4 Things You’re Doing Wrong on Social Media – and How to Fix Them

Dave Kerpen believes in the power of digital. “Social media is a game changer in its ability to make companies more likeable to their consumers,” says the author of the New York Times bestseller Likeable Social Media: How to Delight Your Customers, Create an Irresistible Brand, and Be Generally Amazing on Facebook (& Other Social Networks). “They can use social media to reveal themselves as more transparent, prove they are more responsive, and demonstrate how engaged they truly are with their customers.” But most companies just aren’t harnessing that immense potential. Here are four things your business may be doing wrong on social media – and how to change that now.

Selling First. Companies often think about social media as “an evolution of early online media,” says Kerpen – which itself was a hangover from the broadcast era of blasting messages at customers (think online press releases) and expecting them to respond. Instead, the right metaphor is Cocktail Party 2.0, or “a return to word-of-mouth,” he says. “If you try to use social media to drive sales off the bat, it’s akin to somebody at a cocktail party opening their jacket and saying, ‘Hey, want to buy some watches?’ It’s laughable.”

Measuring ROI Wrong. Of course you should measure your return on investment with social media, says Kerpen, whose newest book is Likeable Business: Why Today’s Consumers Demand More and How Leaders Can Deliver. But (echoing Nick Harris, Director of Digital Marketing & Strategic Alliances for Benjamin Moore, whom I recently interviewed for Forbes), he says it’s often measured wrong. “The ironic reason they fail is a focus on short-term gains. You start by listening and understanding the audience, and then you can drive sales. I could notice a company on Facebook, get content from them every single day, then I might go to Google and order something and social media wouldn’t get any credit. Just because it’s not the final click doesn’t mean the ROI of social wasn’t there.”

Assuming Social Media Will Fix All Your Problems. Social media is powerful, says Kerpen, but it’s not a panacea. “I’d be foolish to say social media alone can make an unlikeable company likeable. It’s one department at a time, treating customers and staff right at every turn, and that starts to effect change in a positive way.” Social can help a company’s reputation, but it’s not sufficient on its own.

Ignoring Voice. Before “going big” on social media, Kerpen cautions, your company should “listen and establish what your personality should be like. Many companies haven’t thought about what their voice should be.” Is the company playful? Serious? Funny? Expert? Humble? Witty? Your day-to-day interactions on social media should have a consistent tone that reflects your brand – and keeps it real in a way that the oracular voice of television commercials or corporate press releases often does not.

Social media can’t do all the heavy lifting when it comes to building a respected, likeable brand. But it can play a powerful role in cementing your relationship with customers. “Knowing comes first, liking is next, and then trust,” says Kerpen. And with trust comes the loyalty that can sustain your business over the long term.

How is your company using social media to become more likeable? What strategies do you have to share?

This post originally appeared on the Forbes website on January 8, 2013.

Dorie Clark is CEO of Clark Strategic Communications and the author of Reinventing You: Define Your Brand, Imagine Your Future (Harvard Business Review Press, 2013). She is a strategy consultant who has worked with clients including Google, Yale University, and the Ford Foundation. Listen to her podcasts or follow her on Twitter.