Avoiding 5 painful, common social media mistakes

Using social media to market your business and connect with customers is more complex than simply having a presence. Avoid these five common mistakes to ensure your social media experience runs smoothly.

What you write, share and post reveals plenty about you and your business. As such, using any social platform to spread the wrong message can be devastating.

REM sister publication My Business asks Catriona Pollard, owner of PR firm CP Communications, about the top mistakes businesses make on social media.

Mistake #1: Not knowing your audience

“The crucial thing is to start from the place of ‘Who are my target audiences? Who matters to my brand? What platforms are they on? And what kind of info do they need/want/respond to?’ Do that research before you go on, and also before you assess whether it’s working or not,” Catriona says.

Having established exactly who you are aiming to engage with, you can then tailor your messages just for to them.

“As a brand or a business, you have to do the work to make it effective for your audience. You have to be very strategic,” Catriona says.

Mistake #2: Being disingenuous

Citing Sydney’s Mardi Gras as an example, Catriona says it can be a win for your business to show support for an event or cause – provided you go about it the right way.

“One of the issues with this is that if you just use it purely for promotional purposes, if it seems your brand is just jumping on the bandwagon, it can spectacularly backfire. You don’t look authentic, but come across as disingenuous. You could also come across as disrespectful,” she says.

“Focusing on Mardi Gras, show you’re respectful of the LGBT community [with] respectful words, images and videos. You don’t want to offend the community using phrases or images that are disrespectful nor do you want to post content that may offend the broader community, such as half-naked men in leather chaps.”

Catriona says not everyone will agree or support the same things you do, but being genuine will make you stand out.

“You need to factor into your strategy that some people may not support that same view or event, so you don’t want to offend particular customers. But you also need to stand by your convictions,” she says.

“If you offend some people [despite your best efforts not to], so be it, they’re not going to be part of your target audience. Just don’t go out to actively offend anybody.”

Mistake #3: Hijacking events or causes

While the ultimate aim of using social media is to promote your business, using social media to do so is often more about creating discussion about your products or services rather than doing a hard sell.

“Avoid looking opportunistic. It really comes down to the words you use,” Catriona says.

One way of achieving this is by highlighting a personal connection with the event, charity or community.

“The important thing, from a business perspective, is if the owner of business feels particularly strongly or is involved with a particular event or charity,” Catriona says.

“You can’t and shouldn’t support every single thing just for the sake of it. This comes back to having a strategy.”

Mistake #4: Getting emotional

Most business owners don’t feel separate from their business. The business is an extension of them. Unfortunately, this usually also means that criticism can be difficult to accept without becoming emotionally defensive.

“If people do come back to you saying you offended them, you definitely need to state on social media why you support that particular community event, not in an emotional way [but] in a clear, concise, factual way,” Catriona says.

“[State that you are] sorry they are offended, but this is why you support it.”

According to Catriona, your social media strategy should include dealing with this scenario, so it doesn’t catch you off guard.

Mistake #5: Letting trolls hold you ransom

On many social platforms, trolls have attracted a great deal of attention for posting negative, even offensive and degrading, comments about individuals and businesses. But as Catriona explains, you don’t need to let them hold you to ransom or make you feel trapped.

“You have every right as a business owner to delete a comment or a post,” she says.

“On Facebook, you can have rules around engagement that you post on your Facebook wall. So if [someone is] swearing or posting offensive remarks or saying things you believe are inappropriate, comments can be deleted.

“I’m not saying you should delete every comment you disagree with. It’s often unsolicited feedback, which can be good to put back into a product or service.

“As a business owner, you definitely need to be able to respond to comments, and then choose to block them if they go against your rules of engagement.”

Real-world examples

Catriona says the following high-profile experiences of Australian business demonstrate some of the key dos and don’ts of using social media to market your business.

Bad

“Telstra released a campaign around same-sex marriage just after Mardi Gras last year. It got a lot of support and a lot of positive brand awareness across their social media,” she says.

But when the Catholic Church threatened to stop using Telstra, the telco company withdrew its support and the backlash was enormous.

“Quite often, social media is a double-edged sword. You can build an amazing community around a brand, but if you upset that community, you can receive massive backlash from that community. In that case, I think Telstra just rode it out – the corporate decision was already made.”

Good

“In a packet of [Woolworths] salad was a really big spider, and someone posted a photo at Woolies of the bag of salad with the spider, Catriona says.

“What Woolies did was use humour, which worked really effectively. The person who wrote it wrote a funny post, so they had already set the tone, but it could have turned really negative.

“Woolies continued with the tone and wrote something like, ‘We’ve been looking for Harry the spider, thanks for finding him’, and it became a really funny thing between the community and Woolies.”

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