Five common #socialmediafails

Senior PR and Social Media Consultant Ruth O'Brien looks at the top 5 most common mistakes that are made by brands and businesses on social media.

Time and time again I see silly mistakes made by people who work in digital and even a few social media “experts” on the likes of Twitter and Facebook.

Social channels have so many different (and often changing) policies and functions, it can be hard to get it right 100% of the time. Everyone fears being the next “social media fail” that becomes a trending topic and launches a thousand blogs about what they did wrong – but there’s plenty of relatively small mistakes that fly under the radar that could cause a lot of harm in the long run.

Here’s a few of the most common mistakes and misconceptions that even the big brands can get wrong when it comes to using social media:

1. Starting your tweets with @

One of the most frequent errors on Twitter (so much so that one wonders why they haven’t just changed the reply system) is starting a tweet with “@username”.

It might feel natural when mentioning a person or a brand to start with the name, but what you’re really doing is severely reducing the tweet’s visibility. For example, tweeting “@EquatorAgency is just the best” will only appear on the feeds of users who follow you AND Equator.

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Twitter considers any tweet starting with the @ function as a reply, but a crazy number of users are still getting this wrong! If you really have to start your tweet with a username but still want your followers to see it, pop a full stop in front, like so:

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2. Facebook competitions

Like, share & comment to win!

Tag a friend!

We’ve all seen them on our newsfeeds. You’ve probably entered a few. Did you know that these competitions are actually against Facebook policy?

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The often ignored Facebook guidelines page reads:

“Promotions may be administered on Pages or within apps on Facebook. Personal Timelines and friend connections must not be used to administer promotions (ex: “share on your Timeline to enter” or “share on your friend's Timeline to get additional entries”, and "tag your friends in this post to enter" are not permitted).”

In short – you can run a competition on your Facebook page, but sharing or tagging cannot be part of the entry method.

Facebook isn’t too great at policing this rule, which is perhaps why share/tag competitions are so frequent. No-one can deny it’s an easy way to inflate your fan count, but ignore Facebook’s policies at your peril!

A suspended account isn’t fun, nor is the algorithm that restricts the organic reach of your posts due to previous suspicious or spammy behaviour. You have been warned.

3. Posting too much

Much like that friend that feels the need to share explicit details of every meal they eat and at least 15 baby photos a day, firing out too much content can be super ANNOYING.

As clichéd as it may be; less IS more. Now so more than ever thanks to Facebook’s (and soon Twitter & Instagram’s) algorithmic timeline.

Don’t be misled into thinking that the way to combat the limited reach per post is to publish as frequently as possible. Studies have found that when it comes to Facebook - the higher the number of posts, the lower the percentage of reach and engagement you’ll receive.

There’s no real magic “one size fits all” formula when it comes to the number of posts a brand should publish for each platform, it’s all down to trial and error to find the sweet spot - alongside a healthy dose of common sense.

The lesson? Stop spamming, start planning.

4. #HashtagAbuse

The humble hashtag has been through a lot over the years. From its alleged birth in 2007 (#barcamp) to #susanalbumparty, you’d think we’d all have learned by now how to use it.

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Hashtags are useful for categorising content, as well as increasing discoverability, but often users forget that hashtag etiquette can vary depending on what social channel you use. Frequent #fails include:

Punctuationdoesn’twork - a hashtag is essentially a link. Punctuation or spaces between words will break it (Tumblr is an exception to this)

Going #hashtag #crazy – people need to be able to actually read your post. There’s no need to use more than 2 – 3 hashtags. Adding a hashtag to a singular word in the middle of a sentence is also completely meaningless on Twitter. Twitter search picks up hashtags and non-hashtags, so unless you are adding a keyword at the end, you are just wasting characters.

BadStrategy – sorry, you can’t control the internet. Don’t carelessly stamp a hashtag all over a campaign without a carefully thought out strategy. All it takes is one bad hashtag decision and suddenly you have a PR disaster, like McDonald’s and #McDStories.

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5. Ignoring people

Whether it’s due to lack of resource or just lack of common sense, an alarming number of brands still hide, delete or simply just don’t bother to reply to users reaching out to them on social.

It’s no secret that social media has vastly increased customer expectations. People want instant answers, they want to feel listened to and sometimes they just want to have a rant.

Every comment, review, reply and mention of your brand is an opportunity to make or retain a customer. This seems pretty obvious, but many brands still avoid interaction as much as possible and choose to simply use social as a broadcast channel.

Whether positive or negative, every message should be acknowledged in some shape or form – a simple like or favourite as a “thank you” when someone says something nice can make all the difference!

Even if you don’t have the resource for a dedicated 24/7 hour community management team, basic customer service isn’t difficult. When it comes to complaints or queries you are not equipped to deal with instantly, manage customer expectations by acknowledging the problem and let them know that you will get back to them. If you can give a time span for this – even better.

By Ruth O’Brien, Senior PR and Social Media Consultant.