Social media – how to avoid it all going wrong for your business – the real risks you need to know

Where customers go, business will follow but experts warn that the rules learned from traditional retail and online shopping will not always apply on social platforms.

“The environment of social media is a difficult one in which to sell products too overtly, or even to deliver advertising in an effective way,” according to Deloitte Access Economics’ recent ‘Digital disruption – short fuse, big bang?’ report.

“The art of using social media to grow revenue lies in fostering exchanges that directly support sales, or that deliver value back to customers in terms of information, service or the ability to shape future products and services – it is, in effect, the new ‘word of mouth’ and the aim is to support and grow advocates,” the report said.

Once companies have decided to take the plunge, various risks across the business need to be managed.

“The business risks that companies should consider include damage to corporate reputations arising from social media campaigns, financial risks from portfolio decisions, competitive risks from new entrants with innovative business models and economic risks arising from the way digital innovation may change business cycles,” Deloitte said.

Social media for business expert Stephen Sealey from Pitch PR said that simply avoiding social media or shutting down profiles could actually make the problems worse.

“Companies can be almost certain that their customers will be talking about them in some way on social media, he said.

“You can either choose to join the conversation and play a leading role in how your business is viewed on social media or stay silent and let the discussion take place without you.”

Social media disasters occur when businesses lack the knowledge or capacity to ensure their social strategy is engaging, yet flexible.

“Unlike your website, TV commercial, billboard or other marketing activity, social media is two-way communication so has unique risks and challenges associated with its use,” Mr Sealey said.

“You would not allow customers to write your website content or invite them into your store to start telling other customers what they think, but this is exactly what you have to expect from social media.”

Once launched, social channels should be populated with regular, relevant and informative content and monitored to see how your fans are responding.

“Not answering questions, deleting comments that you simply don’t like or just leaving pages sit dormant all send a message about the sort of business you are,” Mr Sealey said.

“The impacts from providing poor service or making mistakes are also amplified many times over on social media as customers quickly tell you and anyone else that will listen how they really feel.”

One of the biggest sins was always talking about yourself.

“Less than one in five or even one in 10 posts should be solely about your product or service – social media is an opportunity to discuss what’s interesting and relevant to your industry and the lives of your customers and followers,” Mr Sealey said.

Businesses should also avoid posting irrelevant content.

“We all have calendars and know when it is Friday without being told by the local automotive parts business,” Sealey says. “Your customers would rather get some tips on something relevant – they might give your cute kitten picture a Like but over time they will tune out.”

Another mistake was failing to resource the social media strategy properly, particularly in regard to personnel.

“We often see the wrong people looking after social media. Being the newest or youngest staff member is not a qualification for running social accounts – last night’s episode of Game of Thrones may well have been awesome but has nothing to do with your bookkeeping business,” he said.

The right staff member needs the ability to make sound judgments about the style of content, but they also need to be aware that laws about false and misleading advertising apply to social media in the same way as they do to other marketing and sales channels.

The other common issue was inactivity.

“A Facebook page or Twitter account in which the most recent post is weeks or months ago feels like tumbleweeds blowing down the main street of a once-thriving town,” Mr Sealey said.

“You wouldn’t leave the door to your shop open and go on holidays, so don’t do it with your Facebook page either.”


Pitch PR’s Stephen Sealey shares his top five tips for managing social risk.

  1. Don’t be left behind. Follow the steps above to get social media working for your company.
  2. Start as you mean to continue. If you are not committed to the long-term, don’t start at all.
  3. Respond to questions and comments in a timely manner, which on social media means hours not days and weeks. Monitor your platforms regularly so you don’t miss questions and can remove anything inappropriate, and yes, this means on the weekend too.
  4. Be open and available not defensive and reactive. Admit mistakes if they occur, apologise and move on, just as you should celebrate success and embrace praise.
  5. Have a simple social media policy that everyone understands but that is not so prescriptive and risk averse to crush all creativity and experimentation. Social media is supposed to be fun.
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