Social media marketing: The don'ts and don'ts

2nd Jul 2010

It's easy to get things wrong when embracing the likes of Twitter and Facebook to promote your business. Chris Barling advises on what not to do when using social media for marketing.

With a marketing hat on I look at the latest social networking usage figures and find it hard not to salivate. Facebook has more than 400m active users, and more than 500bn minutes per month are spent by users online. Reinforcing the impression, Twitter has over 100m users, growing by 300,000 per day. On average there are 55m tweets per day. YouTube is the same, both growing and retaining users at an impressive rate. The figures are truly extraordinary.

Social networks succeed for a simple reason; the principle that binds them together is based on conversation and interaction. While this may sound great for us personally, for marketers it’s a major problem.
Many brands have tried and failed to introduce bare-faced marketing offers to their social network followers, and classic examples of companies getting it wrong come from almost every point of the business spectrum. The core problem is anything seen as blatant advertising sticks out like a sore thumb and is likely to either be at best ignored, or at worst, ridiculed.
The way to engage with people is to be interesting and interactive. But doing this implies individual interactions, and this is where a lot of advice on marketing to social networks falls down: failing to understand the problems of scale. It’s true that you could gain a vast number of followers on Twitter, a huge group of friends on Facebook and possibly huge numbers might join your fan page. But why would they bother?
Taking all of this into account, here are some things not to do:
Don't try to reel in the moon
You may have heard many tales about how someone put together a video in their front room, posted it on YouTube, tweeted the link and then got a million hits. You will hear about companies that invented a person whose online Facebook diary was followed by hordes, all anxious to hear what creative genius was behind it. It’s true that you might achieve this by producing something that truly goes viral, but by definition only a very small number of people can succeed at this. Very little has a true wow factor, so very little (relatively) gets passed on to friends. It’s a million to one shot.
Don't shove your marketing down people’s throats
Social networking is about participation and interaction. So the quickest way to build a reputation is to crassly promote yourself, but the reputation that results won’t be what you wanted. Instead, whenever anyone searches on your name, they will find a torrent of abuse explaining what a bad company and person you are.
Don't put too much work in
Much of the advice on social networking is about helping out and building relationships. But you should be ruthless in assessing the ratio between return and reward. Participating in social networking isn’t a good idea because it’s trendy – it makes good business sense only when it’s profitable.
Don't ignore advertising
Just because consumers use social networks for free, doesn’t mean that the networks aren’t interested in revenue. They have to make a living somehow, and their plan is that this will come from you, the business participant. The most likely route for producing results on social networks is to advertise on them.
Facebook advertising allows pay-per-click or pay-per-impression. You decide how much to bid for each ad, and you can select on demographics that include age, sex, education, relationship status, location and interests -- it's all highly targeted. You can include an image in the advert as well as text. There’s one case study where Facebook advertising cost only 1.5% of revenue generated, but that’s likely to be the best possible result. Get it right, though, and you may have a Google on steroids on your hands.
Don't ignore feedback from your customers
It’s all too easy to look at social networking as a marketing channel, but there’s another side too. You need to monitor major networks for any discussion of your company. That way, you may be able to pick up service issues both before they are broadcast too widely and before they become a big problem. In fact, what seems like a negative can become a positive.
And if customers make the effort to review your product/service on your site, don’t forget to give them an opportunity to share the comments by having Twitter and Facebook ‘share’ buttons on the page.
Social networks require a new way of thinking. Get with the flow and you may jump past the competition. Maybe those amazing figures of growth and participation aren’t so irrelevant after all.

Chris Barling is CEO of ecommerce specialist Actinic

Replies (4)

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By aburke53
05th Jul 2010 10:34

 Great post but I think it is important that business owners do try social networking out. Many are put off because it appears complex and/or risky.  Your guide is a great outline of what and how they should start.  At the end of the day they have to get started.

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By houstonone
05th Jul 2010 11:20

it was about digital in general but could easily apply to businesses and their social media exploits:

Keith Weed, CMO @ Unilever, said “Most companies’ activity in the digital space had been like high school [***] – everybody is talking about it, but few are doing it and none very well’.

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By Neil Warren
05th Jul 2010 13:24


There are endless crossovers on this question, online and offline, and between B2C and B2B. At one end of the spectrum, say if you’re marketing (with hardly any selling) something like Dr Pepper, Facebook may well be a happy hunting ground, and you can afford to just pay a bunch of our children to do the “selling” and mention and link to your product (as they do – allegedly!). But at the other end of the spectrum, when you are selling (with hardly any marketing/advertising) a high-priced business service as a solution to quite a sophisticated business problem, then you do need to be much more selective about the audience that you are after, and the people who will represent your organisation, to build a “trusted advisor” profile/role, and conduct the relevant and informative “conversations”. And indeed, if it’s oil-rigs or similar, it may well be that your 50 real prospects do not lend themselves to being a “group” or “fans” or “followers” of any sort at all. That could be all one-to-one eyeball-to-eyeball custom-tailored stuff. 

The “problem” will remain, as it always has, in that middle ground where managers and business owners must decide whether the equivalent of “cold calling” every “prospect” under the sun, and regurgitating an elevator pitch is the way to go, for them and their product or service (drink it, what’s the worst that can happen?), or something more attuned to finding out real prospects’ needs, wants and desires.

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By kellybriefworld
14th Jul 2010 20:05

Social Media offer businesses a venue to make their presence known and market their brand/products. They also provide a way companies to connect - and remain connected - with their audience/market/fans. Using media sites though, puts a company's network security and privacy at risk, and causes problems for its IT department. It is therefore important to have social media policy in place. Decision-makers and IT managers should explore issues surrounding social media in the workplace for them to be able make informed decisions about whether or not to block social media sites, and to create a sound social media policy for their companies. Here is a good place to start:


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