A lot has been written about what to do within social media (this column included). As a refreshing change of pace, let's look at some things to avoid.
1. Not Every Company Needs a Big Social Media Presence
Every social media tool isn't appropriate for every product or service. Most of the common mistakes are happening within Facebook and Twitter because of all the media publicity these platforms are receiving. Executives think, "Wow, all I hear about is Twitter and Facebook, let's make certain we get on those ASAP!"
But, as has been discussed in this column several times, sites such as Digg, Delicious, and YouTube may be more appropriate platforms or best first steps for companies, rather than the latest media darlings.
A good reality check: not too long ago, Technorati, Friendster, and MySpace were about to conquer the world. Today, you'd be hard-pressed to find any news about these companies at all. That should show you the fickleness of online media.
Companies sometimes go for the latest "shiny object" because the younger personnel within agencies and companies have fun designing programs within social media platforms like Twitter and Facebook.
While it's fun for the employees to implement these initiatives, it may not make the most sense from an ROI standpoint. Almost every under-30-year-old uses Facebook every day, and hence they have an affinity to do a program with something they know. Not every 20-something knows how to adjust a Wikipedia entry, set up a company LinkedIn profile, or use Delicious.
The shiny object syndrome is illustrated by this example, when I saw an advertisement ingrained on a table within the food court of a mall in Cambridge, Mass. This table was some prime offline advertising real estate, and promoted that the mall now had a Facebook Fan Page.
Why on earth would I want to be a fan of a mall? If anything, I'd want to hear from the merchants in the mall -- Apple, Anne Taylor, Taco Bell, etc. My guess is the mall FEARed (False Evidence Appearing Real) they were going to be left out.
2. Companies Overinvest Rather Than Keeping Things Light
Social media is changing faster than you can say swine flu, and it's tough to spot the trends, even for the experts. That's why it's important to keep your investments as light and as nimble as possible.
Imagine if you'd invested heavily two years ago in MySpace development. This might be a little unnerving because MySpace just laid off 30 percent of their U.S. employees and more than 60 percent of their international employees. However, if you invested light and fast, then you aren't in such a precarious position.
Even take a look at Facebook. Just a few years back, companies had to pay Facebook $150,000 for a sponsored group, which Facebook then changed to free fan pages, which then again were changed earlier this year to fan pages that resembled profiles.
3. Companies Believe Social Media Efforts Must Tie Into Existing Systems/Databases
This relates to keeping investments streamlined, particularly scarce internal IT resources.
I recently worked with one of the world's largest cruise operators. And for their singles cruises, people wanted to meet before they departed. The cruise operator had hundreds of cruises that went to similar destinations at different times during the year.
Their internal system had the ability to identify which passengers were on which cruise, based on the assigned trip number and if that passenger was listed as single. Hoping to help reduce cancellations, they wanted passengers to meet prior to their cruise and the passengers also desired this "meet-up" functionality.
The cruise operator thought it would be best if their social media applications tied into their existing backend systems by this trip number. There were three main problems:
- Customers often didn't know their trip number, hence this was a barrier to entry for the social media application.
- The system could only tell 90 days out who was specifically on which trip.
- It was going to be costly and time-consuming coding to allow the various systems to speak to one another.
This forced the cruise line to do what they should have done in the first place: think creatively. Companies don't hold all the answers/information anymore. Hence, the cruise line simply allowed the travelers that were interested in meeting singles to tell where they were going and when they were going.
Some simple coding within the social media application then matched the travelers up. It also allowed travelers to see everyone going on the "Greek Paradise" cruise throughout the year, not just those users on their particular ship. This type of creative thinking saved the company time and money and delivered what the passengers wanted.
Everyone should "do" rather than "deliberate" in social media, by making light, smart investments that allow for flexibility. At the same time, make certain that the social media strategy is right for your particular company, not because everyone else is doing it. One size doesn't fit all.