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5 Deadly Sins of Corporate Social Media Marketing

Posted on Oct 8th, 2010
Written by Lee Odden
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    While companies are hiring consultants, internal community managers, testing social media marketing management software and making other kinds of investments in social media marketing, there are a number of things, despite making those investments, many businesses are doing to sabotage their social media success. We could probably list a lot more than seven of these social media sins, but I’ll focus on some of the most important things I’ve been observing.

    1. Fear – Of course we know fear is all in the mind and by the looks of it, there are some pretty vivid imaginations out there. Remember when companies feared putting up a blog with comments because, “What if someone says something bad about us?”.  In contrast, companies successful with social media are celebrating such criticism and showing how well they address customer concerns – in public.

    A presentation during the Rise of Social Commerce event from Altimeter Group yesterday by Bob Kupbens, Vice President of e-Commerce at, included a slide featuring a customer comment that used the words “Delta” and “suck” prolifically.  No one thought any less of Delta as a result. They listened intently on how Delta is engaging customers.

    People know that companies aren’t perfect and there will be issues. Social media opens lines of communication for customers to give companies feedback on things that really do need to be fixed, when they otherwise might have go unattended and become huge problems. Companies need not fear the social web, just because they themselves are not social. Harvest internal talent, technology and even outside advice if necessary. Make a plan and commit to objectives along with the top down support necessary for organizational change.

    2. Arrogance
    – There are quite a few big brands that have decided they’re too big and important to listen to customers via social channels or to create two-way communication and engagement opportunities.  More commonly, companies are arrogant or maybe oblivious to who their competition is.  In the “real world” a company might be competing against other similarly large businesses in their industry and category through traditional media, sales on the street and other forms of marketing.

    On the social web, there’s a bit more of an even playing field where much smaller (in revenue, staff and resources) companies have been growing their social networks, listening to customers and engaging them, creating opportunities not only for customers to have a dialog with the brand, but facilitating connections between customers and also activating evangelists.  While this grass roots sort of activity is happening, the big company designates a corporate PR person to “figure out this social media thing”, invests in a social media software and only monitors the competitors that they face in the traditional world – ignoring the “little people” companies building a groundswell of social equity that may very well give that big brand a taste of some “David & Goliath”.  Be open, be smart and avoid being arrogant. Make a plan for social media monitoring to uncover what’s important both to the company and especially to customers.

    3. Frugalism
    – Paying lip service to social participation and not allocating resources that can help it be successful is probably one of the most common sources for failure. Companies do this will all kinds of marketing where they don’t believe in the tactic, but throw money like spagetti against the wall and see if it sticks. It often goes like this:

    Company A: “We tried social media but it didn’t work”.

    Company B: “Really? What methodology did you use for a test case? What was your strategy?”

    Company A: “Strategy?  We put up a Facebook page and Twitter but we didn’t get any leads. A waste of time and we put 2 weeks into it.”

    There’s more to the situation above than being frugal, but my point is that a lack of resources for something like social media marketing makes it doomed to fail. Social isn’t really something you “do” anyway, at least not in the long term.  Companies like Dell, Ford, Blendtec, Mayo Clinic, Zappos and many others that have had success on the social web aren’t so much “doing” social things, they’re more focused on “being social”. That means allocating resources with the expectation of success.

    A test is fine, in fact that makes the most sense in my experience. Just don’t throw up a Facebook page, Twitter and a blog plus Google Alerts as your “social media monitoring” solution, all managed by an intern and think there’s going to be success – by any definition.   Invest in research and social media monitoring to identify the scope and nature of conversations about the things that are important to your customers and decide based on that data/analysis to seriously invest or not. When you do decide to move forward, make a commitment long term. Don’t go about it half-way. By all means, test. But have some idea of what you’re trying to accomplish and develop a plan.

    4. Egocentric
    – If you’re a parent, you might be familiar with the transition kids make from perceiving the world as toddlers, only as it affects them to being able to empathize and detach what’s important to things beyond themselves. Many companies that are new to the social web behave the same way.  Marketing and Sales react to pressures by customers and competitors to become active on the social web and subsequently, marketing and sales tries to do what they know best: Market and sell. Pushing corporate agendas and focusing solely on what the company can get out of social networks and media sharing isn’t being very customer centric.

    Content and communications that are egocentric can be dismissed as gratuitous self promotion when they happen once in a while, but many companies have developed their social media marketing programs dedicated solely to promoting their own objectives without empathizing with customer needs and interests. Ignoring whats important to the people you’re trying to engage will only alienate customers.

    Watch this video for a humorous example of an egocentric advertiser and customer to get what I mean.

    5. Pigeonholing
    – If and when an outside consultant is engaged and paid for advice, but tasked only to look at certain aspects of a social media program, only use certain tactics, only use certain technologies regardless of objectives, audience, strategy or goals, then it can really be a waste for all. Companies that can afford and feel comfortable with paying outside consultants to substantiate internal projects will find that those projects will succeed not because they gained internal executive support due to some “expert from out of town”, but because the projects are done for the right reasons.

    If a company hires a consultant to help with their social media marketing efforts, that consultant should bring real-world and practical experience working with other companies to the table.  One would hope the company doing the hiring would seriously consider the consultant’s advice. It’s the discretion of any corporate buyer of consulting services to use, or not use, the information provided. But I’ve been seeing the situation where a consultant is paid to give advice, it’s not taken, then when the program fails, its the consultant’s fault. That’s the risk consultants take when they take on projects, but what’s more important is that social media marketing programs are very public. If a program has been developed, executed and achieved success in numerous scenarios over time and such advice can be provided, why not take it? Why do something else, fail and possibly tarnish the brand to customers?

    My recommendation is simply to be open about advice from other companies that have already traveled the social media road and/or qualified consultants hired to provide such advice.

    There are numerous reasons why social media marketing programs fail or why companies that fail in other ways find those failures communicated virally through the social web. Here’s an interesting presentation documenting a history of social media failures:

    I can’t imagine any company or consultant starting out on their journey to understand the marketing opportunities on the social web that hasn’t. They key of course, is to learn from the mis-steps of those before you and avoid unproductive perspectives. I believe there are no hard and fast rules for success with social media marketing and that testing and participation are your best learning tools. At the same time, companies can save money, resources and time by realizing the shift in thinking and approach that are necessary for achieving the goals they’ve set for themselves.

    What “social media marketing sins” should we add to this list?

    Event Note:
    I will be giving a presentation at PRSA International 10/18 in Washington D.C. on Social Media Optimization and will be giving the keynote presentation on “The Truth About Social Media ROI” at Social Media Junction in Auckland, New Zealand 11/16 as well as a workshop on Social Media Content Strategies 11/17. I hope to see you there.