Three social media mistakes brands must avoid in 2013

I had big hopes for social media in 2012.

I genuinely thought that after a few years of experimenting and countless hard lessons learned that we’d collectively enjoy the maturation of social media as a discipline. I also (wrongly) thought that the education provided by so-called experts would have corrected many of the incorrect assumptions made in the preceding few years. If anything, things are getting worse, as an almost religious obsession with meaningless metrics is on the rise.

As a result, I thought I’d put a question out to a few of my industry pals to get a feel for what they thought was doing social media more harm than good. So, here is a summary of what came back, followed by some things brands must do in 2013 to ensure they are heading in the right direction.

Question: What is the one thing brands continue to get wrong when it comes to social media?

1. Ticking the box 

This is increasingly becoming my biggest concern for brands so I was pleased to see this featured in a number of responses, including the following comment from Jakub Hrabovsky:

Ticking the box seems to be a priority rather than looking at how brands can make their products / services / websites more social. It’s still let’s do Facebook and let’s get likes (driven by inexperienced marketing managers in senior positions).

Clients often push for a ‘likes’ target so they can communicate a ‘result’ up the line. We collectively need to push back and explain what metrics like that really mean in the context of the overall business and communications objectives. This obsession with ‘likes’ is often the result of an approach that is not being driven by a strategy that identifies the purpose of Facebook within the broader mix.

2. Failure to conduct audits

Another very obvious problem, especially if you are really paying attention to the behaviour on display from many brands across all platforms as Danny Brown so aptly put:

Brands still don’t audit beforehand to see whether they should even be on social media and in what capacity (listening, active). Also, on too many platforms – research which ones will return most benefit and be strong on those.

If I was a client and an agency said it could deliver a social / digital strategy without first recommending an audit I’d run the other way. An audit ensures a brand can establish benchmarks and identify the need(s) which they can possibly fulfil via their social media activity.

3. The incorrect definition of engagement

This was a really common theme and is closely linked to the first two points. If an agency wants to be measured on an ‘engagement rate’ (which they’ll pitch as a a real measurement) they will craft content plans that will encourage ‘lazy likes’ that will boost this rate. Again, this is part of the problem that the industry is creating for itself in attempting to justify the importance of social media by creating (virtually) meaningless KPIs.

Genuine engagement involves genuine conversations taking place between brands and its stakeholders. Delivering ‘likeable’ content on Facebook can play a role but it needs to be supported by so many other things which are normally carried out on other platforms (sadly, brands are often not prepared to invest in these activities because they can’t give their superiors a hard measurement on what this delivers).

This will continue to be an issue because you can’t put a definitive value on a genuine advocate and the role they can play in bridging the gap between your brand and the people most important to its success.

What can be done (by brands and agencies)?

The optimist in me says that if we collectively ‘grew up’ and focused on avoiding these mistakes we’d see social media add real value as part of the overall marketing and communications mix.

The pessimist in me says that this is a hugely uphill battle. As long as brand guardians ask for an ROI and as long as the majority of agencies / experts respond with metrics without context we’re in for a few more years of pain.

What do you think? Any joy on the horizon?

A big thanks to the people who contributed their thoughts.

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