Social Media’s Biggest Mistakes

Learning From Social Media’s Biggest Mistakes

James Joyce once said that “mistakes are the portals of discovery.” Josh Bernoff, senior vice president, idea development, Forrester Research—and Monday morning keynote speaker at the upcoming SIPA 2011 Conference—would probably agree. By observing mistakes play out in the social media realm, Bernoff has come up with his list of the biggest ones. And yes, some discoveries as well.

What’s great about social media, of course, is the ability to reach out to so many people at one time and engage them. But what people may not always realize, Bernoff notes, is that the idea of engagement works both ways. If you are fortunate enough to have people respond, then you’ve started a conversation—and that needs to be nurtured.

“The biggest mistake is simply not to listen and respond,” says Bernoff, whose keynote is titled The Dynamics of Peer Influence and will focus on lessons from his new book, “Empowered: Unleash Your Employees, Energize Your Customers, Transform Your Business” (Harvard Business Review Press, 2010). “So if you’re only talking and not listening than it’s not social. If someone responds to your blog post or your twitter, you need to come back to them and say that we hear you and we’re participating in this conversation. So that’s the biggest mistake.”

A funny thing about social media is that things happen fast or they don’t happen at all. If I send out an invitation for a Facebook event or a meetup group and no one responds in the first couple days—or even first few hours sometimes—then I know it probably will not be a popular event. I might have done all kinds of planning for that event that will now be of no use.

Bernoff elaborates. “Another mistake that companies make is to sit and plan and plan and plan for everything that will happen. I’ve seen companies take two years to get ready to launch these things, and the reason that’s a mistake is because you don’t really understand what’s going to happen until you do it, and then what happens is usually something you never imagine. So it’s much better to start small, try something, see what happens and then be ready to respond to that as opposed to have some big budget and planning process and getting all ready to launch it.”

And then finally Bernoff emphasizes that social media exists as an ongoing process. You’re building your audience, solidifying your reputation. “The other thing that people don’t realize is that unlike an advertising campaign, these relationships, once started, go on forever. So if you’re going to start a blog or a Facebook page or a Twitter account or whatever it happens to be, you need to know that at the end of six months when your advertising campaign might be over, there will be hundreds of thousands of people still engaged with it. And to just say, ‘goodbye we’re not interested in you,’ anymore is a big mistake. You need to think, ‘what will we be doing with them once the campaign is over? How can we take advantage of that group later if we want to start something else?’”

Yes, mistakes can happen, but by listening to experts like Bernoff who live this world every day (and probably many nights), you can certainly cut down on them and get good results faster.

Hear more at SIPA 2011, June 5-7 at the Capital Hilton in Washington, D.C. The biggest mistake of all would be to miss out on these extraordinary three days! Register now if you haven’t already.

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