Social networking sites: 10 mistakes organizations make

By Steven Overly
Monday, June 28, 2010

Millions of people log onto social media Web sites daily, prompting such varied organizations as Gaithersburg-based MedImmune, the American Red Cross and the Department of Housing and Urban Development to follow.

But simply creating an account on Facebook or Twitter rarely equates to being plugged in. Area consultants said many organizations spend ample time and resources on social media without seeing much return. Here are 10 common mistakes that they see businesses, nonprofits and government agencies make.

Doing too much at once

For businesses and organizations with small staffs and smaller budgets, it's often best to start with a small social media presence, too. Steve Ressler, creator of GovLoop, a social network for government workers, said some organizations try to be on every network at once and fall short in the process. Ressler recommends organizations first identify the tools that best reach their intended audience, be it customers, colleagues or constituents, and use them well.

Not knowing your needs

Social media can serve as a networking tool and marketing platform, but not every organization needs both, said Larissa Fair, the senior online marketing manager at ScienceLogic and president of Social Media Club DC. While a restaurant may aim to attract new clientele, a government contractor may need to connect with key government allies.

Giving it to the intern

Too often, social media responsibilities will be piled on the most inexperienced staff members, or worse, someone who abhors social media. Debbie Weil, a local corporate social media consultant, said proper use of social media requires someone who is not only communication savvy, but comfortable with exposure to the public. You can't hide behind a brand, Weil said. Social media needs a personal touch.

Thinking everyone cares about the name

Many government agencies, such as the Environmental Protection Agency or HUD, have Facebook fan pages. But who is actually a "fan" of the EPA as an agency? That was the question Mark Drapeau, the director of innovative social engagement for Microsoft's U.S. Public Sector, put to a room of government social media enthusiasts two weeks ago. People care about issues, he said. Pages related to issues like water conservation or carbon emissions might help an organization like the EPA better reach interested constituents and promote its mission, Drapeau suggested.

Only using the freebies

Free social network and media Web sites such as Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube may be easy to activate, but they don't give an organization much control. Weil, who also authored "The Corporate Blogging Book," warns that companies that rely solely on external networks relinquish a certain degree of autonomy. She recommends that organizations and companies using social media have a hub on their primary Web site where users can find links or feeds to blogs, Flickr photo galleries and other third-party Web sites. This also gives customers or constituents a single go-to URL.

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