When it comes to social media, it's hard to do things right. Really, really hard. But it's worth the effort, because social is a powerful marketing tool. Three-quarters of respondents in a Sprout Social survey of 1,000 Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram users say they've made a purchase after seeing a product on social media, and 57 percent say they are more likely to buy from a company they follow. Eighty-six percent say they want to follow their favorite brands on social media. If only you would give them what they want.

And what is that? Unfortunately, much of what they want is contradictory, the survey responses reveal. Getting social right is a matter of carefully navigating between conflicting priorities, and closely monitoring and engaging with your particular social audience so you know exactly what turns them on--and off.

Here are the biggest mistakes most companies are making. I guarantee you're doing at least some of these things wrong.

1. You don't answer.

One in four survey respondents said they were annoyed when they reached out to a brand on social media and got no response, and 15 percent said they had unfollowed a brand because of it. This is really a no-brainer: Whatever other mistakes you may make on social media, there's no such thing as being too responsive to customers. And yet most companies are getting it wrong: Sprout reports that only one out of every 10 messages to brands on social media gets a response.

2. You're embarrassing.

It's very, very easy to get the social relationship wrong. In the survey, 71 percent of respondents said they had unfollowed a brand out of embarrassment. What are brands doing to embarrass their followers? Read on.

3. You do too much promotion (although that's what customers want).

Some 57 percent of survey respondents said they were annoyed when an organization they followed posted too many promotional messages. And 46 percent said they would unfollow a brand for doing this.

On the other hand, about 59 percent of followers said they followed brands in the first place because they were interested in receiving promotions. And 73 percent said they followed brands out of interest in the company's products or services. Not only that, 61 percent of respondents need to see an item two to four times on social media before they purchase it. In other words, you have to find the delicate balance between too few promotions and too many.

4. You're overtweeting (or not tweeting enough).

Fill up a customer's Twitter feed with one message after another in rapid succession and even if you're the most fascinating tweeter in the world, that customer will start looking to dump you. Thirty-five percent of survey respondents said they would unfollow a brand for this reason. On the other hand, 18 percent will unfollow a brand for being too quiet. Your only hope is to use a scheduling tool to send out tweets and posts at reasonable intervals and watch the response to find a posting rhythm that's enough but not too much for your audience.

5. You're trying to act young when you're not.

Some years ago, McDonald's got a well-deserved black eye for an advertising campaign featuring the slogan "I'd hit it" about its cheeseburgers, apparently unaware that the phrase was slang for sexual interaction.

OK, so you're not stupid enough to use a slang phrase without actually knowing what it means. But most slang has subtle rules that people unaccustomed to it may not know. So unless you actually use slang in real life, don't drop slang terms into your social media posts. Thirty-eight percent of respondents said they get annoyed when brands use slang that doesn't really fit. And 30 percent said they would unfollow a brand for doing that.

6. Your jokes aren't funny.

The post you wrote sounded funny in your head. It might even have made your co-workers laugh. Even so, it may not play well on social media. Thirty-two percent of survey respondents said they'd been annoyed by brands trying--and failing--to be humorous on social media.

7. You have no personality.

Looking at the above statistics, you might conclude that it's safest to stick to just-the-facts communications, with no jokes or slang in them. How could you go wrong with that? You could--because your customers might find you boring. Thirty-five percent of survey respondents said they got annoyed at brands for having no personality on social media.

So there you have it. Don't use jokes or slang--but don't be humorless either. Post often, but not too often. Make sure you repeat your promotions two to four times--but don't do too many of them. How can you get it all right? There's only one way: Watch your social media closely. Read and respond to customer comments, complaints, and questions. The whole point of social media is to engage with customers and learn what they like and don't like. It should never be a one-way street.

Published on: Nov 30, 2016
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