Social media is one of the most popular marketing strategies of the 21st century. However, as many leading businesses have found, it's becoming ever-more difficult to protect your company's brand values when using social media platforms.
In this specially-themed guide, we'll help you take advantage of best practice, while preventing your profiles from becoming a social media horror story.
When targeting a wide audience over several disparate channels, it can be difficult for companies to consolidate their social media marketing. These platforms are public-facing and as such, dealing with interactions and negative comments in real time is a key element of maintaining a successful profile.
So without further ado, here's some of our top tips for using various channels to their full potential, while avoiding common pitfalls that beset many newcomers to the field:
1) Don't jump on irrelevant bandwagons
Many newcomers are guilty of trying to shamelessly cash in on trending topics by cramming in as many hashtags as possible into their posts. However, this is something of a false economy and savvy users will quickly identify the shameless self-promotion.
Using trending hash tags with reckless abandon can be a perilous pursuit, particularly if they're being used to promote a cause or raise awareness about a certain issue.
One example of a brand that got this seriously wrong is Habitat, a homeware company, who, through careless hashtagging, inadvertently weighed in on an argument over Islam and politics.
The consequences were evidently disastrous as people had understandably strong opinions on the matter and Habitat received several complaints as a result.
2) Be sure to have a Social Media policy
Having a social media policy is vitally important in ensuring no rules are broken with the stuff you're posting online. Even in the event that something untoward is posted, having a policy in place will help show that you've done your due diligence in monitoring your social output.
Each channel has its own guidelines as to how you should post and what content is suitable. While these can stand as a strong foundation, you should tailor the specifics of your policy in order to protect your brand's reputation and ensure that employees are well aware of how to utilise your profiles in an appropriate manner.
Similarly, try to ensure that login details are readily available to relevant staff, rather than tying them up with a single exec or department. HMV famously fell foul of this earlier in the year after announcing a slew of redundancies.
When employees found out they were being laid off, they began actively tweeting about the "mass execution" and created a hash tag that later went viral, broadcasting the goings-on to thousands of people under the name of #hmvXFactorFiring.
These messages and the accompanying responses from members of the public obviously showcased the company in a bad light and as a result, they were subject to a lot of backlash from their followers.
By having a social media policy in place, you can address and mitigate the fallout from negative comments, ensuring that responses are issued in a empathetic and straightforward way. While there'll always be a few persistent trolls, burying your head in the sand and leaving online venom to fester on your profile simply isn't an option.
3) Embrace Negative Reviews
Failing to deal with, or worse, dealing badly with negative reviews posted online can be a recipe for social media disaster.
Many companies panic at the thought of having bad reviews online; however these aren't always a bad thing. The way you handle comments can help show you're an ethical brand that's committed to customer service.
Try and find out the specifics of the situation and move the issue offline as soon as you can. Targeting the problem directly in this way isn't a silver bullet for all your woes, but is far preferable to leaving negative reviews unaddressed and detracting from your brand's reputation.
One example of the wrong way to handle these was recently displayed by Ryanair. Despite being one of the most successful airlines in the world, the way its social team responded to a negative blog displayed some of chief executive Michael O'Leary's trademark bravado and a distinct lack of care. The blogger was repeatedly referred to as an "idiot" and "liar" and following a public outcry, the company released a condescending statement that wasn't much of an improvement:
"Ryanair can confirm that a Ryanair staff member did engage in a blog discussion. It is a Ryanair policy not to waste time and energy with idiot bloggers and Ryanair can confirm it won't be happening again. Lunatic bloggers can have the blogosphere all to themselves as our people are too busy driving down the cost of air travel."
While such an exchange and the resulting negative press are water off a duck's back to a juggernaut like Ryanair, the take-away here is for brands respond magnanimously and not make things personal.
4) Understand why your company is using social media
Approaching social media out of a sense of guilt, or just because you think it's something you should be doing is a recipe for failure. Without a clearly defined set of objectives, strategies and tactics, social media can quickly turn into a time sink.
These shouldn't be poorly-defined goals, such as 'get more followers', however. Put some serious thought in to what you're looking to achieve with social, what volume of output you're comfortable with and whether it's even the right avenue for you to pursue at this stage.
It's also essential to periodically review your activities, to see what's working and what's not. This will help you focus future efforts on fruitful areas, maximising the effectiveness of your campaign.
The social sphere is littered with companies with sporadic output, wildly off-topic posts or simply trying to use social media like the fire-and-forget advertising methods of yesteryear. By putting more time in at the planning stage, you can ensure your social media marketing doesn't become a white elephant.
Do you have any social media horror stories to share or have any further tips to offer? We're always keen to hear what you have to say so don't be a stranger and give us a shout in the comments!