that a Social Nation is organic—it won’t materialize with a proverbial snap of the fingers. Early on, you’ll need to invest a good deal of time, thought and money in attracting fans and followers—and your efforts will need to be sustained. Only after you’ve built a firm foundation will your social network begin to sustain itself through participant contribution and recommendation.

In general, successful strategies include posting quality content that people want to consume, letting customers tell their stories and post their grievances, and then responding to their criticisms. Also, make sure that prospects are able to learn about your business through customer and employee testimonials. Lastly, remember that using multiple approaches—a blog, Facebook profile and interactive website, for example—will reach more people.

#3: Neglecting to Find Ways to Encourage and Inspire your Social Nation’s Followers and Fans
When you stop to think about it, you’ll realize that your fans and followers are essentially volunteering their time and energy to serve as developers, sounding boards and advertisements for your company. So for goodness’ sake, respect what they have to say and take their input to heart!

#4: Relying on a “Build-It-and-They-Will-Come” Mentality
You don’t really think that launching a new website and firing off posts at various online networking hotspots will bring fans and followers flocking, do you? Of course not! To some extent—usually a large one—you’ll need to purposefully reach out to potential community members and make it worth their while to accept your invitation.

Rolling out a community and just expecting people to join as friends or followers is a flawed philosophy. Marketing 101 principles still apply. That means you need compelling incentives to have people join your community. You also need an aggressive programming strategy, one that includes defining your key audiences and targeting them through all available channels, to ensure that they know that you want to build a relationship with them.

#5: Delaying the Process of Going Social
Contrary to what you may wish, your company doesn’t have the luxury of waiting until it’s “convenient” to go social. Why? Well, you have competitors, right? And if you don’t start gathering loyal followers and fans now, there’s a good chance that some other company will woo them first.

One of the best strategies for going social as quickly and effectively as possible is to designate employees and subject matter experts to act as community success managers focused on fostering community growth and member satisfaction. Separate from your sales and support teams, these community leaders should have the ability to advise members of the community on how to best participate with the company and with each other. If you do things well, you’ll find that they’ll generally serve as internal and external advocates for others in your organization—be it employees, partners or customers.  

#6: Underestimating the Power of a Social Nation
If you believe that social networking is just a window dressing that your company “needs” (but not really), then think again. Social media and community collaboration bring many benefits, including brand-building, customer loyalty and retention, cost reductions, improved productivity and revenue growth.

#7: Neglecting Employees, Partners, Investors or Customers When Building your Social Nation
Yes, set up a “focus group” of employees to serve as community leaders who will shepherd your company into the social networking world, but don’t put all of the power in their hands. Social Nations are organic organizations, so the more people who are empowered to influence yours, the better.

You’ll find that leaders will emerge from your community population—whether they are employees, partners, customers or prospects. Future leaders will come from places you never expected. Empower every member of your community with the resources they need, then listen and be responsive to their insights, needs and ideas. Here’s a bonus: by doing this, you’ll reduce support costs since community members can help each other!

#8: Relying on Traditional Approaches when Designing your Social Nation
A decade ago, you probably would have been horrified at the thought of releasing ideas and products into the hands of your customers before they were as complete as you could get them. With social networking, that monolithic approach is now becoming obsolete.

#9: Developing your Own Social Software and Analytics Solutions
You wouldn’t dream of placing “remodeling the office” or “handling legal issues” in the do-it-yourself category, would you? Instead, you’d hire someone skilled in those areas. Do yourself a favor and use the same strategy when it comes to building your own Social Nation.

Do what you do best and outsource the software and community building to the experts. Various vendors provide ready-made, complete solutions to help you build your fans, followers and friends. Remember, Facebook and Twitter encourage fans and friends to advance their businesses, not yours. Consequently, although you should leverage the communities they have built, you need to create your own community to ensure your long-term success.

#10: Getting Caught Without Partners to Help You Succeed
I have alluded to this one before, but it bears specific emphasis: make sure that you truly treat your community members as partners, not just as fans or numbers. Yes, integrating into the social Web (Facebook, Twitter and other social networks) is key to your company’s future success, but being connected to the social Web is only a part of what you need to do. Shifting your business strategically, culturally and operationally are key components to the equation.

Essentially, that means creating a community for the people who matter most in making your business thrive—a place that is all theirs and that is connected to your brand. Remember, your constituents want to connect with like-minded peers, and they want to feel as though they are contributing to a purpose that’s bigger than themselves. Given that they are buying products and services from you, investing in your company and working for your organization, providing them with a community they can call their own is the least you can do for them.

We are on the cusp of a new business era. Building a new Social Nation isn’t just about a paradigm shift in technology. It also requires a business and cultural shift in how your company is organized and run. Now is the time for leaders to find a way to connect to individuals—be they coworkers, investors, customers or partners—on personal and social levels. Do all of this with an appropriate amount of forethought and planning, and you’ll succeed in creating enduring social and emotional value for your organization.

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Barry Libert Meet the Author
Barry Libert is chairman and CEO of Mzinga, a provider of social software and analytics, located in Waltham, Massachusetts, and on the Web at www.mzinga.com. His new book is Social Nation: How to Harness the Power of Social Media to Attract Customers, Motivate Employees, and Grow Your Business (Wiley, 2010).

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