The White House does it, the world's biggest media outlets do it, and your business looks out-of-date without it: Social media. And it's widely beloved for providing some of the best word-of-mouth style marketing just a bit of money can buy.
But even if you have a lively Twitter account, a conversational Facebook page, and plenty of followers on Google Plus, that doesn't mean that you're doing things expertly. So, to give you an update, we turned to some of the world's top social-media professionals. They work at Twitter, Yelp, Google, and the White House.
Here are their top social-media mistakes to avoid:
1. Trying to be everywhere all at once.
You know the saying about how it's better to do a few things well than a lot of things poorly? Jack of all trades, master of none? The same point rings true for social media.
Although it may seem ideal--as soon as you launch a new venture--to launch a Tumblr, Facebook, and Google Plus page, Flickr, Tumblr, etc., it's actually best to take baby steps.
"You have to think about what your customers are doing--where they can be found," says Rieva Lesonsky, CEO of GrowBiz Media/SmallBizDaily.com. "That's where you have to go first."
If you go from zero to 60, you'll burn out or embarass yourself or your company.
Fail-safe: Take on social media platforms one at a time.
"Think of social media as college," says Brian Moran of The Wall Street Journal, "you can't take 128 credits in one semester."
2. Ignoring your customers.
There's no point to pinning your content on Pinterest if your customer base is nowhere to be found on the visual social network. Similarly, why post a style discussion on professional-interest network LinkedIn if you're targeting designers who don't use LinkedIn?
Before trying to connect with your customers on social media, make sure your message matches the medium.
The antidote: Pay attention.
"The best way to get people interested in you is to be interested in them," says Erica Ayotte, social media manager for Constant Contact.
Send your customers a survey and and ask where they spend their time and where they'd like to interact with the business.
Then, engage them. Respond to their concerns, praises, and complaints.
"Social media is a way for you to form relationships with customers so you can better offer them what they’re looking for," says Lesonsky.
3. Always aiming for perfection.
"Don't let perfection be the enemy of progress," says Ayotte.
Are you waiting for the perfect picture, news peg, or product to post that update on Facebook? Stop waiting, and just start doing.
"Social media is just word of mouth amplified several times over," she says.
"There's no barrier to entry," says Jenna Golden, from the public affairs and public sector outreach team at Twitter.
You should immediately start connecting with followers--your customers--and use social media to get the word out about sales, new products, or even daily specials.
The anti-fail: Be authentic, not overly polished.
"Start with something you do really well," says Jeff Aguero, head of local marketing for Google, "Make it quality, and then use social media tools to amplify that."
4. Getting caught up in negativity.
Negative reviews and comments are inevitable. While you can't control what customers say, you can take charge of how you--and your company--react.
"If you're on the social networks you can respond to people," says Ayotte. "Your insurance policy against negativity is to build up your trust on Twitter [and other social media sites]."
Negative feedback is also an opportunity to learn.
L.L. Bean, for example, noticed the number of negative customer reviews on one of its top-selling cotton sheets.
Instead of firing back or ignoring the comments, the company took action and realized that an accidental treatment was causing the product to unravel. As a result L.L. Bean replaced the faulty sheets.
Mental note: Listen and learn. And don't get defensive.
"No business is perfect," says Luther Lowe, director of business outreach at Yelp. "You can’t please 100% of your customers 100% of the time." So take a breath, stay calm, and get to the root of the problem.
5. Slowly fading away.
You started everything … and now it's being ignored. Ignorance is not bliss when it comes to social media.
Revive your long-lost social media pages and refresh, reinvent, or delete them if they're no longer necessary--or current. Maybe you got too busy, maybe you became overwhelmed by the responsibility. Either way, you can't let things stay the way they are.
Utilize your calendar to set appointments and reminders to update different social media pages. Many social media sites also have scheduling capabilities, such as Facebook, or you can use a third-party application, such as Hootsuite, to help keep your Twitter stream going, even when you have a day full of meetings.
Path to success: Focus.
"The social media ecosystem is constantly changing," says Sarah Bernard, deputy director for the Office of Digital Strategy at the White House, "it's impossible to keep up one of everything. …[So] don't worry about being on the newest thing or everything."