4 social media rules for business success

The power of social media is no longer up for debate. Business Insider’s recent study found that social media is now the most-used form of Internet activity, beating even email. It’s easy to see, then, how things can go viral so quickly: in just 3 months, for example, the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge generated over 17 million videos on Facebook alone, with more than 440 million people viewing said videos over 10 billion times.

Businesses are quickly wising up to these new stats: in Social Media Examiner’s 2013 End of Year Report, 86% of marketers stated that social media is important for their business. And rightfully so – a smart and well-implemented social media strategy increases exposure, improves SEO rankings, and generates leads. Even more importantly, social media provides a platform to build brand loyalty by engaging directly with your customers. If you can turn those Twitter or Facebook followers into genuine fans, you’ll be well on your way to building a base of customer advocates (also known as the ideal customers).

Before you dive in, however, don’t forget that effective social media is dependent on smart strategizing – and being careful. The last thing you want is for your brand to go viral for the wrong reasons. Here are 4 rules all businesses should follow to prevent any social media faux pas:

1. Don’t over-promote your brand

Your profile page on any platform can and should promote your company and brand, but your actual social activity needs to be more than just overt marketing. You need to offer relevant, interesting content to your customers to make them want to engage with you; posting only self-promotional or salesy content will result in mass unfollowings.

The same goes for trying too hard to tie in your brand, which comes off as clunky and, well, kind of lame.

audi_housecars

Audi tried to make their marketing fit with the Emmy buzz surrounding House of Cards last year, but their only tie-in was a (pretty weak) play on words. The attempt to align Audi’s marketing strategy with a TV show came off as awkward because it lacked relevance – simply, Audi’s messaging and brand just doesn’t have much to do with House of Cards. Which leads us to:

2. Think before you post

Before posting on any social media platform, it’s important to consider the content first. Is the post targeted to your customers? Are you sure it’s relevant to your brand? Are you using the right messaging or tone for this specific social network audience? The answers to these questions are important, and should be the deciding factor on whether that post goes through. Facebook might be a good place to upload that funny meme-style photo, but LinkedIn is decidedly a different story.

The key to effective social media strategizing is by nottreating social media as a throwaway tactic. Just as you should plan and evaluate the messaging of your email marketing campaigns, you should show the same care in how you represent your brand.

3. Fact check and cross-reference

Fact checking isn’t just for journalistic pieces or articles. Pay attention to your content, especially when tying in news or current events, in order to avoid major social media gaffes. Thanks to screencaps and caches, the Internet never forgets; a careless mistake can end up damaging your brand.

Case in point: DiGiorno Pizza came under fire recently for not checking the context of trending hashtags. Thousands of domestic abuse survivors had taken to Twitter to share and discuss their deeply personal stories with the #WhyIStayed hashtag in light of the controversy surrounding Ray Rice and the NFL. DiGiorno then jumped onto the bandwagon with:

digiornotweet

In DiGiorno’s case, it was a careless mistake, but one that came off as insensitive at best and offensive at worst. It was also a side effect of trying to generate content without thought, by just depending on trending hashtags for visibility.

4. Damage control: react quickly, but not rashly

As with DiGiorno’s tweet – which was deleted within minutes but had already been immortalized in screencaps – social media backlash is usually instantaneous. With damage control, you need to act fast, but not so fast that you’re being rash or reactionary. Take a minute to assess the situation and figure out the best way to address the problem. Remember this: transparency is key when doing damage control. Don’t delete angry customer comments or replies – you’ll just end up digging a deeper hole. Showing you handled complaints or criticism well is the best thing for your image right at that moment. That way, the customer’s lasting impression won’t be of your actual mistake; instead, they’ll remember that you took the time to apologize and try to fix it.