Small-business owners are flocking to social media sites, viewing these online communities as a quick way to amplify their visibility and generate leads. According to Manta (a small business social media site), nearly 50 percent of small businesses are investing more time on social media than they were a year ago.
But Manta’s research also shows that 61 percent of small-business owners report that they aren't seeing any return on investment from their social media efforts. (For a full rundown of their findings, check out the infographic "Manta Reveals Small Businesses Find ROI in Social Media but Struggle with Facebook.") So what are the majority of small businesses doing wrong? And what can they do to get their social media marketing back on track?
Take a moment to consider your social media marketing strategy and make sure your business isn't committing these social media sins:
Social Media Mistake #1: You ignore your online audience.
Simply creating a Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn account won't get your business very far. Though social media can be a good way to generate leads, the simple act of logging in isn't going to cut it.
The only real way to bring in business through social media is to spend time online and listen to what people are saying about the kinds of products or services businesses like yours offer. Are they complaining about their current providers? Are they wondering what the purpose of a specific product or service is?
These cues can give you an entryway into offering the kind of valuable content your followers and fans will find engaging. But it takes time and patience to glean this information. That's why your business should log some extra hours on social media, use filters to sort out the content that could relate to your expertise, and offer help when the opportunity arises.
Social Media Mistake #2: You only use social media to announce sales and discounts.
Part of listening to your audience and actually making a connection means you can't use social media as just another direct marketing vehicle. A fast way to turn prospects off to your business is to treat your profile like a bullhorn to announce your big sales event. Yes, this move can be appropriate when used sparingly. But it shouldn't be the bread and butter of your business's social media posts.
Instead of merely promoting your small business's services or products, you have to also engage with your audience. Share content they find valuable. For example, is one of your fans complaining about a product they bought from you? View it as an opportunity to flex your customer service muscles and offer a solution.
Another way to build support is to showcase your business's personality. Direct marketing tactics don't work on user-generated sites because people don't turn to social media to interact with companies. They are interested in connecting with people. But if you use your various social media profiles to humanize your business, you're more likely to generate an interested following.
Social Media Mistake #3: You expect immediate ROI.
If there is one thing that can be said about social media marketing, it's that it doesn’t offer instant gratification for businesses. Instead, social marketing is far more effective as a long-term customer relationship builder.
Simply put, a couple posts aren't going to translate into immediate sales. But if you consistently post engaging content and interact meaningfully with your audience, your social media efforts will eventually lead to strong customer relationships, bigger orders, more frequent purchases, and loyal support from the community you've built.
Though this may seem like common sense, consider that Manta's study found that only 8 percent of the small-business owners polled are interested in using social media to build a community. If your social media marketing strategy is going to work, connecting with prospects and building relationships with them has to be your primary focus.
Social Media Mistake #4: You throw copyright considerations to the wind.
Just because you find an amusing photo on Flickr or Google doesn't mean you can reproduce that image on your social media page. That's the lesson BuzzFeed is learning the hard way. The entertainment site found photographer Kai Eiselein's image on Flickr and published it in on one of its lists without permission. Even though BuzzFeed has since removed the photo, Eiselein is seeking $3.6 million in damages, claiming that the site infringed on his intellectual property rights. (Read more about copyright violations and fair use exceptions in the blog post "Cyber Laws & Social Media Marketing: What Small Businesses Need to Know to Avoid Advertising Injury Lawsuits.”)
Your business could find itself in a similar legal situation if you aren't careful about what you post. As a rule, creative work is the kind most often protected under copyright laws. So if you reproduce, perform, distribute, publish, or display copyrighted material (such as photographs, writing, or music) on your Facebook page without permission, the holder of its copyright could sue your business for.
There are certain situations (known as "fair use") that absolve your business of copyright infringement liability. If, for example, you reproduce an image for the purpose of critiquing it, the action could be protected by the fair use defense. Fair use allows others to use copyrighted material so long as the reproduction is transformative (i.e., adds something new to the original).
It's worth noting that reproducing Internet memes for commercial use can also land your business in hot water. Warner Brothers used the famous cat memes Nyan Cat and Keyboard Cat in their popular game Scribblenauts, and the meme creators are suing for the infringement. You can read more about the case on Forbes's article "Warner Brothers Sued For Infringing Cat Meme Copyright."
Social Media Mistake #5: You get swept up in the moment and publish a libelous tweet.
You want to engage with your fans and followers on social media by sharing your personality, but there are some thoughts that should be kept private. For instance, say you get heated about a never-satisfied client and post about that person on Twitter. The aftermath may be more of a mess than you realize.
If you write something defamatory about someone and air your grievances in the public eye, that person could sue your business for libel. That's what happened to a freelance writer who was sued for more than $82k when she tweeted a libelous comment about one of her clients. (Read more about the case in the post "How Commercial General Liability Insurance Can Protect You from an $82,630 Tweet.")
To make sure your business doesn't make a similar mistake, check out our eBook Tweet or Twibel: The Small-Business Owner's Guide to Advertising Injury.
Save Your ROI with General Liability Insurance
Once your business creates an effective social marketing strategy that yields ROI, the last thing you want is for all your hard-earned revenue to go toward defending your business in a copyright infringement or libel suit. After all, it's all too easy to make an online slip up that has unintended financial consequences for your business.
One way to manage the risks that accompany social media marketing is to have a backup plan. Sure, you should always be careful when you're posting, tweeting, or interacting online. But no one is perfect, and the cost of an inadvertent mistake can jeopardize your business's future.
So if you don't want to pay for legal defense fees and settlements or judgments out of pocket, consider purchasing a General Liability Insurance policy. With adequate small business insurance coverage, you'll have financial protection for a spectrum of advertising liabilities, such as copyright infringement, libel, slander, and more.