It’s no secret that the biggest thing on the internet these days is social media. Many of the world’s leaders in business, entertainment, politics, and more are not only starting to create social media profiles online, they’re also looking more and more at how social media tools can expand their brands, build community, and create customer–centric organizations by allowing them to listen and learn from the online conversation as well as communicate authentically with their target audience.
In fact, organizations such as Dell, the U.S. Navy, and Starbucks have realized that the pros of social media far outweigh the cons and they are using it to drive sales, offer promotions, and engage customers with their brand. While social media best practices have emerged, some organizations still lack a basic understanding of the various aspects of the social media world and they remain disconnected, disinterested, and constantly struggling with how to best engage their audience.
This struggle is not surprising; social media has only gained significance throughout worldwide popular culture within the last ten years and since it is a relatively new concept, understanding the ins and outs of the social media landscape may not come as second nature to many people.
However, industry leaders can no longer afford to ignore their lack of understanding in regard to social media by using the excuses that it is "a fad" or "not for our brand." The fact is, social media has saturated into every facet of the internet and organizations choosing to ignore the opportunities it presents are missing an invaluable chance to connect with their target audience and catapult their visibility, credibility, and, ultimately, profitability.
Therefore, it is best to start seeing social media as a tool to help achieve objectives. Executives need to realize that they can achieve company objectives such as positively affecting their company’s perception, visibility, and brand experience by taking part in social media activities and networking online.
So, where do most executives stand in terms of their idea the value of social media? In a recent survey, conducted by the daily news publication SmartBrief on Leadership, aiming to understand how business leaders currently view social media platforms, 75 percent of the 2,700 respondents from a diverse array of industries said they are either knowledgeable regarding social media or trying to learn about it. However, close to 50 percent still think it is a waste of time, time–constraints being one of the main barriers as to why executives are not using social media.
Since time is finite and invaluable, it is understandable that business leaders are concerned with time–efficiency. However, it is important to remember that doing whatever it takes to generate success for a business, including participation in social media, is never a waste of time. Ultimately, the use of social media will build recognition, trust, and revenue for an organization.
Social media can be an extremely valuable and powerful tool for any business, but the caveat which some companies fail to acknowledge is that successful online networking takes proactive brainstorming, strategy, and careful organization.
The seven biggest mistakes that companies can make in their social media and online networking efforts are outlined below. Take care to avoid these detrimental practices and social media will become an irreplaceable asset to your business plan; but if you fall prey to these habits, social media will be nothing more than a time–wasting distraction.
1. Jumping in Without Monitoring & Strategy
The main reason businesses don’t succeed with social media is lack of strategy and not taking the time to monitor, which is the process of listening to and engaging with customers and prospects who are talking about a company’s brand within social media circles. Leaders need to have clear and reasonable business objectives, develop a strategy that is most appropriate for the business to accomplish objectives, and measure efforts along the way.
Objectives should be made based on goals and the conclusions of any initial monitoring efforts. If you do not have clear objectives which are linked to an overall business strategy and are appropriate for the milieu of social media, or if you are not tailoring the message you are communicating to suit your audience, your social networking efforts can end up being a huge waste of time.
A recent study conducted by R2integrated showed that most companies which had a strategy in place said that social media is innovative and invaluable to their business. Conversely, some companies that did not have a strategy, thought social media was pointless and not worth the investment.
Due to an increasing number of members voicing and issues and complaints within social media platforms, AAA (http://www.aaa.com) showed a perfect example of monitoring online conversation, setting objectives, and creating a long–term strategy. They needed to keep on top of online conversations in order to be more responsive customers and to make sure issues do not escalate into a PR disaster. With the right strategy, AAA increased the immediacy in which they respond to customers, ultimately resulting in more positive online feedback.
2. Pushing Out Short–term Campaigns
Many leaders have not successfully tapped the potential of social networking since they tend to regard it as just another platform to push out short–term campaigns. Since campaigns have a defined beginning and a defined end, this temporary approach will not create sustainable success. Social media is a fluid conversation, which should never have an end date and should consist of mostly pull tactics that involve nurturing customer relationships.
Although the beginning of a social media program will be quiet and may seem like a time sink, the more consistently you participate in the online conversation, the more positive buzz will begin to mount around your business. It is easy to get sidetracked and, unfortunately, not so easy to find the balance between business and social media efforts. However, executives need to make their organization’s presence social by listening, learning, conversing, and repeating – an eternal approach which significantly saves time in the long–run.
Starbucks is a great example of a company that uses social media to build long–term relationships. They learn directly from customers on feedback sites like My Starbucks Idea and Twitter. The key is that Starbucks is doing this on a continuous basis and integrates the feedback into how it operates. Popular suggestions are featured and reviewed, and the Ideas in Action blog tracks the company’s follow–up.
3. Passing the buck to Interns or Staff
Although there are tasks that can be delegated to interns and staff, leaders must realize a successful social media program starts from the top. An executive’s social media involvement can have the most impact on an organization’s success by being the one to lead it into the treading social media waters. The executive’s involvement not only ends up saving a company time, but may also prevent disasters. We are not saying that every leader should participate in every aspect of social media, but they should not be absent from the discussion either.
It is also possible that an intern’s or employee’s lack of business experience could endanger the "social voice" of your company like the case of NestlÃ© when Greenpeace protested the chocolate maker’s alleged use of palm oil from deforested areas in Indonesia. The "official" posts in response to comments on the Facebook page were overly defensive, which actually made things worse.
Jonathan Schwartz, the CEO of Sun Microsystems, has led by example, integrating blogging into his leadership life by using his own "social voice." He shared his vision in the 2005 Harvard Business Review piece, "If You Want to Lead, Blog." He made a notable point in his blog: "For executives, having a blog is not going to be a matter of choice, any more than using e–mail is today. If you’re not part of the conversation, others will speak on your behalf––and I’m not talking about your employees."
4. Being Easily Swayed by "Shiny New Tools"
New social media platforms, applications and tools are released every day online. It is a huge time waster for leaders who try to put their organization everywhere on social media. It is easy to be swayed by "shiny new tools" just because everyone is using them and they think these tools are the "holy grail" of the online world. However, jumping on every social media platform possible all at once will result in overwhelm and it will be a complete time sink. Rather than focusing on tools, it is critical for executives to take the time to research where their audience is located online, distinguish the popular social media sites from the ones that will be effective to the organization, listen to the conversation, and develop the skills to create a strong social visibility.
Dell Outlet has done a fantastic job choosing one social media tool to help sell outlet inventory effectively without being influenced by all the new tools being launched daily. They created a Twitter–only strategy, optimized its posts and promotions, and started tracking through custom e–commerce tracking URLs. Last we heard, Dell surpassed the $6 million in revenue traceable to Twitter.
5. Forgetting to Integrate
If leaders use social media as a stand–alone or as a replacement strategy, it will in fact be wasted effort. Executives should integrate social media into every facet of a comprehensive business strategy. Integration should include the company’s corporate culture, all aspects of marketing, traditional advertising campaigns, public relations, customer service, lead generation and networking for their sales teams. When integrated properly, social media can actually save a lot of time for an organization.
If anyone has taken integration to a whole new level, it is the U.S. Navy. The Navy incorporates various social media efforts throughout the organization by creating a platform for Navy officials to collaborate, a way for peers to link up, as well as a strategy for fostering conversations among moms of Navy kids. At a recent social media conference, a Navy representative admitted that social media made the Navy a better service for the commander, the sailor, the Navy family, and the advocate by using integration and innovation.
6. Taking Too Long to Respond
Responding to every positive and negative comment online will not be a good use of anyone’s time. However, if there are comments worth responding to, the response should be immediate and authentic. This is actually an expectation of the online world, so leaders should not waste time planning the perfect corporate response. This will only cause more harm than good to the brand’s reputation.
A full–fledged crisis erupted when someone released a YouTube video which showed employees doing some highly tasteless things to a Domino’s pizza order. Although the chief executive officer provided a video statement/response, some felt the company’s reply took far too long, resulting in even more damage to the public’s perception of the brand.
7. Having Unrealistic ROI Expectations
There is nothing that will waste time more than having unrealistic ROI expectations, especially because social media is not an overnight process and money in the bank should not be the only indicator. If leaders anticipate immediate results, they are not going to get it. Once there is a solid strategy in place and objectives are reasonable, leaders will no doubt start seeing a return on their social media marketing investment.
The real key is to remember that networking your business online through social media should be approached in the same way as face–to–face networking; it really boils down to three things: Visibility, Credibility, and Profitability—the VCP ProcessÂ®. You have to first be visible—people have to know who you are and what you do. Then you have to establish credibility which means people know who you are, what you do, and they know you’re really good at it. That is what leads to profitability, where you’ll actually benefit from your efforts.
Creating visibility and two–way dialogue will build trust and credibility, which in turn leads to boosting brand reputation and sales. At the end of the day, brands must earn their "social currency" before they see a surge in sales. The biggest ROI a company can have with social media efforts is the ability of being the finger on the pulse of its clients. To us, that is priceless.
Molson Coors has done a great job at setting realistic ROI expectations. Executives at Coors know and recognize that they are using social media to humanize their brand, connect with their fans and customers, and brand equity to drive future sales. They engage in heavy monitoring online and are working on refining their own definition of ROI.
If you’re a company executive and you’re still wary of building your brand and your business through online social networking sites, don’t be! We’re still in somewhat of a burgeoning period of social media and you’re not going to understand everything about everything right away. It’s a learning process for all of us, yet it’s an exciting process because it offers businesses some extremely unique opportunities to connect directly with consumers and build a better, stronger brand.
The bottom line is, if you’re not participating in the online conversation, know that your competition is and they will achieve the upper hand. So, start outlining your social media strategy now, be sure to avoid the seven mistakes outlined above, and start connecting through social media!
Called the "father of modern networking" by CNN, Dr. Ivan Misner (www.IvanMisner.com) is the founder and chairman of the networking organization, BNI. His most recent book is "Networking Like a Pro."He is also the senior partner for the Referral Institute, an international referral training company. Social media strategist, Mirna Bard (www.MirnaBard.com) is a consultant, author, speaker and an instructor of social web strategy at the University of California, Irvine.