Think of social media as the proverbial toddler, running around in diapers and getting into everything, while desperately needing guidance and a bit of discipline.
Despite its infancy, there are a few things that have begun to emerge as clearly (and sometimes not so clearly) good and bad in regards to using social media well.
Unfortunately, the lines between all of these hats are pretty blurry because social media often largely boils down to your audience. What works well or is considered acceptable by one audience may very well be shunned or critiqued as poor taste with another.
White Hat Social Media
As the color white tends to imply purity, practices that fall under this category are perfectly reasonable ideas that almost everyone can agree you could and (and most likely should) be doing.
- Creating and distributing quality content. When deciding what is considered quality, this is something, again, that is largely based on your audience. These are a few questions you might ask yourself before distributing:
- Is this information logical, well-written, and well-researched?
- If it’s a video or image, are they well-produced? High quality?
- If the information is somewhat instructional in nature, is it relevant and insanely useful to your audience? (ie: Don’t teach something your audience has no interest in learning.)
- Does this information provide value in some way? (Even if it’s just to provide inspiration or comedic relief, your content should achieve some sort of goal.)
- Is this content easily sharable? (There’s no point in quality content if it’s not easily sharable with others. No one will see it.)
- Use of tools like Media Funnel to monitor your social accounts and respond to feedback.
- Employ brand consistency across multiple networks. In other words, try to keep your profiles, social avatars, and professional bios across networks, all similar in nature. They don’t necessarily have to be identical replicas, but they should all tie together like a neat, little bow.
- Modifying what you share on one platform to accommodate other platforms. For instance:
- What you share on Twitter is relegated to 140 characters. Therefore, brevity and piquing interest or sparking conversation should be the driving components of your tweets.
- With Facebook you have more space to share, so you can dive a little deeper and engage your audience with ideas and insights that would otherwise be difficult to condense for Twitter.
- Pinterest is image-driven, so your content needs to capture your audience with a very minimal use of words. (Luckily the right picture can speak a thousand of them for you!)
- Use social media to connect at a more personal level with your clients and customers.
- Be authentic and transparent in all of your online dealings.
Here’s the classic example: “The Man Your Man Could Smell Like” Old Spice campaign campaign is social media genius in action that employed many of the above characteristics.
The campaign was so successful, Old Spice put together a team to brainstorm how they could keep the conversation sparked by the commercials, but on a more personal and interactive level.
The major genius, however, wasn’t just the fact that Old Spice responded to their fans and followers using social media, rather, it was HOW they responded.
The Old Spice team addressed the flood of conversation and questions in real time with no less than 186 personalized video responses filmed in 2.5 days, which they then posted to YouTube.
The result? A viral video tsunami that quickly became something of a social media legend.
Businesses are using social media for everything from product sales and promos, customer service and support, to branding and PR.
And because of the inherent risks that come along with using social media, (ie: PR blunders that can go viral at warp speed, the ability to easily fabricate information to deceive others, and various privacy and security holes) tools like Archive Social and Smarsh are only going to increase in demand.
With the massive influx of information that flows through a social media account, some method of archiving and organizing all of your company conversations is vital. It could even save your butt in the future with regards to any legal faux pas your company may end up in. As they say, documentation is everything!
While all of the above tactics are generally considered status quo type stuff, what about those tactics that tend to toe the line?
Grey Hat Social Media
This is where it gets much more difficult to figure out right from wrong or good versus bad. It becomes a matter of opinion and really knowing your audience.
For instance, using tactics on Facebook that require you to like a page in order to gain something or see what happens next, falls into this grey area. While there are many marketers that use this strategy (and perhaps even effectively), there are also many diehard social media junkies find this behavior offensive.
It’s a bit like trying to trick or bribe your followers into engaging with you, and tell me, who enjoys being tricked or bribed?
Another rather grey tactic is the practice some larger corporations have taken when it comes to sharing their stance on controversial topics. When companies like Starbucks or Chick Fil A make a comment regarding a controversial issue, it can either be a company boon or completely backfire and damage said company’s reputation.
So again, it really boils down to opinion, versus a definite good or bad.
Smart companies are recognizing the grey areas of social media and are implementing what’s known as social media policies for their brand in an effort to keep a handle on the way their brand is perceived.
For instance, Intel uses a “3 Rules of Engagement“ policy for their employees and brand ambassadors.
Coca Cola also has a pretty intensive social media policy in place as well, even going so far as to make a mandatory “Social Media Certification” to any folks that wish to “officially represent” Coca Cola within the online realm.
Black Hat Social Media
There are always those social faux pas’ that are frowned upon across the board when it comes to acceptable social media practices.
I absolutely LOVE receiving a spam offer via a Tweet or Facebook message (said no one ever). Spamming your fans and followers is a big no-no;
- Do not send me an unsolicited tweet asking me to buy your latest product.
- Posting something on my Facebook wall trying to sell something to my audience without my permission will only get you blocked, end of story.
There’s probably not a single person you can think of that likes spam offers. In fact, spamming someone usually just winds up being a recipe for pissing them off. Be warned, pissing someone off on a social network, especially someone with a big following, is asking for trouble.
Other social practices that are often frowned upon include;
- A high ratio of friends compared to your own fans and following (looks fishy)
- Using automated tools that do things like send auto-DM’s with a link to your latest ebook download. (Ranks right up there with spam. Remember, keeping things personal and real is what social media is about)
Then there are those companies that step square in the middle of cow dung with their social media antics and handle something poorly (and very publicly) which ultimately winds up being a PR nightmare. Although it does seem to do the job and garner attention, it is not a great use of social media by anyone’s standards. Who really want to do business with a company that has a bad attitude and isn’t afraid to share it?
The Boners BBQ debacle is one shining example of a bad attitude and subsequent customer pushback that was handled very poorly (and yet still managed to nab quite a bit of attention).
Unfortunately Boner’s BBQ weren’t particularly sincere in their apology, which is a shame. Social media can propel great growth for a business when used well. They must have missed the memo.
Then there are mistakes such as the L’Oreal fiasco a few years back (a great post with a ton of corporate social media blunders), when blogging was still relatively new.
A blog was created extolling all the virtues of the company and what their customers loved about them. Unfortunately, the blog was found fraudulent, created not by genuine consumers but by L’Oreal themselves. #SocialMediaFail
The most recent Twitter drama of Geeklist’s misuse of social media is the another example of bad social PR.
Greeklist posted a video of a girl dancing around in a Geeklist t-shirt and underwear. One fan was particularly offended and instead of handling the situation gracefully, Geeklist founders rudely responded. They wound up having to backpedal and cough up an apology in an effort to repair their image.
The moral of this social media saga?
Take the time to learn how to use social media, not only effectively, but appropriately.
Social Media is not going anywhere and we would all do well to remember that what happens on the Internet pretty much stays on the Internet.
Keep that in mind during your social media engagement and you will be one step closer to building an amazing brand.