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The 7 Biggest Social Media Customer Service Fails of 2012

Social media offers great rewards for the business willing to brave its dangers. Wrong turns and poor decisions can turn a social media campaign into a disaster.

Social media offers great opportunities for businesses to create an online presence, interact with customers and build brand reputation. It’s a bold new marketing frontier, and like any new frontier, you can expect setbacks and dangers. Here are seven common social media mistakes you can't afford to ignore.

You Can't Score Goals without Kicking the Ball

With all the pitfalls surrounding social media, it's not surprising some companies choose not to access the medium. Avoiding social media has serious downsides, however.

Customers expect companies to have social media presence, and will question any company that doesn’t. Besides, not using social media means you avoid the benefits as well as the risks of a rapidly growing business field. You can't win if you don’t play.

Playing without a Ball

Getting involved in social media does not mean leaping in headfirst. You need a plan. What venue is better for you, Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest? What sites do your clients use?

You need to know what you want to say and who you'll be saying it to instead of posting without any direction.

Newsjacking Disasters

Referencing news stories in your Twitter feed or Facebook page can generate increased traffic. Called "newsjacking," the practice backfires if you reference serious news in a flippant or manipulative fashion.

During Hurricane Sandy, companies tweeted about everything from hurricane sales to hurricane-themed nail polish. Readers called these companies out for trying to generate sales off the backs of people living in the storm’s path.

A better approach? Announce you're offering a popular item for sale and donating a portion of the sale to help hurricane victims.

Overselling Yourself

Overselling offers one the fastest way to fail in social media. Many businesses assume Facebook and Twitter are simply new advertising venues, and every post focuses on making sales. The result? People stay away.

Social media builds relationships with clients, customers and fans over time. While it's perfectly acceptable to occasionally post about special sales, events or campaigns, leave aggressive sales pitches for other venues.

Snit Fits

At one time or another, almost all businesses receive criticism online, from constructive evaluations of your customer service to wild-eyed "go die in a fire" insults. You need to respond to these complaints; two-way communication is vital in social media.

Angry, snippy posts are a huge mistake. Not only does an ill-thought out, insult-filled response damage your online reputation, it also attracts more trolls and insulting comments. Be firm, be fair, and above all, be courteous.

Lacking a Voice

A social media presence requires a voice: a personality people attach to your product or service. A voice adds consistency to your social media presence, and helps channel both what you say and how you say it.

The voice need not be business-like: Skittles, for instance, uses a playful tone with its tweets that meshes well with its product. On the other hand, a funeral home needs a more respectful, considerate tone.

Not Listening

You can make all manner of mistakes with social media, but perhaps the most disastrous is not listening to your audience. Social media is all about communication.

A business cannot carry a one-way conversation with social media followers and expect good results. You need to talk, share and yes, occasionally argue, with your followers (bearing in mind the cardinal rule of courtesy even in heated debate).

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