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October 08, 2010

Mzinga CEO Barry Libert Points to Top 10 Social Media Pitfalls

By Brendan B. Read, Senior Contributing Editor

Arriving back from TMC’s (News - Alert) first ever, and very successful SocialCRM EXPO at ITEXPO West in Los Angeles, when thinking about social media I am reminded of the scene in Repo Man when Emilio Estevez tells Harry Dean Stanton that he is no (expletive deleted) repo man and Stanton replies “you already are” or words to that effect.

For we are already are social customers or in what Barry Libert, chair and CEO of social software firm Mzinga calls the “Social Nation” in his new book Social Nation: How to Harness the Power of Social Media to Attract Customers, Motivate Employees, and Grow Your Business .

That’s the makeup of human beings as a species. We like bees and other similar creatures depend on each other for vital information about what we need to sustain and survive: information that has been gathered, verified, processed and passed on. Until the advent of mass media, marketing and merchandising and the rise of auto-isolated suburbia so well capsulated by the hit AMC TV series Mad Men individuals exchanged information about products and services predominantly in local marketplaces that served as in-person beehives. Just like conferences and trade shows such as ITEXPO.

The challenge with social media is mastering the beehiving (Mzinga (News - Alert) means beehive in Swahili). Libert points out that thousands of companies are rushing headlong into the profile-creating, news-tweeting, blog-posting frenzy...only to find that their valiant efforts are not getting the results they had hoped.

“You can’t just set up a Facebook (News - Alert) profile for your company, tweet once or twice a day, and expect public interest in your company to shoot through the roof,” explains Libert. “Think about it this way: if you were in charge of your company's booth at a trade show or conference, you wouldn’t just slap your company's logo onto a piece of poster board, place your business cards on the table, and hope for the best, would you? Of course not. Yet that's exactly how some companies approach social media—and that's why so many of these initiatives fail.”

(What Libert describes is not that dissimilar to what happened in the boom 10-12 years ago where firms thought cool web sites with e-mail addresses for customer service that would be checked every couple of days or so—if that—would be sufficient. The consequences of such actions and neglect are sufficiently well-known that they need not be repeated in this space, but they should be reviewed by today’s companies venturing into the social media space to prevent similar fates from befalling them.)

If you’re looking for fans, followers, and friends to build a Social Nation around your business, don't panic, says Libert. There is simple advice in his book that will help businesses avoid the pitfalls and make a strong online impact.

For example if you want to become a meaningful part of social conversations and interactions you must know who your target “fan base” is, where they spend their time online, and what sorts of content and programming is valuable and relevant to them, and will foster their continued interest and participation. You also need to make sure you have the wherewithal to commit to growing and sustaining your Social Nation, and you've got to make sure that you have buy-in from within your company.

Libert, in Social Nation shares these top 10 social media pitfalls he's seen organizations fall victim to in the past. While they may sound intimidating, half the battle is knowing which mistakes not to make.

“It's true: there are countless benefits to joining what I call the Social Nation revolution—but just like any strategy for growth, social media isn't foolproof,” points out Libert. “If you don't want your company's social strategy to fall flat, there are some guidelines you'll need to follow.” 

1.         Running a Social Nation like a traditional business

If you want to run a social company, Libert says you first need to understand that almost everything you do is a two-way street. That is to say, you're not going to prosper if your products and services are designed solely by folks on the inside. You need to embrace the perspectives and contributions of your employees, as well as those of customers and partners.

2.         Underinvesting in social initiatives and abandoning them too soon

Libert says that you need to understand that a Social Nation is organic—it won't materialize with a proverbial snap of the fingers. Early on, you'll need to invest a good deal of time, thought, and money in attracting fans and followers—and your efforts will need to be sustained. Only after you've built a firm foundation will your social network begin to sustain itself through participant contribution and recommendation.

Successful strategies include posting quality content that people want to consume, letting customers tell their stories and post their grievances, and then responding to their criticisms. Also, make sure that prospects are able to learn about your business through customer and employee testimonials. Lastly, remember using multiple approaches—for example, a blog, Facebook profile and interactive website—will reach more people.

3.         Neglecting to find ways to encourage and inspire your Social Nation's followers and fans

“When you stop to think about it, you'll realize that your fans and followers are essentially volunteering their time and energy to serve as developers, sounding boards, and advertisements for your company,” Libert points out. “So for goodness' sake, respect what they have to say and take their input to heart!”

4.         Relying on a "build-it-and-they-will-come" mentality don't really think that launching a new website and firing off posts at various online networking hotspots will bring fans and followers flocking, do you, Libert asks. Of course not! To some extent—usually a large one—you'll need to purposefully reach out to potential community members and make it worth their while to accept your invitation.

“Rolling out a community and just expecting people to join as friends or followers is a flawed philosophy,” confirms Libert. “Marketing 101 principles still apply. That means you need compelling incentives to have people join your community. You also need an aggressive programming strategy, one that includes defining your key audiences and targeting them through all available channels, to ensure that they know that you want to build a relationship with them.”

5.         Delaying the process of going social

Contrary to what you may wish, your company doesn't have the luxury of waiting until it's "convenient" to go social. Why? Well, you have competitors, right? And if you don't start gathering loyal followers and fans now, there's a good chance that some other company will woo them first, Libert points out.

One of the best strategies for going social as quickly and effectively as possible he recommends is to designate employees and subject matter experts to act as community success managers focused on fostering community growth and member satisfaction. Separate from your sales and support teams, these community leaders should have the ability to advise members of the community on how to best participate with the company and with each other.

“If you do things well, you'll find that they'll generally serve as internal and external advocates for others in your organization, be it employees, partners, or customers,” says Libert.          

6.        Underestimating the power of a Social Nation

If you believe that social networking is just a window dressing that your company “needs” (but not really), then think again. Social media and community collaboration bring many benefits, including brand-building, customer loyalty and retention, cost reductions, improved productivity, and revenue growth.

7.         Neglecting employees, partners, investors, or customers when building your Social Nation

 Yes, set up a focus group of employees to serve as community leaders who will shepherd your company into the social networking world, but don't put all of the power in their hands. Social Nations are organic organizations, so the more people who are empowered to influence yours, the better.

“You'll find that leaders will emerge from your community population—whether they are employees, partners, customers, or prospects,” promises Libert. “Future leaders will come from places you never expected. Empower every member of your community with the resources they need, then listen and be responsive to their insights, needs, and ideas. Oh and here's a bonus: by doing this, you'll reduce support costs since community members can help each other!”

8.         Relying on traditional approaches when designing your Social Nation

A decade ago, you probably would have been horrified at the thought of releasing ideas and products into the hands of your customers before they were as complete as you could get them. With social networking, that monolithic approach is now becoming obsolete.

9.         Developing your own social software and analytics solutions

You wouldn't dream of placing “remodeling the office” or “handling legal issues” in the Do It Yourself category, would you? Not too many would. Instead, you'd hire someone skilled in those areas. Do yourself a favor and use the same strategy when it comes to building your own Social Nation.

“Do what you do best and outsource the software and community building to the experts,” advises Libert. “Various vendors provide ready-made, complete solutions to help you build your fans, followers, and friends. Remember, Facebook and Twitter encourages fans and friends to advance their businesses, not yours. Consequently, although you should leverage the communities they have built, you need to create your own community to ensure your long-term success.”

10.       Getting caught without partners to help you succeed

Libert has alluded to this one before, but it bears specific emphasis: make sure that you truly treat your community members as partners, not just as fans or numbers. Yes, integrating into the social web (Facebook, Twitter and other social networks) are key to your company's future success, but being connected to the social web is only a part of what you need to do. Shifting your business strategically, culturally, and operationally are key components to the equation.

That means creating a community for the people he says who matter most in making your business thrive—a place that is all theirs and that is connected to your brand. Remember, your constituents want to connect with like-minded peers, and they want to feel as though they are contributing to a purpose that's bigger than them. Given that they are buying products and services from you, investing in your company, and working for your organization, providing them with a community they can call their own is the least you can do for them.

“We are on the cusp of a new business era,” concludes Libert. “Building a new Social Nation isn't just about a paradigm shift in technology. It also requires a business and cultural shift in how your company is organized and run. Now is the time for leaders, their organizations, and you to find a way to connect to individuals—be they coworkers, investors, customers, or partners—on personal and social levels. Do all of this with an appropriate amount of forethought and planning, and you'll succeed in creating enduring social and emotional value for your organization.”

Brendan B. Read is TMCnet’s Senior Contributing Editor. To read more of Brendan’s articles, please visit his columnist page.

Edited by Juliana Kenny

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