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The 5 Critical Errors Most People Make When they Start Using Social Media for Business

For most businesses, participating in social media is unchartered territory. When there are no examples to follow, the only way to learn is to experiment. Over the last 18 months, I’ve been observing what’s worked and, more importantly, what hasn’t.

Here are the top five ways a business can alienate people and waste time using social media.

1. Use social media as a broadcast medium

The beauty of social media is that they permit a two-way conversation. They lets us communicate with individuals in a way that mass media cannot. Participating on social media is not the same as booking an ad space—don’t treat it that way.

For the first time in history, individuals have their own voice and platform and they’re not afraid to use the power that comes along with it. Use your platform to communicate with individuals and build community. It’s not only the “new” way to do things—it’s fast becoming the only way you should operate online.

2. Sound like a robot

When someone is considering following you or liking your page, they’ll check out your profile and what you’ve said first. If it’s repetitive, self promoting or sounds like an automated feed, people won’t feel a connection to you, and they won’t want to connect with you.

The increase in spam bots that are infiltrating social networks means that people are becoming more cautious. You need to use a human voice (more casual than corporate) if you want people to connect with you.

3. Only focus on work topics or yourself

Sometimes I feel like people forget about the social part of social media. It’s important to think about what interests your audience members have in common, and talk about them. For example, I know that my audience are women in business (or women who want to be), but they also have a universal love of design, travel, and organization.

Know what current affairs, movies, TV shows, music, magazines and other cultural activities your readers have in common. Ask their opinions about them. Start conversations.

Not sure what they’re into? One way to find out more about their general interests (outside your blog) is to look at profiles of people who follow you. Check out their blogs, and see what they’re talking about and linking to. Talk about what they like. You’ll find that if one person in your audience is into something, there are bound to be others who are too.

4. Grow your network too quickly

This one is self-explanatory, and relates to Twitter specifically. If you’re following 500 people and you have 46 followers, you’re trying to grow your network too quickly and you’re wasting your time.

Cull your numbers. Focus on connecting with the people who are following you first and then gradually add to your network.

5. Don’t start conversations

This is such a common pitfall. You start up an account and wait for people to start talking to you. No one does, so you give up and think, “this social media stuff is a waste of time.”

Don’t wait for people to come to you. Start conversations and dip in on conversations that you can contribute something useful to. Share a link and ask a question about it.

What are the things holding you back from understanding social media? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

About Clare Lancaster

A trained designer, Clare became an accidental marketer in 2001 when she fell into the world of SEO and has worked online ever since. When she's not on Twitter or writing for women in business, Clare reviews blogs and works with passionate online business owners to overhaul their business results.

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Comments

  1. Bilal Kamoon says:

    Great article Clare. Most people have a wrong view about social media that needs to be corrected, for example most people think that if it’s a business account they should act like a robot, which is a wrong concept.

  2. Kola says:

    it’s taken me a few months to integrate social media into my business style so I can attest to the importance of not rushing into it and alienating people. This is such a great post that it’s hard too add anything else in response to your question. But something else I do is, I encourage people to ask mr questions and I go out of my way to find answers for them. It’s easy to always think youre in the know until someone asks you something difficult and u have to pause for a hot minute haha

    • Kola says:

      By the way please excuse the typos. I speak good English–I promise. Haha The auto correct on my phone is just really messing with me this morning

  3. Richard says:

    Good post, especially the part about sounding human. Spam bots are everywhere now it’s so annoying, it really cuts down time researching a user if you see they have posts that don’t sound animated!

    Thanks!

  4. Patti Larsen says:

    Great post, Clare. And so true. I just had a conversation about conformity and making sure that I’m doing things to make my followers and friends on social media and my blog more comfortable even just in design and font issues. Nothing is more of a turnoff for me, however, than being preached to–I immediately delete and move on. Social is right! And easier than ever… especially for people who struggle with up close and personal interaction. There has never been more opportune time or place for everyone to be themselves and share their little slice of reality.

    Thanks for this post and the thoughts it stirs up!

    • Cindi Pugliese says:

      I’m new to blogging and have been studying others blogs for ideas on what I thinks works or doesn’t work. One thing I find offensive is when the blogger becomes a “know it all” and thinks nothing of using four letter words to get the audience attention. I don’t feel it’s professional or a way to increase one’s following. I enjoy sharing and reading a blog that is informative, but also has a bit of humor. Bloggers leave the offensive language home!

  5. Ray Higdon says:

    I know so many people that need to read this, sharing!

  6. maheroo says:

    the same apply for comment unless doing right will get marked spam.

  7. :-) :-) I find this post useful for people like me who don’t dare to mass comm blogs to peer or friends.
    I find the topic i’m blogging may not interest to people i know.

    Hope one day i will gain the confident to tell my friend ” hey mate, I’m a blogger” at ………………

    Today is my most excited day because my blog hit 100 hits. Clare Lancaster your post is just in time and thanks for sharing it.

    Cheers,
    Ganeshmuthiah

  8. Gera says:

    Hi Clare,

    So true all the points. I want to add that these mistakes don’t apply only to business, for persons is the same issue.
    Do you want to hear only a person talking about her/himself?
    Nope! Twitter broadcasting; and what about only RTs or sending offers, in other social channels, no just Twitter.

    These are mistakes that can be easy solved if people understand that social media is conversation and not monologues.

    Cheers,

    Gera

  9. Ishan says:

    Sounding like a robot.

    I hate it, I hate it, I hate it.
    Many people use automated services to tweet too much and this turns out to be irritating!
    Another thing that most people do is mass following. There are many sites out there promising 100 friends for following 100 friends and they are just useless. No quality, only quantity(and that too, is sometimes absent!). Another thing to avoid.

  10. David Perdew says:

    Adding a human voice to your updates is so important. I’ve seen many instances where (unpopular) blogs and social media accounts don’t take the time to do that, and their accounts suffer needlessly. The surest way to turn off a potential follower is to flood them with canned replies.

  11. Michelle says:

    Thank you for sharing as I will definitely share this. I really enjoyed the common sense approach to your post. As much as I feel I do a great job connecting, I also know I have not been good with being proactive in my approach. I especially love the suggestion to look at profiles and learn what people following you are saying. I am certainly going to do that to take my networking to the next level! Again – THANK YOU!

  12. Nicolas says:

    Very interesting post, it made me realize that I actually use Twitter as a broadcast. I never talk to anyone there, it’s just advertisement to me.
    But most of the twitter users do that, don’t they? Especially in the niches I follow. And to be honest, I can’t imagine that users who follow thousands of others can actually have conversations with each other…

  13. Erika says:

    I’ve tried all kinds of things on Twitter. Started out more broadcast-y, then jumped into some convos, connected with interesting people, but it doesn’t seem to lead anywhere. I find much more interesting interaction/conversations on blog post comment sections. Twitter seems like a party where everyone’s talking at the same time in short, two-second bursts, and no one’s really listening.

  14. Vladimir says:

    Good and helpful advice, thanks :)

  15. Broderick says:

    Boy do I see number 4 a lot on Twitter. I’m guilty of that last one. It makes sense to be proactive, so yeah…I guess there’s some changes that need to be made. Thank you for the helpful post!

  16. Marty Herald says:

    Thanks for the interesting article Clare. I’m still pretty new to Facebook, but already feeling the pain of #4. At the time I joined I was a member of a group that’s all about learning how to do business online. The group “leader” has many followers and to help us newbees get started he was kind enough to “like” us all – and that was quickly followed by a wave of Like requests. Just starting out that was fun and exciting – and at the time all I could think of was getting enough friends on my list to not look pathetic.

    Now I see my error and the downside. My “wall” is little more than one promo plug after another about starting a business online, and even more about MLM opportunities. It’s not the business I take issue with – it’s the lack of “human” engagement. Lesson learned. Now I’m more selective about who I Like – and working to identify/add like-minded/quality friends to build a more balanced and interesting group.

  17. Glenn says:

    Such good advice !

    With the overwhelming number affiliate marketers, people with 0 tweets, folks with no photos and cryptic names whose location is “everywhere”, etc., I find I am only following back on about one out of 10 followers.

    It’s so important to 1) post only things that capture your interest and that you think will be helpful, 2) If you are promoting something (I’m not at present) hold it down to 1 in 5 tweets or so, 3) thank people — not just with a message but (if they are in your space) RT them when they RT you, 4) #FF the folks who you think are doing things right. 5) Shout out to great Tweeps, 6) Comment on the blogs you like :-)

  18. I think #2 is really important. So many people on Twitter sounds like robots, and the only thing they want, is to attract views on their website or sell a product!

  19. Nikoya says:

    I have had to correct myself from a few of these mistakes you mention in your post. I have failed miserably when tweeting link after link, or tweeting like a robot. Now I am re-inventing my Twitter story and hopefully finding a twist to success that reaches as many interested people as possible.

    Great Advice!

  20. These all go back to it’s about the people. Or as Gary V. says “care”.

  21. Very nice article Clare… and one of the reasons I’m a Twitter convert. I’m finding it to be such a great source of information and there’s always gems like this I can share with my own social network.

    I think the main problem some people have with social media is they want to see tangible results in the form of measurable conversions – fast! As a result they use it for all the wrong reasons, in all the wrong ways.

    Social media is far more organic and subtle than that. It’s about communicating and building trust. The conversions will come from that later – and maybe not from where you expect. When you start building communities in the right circles, rather than just chasing numbers, it’s amazing the opportunities you find.

  22. Ruchi says:

    I have seen one more mistake people land up doing. I am not sure if this is done globally but in India it’s for sure. People use the same tone for Facebook, Twitter, Orkut & Linkedin. In fact at time they copy paste the same status message every where.

    They are unable to see the difference in the audience these platforms have. Orkut is still huge in India but in smaller cities. You can use spammy tone and get away with it. However at any given point of time one cannot use the same Orkut tone on twitter. Twitter is sophisticated and Linkedin even more.

    My only suggestion is please look at each platform separately. The same message can be communicated in a different tone, you just have to be creative enough.

  23. Cindy Ahura says:

    Relevant post especially with the en-mass shift to social media.may be a little held back th
    ough,

  24. Jerrick says:

    Great points to develop a social media in business which i start doing right now. I feel that i same as you say that growing too fast which my follower are so less. How should i need to do ?
    I already keep finding topic with fans. Start the news conversation but not much people to reply?
    is it people scare to post in the profile that too formal? or we need downgrade our purpose to put on more to social?

  25. Oscar Turton says:

    This is a great article, thanks Clare. Me and a partner are trying to start a digital studio after many years of working for others all around Australia. For the last few years every place that I freelanced for was trying to grapple with this issue and I always use to think “what’s so hard about it, just get it going” but now that the shoe is on the other foot and I’m have to to do this myself, I can see why you can struggle to start it all up. What to talk about, what to share, how does it make you look… I use to work for an agency in Melbourne and although they have not much of a social media presence currently i like what they have done to attract more people.
    http://christmas.atomicmedia.com/index.php?fn=elfa.
    Its a bit weird that is a service company is doing this but I like where there heart is. I imagine it will be a good case study if nothing else for the user of various platforms, I also kind of like that they are using twitter for more than just share links. Still with so many horror stories of social media going array you do have to be careful. check this one out! http://on.fb.me/dMuMk8 Yikes!

  26. The fourth and fifth mistakes are unavoidable. Even a professional business guy will do these mistakes, because when he enters into Social Media and see the power of it, he will think that by creating a community too quickly he can promote his business. Well, that’s totally wrong and I hope the starters will rectify their mistake after reading this article. Thanks for sharing

    • seenu says:

      Nice post
      Patience is necessary for success. We have to wait to grow our network and should not be hurry to build a social network

  27. Pete Carr says:

    Hi Clare,
    Another informative post.
    Social media should be about building relationships, not marketing. A bit of self promotion yes, but not to much, keep a good mix. Also I see people trying to use to many outlets at once. Concentrate on 1 or 2 and add value.
    Pete

  28. Brad Dalton says:

    How about posting links to your educational posts relating to your business page? Social is for personal profiles and a fb business page is for connecting with like minded business networks.

    • Moses Jones says:

      This is a great article. It has opened my eyes to a lot of the errors I, along with other newbies make with social media. I have made some of the mistakes listed above. I now realize my latest mistake as well. I started following a lot of people with only a few of my own followers.

  29. Myindustry says:

    It was really useful for me. I could find 4 of these mistakes in my social media plan ! By the way, can you please point us to a well programmed social media plan for a small business ?

  30. Helen Coates says:

    I get annoyed when someone friend requests me on facebook, I go to their page and you can’t even post on their wall to say hi, as it’s just a load of advertising! Great post, thanks!

  31. This was a very valuable piece, Claire. It’s almost the outline of a strategy for social media, especially Twitter. A a psychotherapist, I find the advice you give very useful and it accords with things that I’ve been realizing about my own approach to marketing and dialogue using Twitter. Twitter has its pluses and minuses, but one thing it has certainly done is to force me into a re-consideration of my whole professional “face to the world”, and has made me become much less top-down and message driven, and much more about dialogue, and even –dare I say it — fun!

    Thanks for the post!

  32. For me my major flaw is using social media, especially facebook and twitter as a broadcasting medium. Only recently did i begin to realize the danger inherent in doing this. I am learning to listen with twitter now and also learning to connect with people there. I have realized also, that you do need to be engaged by involving in as many ongoing discussions in these social media sites if you want to be regarded as relevant. And finally, I am beginning to learn rather painfully, that social media, is fundamentally a relationship driven activity. I just wonder how to keep up with all the social media tools out there?

  33. Great insight for getting going in SM. I have only made the jump this year and it has been interesting. I haven’t done it all right, but I think it is slowly getting results.
    Thanks for the post!
    Bernice
    http://livingthebalancedlife.com/2010/you-cant-change-everything/

  34. Thanks, Clare. You are just the info I need as I am just getting into Twitter. So, I’ll try to take your suggestions to heart.

  35. Good post. It’s been stated over and over but good original content is the way. I’m still learning to tie all the social media together to drive traffic to my site. Thanks again!!
    href=”http://www.webdesignspringfieldmo.net”>Web Design Springfield MO

  36. Chris Rose says:

    This is absolutely true. Too many times I find a company that wants to push out the same dry sales promotions through every outlet that they have. They try to make their channel fit the promotions as opposed to utilizing unique content and taking advantage of the different functionalities of each platform. Sometimes it takes a company time, but eventually they realize that Social Media, speaking generally, is a soft-sell.

  37. Marcie says:

    I messed up my Twitter network and now I’m working on correcting my earlier mistakes. But I do have a question though, people are asking me about my social footprint and I don’t have a big huge following now that I know better. Would that look bad if I’m trying to pitch for advertisements?

  38. Dan Taylor says:

    Nice writeup Clare. :) One point that’s often overlooked is “Everyone is listening.” What I mean by this is, yes, it’s great to have a back and forth between customers, but remember to pick your conversations carefully. With a large following, you’ve got to find the balance between individual attention, and overwhelming these other followers with exactly that, individual attention, but not enough focus on the big picture. Otherwise, I’d say these points are spot on.

  39. I like this post because you have to have common interests where you can have a dialouge with someone whom you have to meet online or else you will get nowhere. We must definitely connect with the people who are following us or else they will talk to other people instead of us.

    Lawrence Bergfeld

  40. Very valuable article, thanks for posting. I can see a lot of the mistakes I made for far too long described in the post. Hope I will not forget about your suggestions when revising my SM strategy, soon.
    Keep up the good work! Thomas

  41. Vicki Childs says:

    Sorry I’m a bit late on commenting on this but I just wanted to say thank you – it’s great to read little nuggets like this that refocus what you’re doing. I’m going to focus more on number 3 – getting to know my target audience more. Because my target audience are Mom’s planning to become entrepreneurs and I’m one of them myself, I tend to assume that they’re all like me and therefore I ‘know’ them. I’m not sure this is the case though, so I’m going to make a concerted effort to ‘spy’ on my target group more and make sure I REALLY DO know what makes them tick!!

  42. Tom Hedge says:

    This blog post was very helpful. We have yet to create a social networking account such as Facebook or Twitter for our business because we are unsure on how to reach out to our clients. When researching other companies’ Facebooks we have seen many of the critical errors you listed. The most common is a business constantly promoting themselves. This tends to get annoying and no one will want to follow them anymore. A business has to mix it up to keep someone interested.

    This post will be most useful to us when we decide to create our page.
    Thank you.