Social Media Fails: Five Mistakes and the Lessons Learned

Elizabeth Allen is a blogger and consultant, advising educational institutions on social media and communications.

I’ve come to enjoy the Fail Blog, an online repository for all things ridiculous, outlandish, and frankly, immature. While its content is far from intel “win,” I see many schools and organizations trying to win at social media, but falling short when it comes to a few simple things—and ultimately, earning a “fail.”

Here are a few of those fails, and more importantly, what you can learn from them.

#Fail 1: The False Start
An organization sets up a Facebook Page, a Twitter feed and a blog. It posts loads of content and Tweets like mad for about a month. Then…nothing. The presences fall silent, never to be revived.

  • The Lesson: Be prepared to “feed the beast” once you set your mind to creating a new social media presence. Ask yourself if you have the content and the staffing to sustain a new presence long term. It’s better to have never started using a tool than to start and abandon it mid-way through.

#Fail 2: The Auto Follow
Setting up your Twitter client to automatically follow anyone who follows you or anyone who mentions your name.

  • The Lesson: It’s great to engage with new people, but be selective and deliberate about who you follow back. Develop a policy around the users you follow and why (alumni, parents, students, news agencies, etc). Then, stick to it. Auto-following will just tie you in with spammers and other undesirables and could come back to haunt you.

#Fail 3: The QR Code to Nowhere
QR codes have a prominent place in your printed materials and link back to your website.

  • The Lesson: The whole point of a QR code is that it makes it easier for your users to access content on the go. A QR code should, at minimum, link to a mobile-optimized site or other content that is designed specifically for the small screen. Directing traffic to a “regular” website doesn’t do justice to the power of QR codes. And, more to the point, “you are actually showing people that you don’t understand why QR codes exist,” said Andy Shaindlin of Alumni Futures, in a recent email thread, “thereby alienating or disappointing the very audience most interested in your success with mobile.”

#Fail 4: The Twitter “Set It and Forget It”
Scheduling outgoing tweets all at once and not logging in again until the following week…when it’s time to schedule the next round of tweets.

  • The Lesson: This ignores a fundamental benefit of using Twitter: interactivity. Using Twitter (and really, any social technology) as a broadcast tool defeats the entire purpose. Schedule tweets, but also use @replies, RTs and other engagement strategies to make full use of the tool’s potential. Twitter and other social tools are about listening more than disseminating.

#Fail 5: The “Carpet Bomb” Update
Posting the exact same update to Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, etc.

  • The Lesson: Each social technology has its own personality, language and nuance. Posting all of your Twitter updates to LinkedIn just clutters your connections’ timelines—if they want to get your Twitter updates, they already follow you there. And Facebook is built to handle way more than 140 characters…so use them! And why not add a photo for good measure? You can post similar messages on all of your social media presences, just be true to the language and the capacity of the channels themselves.

What are some of your examples of social media fails or wins? Leave a comment!

Note: This article is cross-posted to the Adaptivate blog.

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