Last week, Amy Mengel brilliantly summarized 5 Reasons Corporations Fail at Social Media.  Those lessons (which she gleaned at the 2009 Inbound Marketing Summit) are entirely valid concerns for any company that’s navigating its way through the mostly uncharted waters of social media.  But, in our experience, there are five other equally dangerous pitfalls that can dash your company’s messaging and branding hopes before its ship even leaves the shore:

  • You don’t really care what your customers think. Sure, you monitor what they’re saying about your brand, but not only do you not take action on their suggestions, you never had any intention of actually listening.  Your interest in “understanding your customers’ concerns” was just a shell game; your actual goal was merely to verify that people were already talking about you.  (And if they are, then your existing products and services must be working perfectly, right?)
  • You confuse social media with a static advertisement. Instead of embracing the tools for what they are — real-time connections to the endlessly-changing sentiments of the consumer landscape — you establish profiles full of content borrowed from other media and then you stubbornly refuse to update, adapt or interact with your audience. By failing to engage with your customers in the manner they’ve come to expect, you prove that you cannot be bothered with their own interests because you’ve pre-determined your own.
  • Your company is exclusively reactive. Rather than working to intuit your customers’ needs, you rely solely on consumer praise and complaints to inform your next plan of action. This ensures that you’ll never be able to use social media as anything more than a validation (or repudiation) of other people’s hunches, or as baseline damage control — so don’t be surprised when your company’s decision-makers come to view social media as a bellwether of mostly bad news.
  • You refuse to be interesting. The concept of innovation is deemed (at best) too risky or (at worst) an unnecessary allocation of funds better spent on actions proven to produce results.  As such, the “information” you make available via social media channels is the same retreaded copy that consumers can already find on billboards, magazine ads and product labels.  In an age where audiences are increasingly interested in how products are made, who’s making them and why, your company has opted to remain as impersonal and inscrutable as possible — and your results have predictably flatlined.
  • Your voice lacks passion. Maybe you have one employee dedicated to “evangelizing your brand.”  Maybe you have an entire agency.  Or maybe you have an in-house team, ready to pounce on audience feedback at a moment’s notice… except there’s never any pouncing taking place, because there’s never any passion in the message.  The individuals you’ve made responsible for ensuring that others care about your brand haven’t been sufficiently energized by your brand in the first place. Instead of projecting a personality that shows your customers how much you do care about their experience, your telegraphed disinterest provides them with an escape clause and a mandate to find another company whose values and attitude more closely resemble their own.

Social media “isn’t rocket surgery,” as Mengel’s article wryly notes.  The tools that comprise this medium are deceptively simple, and can be mastered by anyone who takes the time and effort to understand how (and why) they work.  But even a rowboat can be scuttled if everyone aboard isn’t working together.