Six social media pitfalls that brands should avoid in 2014

While most brands have joined social media in a big way, several are without a clear strategy or heavily depend on numbers. Here are some social media don'ts that brand managers should be wary of

e4m by Abhinna Shreshtha
Published: Jan 15, 2014 8:50 AM  | 7 min read
Six social media pitfalls that brands should avoid in 2014

Social media offers a number of opportunities for brands looking to engage their customers, while strengthening their brand image too. However, it is a double-edged sword, equally likely to destroy brand reputations. Despite this inherent danger, it is a powerful tool for those who know how to use it. But are Indian brands really that savvy when it comes to social media?

exchange4media spoke to some social media planners and digital agencies and realised that there is still vast scope for improvement. Following are six key pitfalls that brands need to avoid on social platforms.

Not having a clear strategy
What does a brand do after creating a Facebook page or a Twitter handle? What is the kind of content that should be pushed? Are these platforms going to be leveraged for CRM? Is lead generation or customer engagement the primary concern? These are the kind of questions brands must be asking themselves, but many, sadly, are not.

“Most brands approach social media marketing (SMM) without any strategy. For example, there are brands that put a lot of emphasis on trending hashtags. But does it further their business goals? Nobody thinks about this,” said Preetham Venkky, Business Head (Asia), KRDS, an agency that specialises in Facebook marketing. According to Sanjay Mehta, Co-CEO, Social Wavelength, a Reason for this could be that most brands are still insecure about the medium and are moving too gingerly. In simple words, brands need to align their social media activity with their final business objectives.

Numbers are everything
Many brands harbour the misconception that getting the most Likes or the most followers or the most Retweets is all that matters. But think about it for a moment – let’s say that an uber-luxury brand like Rolls Royce has 1 million followers on Facebook, but most of them are in the 16-20 age bracket. Does it add any value to Rolls Royce’s lead generation? Unfortunately, examples like this hypothetical one are all too common as brands focus too much on increasing their reach without concentrating on the target audience or the content.

One cannot deny that numbers are unimportant, however, it should not be the be all and end all of social strategy. As Siddharth Hegde, Founder and MD, Ethinos Digital Marketing puts it, “Deeper and more strategic aims tend to get lost in the numbers game.”

Another related issue is that of content. In the rush to get the most numbers, content usually suffers. The content strategy is a subset of a brand’s social strategy. You have to take ownership of what you are putting up, even if it backfires. At the end of the day, it is important that your followers stay engaged and interested, whether they are 10 or 10,000.

Applying traditional media experiences to social media
This is a trap that many brand managers fall for and one cannot really blame them for it. For most brands in India, social media is a very new platform. Marketing managers are still getting used to its nuances and to make things simpler to understand, they tend to draw parallels with the platforms they are already used to, say, print, TV, etc. However, this will only lead to unnecessary confusion later on.

“Most brands have views based on existing media. They try to create a one-on-one correlation between social media and traditional media, but it does not work that way. For example, if you are going to think of social media like print, then you will equate readership with impressions, but the two are not the same,” pointed out Venkky. This applies even more when we consider the measurement metrics or ROI. Hegde explained, “Many brands look at something that is quantifiable (in terms of metrics), but social media is more subjective. You can’t have a ‘Social media for leads only’ kind of attitude.”

Goof-ups will never happen
We don’t think even the people who say this actually believe in it. Mistakes in any medium are always a possibility. What is different on the digital medium is the reaction time. Just as social media is hailed as the best platform for client engagement, it is also the worst when you have people baying for your blood. The trick, said Mehta, is to have a pro-active response plan in place. “Unlike traditional media, you cannot control communication here (social media). Sometimes there will be bloopers or you might get badgered, but it is part of the game,” he added.

We have seen brands either adopting the head-in-a-hole approach whenever something like this happens; not replying for hours, in the hope that the storm will blow over or shifting the blame on some hapless intern or executive. Hegde noted that the problem is that brands want to be “cool”, but they still want to play it by the corporate rulebook. Do not make excuses and make it a point to always address the issue.

Short-term campaigns work
If your basic objective is to create buzz around a new launch or feature, then it probably will work. For example, Nissan’s social campaign for their last vehicle’s launch was deemed a success. But, what happens to the followers that have been attracted after the campaign is over? If they are ignored, most will probably not stick around or return for the next campaign. Unlike TV or print, the audience expects a continuing relationship. On the flip side, if a brand wants to create a long-term relationship with its audience, having a concentrated 3-6 month social campaign might not yield results, at least quantifiable results, but it does not mean that the campaign is a failure.

Venkky cited an interesting example. He said, “Say, I plan to buy a car after three years, but I start following Hyundai on Facebook. Now, if for three years Hyundai has managed to keep me engaged with interesting content and constant updates, who do you think I am more likely to buy from – Hyundai, or someone else?” What happens usually is that brands, in their impatience, don’t allow their online avatars to mature. Have patience with your social campaigns. You need to build trust and a following that only comes with months (if not years) of dedication and work. The key is, according to Hegde, to have a long-term strategy. “Let the brand develop its own character on social platforms,” he added.

Play follow the leader
So, Volvo did a much-appreciated commercial with Jean-Claude Van Damme that went viral. Does this mean you need to now focus on viral videos as they are the ‘in’ thing? “Question the fads,” argued Venkky, adding. “Don’t blindly follow the latest trend.” In the end, it ties up with what we spoke earlier about having a clear business goal in sight and in line with your social media activities. If making a viral video will help you achieve your objective, by all means, go for it. But, just because something works for one brand, it need not always work for the other.

More generic examples of this ‘herd mentality’ are brands that maintain just a “hygiene level presence” on social media, said Mehta. These brands just want to be on Facebook and Twitter without really understanding how to use the medium. They might tweet once in two days or post something on Facebook once a week, which really has no impact at all. “Be honest and candid with your audience. Have genuine conversations, while engaging them,” advised Mehta.

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