Last year when Joe Pulizzi got serious about using Twitter to promote his business, he downloaded an add-on application for the social network called TweetDeck and configured it to send an automated greeting every time someone new started following his tweets.

Almost instantly, the Cleveland, Ohio, marketing consultant's connections let him know on Twitter any kind of automatic message is a big no-no, whether it's an innocuous 'Hi, thanks for following, how're you doing?' or the most blatant self-promotion. 'A couple people replied right away to say, Joe, this is lame, it's basically spam,' says Pulizzi, owner of Junta42. After two weeks he shut the auto-replies off and hasn't been tempted to use them since.

If you're using Twitter, Facebook,

or LinkedIn in your small business, the last thing you want is to alienate potential customers before they've even gotten to know you. So along with avoiding automated replies, industry experts and companies that have successfully navigated potential social media faux pas say it's best to have a strategy and share it with employees who'll be representing the business online. Though it's a new medium, the rules of old-fashioned etiquette and common sense apply.

Here are other common social media mistakes small businesses make, and what they can do instead:

  • Posting without a plan -- Going on Twitter or Facebook just because it's there isn't a good enough reason and could lead to sticky situations if employees post something inappropriate or inadvertently disclose confidential company information. Kent Lewis, a social media marketer and head of Anvil Media, in Portland, Ore., recalls the time an intern at a local hotel he works with was given statistics about the property's competitors -- and immediately shared the info on Twitter. 'It made her look stupid,' Lewis says. 'We didn't realize we had to coach her on life, not just social media.' Before you do anything, figure out how Twitter et al fit into your company's marketing or customer service strategy, then decide how to use social networks to get that message across and make sure employees are on board, he says.
  • Repeating yourself -- A tweet or status update to announce the latest post on the company blog, a new customer win or some other good news is okay. But broadcasting the same message over and over is not. Unfortunately some newcomers don't figure that out and post the same tweet or status update over and over, making them look like the newbies they are, according to Lewis.
  • Selling 24/7 -- It's okay to use social networks to plug whatever your company sells or does. It's not okay to do it in 100 percent of the time. A one-trick pony is a major turn off.  Instead, mix promotional tweets with links to industry news, and retweet interesting things people in your network are saying. Do it long enough and your connections will come to know and trust you as a voice of authority in your industry, and will be more accepting of your promotional tweets, Lewis says.
  • Faking it – Some companies mistakenly think that no matter how many people represent their business online -- whether it's one or 20 -- everyone has to tweet or post in a single voice, either through a made-up mascot or persona, or by using a certain tone or language that tows the company's party line. That works in some cases, but it's hard to pull off, Lewis says. The better solution is to coach employees on what is and isn't acceptable, then let them be themselves.
  • Farming it out -- Some companies pay 'ghost tweeters' or outside experts to run their social media strategy. Wrong, Lewis says. Comcast developed a huge Twitter presence by putting their best people on it for tech support, and making sure they responded quickly to customers' problems, he says. 'It was minimal cost for maximum return,' he says. Of course Lewis believes companies should hire social media consultants -- he would or he wouldn't be in business. But if you do, use them to craft a plan and train your employees, not speak for them, he says.

Today all that advice makes sense to Pulizzi, the marketing strategist, who now spends a good chunk of time traveling through the United States and Europe preaching the gospel of social media. Pulizzi also recommends against solely using Twitter or Facebook to re-tweet or repeat what other people say. 'To be regarded as a thought leader or solution provider, you need to have your own content,' Pulizzi says.

The worst thing small businesses can do is look at Twitter and other social networks as just another sales channel. 'Marketers are horrible publishers,' Pulizzi says. 'They want to create content about their products and services. There's a time and place for that, but it's not social media. You create relationships with social media, so when people are ready to buy they look at you as a trusted resource.'