The Dos and Don'ts of Social Media

  • Social Media

The New Year is a great time to think about revamping your social media strategy or creating one in the first place, but if you feel overwhelmed by the social media options, don't worry. You don't need to be a social media guru to successfully use social media for your business, as the following tips attest. Here are our suggestions for some best business practices for social media for 2014.

Don't: Use Facebook and Twitter to share posts that have nothing to do with your business. You've probably seen posts from random companies you've never heard of asking if you can figure out the brain teaser they posted, and then telling you to share if you figure it out in fewer than 30 seconds. These posts trick Facebook users into sharing posts with the business name, and can generate followers—but these "likes" don't come from people who will actually ever visit that business. Imagine you're in an auditorium with hundreds of potential customers and you ask them to raise their hand after they figure out a riddle you pose. Many people may raise their hand, but will that interaction make these potential customers want to buy your product? Probably not, because it doesn't tell them anything about your business.

Do this instead: Post photos of your business, employees, products, projects, and things that will affect your customers. Did you just get back from a conference for business owners in your field? Post a few photos and something you learned that will benefit your customers. Did your business just participate in a community event? Post something memorable that happened there and why you were glad to have participated. If you offer great products people use and enjoy, post them and a photo of a customer using a product (with their permission, of course). These posts generate real excitement about your company and can attract real customers.

Don't: Assume your customers will keep following you through spammy posts. With the first "don't," we see that too much "entertainment" becomes boring because it isn't related to the business. On the other hand, too much "buy now!" spam will clutter up customers' news feeds and frustrate them. We've all unsubscribed from e-mail lists that send too many advertising e-mails, and we know how annoying it is trying to wade through junk when you're looking for important messages. Don't make your followers do that on social media: if you post too much of what they will perceive as junk, they will stop following you, and may get frustrated with your company. Social media isn't just about what you get—it's about what you give (more on that below).

Do this instead: Treat social media like word-of-mouth marketing. Act like you're having a personal conversation with customers. Respond to customers' questions or comments on your page, use a conversational tone, and post things worth sharing. Post things your followers want to share with their friends. Retweet customers, comment on their Instagram pics, and develop a relationship with your customers.

Don't: Waste your customer's time to make a hard sell. People see thousands of advertisements a day, and frankly, they get tired of them. When people log onto Facebook, Twitter, Google+, or other social media sites, they want to see updates from friends and noteworthy posts. If you interrupt their newsfeed or Twitter feed with enough "hard sell" posts fans may get fed up and stop following you. A New York Times article, "Anywhere the Eye Can See, it's Likely to See an Ad" cites a survey in which almost half of respondents said they thought advertising and marketing is "out of control." People are tired of seeing advertisements that clutter up their social media pages with spam, and the key to good social media is knowing whether to advertise, interact, inform, or entertain at any given time.

Do this instead: Give your customers something of value. You want to reward customers for following you. Offer giveaways that integrate social media with your actual business. Things like, "Mention this post and get $10 off one of our services" and other online-only deals will help make your followers feel they are getting something back from you. Pepper your page with occasional giveaways—a salon could offer free pedicure to anyone who likes a certain photo, a mechanic or computer tech could offer a free diagnostic test for anyone who retweets a post, and any small business can find small giveaway items that a customer will enjoy and that might even make them want to buy more. How about a manicure to go with that free pedi? Did the diagnostic turn up an issue with the customer's computer and now they'll pay you to fix it? Give customers something of value and they will feel appreciated.

Don't: Stress about it too much. You don't need to post three times a day or even once a day. You don't need to have profiles on every social media site you don't know how to use. You don't need to spend hours figuring out what to post, or set a timer to remind you it's time to make another post. Again.

Do this instead: Make it easy on yourself. Use social media sites you are comfortable with, share things you're excited to share, and use social media marketing tools to help you. Buffer (bufferapp.com) shares your posts at the best time each day, so it gets maximum visibility. HootSuite (hootsuite.com) and SproutSocial (sproutsocial.com) let you manage social media across multiple accounts and give you analytical reports so you can see which posts are most effective and get the most interaction.

Social media should be fun, and while it can also be a great marketing tool, the best way to get loyal customers is to post things that thrill you. If you're not having fun, they aren't either.