Forget what the social media gurus have told you.
They’re wrong on just about everything. They promote strategies that frequently fail and can be downright dangerous to your budget. These “gurus,” who rarely use the tools to do anything except promote their guru status, have left PR practitioners using social media in the most impractical fashion.
Here are five of the strategies they endorse—all of them wrong:
1. Using every network to constantly, spontaneously post content.
Those who try to create conversations on every social network will fail to achieve much on any; those who concentrate on one or two might make a success of social media.
Moreover, many firms forget that they have to nurture social media communities: it’s no good generating a Google+ page and then contemplating that customers will miraculously convert your clear canvas into a booming place for discussion. Social media posts must be part of a program of planned persuasion. They should not just produced spontaneously.
Nor is it wise to concentrate on social networks that are the most fashionable (such as Facebook and SnapChat). Other networks might be more relevant to your target audience.
2. Believing that social media alone will make you well known.
The “gurus” sell a social media fantasy in which a startup can join Twitter and suddenly hundreds of thousands of people will be magnetized toward the company’s Twitter feed, turning that business into a global triumph. Mainstream media, in this view, is irrelevant.
Well, if you follow this course, it’s your company that will be irrelevant. Social media doesn’t work without mainstream media. Coverage in the latter acts as a powerful third-party endorsement and means that members of the public, who have a billion other things to consider, might actually start to care about your tweets. Besides, aiming for media coverage forces you to sharpen your message and to say things that grab attention.
3. Doing social media for SEO purposes.
I don’t doubt that Google prefers sites that are discussed on social media, but SEO should be a byproduct of social media use, rather than the primary purpose. Otherwise, your team will start manufacturing idiotic SEO-directed copy. Even worse, you might get the idea of surrendering your social media to an SEO agency, whose continued existence is a mystery, and who will ensure your message is lost in keyword treacle.
4. Producing ‘viral content.’
Content shared on social media almost never goes viral. A paper from Microsoft Research and Stanford University shows that content is normally stuck in the “long tail” of social networks and is rarely even shared by connections of connections. It says that stories die out very quickly, rather than spreading exponentially, as with a virus. The authors point out that even Internet products such as Gmail and Facebook, which are often cited as spreading through word of mouth, “benefitted from extensive media coverage.”
[RELATED: Whip your social media strategy into shape with this one-day Los Angeles workshop.]
Instead of praying for a viral outcome that’s as likely as the lottery, social media should be used to intensify loyalty from your existing customers and to develop awareness among those who find you through inbound marketing and among hand-picked prospects.
5. Measuring success by engagement.
Conversations and engagement have costs. Any business that runs a call center can offer evidence of that. More genuine gauges of success include brand awareness among target customers and what the social media “gurus” are remarkably reluctant to measure, namely sales.
Alex Singleton is author of "The PR Masterclass," out now in hardcover and ebook