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The ten commandments for avoiding social media fails

You may have noticed – between checking your Facebook and posting pictures to Instagram – that social media has become quite important of late. Last year, market research found that 8 out of 10 small businesses in the US use social media to drive growth.

And the same survey found that 3 in 5 small businesses reported gaining new customers by using social media. With low costs and the potential for huge exposure, it’s easy to see why so many budding entrepreneurs are looking to find success online.

But it has to be done the right way. Like these charming grandparents who keep accidentally tagging themselves as Grandmaster Flash, there are many ways that you can slip up on social media.

So we’ve decided to take a sometimes irreverent – but always accurate – look at the ten commandments of not messing up your online marketing.

1. Thou Shalt… Post Regularly

Sadly enough, it comes as a surprise to some people that “social” media actually requires “social” interactions. A staggering number of small business owners think that “having a Facebook page” will somehow magically generate revenue.

They will pay sometimes ludicrous fees to digital agencies to set up a page for them, and then it will sit there with one post saying “Dave’s Plumbers updated their cover photo” in January 2013. And that’s it for more than two years.

Dave’s Plumbers updated their cover photo

Fun fact: a Facebook page or a Twitter account without activity may as well not exist. The point of having a social media presence is to build trust in your company and create engagement. Starting an account and then leaving it untended is like having a phone line but never answering it.

2. Thou Shalt Not… Maketh a Hard Sell

As we’ve already said, social media is about social networking – people are canny to marketing tricks these days. Indeed, more people than ever are switching off to advertising, as this video explains.

Have you ever walked into the middle of a party and screamed “WE SELL PLUMBING PARTS FOR CHEAP!!!”? That’s effectively what you’re doing when you pollute someone’s Newsfeed or Timeline with repeated, pushy messages about whatever services you hawk to the unsuspecting British public.

Slow down, engage in some social foreplay, and you’re far less likely to see people switching off and “Unfollow”-ing in droves. Then, when your followers actually need what you have on offer, you have a far better chance of being thought of as their go-to company.

3. Thou Shalt Not… Disappear from View

We understand that you can’t be on social media 24/7: you wouldn’t have a business for long if you were! But posting regularly – even if rarely – is better than vomiting seventeen posts out one Saturday afternoon and then disappearing for the rest of time.

Use a calendar and get scheduling from the very start. It’s a great business habit to keep check on aspects of your work that you don’t necessarily engage with every day anyway. We’ll use taxes as a really good example of that principle.

So, set aside time regularly to decide what to post and when. Facebook lets you schedule posts for your business Page, and you can find a whole host of free apps to manage Twitter posts. With just a little planning, you can put out a steady flow of engaging posts.

4. Thou Shalt Not… Highjack Inappropriate Hashtags

Hashtags can be invaluable for engaging a wider audience on Twitter. But if you jump on a trending topic to get greater exposure, be 100% sure that you know what it is about. At best it could be sarcastic, and at worst it could be for something very serious that isn’t appropriate for promoting your company.

That’s the problem that faced DiGiorno Pizza when they tried to join the conversation #WhyIStayed with “You had pizza”. It took four long minutes for them to notice that it wasn’t appropriate, mainly because the hashtag was a post of solidarity between victims of domestic violence.

Cat astrophe

Imagine walking into a support group for battered wives with the explicit intent of selling them frozen pizza, and you’ll get exactly why this kind of promotion is ill advised. Which leads us neatly to…

5. Thou Shalt Not… Use Disasters for Self Promotion

I would have thought that this was fairly simple, but it seems that even deliberate posts by large organisation have run afoul of not thinking their posts through. In 2013, London Luton Airport used a photo of a crashed airplane to promote themselves complete with “Weeeee :)”:

London Luton

Source: Clinked

It transpired that picture in question involved the death of a six-year-old child. It doesn’t matter how clever it may seem at the time, you probably shouldn’t try to link your company to someone else’s bad news. Promoting yourself on the misfortune of others will get you attention, but unless you’re Katie Hopkins – a creature that apparently feeds purely on negative press – then maybe try a different approach?

6. Thou Shalt… Remember Who Holds Thy Passwords

There’s a couple of reasons for this. Firstly, you should keep track of all your social media accounts to avoid them going unused and doing the online equivalent of gathering dust (see the First Commandment for details). If you’re particularly unlucky, this can mean “getting hacked and spamming everyone with miracle fat burning pills”.

Secondly, not managing your social media passwords can lead to them falling into the wrong hands. Whether this results in losing the ability to post or seeing someone else making poor posts in your name, it is a situation best avoided.

Most Twitter users in the UK remember the live action firing of HMV employees back in 2011. The owners of the company forgot that several employees were in control of the company Twitter account, even after they started pulling staff in to inform them of mass redundancies.

HMV posts

Source: Social Media Week

7. Thou Shalt… Remember Which Account Thou Art Using to Post

Spend a few minutes familiarising yourself with how to switch from personal account to business page and vice versa. Whether you’re using Facebook, Twitter, or Google+ (yeah, right!), you don’t want to get caught out posting personal info on your business page.

Twitter red cross

Source: Mashable

Mmmkay. This little gem happened when a social media manager at American Red Cross inadvertently got mixed up on HootSuite. Fortunately, the Red Cross recovered the situation by deleting the Tweet and posting a good-humoured response.

But there’s potential for massive embarrassment out there, as Twitter discovered when their Chief Financial Officer accidentally sent a private message to the public… using Twitter! His slip up narrowly avoided naming a corporate acquisition target, which could have affected share prices.

So pause for thought before you post, and check that you are posting correctly. Speaking of which…

8. Thou Shalt… Check Thy Facts

Well-loved mogul and everyone’s favourite presidential candidate Donald Trump was tricked into posting a picture of one of Britain’s most notorious serial killers – who “said you were [a] big inspiration” – by a cheeky member of the Twittersphere.


Source: Huffington Post

While you’re (hopefully) not likely to have many people imply that you inspire psychopaths everywhere, the lesson remains: be careful of what you post as fact in the public domain.

Trump’s response was to say “Maybe I’ll sue”, which goes to show that when you have enough money, you don’t need a sense of humour or shame. At which point we should observe the ninth commandment…

9. Thou Shalt Not… Post in Anger

Had some negative feedback? Disappointed with how things are going? Tough day. But you should probably just have a long soak in the bath or take in your favourite TV show and promise to resolve the problem tomorrow.

What not to do is follow the practice of Amy’s Baking Company – as seen on Gordon Ramsay’s Kitchen Nightmares – which seemed, um, a mite touchy about their negative feedback:

negative feedback:

Source: Mashable

While typing ALL-CAPS RANTS with thinly veiled promises of Biblical retribution is one way of dealing with online critics, you probably have a stronger chance of winning hearts and minds with a subtler approach. That’s why the tenth and final commandment is…

10. Thou Shalt… Respond to Public Mistakes Quickly and Politely

Aristotle once said “you cannot make everyone happy: you are not pizza” (or so Wikipedia says, anyway). But while you can’t make everyone love you, you can limit damage and stop everyone from hating you.

That’s why you should address criticisms in social media politely and quickly. Don’t do the social media equivalent of hiding under some coats. Stand tall, take ownership of the issue, and say “what can we do to make you feel differently?”

With this approach, genuine complainants will get to make some concrete requests, and the other kind (you know who we’re talking about) will need to quantify their gripe or appear like irrational trolls.

Happy posting!

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