Kristina is a senior User experience strategist and writer based in seattle. She also edits the online magazine

3 ways to screw up your social media strategy

NOTE: This is another older post from my last website, back when I was working in startups.

Don't worry—I'm not going to harp about how awesome social media is, and how you must harness the raw power of the Crowd in order to find success in this Brave New World. Blah blah.

The truth is, social media is still wildly misunderstood, particularly as far as marketers are concerned. Intelligent startups have addressed this problem with two methods:

  1. Bring on a dedicated community or social media manager to monitor social media channels and act as an engaging brand representative.
  2. Put social media aside for the time being, until they have an actual reason to use it.

Here are a few signs that you work for a startup that has no idea what it's doing with regards to social media. And for the purposes of this article, I'm going to reference my fictional startup, FanFix (for background on FanFix, check out this article).

Wait, we're measuring what now?

Let's say your boss has just discovered Twitter chats. She found out that every Tuesday at 4pm, there's a ridiculously active chat that takes place with the hashtag #FanFicChat. With dollar signs shining from her sparkling eager eyes, she sics you, her social media person, on the #FanFicChat.

You're stoked. Twitter chats can be great for engaging with a community and for brand exposure. But when that chat is over, and there are no new signups for FanFix, your boss is pissed.

Where are the numbers? Clearly this has no real ROI, and that means we should abandon Twitter as a means for marketing.

Why this is stupid

If your goals are to drive signups, Twitter and Facebook aren't the best places for you. You're looking at the wrong numbers. And those numbers aren't transparent, either—who's to say that of the 300 people participating in this #FanFicChat, that 150 of them don't look back tomorrow and decide to download the app? This would be a near-direct effect of participating in the chat, but your boss lady won't see it that way. And it's really, really difficult to measure.

This is to say nothing of brand exposure. Each time your company engages with its targeted community in the channels said community frequents, you're earning little karma points. Brand associations become positive, and you build and foster trust in a community of potential users/customers. It's another tough thing to measure, but with a little practice and a lot of finesse, it can be measured.

Social media is a slow, slow burn. Like any worthwhile effort, you're not going to see results overnight. And if you do? You should be immediately suspicious of those big results.

How to fix it

Carefully explain to your boss that the key performance indicators (KPIs) she set for social media may be misdirected. Instead, show her the conversations participated in, discussions sparked, and company/product mentions.

Try to stress brand sentiment over sheer numbers. Yes, these are more qualitative than quantitative, but when you're dealing with a medium that is, by definition and title, "social," it's damn near impossible to get a hard read on soft numbers.

You talk about yourself too much

Your boss gets irritated if you spend time on Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or what-have-you and it doesn't drive an immediate sale/download/signup. So to compensate, she sends you a bunch of suggestions. And they all have one key thing in common: they all sound like a bad first date where all your partner does is talk about how great he is. So very great. Haven't you heard? He's great.

The poor, poor Facebook page. FanFix's company page becomes this masturbatory dead zone filled up with various posts that no one would ever care to read. "Have you heard this about our company?" and "Did you ever try out our fantastic new [insert uninteresting feature update here]?"

The FanFix Twitter feed looks like a bad classified section at the back of a free newspaper. With fewer naked ladies, probably.

Pinterest is this embarassing mess of screenshots from the FanFix app, from the blog, from the newsletter…another pit of social despair that people will bead away from like water off a duck's ass.

Why this is stupid

It should be obvious. No one wants to follow or Like a company page that doesn't provide them any value. And if all you're doing as a social media person is talking about the company, well, everyone's bored with you.

Now I'm by no means suggesting that you can't talk about your company. You have to occasionally. But let's go back to the whole date simile. If you're having drinks with some guy (not the one who keeps talking about how awesome he is, how chiseled his abs are and how women just love him), you have to take turns talking about each other. And if it's going well, chances are you're also talking about, oh I don't know, relevant topics like films, food, and other non-you things.

Social media should be treated like a first date. You want to present your best face, while not lying about it. You want to be receptive. Show interest in your date's interests. Even better, be interested in your date's interests. Listen to him.

Your audience is your date. They want to know you, but they also want you to know them.

How to fix it

Research and understand your audience, plain and simple. When you know the kinds of people you're talking to, you can engage with them about things that interest them. For FanFix, you know these folks are writers. Start discussions about successful writing habits. Give them tips. Ask for tips.

You and your boss should look at social media not as an advertising channel, but rather a means for conversation. Social media should, ultimately, help stick a smile on someone's face when they hear your name.

Writing properly doesn't mean writing well

Your tweets, Facebook posts, blog articles, and so on are grammatically pristine. Man, are they error-free. And nothing says professionalism like an error-free post.

Your boss is meticulous like that. She firmly believes she's a great writer. She wrote a few blog posts once, and she totally has a Twitter account. She's basically a pro, and since she's older than you are, you should give in to her requests and suggestions.

All of a sudden, after your boss decides she'll just go ahead and write these things for a while, the FanFix social media pages can't pass a Turing test.

It doesn't matter that the FanFix brand shoots to embody accessibility, friendliness, and a handyman mentality—your boss or other non-professional writers have turned these into robotic dross.

(I'm assuming that the social media/community pro is already great at nailing tone and voice.)

Why this is stupid

People respond to tone. It's another one of those borderline qualitative elements like sentiment that are tough to measure, but it's a simple matter of social dynamics. Speak in a condescending manner, you'll put people on the defense. Write like a robot, and people will see you as an object.

Unless, of course, one of your key brand elements is somehow robot-centric, in which case, 1) Awesome, and 2) it's totally appropriate.

This can also happen when a company decides that everyone should have a go at social media from time to time. Everyone in the company has access to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. This can be handled well, but more often than not it just leads to presenting 15 different voices and wildly inconsistent tones.

How to fix it

Now, this one's tougher. If you work for someone who's completely convinced of her own excellence and writing competence, there may not be a way through this.

Otherwise, take a few recent posts and "translate" them into a more brand-appropriate tone. Think things have become robotic on Facebook? Present your boss with a few options. If she can see or hear the way they sound when done well, she's more likely to respond positively. After all, she's a person too and isn't immune to tone.

And if you're at a company that has 15 people playing with social media, explain to those in charge why this is a mistake. Alternatively (and this is borderline impossible with non-writers), develop a brand tone of voice guide and distribute it to those with social media channel access.

Onward, social soldier

When laid out like this, these social media observations seem painfully common sensical. But I've been in these situations. I've heard otherwise smart people turn into complete idiots in the face of social media. And it blows my mind.

So keep an eye out for these symptoms, and nip them early to avoid rot later on.

Oh, and since you made it this far, check out this Cracked article about corporate Tweets gone wrong. Fun times.

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