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Over the years of working with businesses to get them involved in social media, expand their success, or dig out of a failure, we have come across some of the worst business ideas around! This type of thinking has stifled companies from successfully moving ahead using social media. By identifying these ideas and working on improvements head-on you can improve the way your business interacts and attracts business.

1. Assume social media is a quick and/or cheap way to get business

We all know that accounts on social media platforms such as Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn are free, but that’s about where the free meal ends. Earning customers on social media is no different that earning them anywhere else. It takes time, money and resources. Using these platforms on a personal capacity requires simple tools. Using these platforms in a business capacity requires business-grade tools. Even if you can develop a toolset using free software, the people using those tools are not free. Interns are free/cheap labor and are at a company to learn. They are never EVER a good idea to use as the frontline communication contact for your company. Would you put a professionally inexperienced person as your senior sales person? Would you send an intern to close a deal with possibly the biggest client your business has ever seen? Of course not. So don’t put an intern or someone without solid business and professional experience in front of potentially millions of customers. People with limited professional or social media experience can still be successfully, and inexpensively, utilized in the company’s social media plans. Just be sure they have strong leadership and guidance along the way, otherwise it can cost you a lot more than money.

2. Believe that current social media platforms are built to last

How is that MySpace page doing for you? Everything ‘hot’ can be everything ‘not’ very quickly. Facebook is not social media. Twitter is not social media. Social media isn’t defined by any particular website or platform, but is the notion of using online technology to communicate and share ideas with other people. Learn how to communicate online, create compelling content, share ideas, listen to others, and how to match the activity on social media networks to business goals. Those tactics and skills will transfer to the next great social network and will help you in all the currently-hot places on the Internet.

3. Skip training since times are lean

Most of your employees are on Facebook at home so why invest in training? Social media is a ‘no-brainer’, everyone’s using it so how hard can it be? Successfully using the advanced tools, monitoring platforms, workflow management and reporting is not as simple as posting a “status update”, not to mention the etiquette, technology and communication skills needed. When you use social media platforms for a business, you need business-grade tools to track and measure business goals. These tools require training. The success or failure of using these tools, and social media in general, is dependent on how well the tools are used. Training provides a sharp competitive edge that is critical in this economy. Simple as that.

4. Think that social media will make up for deficiencies in the business

Putting lipstick on a pig does not make that pig any more attractive. If anything, it draws attention to shortcomings and generally makes the situation worse. If your products, services, customer support, distribution channels or any other critical part of your business is lacking, social media cannot fix it. One approach is to get your business in tip-top condition first before ‘going public’ with social media, otherwise you leave yourself open to well-earned criticism that just may dissuade you from going forward. It is perfectly fine to start improvement processes while utilizing social media, and even brining your customers along for the journey. Use the platforms to solicit help, suggestions, success stories, and criticism from customers. Just be prepared and willing to act on the suggestions and publicly show progress.

5. Read the latest social media books and blogs and do exactly what they say

Just as every diet does not work for every person, every social media plan or strategy does not work for every company. The beauty of social media communication is that is completely customizable to your business needs at the moment. While we highly recommend a few dozen books on business and social media marketing, it’s best to approach them like an a la cart menu. Pick and choose the ideas that resonate with your business needs and tweak them to make them your own. Following someone else’s path does not mean you will duplicate their success.

6. Incentivize customers to care about your company

Paying for people to talk about you does not generate the same success as people that want to talk about you because they like you. Constantly giving away coupons or free products in exchange for a “Like” on Facebook does not make that person loyal to your brand and can actually hurt the perceived value of your products. We have seen too many companies fall into the trap of buying Twitter followers, caught in the constant loop of running contests, or sending bloggers free products to try to win their audience. While these tactics do work in moderation, finding ways to get customers to willingly participate with your business online will result in longer term success.

7. Automate communications to be competitive

Using technology as a substitute for interaction is not the answer to staying ‘lean and mean’. Customers can see right through this and your credibility will be lost. You can’t fake involvement with an online community by setting up scripts to automatically send Tweets or participate in conversations on Facebook. Well, technically you can, but we only suggest it to streamline a process you would be doing manually anyway. For example, automate the cross-posts of content between a company blog and Facebook is a great way to reuse content. Just be prepared to monitor and participate on each platform, which again, takes time and resources.

8. Utilize social media platforms and expect employees to ‘just run with it’

Social media does not work in a bubble. Your employees do not work in a bubble. Isolating the social media endeavors of your business from the general employee population is asking for disaster. While not every employee needs the ability to Tweet on behalf of the business, keeping your staff involved, asking for feedback and suggestions, and giving them an outlet to contribute content is just as important as cultivating communications outside the company. Your employees are your biggest advocates of your business, treat them well.

9. Assume taking what made the company successful in the past and using it in social media will work

If the current economy has taught us anything, it’s that old ‘tried and true’ methods of attracting business no longer work. There is no going back. Going forward, things like progressive leadership, a healthy company culture, creative thinking and valuable products need to the cornerstone of every business. Included in those ideas is the realization that customers expect businesses to behave differently and understand how they want to do business. Customers do not want a mailbox full of unwanted postcards or email newsletters. Customers don’t want mindless, repetitive television or radio commercials for products they are not interested in. Unless these channels are extremely targeted (which costs a lot of money), they don’t work as well as they used to. Taking these same pieces of content and dumping them into Facebook, Twitter, or YouTube – and then ignoring the conversations that spring up – won’t work either. Advertising and marketing still work. But what works is content that is customized to the needs of each customers. Homogenizing content no longer works, and the tactic actually backfires on social media. Take the time to get to know what your customers want and deliver it.

10. ???

Wait! Stop the press! Where’s the #10 worst social media idea for business?! That’s what we would like to hear from you. What’s the worst idea you’ve seen for business? Leave your #10 in the comments below, thanks.  We would love to hear your take on the topic!