As Flowtown’s social network map shows, there are hundreds of networks. New ones are appearing all the time, and even former giants being toppled. So how do you get where you want to go? In this short primer we answer the six fundamental questions. It will help you to avoid the pitfalls and achieve more, more quickly.


Why do you want to do social media? There’s only one right answer: to engage with your stakeholders for long-term mutual benefit. If that’s not truereally trueyou’d be better not bothering. Customers can spot when your motivation is wrong.

The number-one mistake is treating social media as a sales channel. In reality, it’s more like customer service than marketing communications. So play nice, and abide by the prevailing etiquette. By all means be genuinely excited about your new products, your new cool advert, your new whitepaper, or a great promotion. But don’t cross that fine line into flogging stuff. You can usually tell when you’re flogging because you’ll repeat tweets, optimise every word, copy and paste from brochures. This rule is doubly, triply important when you’re commenting on other people’s profiles, blogs or sites. Remember this: if you’re really great at building long-term relationships with your customers, they will advocate for you, for free. Social media makes it amazingly easy for them to do so.


Facebook is by far the biggest network there is, but that doesn’t mean that it’s the right one for you. The first step is to look what your customers, competitors, analysts and journalists in your field are already doing. Set up accounts on the networks they use.

Remember that social networking happens all over the internet, too. Visit your customers’ chosen forums, watch for mentions of your companies on blogs, and go to them. Join in the dialogue there.


You may have noticed that there’s plenty for you to do on social networks when you start to see it as a place for two-way dialogue. You can’t just check in on it once a day to shout about your latest promotion. Allocate the resources to create a real presence. Depending on the size of your company and its profile, give at least three people the job of checking and updating your social media presence throughout the day. Tell the rest of the company who they are, so other departments can share interesting stuff and requests with themthat is, if you don’t want to have everyone tweeting. Pick people you can trust and who are well connected. They need to be able to offer fast responses to customers, and generate new content regularly too (although not on some artificial schedule).


Don’t tie your representatives up with rules and red tape. You have to let go. And make your legal department let go, tooit’s not always the best judge of what’s right for the company. That’s part of picking people you trust as your social media contacts. Give them the freedom to act on behalf of your company without getting approvals first. That might mean brainstorming some scenarios when they can offer refunds, for example. One easy way to do it is to ensure the policies on dealing with individual customers’ issues are the same as for your other service channelsthat way there’s no chance of being accused of favouritism.

How much?

Frequency is possibly the trickiest issue of all. Five or six messages a day from a friend is fine, but quite annoying from an online supermarket. 100 tweets a month is very different to 100 Facebook messages, or even DMs. You can reduce the perceived volume by splitting it across multiple accountsone for promotions, one for service, for example, so people get what they find interestingbut always remember the old maxim: quality, not quantity.

That rule applies when you’re looking at your follower count, too. Social media is not a popularity contest. No, really. Social media is the most measurable type of marketing activity there is. Don’t get caught up in the race to have the most followers or friends. Success in social media is about quality, not quantity. You want trusted, high-frequency engagement to create value. So skip over the audience numbers, and look at the stats that indicate engagement. A few examples:

  • Number of retweets
  • Net change in followersgained, losthave you got a leaky bucket?
  • Links followed
  • Replies/likes


Last, but certainly not leastwhat do you do on social networks? There are many, many valid opportunities to engage.

When you’ve got something interesting to say: Add your own comments on industry events. But don’t stray from what you’re good atif you comment on hot issues that are really unrelated to your business it looks like you’re trying too hard or just don’t get it… it’s like watching your dad dancing.

When you found something to share: You don’t have a monopoly on interesting stuff. If you see something interesting (again, provided it’s related to your field), share it. It will help to grow your following.

When you’re delivering great service and rewarding your customers: By all means keep spirits high by holding contests and competitions. Reward your most engaged followers for their help. Respond to reviews, offer responsive customer service, share news and promotions, and thank people for leaving comments.

When something goes wrong: If your company screws up, don’t lie about it. Don’t spin it. Don’t stay silent. Don’t attack your customers, the media or your competitors. Do the right thing: apologise, promise to make the mistake right, and be responsive about it. If you’re criticised unjustly, respond calmly, with facts and generosity. Open a dialogue and bring the issue out into the open. The network will probably side with you and respect you.

So what are you doing sat here?

Get out there! The best way to learn is by doing. But we’d love to hear your thoughts on the topic, so please leave a comment below before you rush off. And if we can be of help as you get started, get in touch.

Posted by John on 18 January 2011