My biggest challenge right now is mastering the vastness of social media and I suspect I am not alone. No matter what size company you work for, facing customers, partners, vendors, investors or the public means you better get good at LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, blogging, or Pinterest. Yet for many of us it can be intimidating. Earlier this year McDonalds promoted the hashtag #McDStories and didn’t get quite the response it was looking for. So how do you avoid social media mistakes and get good at this?
Michael Lebowitz, founder and CEO of Big Spaceship, came to my rescue. I interviewed Michael in this podcast where he explains why most corporations get it wrong, and how we should change our way of thinking about social (listen here). Here are five mistakes corporations make:
1. Corporations have no sense of humor. They aren’t good at funny. But a little attitude can be good. Recently someone tweeted that they saw a bird poop on a SmartCar, totaling it. What did the folks at SmartCar do in response? They created an infographic showing how many pigeon craps it would take to destroy the car. Nicely done.
2. Companies are too slow to respond. We are bombarded with email, meetings, and corporate hierarchy, and speedy response can easily go out the window. But social media wants immediacy – that’s the oxygen. We have to communicate in real time. I can’t believe I am actually going to cite Tamagotchi in a Forbes post, but those silly virtual alien pets that you had to feed and water, or they’d die? That’s like social media.
3. Companies have no voice. Corporations do their best to be politically correct and inoffensive. That’s boring. To be successful with social media you must have voice. Skittles posted a fan’s “Skittles Covered Roller Skates” and that single photo got 35,000 likes. They aren’t afraid to have fun. Have a voice.
4. Corporations that are nameless and faceless fail to connect. People seek connection and acknowledgement. When people speak out to a company they often feel like their comment is thrown into a deep, dark hole. Who is behind the curtain? Ford does a great job using social media to engage customers and learn more about its fans. Be human.
5. Companies treat social like a process, when it’s really an organism. Michael nailed it on this point. Corporations want to reduce everything to a process, but that is not the way social media works. There is no set of inputs and outputs like a machine. Rather, think about social media as a living, breathing organism that you must nurture and form a relationship with.
Check out the banter between AMC Theatres and Oreo. When Oreo asked its followers if they brought cookies into the movie theater, AMC wasn’t afraid to instantly come back with a fun response of its own.
You want to avoid social media mistakes and be the life of the party? No problem. Engage, be authentic, and don’t take it too seriously.
**Robert Jordan is a Forbes.com contributor. View the original posting of this article on Forbes.com.