As a social media marketeer, I’m very aware of how tricky it can sometimes be to prove the value of social media to a brand, particularly a brand with a self-deprecating view of their public perception.

I lose count of the ways I’ve heard a brand tell me ‘Not everyone can be ‘the Meerkat’ or sexy like Nike’, which in some ways is true, but that shouldn’t put you off.

What should make a brand nervous is the prospect of getting it wrong, as in the examples I’ve gathered together for you here…

As an agency marketer though, I’m quite relieved to say that a lot of
these mistakes seem to have been driven by brands diving in without
consulting an expert, or doing their research properly.

Far be it from
me to tell you that social media marketing should never be attempted by
a brand themselves, but if you’re going to give it a go on your own,
try to learn from the mistakes and slip-ups of others, like these ones:

Don’t attempt to sabotage a competitor

Back in 2006, mobile phone manufacturer Motorola got in hot water when it was alleged that they placed a video on YouTube showing how easy it was to snap a Samsung mobile phone in half.

Motorola initially denied the video was theirs, though later reports claimed they admitted to having made the video as an internal joke, and weren’t sure how it came to be on YouTube.

Don’t fool yourself that “it’ll all die down”

Before they became the shining example of social media goodness that they are today, Dell made many mistakes in handling crises. From the emergence of ‘Dell Hell’ and numerous ‘I hate Dell’ blogs to the exploding batteries saga, Dell would probably be the first to tell you they learnt a lot from those early days. You can’t just ignore a crisis and hope it’ll all go away, it won’t.

Don’t put your most junior person on it

Just because the guy in the post room ‘has a facebook profile AND he tweets!’, doesn’t mean he’s going to be any good at doing your social media marketing. Habitat were a perfect example of this with the Twitter #hashtag debacle this summer.

As they found to their cost, getting an intern to decide your social media strategy can be a big mistake.

‘If you build it, he will come’. Or perhaps not…

That famous quote from Field of Dreams, “If you build it, he will come”, doesn’t work too well in social media, and there are literally thousands of discarded or un-cared-for Facebook pages to prove this point.

You can’t just build a social media profile, whether it be Facebook page, blog or microsite, and hope that the power of the ‘social graph’ will bring you fame and fortune. You’ve got to actually let people know about it somehow…

Don’t try to fake the buzz

There are some great examples of this in the public domain (Honda being a great one), but sadly, there are even more out there that haven’t reached the headlines yet.

The basic rule here is: if you go on blogs, forums or comment threads and write positive things about your brand, hoping that nobody will notice, you’re going to get found out. It doesn’t matter how sneaky you are either, as forum owners will happily ‘out’ you when they check IP addresses or registered e-mails. Sooner or later, you’ll get busted. And it’s going to hurt…

Me being silly, as usual

Don’t underestimate the childishness of people (like me)

The screenshot I’ve used above to illustrate this is taken from this very site, but it’s probably unfair to cite Econsultancy as an example. A better example would be Skittles! Anybody who has checked their tweet-stream (currently being streamed live to the “chatter” section of their website) will know how childish people can be when they see their comments are being streamed.

Bottom-line: If you don’t want to see people saying childish things about you (“They’re polluting our stream, man!”) then don’t take the risk…

Don’t be too controversial

This one is so fresh still, I expect it’s dividing opinion on whether it was a ‘mistake’ or just a clever publicity stunt. Either way, PepsiCo found themselves in a bit of a pickle recently, being forced to apologise to half of the world’s population for their “AMP up before you score” iPhone application. Building an application that courts such controversy is a very fine line to tread…

Don’t pi$$ off the sites you’re using

Like Habitat, Moonfruit decided to use the ‘Trending Topics’ section on Twitter to get themselves seen more, with mixed results. Whilst they certainly made an impact with the plan, with many citing it as a great example of using social media, it also served to get them banned from the trending topics by Twitter.

I don’t know about you, but if my social media strategy relied so heavily on Twitter, I’d try my darnedest not to get myself on their blacklist…!