12 Lessons from Successful Social Media Journeys

We hear so much about the “best practices” in social media and what they’re doing right.  Won’t there be much more to learn from their journey to social media success, rather than the success itself?

Every journey has its mistakes and its lessons.  If we share what we’ve learned from overcoming our obstacles, we can help others avoid making similar mistakes.  We can better our industry.

Photo cred: Andrés E. Azpúrua

So I interviewed six people that we’ve known to be “social media success stories” and asked for the lessons they learned along their journey.  Welcome to The Spinks Blog,

These companies/professionals truly showed their commitment to honesty and transparency, by sharing the mistakes and obstacles that they’ve faced.

Here are 12 lessons that can help guide you through your own journey.

1. Don’t force yourself into the conversation

Traditional marketing meant interruption.  The goal is to catch the attention of the audience and get your message across.  In social media marketing, it’s about joining the conversation, and no one likes it when their conversation interrupted.

“When you are reaching out to someone, do not try to interfere in any way.  So instead of just providing an answer, we may open the conversation with “can I help?”  If they want assistance, they will respond.”-  Frank Liason, Comcast

2. You CAN be too personal

Transparency is a big aspect of social media engagement.  It’s highly encouraged by many social media consultants.  Every time you post content, however you have to think about what you’re saying, and how they might react.  If you don’t have to say it, and it might offend some people, it’s probably better you didn’t  share.

“I remember during the first Presidential debate I was following much of the discussion via Twitter search. During that debate Jim Lehrer tried to control both candidates.  Not thinking it was political, I tweeting “Jim Lehrer for President.”  I did not realize that some people view him leaning one way or the other, but responses I received made that clear.  So much for being too personal!” – Frank Liason, Comcast

3. You can’t just jump in and expect success.

Simply investing in social media won’t help your business.  You have to be ready to truly engage and to build a relationship.  Money won’t buy relationships.

“Coming in and saying we’re x company and have x name so we’re going to throw a bunch of money at this space and it will give me credibility.  If you haven’t put in tons of value, communicate etc you’re not going to do well.” –Keith Burtis, Keith Burtis Consulting

4. You have to show results.

Measurement measurement measurement.  You’ll hear a lot about measurement in the social media space because it’s so important.  If you’re not measuring, there’s no way you can tell what’s working.

“It’s all an experiment. At the end of the day we still have to prove ourselves.”    –Keith Burtis, Keith Burtis Consulting

5. Separation of personal and professional networks for employees.

It’s great to get your employees involved in your social media presence.  Most companies would consider themselves lucky to have the type of engagement that Zappos’ employees being to the table.  It’s important however, to avoid a situation where your corporate presence take over your employee’s personal interactions.

“I think a lot of employees feel that they have to follow everyone who follows them (especially other Zappos employees), and at some point they are overwhelmed trying to follow too many people, at which point they just decide to give up on Twitter completely instead of unfollowing some people.” –Tony Hsieh, CEO – Zappos

6. There is such a thing as too much content.

Organization is key.  If you have too much content, users and customers can be overwhelmed and will leave with no value.  Make your content easy to find and browse.

“We have over 400 employees tweeting… Our blog site is actually an aggregation of blogs from a lot of different areas of the company. There is so much content there that even I’m not able to read each and every blog entry, so my guess is that most of our own employees probably aren’t able to either.” –Tony Hsieh, CEO – Zappos

7. Social Media is an addition, not a replacement.

Social Media isn’t just a fad. But it’s also not a silver bullet.  While social media brings a lot of opportunities, traditional tools and methods still have their place.  The key is to find a balance, where you can use both traditional, and new media together.

“One of the biggest challenges is the perception that Web 2.0 is more cost effective than traditional media and can replace more traditional approaches. The fact is you need both traditional and new technology approaches to fundraising, and new technology approaches require following many of the strategies used to successfully deploy traditional methods.” – Scott Bennett, VP of Marketing, American Cancer Society

8. Social media is not an end.

It doesn’t matter how many followers, readers or fans you have.  If you’re not tying those numbers back to your bottom line (even if it’s in the long run) you’re not successfully using social media tools.

“ACS has discovered it’s best to think of social networks as a means to an end versus an end in and of themselves. Social networks, like traditional media, can be leveraged to reach certain audiences to accomplish broader strategic goals. – Scott Bennett, VP of Marketing, American Cancer Society

9. Know your audience.

Every site and community is a bit different from the next.  The way you approach people on facebook is very different from how you should approach people on linkedin.  Forums are “peer to peer” focused and will probably remove any promotions.

In customer service writing an email response to a complaint, using a template is more acceptable.  When replying to a complaint in the comments section of a blog post, it has to be more personal and less “canned”.

“We thought all of our twitter followers would be interested in discounts and deals. While people are interested in receiving information on ticket deals, it took us a while to learn that Twitter was an incredibly powerful channel because people finally had the opportunity to speak to someone at Cirque directly.  We realized its much more informational, and back stage kind of insights.” – Jessica Berlin, Cirque Du Soleil

10. Reward the customers that want to be rewarded.

If there are perks that you offer so select individuals, like family members…why?  Is it helping your business?  Shouldn’t you be rewarding the people that count: your customers.  They’re the ones that will really appreciate the rewards, and return the favor.  Reward your evangelists.  Show them how much you appreciate their continued business and support.

“About two years ago we began doing a “Friends and Family” promotion for our employees.  We quickly started seeing the special rate appearing on Facebook pages and word spread quickly.  While at first, our execs were upset… it took that for us to really recognize that people’s networks are now much bigger and they are eager to share information with those networks. We [now] know these are people who are interested in Cirque and they should be the ones rewarded for taking the interest in following us.” – Jessica Berlin, Cirque Du Soleil

11. Use what you have first.

Look at the content you’re currently producing and resources that you already have.  Can you make it more social?  Mayo Clinic asked their employees to use flip cameras when conducting their interviews that are typically just used in written articles. The videos were shared across social platforms helping them spread the same content they’ve been creating all along to entirely new audiences.

Don’t be so quick to bring in a social media expert, or hire a social media consultancy.  Look at where you can incorporate social media with the employees that you already have.  Ask them to wear just one more hat, to learn and to grow.

Set someone loose from inside because they already have the culture and the trust from internal people.  If the program gets killed, its okay because you’re not spending more money on it.” –Lee Aase, Mayo Clinic

12. Learn along the way.

I’ll leave you with this important reminder.  I know, in #5 I mentioned that you have to prove results.   That doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment. Be willing to try out new things, to learn and to grow.  Making little mistakes, and tweaking the process along the way isn’t just alright, it’s recommended.

Companies think about all the potential horror stories that they’ve heard.  The key is to make minor adjustments along the way.” –Lee Aase, Mayo Clinic

So as you embark on your own journey implementing social media in your business, remember that we all make mistakes along the way.  It’s all part of the journey…and yes, even the “success stories” had to make some hurdles along the way.

What lessons have you learned?

14 thoughts on “12 Lessons from Successful Social Media Journeys

  1. I guess it depends what your goals are, but I’m going to have to disagree with “[i]f you don’t have to say it, and it might offend some people, it’s probably better you didn’t share.”

    A bit of self-censorship is probably a good idea. Or at the very least thinking twice before posting something, but if everybody acted on the Internet in order minimize the # of people they offend, many fewer interesting ideas would get discussed.

    1. This depends on a number of things. If you’re just talking about your own personal interactions, I’d recommend that you do offend some people once in a while, because if you’re not, you’re probably not being completely honest and forthright. Express your thoughts with confidence, and you’ll offend someone, I guarantee it ^_^

      For a business account type of situation however, you may want to take a step back before taking a strong stand on something while representing your brand. Remember that your opinion, while it doesn’t represent the rest of your company’s opinion, will be perceived as a representation of your company’s brand.

  2. Good stuff. This is an enormous subject; very difficult to distill down to bullets, but this is a great start.

    Pieces like this remind me all the time just how valuable an employee can be who “gets” this stuff AND has the ability to integrate the tools and activities into a company’s existing strategy.

    1. Thanks Don. It’s impossible, even at this point, for anyone to fully grasp these concepts without making any mistakes. As long as we’re away of these mistakes however, we can all become more valuable employees, or more valuable in our careers.

  3. David. Thanks for including me and it is a great list of tips for sure. However, I will say this, “Best Practices can limit creativity”. Don’t get stuck limiting yourself to the thinking of others. Collaborate, connect and be creative!

  4. David: Great list and great sources! Social Media is such a fluid environment, it’s good to circle back with a few hard and fast “reality checks” every now and then. Implied in all twelve points resides the most important of all: “Have a plan.”

  5. An excellent piece David, really summarises things nicely. The title of Point 10 might be better as the phrase from the body about reward the customers “that count”.

    Also, you just mentioned briefly the evangelists. While you cannot and should not try to control them, treated correctly they are possibly your most powerful marketing tool in this medium. Perhaps you could share your thoughts on how to retain, reward and encourage evangelists 🙂

  6. Very well said David. If more people understood those twelve tenets the social media world would be a lot less noisy and a lot more cohesive. I especially like tenets 7 through 10.


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