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Social Media Mistakes (and Solutions)

by TJ Barranger (TJ on Google+)

In addition to branding and publicity services, small businesses and non-profits periodically seek out my advice on social media strategy. While every case is unique, there are (in my opinion) some common—and avoidable—mistakes that many small businesses make. In this series, I will discuss five of these mistakes, in order of significance:

and offer some potential solutions you can implement on your own, or with the help of a consultant.

Mistake # 5: Wrong Social Network (or Right Network, Wrong Purpose)

Know thy audience. This may seem like Marketing 101—and it is, but it's surprising how often this rule is broken or disregarded on social media, particularly by small businesses. Like anywhere else, on social media, the brands that get the most traction and the most attention are those that adhere to a clearly defined message that resonates with users. Beyond that, success depends upon choosing the appropriate audience for your message, and engaging that audience in the proper arena. So are you on the right social networks? And is your brand message appropriate to those networks? Answering these questions demands careful thought and strategy, and the answers aren't always as clear cut as you might think.

Let's take a look at two hypothetical examples (and we'll use them throughout this series):

Let's get the obvious assumptions out of the way first. Acme Paving probably isn't going to focus its social media efforts on a network like Pinterest, and while Cathy herself should maintain a personal profile on LinkedIn, hosting a business page on the professional networking site may not be a priority for her. But let's dig a little deeper, shall we?

Acme Paving isn't a consumer brand, so at first, Acme's business development manager puts little stock in social media (except for LinkedIn), and sees no need for a Facebook page or a Twitter feed. After all, he isn't going to sell a municipal road maintenance contract to Joe Six-Pack. Makes sense, right?


True, Acme isn't selling directly to the consumer. However, in order to continue winning municipal contracts, Acme needs to stay relevant, communicate its value to the community, and influence public policy. Why? Because every city council that hires Acme will do so with taxpayer dollars. Where do the vast majority of American taxpayers do their social networking? On Facebook and Twitter.

So how does Acme engage users and build a following on consumer platforms like Facebook and Twitter? By adopting a message that resonates with the audience. Instead of directly advertising its services or soliciting contracts, Acme can use Facebook as a public relations tool to advocate for highway safety, educate drivers about common road hazards, and build a strong case for increased infrastructure spending in city budgets. Acme should focus its messaging efforts on the local market where it is licensed to do business, while building a collateral network by liking and sharing content from around the country that supports its message. On Twitter, Acme can send out urgent bulletins about repair work it's conducting in the community, notify drivers and local authorities about detours or changes in traffic patterns, and issue press releases about new projects and public safety initiatives spearheaded by the company.

The objective here is to steer public opinion away from the inconvenience and expense of road work and toward the benefits of infrastructure improvements. This is similar to the strategy employed by mega-contractors like Lockheed Martin, who use Facebook to remain in the public eye and bolster voter support for defense and aerospace spending. I could go on at length about social media as a PR tool, but that's another article.

Now, let's talk about Cathy's Cafe...

Cathy is selling directly to the consumer, so her social media options are plentiful. Every social network has something to offer her, and she'd like to be on all of them. The problem is, she's a small business owner with only five employees: a baker and four baristas. She juggles multiple responsibilities herself: bookkeeping, payroll, marketing, menu planning, and serving customers. She uses her smart phone all day, and only spends a few hours in the evening at her desktop computer. On top of that, her social media knowledge is limited to sharing photos on Facebook and Twitter, so this is where she focuses her efforts.

While her instincts tell her to stick with the familiar, if Cathy can invest just a little time outside her comfort zone, she can claim her business listing on Foursquare, set up a business Instagram account, and gain some control over her social media strategy in the long run.

The coffee shop is a sensory experience; the sights and sounds (and smells) are a huge part of its appeal. So Cathy wants to share lots of pictures and video of her coffee creations, baked goods, and comfy reading chairs. Once her Instagram account is linked to her Facebook page and Twitter account, she can snap a pic, write a quick caption, and upload her content to three social networks at once. She has a trustworthy staff, so she can keep a spare device logged in to the company account behind the counter, and an employee can capture a photo if something interesting (like live music or a celebrity drop-in) happens while she's busy.

Once the cafe is set up on Foursquare, she can offer discounts and rewards to customers when they check in using the app. And with a few well-placed signs (and plenty of face-to-face chatting), she can incentivize customers to share their photos on Facebook and Twitter, and tag her shop as the location. After all, the shop is a wi-fi hotspot, and people are encouraged to relax and read or use the internet while they enjoy a latte. Eventually, her customers and staff drive most of the content on her social media pages, meaning Cathy can use her PC (or Mac) time after work to schedule one or two Facebook status updates, create an offer or change a menu item on Foursquare, then move on to other things.

So being on the right social network matters. More importantly, so does adhering to a message that is appropriate to the network. We're just getting warmed up. In my next article, I'll take on Mistake # 4: Ignoring Social Media Trends.


TJ Barranger is a branding and publicity consultant in the Baltimore, Maryland area with a background in business communications and online content management. He specializes in assisting small business and non-profit clients. Agree/disagree with this article? Share your comments via e-mail: