Steve Cisowski is a freelance social media consultant and copywriter. His professional background includes experience in digital marketing, advertising, social media, public relations, and corporate communications. Some of his accomplishments include winning the prestigious Wm. E. Surgner Excellence Award from the American Association of Advertising Agencies (4A’s) and having one of his editorials published in Advertising Age. Steve has also been named a “Social Media Star” by the Philadelphia Business Journal, featured in Philly Ad News and interviewed in Med Ad News for his marketing insights. He is a graduate of Drexel University, receiving a Bachelor of Science degree in Corporate Communications. Follow Steve on Twitter @SteveCis or visit his site at www.SteveCis.com.

Let’s face it. Social media marketing has reached the mainstream. While most social media campaigns are not as generously funded as their offline counterparts in print and television, nearly every company now appears to be devoting time and resources to marketing their brands on popular social networks. Businesses large and small, from Fortune 500 corporations to your corner coffee shop, are pursuing their customers on platforms like Facebook and Twitter.

I won’t bore you with statistics to support that claim. You’ve already seen the bar graphs and pie charts that illustrate how businesses are increasingly incorporating social media into their marketing mixes. They’ve been covered all over marketing blogs and discussed in the go-to trade publications like Advertising Age and on Mashable.com. For someone already invested in social media, what is more interesting is the varying degrees of success companies earn in their social media marketing campaigns. Some brands are clear winners, such as Zappos and Old Spice, while others simply fall flat and never “move the needle.” 

Social media marketing is both an art and a science, and mastering this discipline is not a cut-and-dry process, since success is solely dependent on the actions of a brand’s community. Participating in social media therefore means giving up some of your brand’s control to the public. But that doesn’t mean that businesses cannot exercise control in how they choose to approach participating in social media. In fact, they have more control than most would believe. Every action in social media causes a reaction, so companies must be wise in every single effort they make in communicating with their target audiences. This list of advisories is ever-changing and often varies by industry, but the following essential rules will guide businesses in the right direction in their social media marketing campaigns.

Don’t: Be corporate. Do: Be personable.

People like to be spoken to, not spoken at. In the world of social media, people take this golden rule even further. They like to be spoken with. As such, human beings rarely prefer speaking to companies. Instead, they prefer speaking to people. One best practice successful businesses using social media follow is to designate one individual in the company as the chief community manager, or social media spokesperson. Some larger corporations do this to give their companies a human element to their social media presences. It helps fans and followers develop a deeper affinity for the brand, since they know exactly with whom they are interacting. Of course not every business has the resources to dedicate one person to this effort, so it is important to evoke a personal touch to every interaction on a social network. In other words, leave the press release jargon out. A condensed press release or a regurgitated policy statement taking the form of a Facebook status update assumes the risk of falling flat with your fans. Speak to them like real people; like a friend, family member, or a neighbor. They’ve already invested their attention to you, so be kind and return the favor.

Don’t: Annoy your followers. Do: Practice discretion.

Posting a Facebook status update takes mere seconds. It couldn’t be any easier to write a sentence or two and click “Share.” Just like that, your message is blasted to all of your followers in their news feeds. Don’t be seduced by this convenience. It is very tempting to abuse the power of instantly messaging your consumer base. As such, a business that continually does this risks becoming like that one friend we all have on Facebook that documents their lives via status updates in 5-minute increments. They announce their breakfast choices, their trips to the drugstore, and their desires for Friday to finally arrive. This of course, is nothing short of annoying. The last thing you want is your customer becoming annoyed by your brand. They will take their business elsewhere. Be advised to not over-exert your energy on social media channels, but instead practice restraint. Each brand must find a healthy balance between engaging its audience enough while not overwhelming them with a stream of useless noise. There is no definitive frequency that works for every company, but chances are if you are posting something every three hours, you might be annoying a good portion of your fan base. There is some value in occasionally withdrawing from social media posting. It’s nothing to be afraid of. In fact, it’s less scary than having your fans un-friend you or hide your posts.

Don’t: Waste your followers’ time. Do: Give them a reason to care.

This rule is very similar to the previous one in that it relates to being mindful of your audience’s patience and attention. When all is said and done, your users choose to become a fan of your brand or follow your business because they see value in doing so. “Value” can mean many different things to different customers. Perhaps they are only engaging with your brand because they believe they will receive discounts on products or enjoy exclusive sales. Or perhaps their idea of value comes in the form of content that they want or need. One of the key foundations of a social media campaign is content that is one of four things to users: cost-saving, informative, entertaining, or challenging. Anything else is likely a waste of time for your online community. They are already bombarded with marketing messages on Facebook and Twitter enough as it is. Make them understand why they should continue to engage with your brand online.

Don’t: Expect magic to happen. Do: Set expectations.

Social media marketing is not a secret weapon that can achieve results at the pull of a trigger. Like other forms of marketing, it takes time to develop, nurture, and grow a community. Your brand will not receive swarms of fans and followers overnight, so do not be discouraged at the onset of your social media campaign if you don’t see immediate results. Focus on realistic goals during the first few months of your efforts, and only pay attention to the metrics that are actually accurate measurements of why you are marketing on social media in the first place. For example, are you looking to get more feedback from users or enhance a positive image? If so, measure comments and user sentiment, in terms of whether the conversations are positive or negative. If sales are the driving factor, it might be a great idea to correlate online purchases and traffic from your website back to the social media platforms your business maintains. Either way, social media will become much more confusing to you if you do not remain dedicated to your original expectations.