Accept it. We’re all learning in social media. Every day is a new lesson learned, a new best practice established. And many of these lessons come by way of mistakes.
I spend a lot of time on social media, mostly observing what other people do, how they behave, and what they click on (or don’t) — but I’ve never felt confident enough to call myself a guru.
Perhaps that’s because, despite all my time on social media, there are things I still don’t know. Every time Facebook updates its algorithm, I go nuts figuring out how it all works. On the other hand, that’s probably what keeps me going — the thrill of learning new things and experimenting with new techniques and tactics.
When it comes to experimentation, 2013 was a great year — lots of mistakes made, lots of new ideas learned. Let me share with you some of the mistakes I made along the way. I’m sure you’ll learn a thing or two from some of these.
1. Assuming My Followers Have Already Read The Story, And Not Sharing It
This is one of the biggest mistakes I ever made. It turns out that if you share a really good story — even if it was published on a popular blog and widely shared — it will still attract readers. I used to assume that any story that was already published on Mashable or Business Insider had already done the rounds and that everyone in the world had read it. Wrong.
The truth, which I realized later, is that many people would miss the story and appreciate that I tweeted it at a different time. This is not applicable to just any run-of-the-mill story (which people ignore no matter who shares it), but compelling stories always have an audience.
2. Assuming People On Social Media Are Ruthless And Would Crucify Me For Mistakes
Turns out, the social media crowd is a very friendly one (thanks to all you folks on my timeline!) and they tend to ignore mistakes.
Truth is, they’re all here to huddle together and learn in the process. You don’t have to pretend that you’re all perfect! I learned that the hard way, but I’m glad I did.
3. Ignoring Google+
Of course, Google+ is not as popular as Facebook or Twitter, and we all love to complain about it. But there is a very loyal and active group there that I frequently overlooked.
Looking more closely, I see that Google+ is similar to Quora, where there’s less activity, but the quality of information and interaction are incomparable. I see Google+ as a network of loyal, quality sharers.
4. Not Being Available At Peak Times In Different Time Zones
Guy Kawasaki was right. I used to tweet a story just once, assuming that everyone would read it. But turns out that since social media is once big place where everyone from every time zone and corner of the globe hangs around, you’ve got to be available in different time zones to make the maximum impact.
So, I started tweeting the same story at different times and got a lot of traffic — more than what I used to get when tweeted once. Lesson learned.
5. Not Understanding People’s Behavior On Different Networks
At one point, I was under the impression that the same story, if shared the same way on all networks, would get the same kind of acceptance everywhere. Not so.
Turns out, even though you may be reaching the same people, people behave differently on various networks; therefore, the story has to be “packaged” to cater to the network. For instance, a collection of funny images will work really well on Facebook, but not on LinkedIn.
6. Not Going Beyond The Normal
I knew top ten lists were in, so I created lots of top ten lists — animated gifs, quotes, you name it. And what happened? Well, I just ended up being yet another guy making top ten lists and following other well-worn trends. That hockey stick traffic spike we all love never came.
That is, until I started trying new ideas on my own: editing images, optimizing headlines, adding more shareable images optimized for Facebook, etc. These weren’t revolutionary ideas, but the results were significant. Making this effort also gave me a creative freedom and satisfaction that you’ll never get aping something else.
In fact, the one time I did a Top 100 list, putting the very best I could into one single post, it received 100X the traffic of anything else I’d posted that whole year. (It even got picked up by Buzzfeed later on!) Had I thought outside of the box more often, things would’ve looked a lot better in 2013. Sigh!
7. Not Using Hashtags Effectively
I always thought hashtags were spam. They make a lot of noise in the stream, and I thought people might start unfollowing me if I used them.
Turns out, the social media crowd kind of understands how it all works and doesn’t mind some chatter if you’re adding value to the ecosystem. Just don’t overdo it!
8. Thinking Numbers Are Everything
This is the best one. When you do your quarterly analysis, you look at numbers and try and make sense out of them, don’t you? Because that’s what every other marketing channel does, right?
Well, on social media, there are many positive results that numbers can’t convey. The most expensive piece of social monitoring software can provide you with some great data, but it takes a human being to translate those data into insights for improving your strategy. For the longest time, numbers were all I focused on, thinking the more the better.
At one point, things got stale and there was no room left for growth. The reason? I didn’t look at the soul of social media — the qualitative, rather than the quantitative. This leads to my next point….
9. Not Considering Audience Feedback
Always talk to your audience. Give them a call, catch up with some of them on Skype. Ask them questions. Ask them what they like and don’t like on your stream.
Initially, I was afraid of asking people for ideas and feedback. But when I started asking around the middle of last year, the response was amazing. Many folks gave me valuable input and suggestions that helped me optimize my content stream – insights that not even the best software could give.
So please, ask people for feedback — otherwise, you could be making some unfounded assumptions based on data alone. These aren’t necessarily wrong, but real feedback is a useful tool to validate or disprove these assumptions.
10. Giving Up Because Of Twitter Overload
At one point, I thought Twitter was just overkill. There was so much happening on the stream that I couldn’t catch up, so I started disliking it.
The thing is, social media will never get comfortable enough for your liking. You create your world, attract your followers, and live with it. While you cannot control how much other users choose to share, you can work on ways to organize your stream so that it is more manageable. I started reading more and figuring out how to sort through the chaff, and that made my life a lot easier.
11. Thinking Content Is Everything
You hear all the time that “content is king,” especially from the SEO folks. While there’s nothing wrong with focusing on content, be sure you’re doing it the right way (and for the right reasons). The one pitfall with this school of thought is that there’s a tendency to settle for creating average quality stuff — because “content” can mean anything.
“Content” could mean a top 10 list of blogs in a specific vertical that everybody knows already, or it could be a comprehensive top 100 list of lesser-known blogs within that same vertical. Which do you think will be of more value to readers?
How awesome you want to make your content is a choice you make. So content is not everything. Enchanting, compelling, awesome content is everything.
12. Being Quiet About Issues I Actually Had An Opinion On
Sometimes, you see chatter on your stream about a recent issue and think you shouldn’t talk or get involved. I did that all the time. Several issues and discussions went past me that I could have participated in. But I didn’t, thinking it might all be just time-wasting chatter. But then I thought, “Hey, isn’t social media all about conversations? Maybe I should jump in, at least when it concerns a topic on which I have a strong opinion.”
And so I did. I joined conversations, I made comments on things that bothered me. And guess what? Most of them were appreciated, some were favorited, and many were replied to. I felt really good about it.
13. Not Liking/Commenting/Sharing Others’ Posts
Sometimes you get all hung up in your own world and assume that all the attention should come to you. Rightly so, because you’re the champ, right? Well, not everyone might agree. People have their own opinions about things and they share it on social media, because they want your opinion. You cannot hoard all the limelight all the time.
14. Not Asking For Reshares
Even though you have a good story to tell, just sharing it yourself won’t always spread it to the widest potential audience. I used to just sit there and pray for shares and likes to pour in. Mistake!
There are people who are ready to share stuff if it’s real and compelling — so there’s nothing wrong in asking.
15. Not Growing The Funnel By Following New People
This is something I realized way too late. I got so involved in optimizing my own content and stream that I forgot about growth. Twitter is a great medium for finding, following and engaging with new folks, and Facebook is great for keeping them engaged.
So, I created this funnel where I started following new folks on Twitter. I engaged with them and gradually kept them in my engagement pool, either on Facebook or a list on Twitter. This is a gradual back and forth process because you want to ultimately focus on the folks who really value your company. This might take some time to figure out, but it’s worth the time spent.
Finally, you end up with this great acquisition funnel where you have a great audience that’s always new and engaging.
16. Assuming I’ve Hit The Top With Shares
This was more of an “approach problem.” Before even publishing a story/article, I’d associate a certain value to it, mentally. For example, I’d estimate that the story would be shared X many times. And once it hit those numbers (most of the times it didn’t), I quit.
Bad decision, right?
This is where you underestimate the potential of social media. Sometimes you just calculate too much and limit your own potential. Lately, I’ve tried to squeeze in that extra bit of traffic by engaging with more audiences at different times.
I didn’t know whether the people I was reaching out to had already read the article or not, so it was a bit like cold calling, but sometimes it did work. I emailed some folks asking if they’d like to take a look at my new story and some of them picked it up — lucky me! Of course, other people did not reply, but that’s all right. Do not fear rejection, go for it!
17. Not Writing Frequently Enough
This is something I’m still working on, but I have to admit it’s a mistake. Sometimes, when you juggle things around, you don’t get to focus on all of them equally — especially on social media, where there are lot of distractions and things to do.
Content is the building block to your social media life and without a regular, frequent calendar you’re not going to make it big. I’ve been writing sporadically and the traffic, too, has been here and there.
Now I’m prioritizing things, and in 2014 I’m going to be focusing 100% on my site, and ensuring that it gets all the attention it needs. I’m pleased to report this approach has already started to work.
What Social Media mistakes did you make in 2013 that set you up for success in 2014?
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Opinions expressed in the article are those of the guest author and not necessarily Marketing Land.