The biggest goal for any brand delving into social media should be to develop quality, productive relationships. That's the bottom line.
However, many brands still don't get it, and consistently make mistakes that damage them on social media.
In my opinion, there are four big no-nos that not only kill those all-important relationships, but tarnish your reputation:
Blasting sales messages rather than listening and engaging has to be the No. 1 relationship killer of all time. People hate when you sell to them—especially on social channels, where their main objective is to talk, get opinions, relax, have fun, or find answers to pressing problems.
When a brand spends the majority of its time broadcasting, it sends a clear message to followers that it's not interested in real, two-way communication.
Listening should be your first priority, followed by engagement. Don't try to sell to people until you've earned their trust!
2. Resolving issues offline
If someone has a problem and comes to one of your social profiles to try to resolve it, the worst thing you can do is shunt him off to a customer service contact with a "form letter" response.
Too often I see "Follow us so we can DM you," on Twitter, or a quick move to traditional customer service channels on Facebook. People have an innate need to be validated—and "showing them the hand" is the fastest way to sour a customer relationship.
Sometimes there are things you have to resolve offline for legal issues, but you should address the majority of complaints or requests for help promptly and publicly in social channels. If you must send someone offline, do so in a friendly, personal manner. Address the person by name, thank him for bringing the problem to your attention, and so on.
Walk a mile in your customer's shoes. How do you feel when a company ignores you or makes you jump through hoops?
Responding publicly has another important, beneficial, and cost-saving benefit. Other people with the same issue—and you should assume there are many more—can receive resolution via your response, see how you interact, and make their own judgments about your brand's character based on those interactions. If you do it right, you will build brand advocates in the process. If and when you need them, your best brand advocates will support you when they see that kind of open, honest communication.
3. Having no brand personality
People who spend time on social media like to spend time with people—not logos. If employees handle your social responses, don't make them hide behind the brand logo when they interact with followers—give them a voice and face.
Ford does a great job of this with @ScottMonty. Monty builds his personal brand along with Ford's. Monty interacts with followers as himself, not the Ford brand. This humanizes the brand and fosters good communication. Being able to see the team members behind the company and interact with them personally makes a big difference in fan loyalty.
When a company censors its employees and doesn't allow them to participate in social discussions that surround the brand, it's usually because the company is afraid of what might happen. The company is afraid it will spend too much time on social media or say the wrong things.
You can resolve these issues with a comprehensive social media policy so all employees know how and when they can and should interact. Remember, your employees should be some of your best advocates, and a natural extension of your public face. You can't do social media correctly if you censor employees.
Your people are your company's personality. Let them shine. If you don't trust your employees, you might have the wrong employees, or a business approach that will be difficult to sustain in this hyper-connected world.
4. Making social media a direct marketing channel
Can you develop a relationship with a piece of direct mail? TV commercial? Newspaper ad? Email blast? Of course not! Yet, many brands treat social media as an extension of their direct marketing efforts, mainly because that's all they know. They're used to handing off marketing to an advertising agency so they can get on with their day. They think in terms of return on investment (ROI) formulas, but falter when it comes to measuring the effectiveness of one-on-one networking.
If that's you, don't feel too bad. It's a habit that's been drummed into you and is hard to break. But you have to break it! Adopt a new mindset around social media and think in terms of building relationships and emotional connections to your brand, or you'll always be frustrated with your results. Remember: Social media drives engagement, engagement drives loyalty, and loyalty correlates directly to increased sales. Return on relationship™ = ROI.
This goes back to the broadcasting mistake I mentioned earlier. Think in terms of providing helpful content, fun ways to communicate, sharing information, and asking questions. Leave direct marketing in traditional channels. Get a sense of who your audience is and give them what they're looking for in your social communications, or they will unfollow or ignore you in a hurry.
What other relationship killers have you come across online? How do you think brands can avoid them?
Ted Rubin is chief social marketing officer at Collective Bias. He blogs at TedRubin.com, where a version of this article originally appeared.