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While social media can do a lot to humanize a brand; increase the effectiveness of customer service, and create brand evangelists, it also can cause damage.

I’ve said this before, and I’ll say it again – brand management is a matter of common sense. People want to be heard, they want a human being to say “I’m sorry that happened, let’s see what we can do to make it right.” They will let their friends know how they were treated – because they can.

Yet common sense is in short supply in corporations, or so it seems.

These three social media marketing mistakes are made over and over by companies that just don’t want to believe that customers really are in control, and that what matters most about your brand is what comes up in Google.

1- Start a Twitter account then don’t use it.
Let’s use @TimeWarnerCares as an example, although many other brands are equally inept in social media.

@TimeWarnerCares opened a Twitter account, which has 563 followers – some of whom might actually be brand evangelists. @TimeWarnerCares didn’t bother to follow anyone, so they have no way to know who wants to talk with them.

Who is Tweeting for the company? There’s no way to know because there’s no bio, no photo, no link to a website, and there has not been one Tweet since someone had the brilliant idea to “try social media.”

Contrast that with @comcastcares where Frank Eliason ably represents Comcast, where he’s entered almost 36,000 Tweets. He gets back to people quickly and effectively, and has helped the brand recover from an earlier YouTube disaster of a video that has been viewed 1,373,851 times since 2006,
Dell, Amazon, Domino’s and many other brands have learned the hard way that a firestorm can grow very quickly in social media.

All it really takes to slow down an issue is a human being responding quickly to say something as simple as “Thanks for making us aware of this issue. We are checking it out now.”

And then, the company has a reasonable amount of time to say what went wrong and what they’ve done about it.
If you don’t want to listen and respond, don’t use start a Twitter account, or a Facebook page.

What people really want is to be acknowledged and helped. That’s basic human nature. Nothing new about that.
2- Don’t track your brand in social media using either free or paid monitoring tools.
Despite my own many Tweets about service issues I am experiencing, I have had no response from @TimeWarnerCares the past 24 hours. That’s approximately one week in Internet time.

Apparently, @TimeWarnerCares does not care.

That means nobody at Time Warner – not their ad agency, not their PR firm, not corporate communications, digital, or anyone in management – is monitoring the brand.

Hello companies – the Internet is 24/7. Brand monitoring has to be constant. There are all levels of tools, from free Google Alerts when the brand name hits Google, to elaborate monitoring systems that cost thousands of dollars a month. Pick one. Use it.
Hint: Time Warner Cable Sucks has 753 members on Facebook
Boycott Time Warner has 124 Facebook members and Time Warner Sucks has 244 members.
Time Warner’s own Facebook page, begun May 6, 2009, has 297 members, and has had less than two posts a month. The first was the highly articulate “hi” and the second of which was “which are your favorite Time Warner channels?”

The description of the group says “errybody [sic] loves TWC!” Fail!
3- Start a social media program, but don’t tell the rest of the company about it., which seems like an interesting enough upstart of a company, has begun to reach out to bloggers to use Twitter to promote their brand.

But when I called the company to inquire about something I read in the company’s blog, the first two people I spoke to had absolutely no idea that there is a company blog, let alone one that made a special offer.

To their credit, the company’s social media manager apologized to me on Twitter within hours, noting that others in the company should known they have a blog.

Corporate silos just don’t work in social media. A customer service person at Time Warner told me last night “We don’t twit.” I beg to differ.