In gearing up for next week’s event, Social Screwups and How to Avoid Them, we had a good chat with our keynote speaker, Simon Heseltine, Global Head of SEO and former head of Audience Development at AOL, regarding common misconceptions surrounding social media.

Social media can seem like a strange and amorphous beast to those looking to update their marketing strategy and stay relevant with the “millennial marketplace.” Business owners feel the need to keep up with the latest marketing trends, and there are an incredible number of different strategies to fit what a brand is trying to accomplish. Often, one article will conflict directly with another, and myths surrounding social media strategies are widely shared by “experts” and novices alike:

“DM-ing every 20 year old brunette in the Bay Area through our instagram account lifted my sales by 30% in three days!”

“We only post product-specific information through our social channels because we’re B2B and need to maintain a fully professional look across the board.”

“We paid $1000 for more Twitter followers to increase the hype around our product before our launch…”

While everyone has an opinion when it comes to effective social media management, its essence will never change: social media is meant to facilitate better and more convenient connections between the individual and their network. One should never lose sight of the fact that the whole point of social media is to reach a user on the other side of the screen, and forge a human connection with them. Whether that connection is then leveraged to drive sales, promote brand awareness, or achieve some other outcome is entirely dependent on the strategy itself and the executing brand’s business goals.

Social goals may vary between businesses– not every brand is trying to do the same thing after all– but are there universal truths to effective social media strategy? There are certainly universal don’ts, though somehow, they stubbornly stick around in brands’ strategies. Here’s a glimpse of what Simon Heseltine will be talking about on Tuesday: a commonsense approach to debunking five common social media misconceptions, and how brands should approach social instead.

1. Social media is an intern’s job.

If you do decide to do social media, it’s important to take brand strategy seriously and align your business goals with your behavior across social platforms. According to Simon, businesses “should at least have guidelines if not goals. The difference is— if one of your goals is branding, you’ve got to make sure that every tweet you make is within branding guidelines, that you’re in the right voice, that you’re trying to get people to understand what your company is about, [and] how it should sound.”

One example of social media management gone wrong is this tweet, sent out minutes before the Houston Rockets beat the Dallas Mavericks in their first round playoff series last spring:


Is it sportsmanlike? No. Is it openly endorsing horse murder? Probably not to that level, but fans on both sides were less than impressed, and the offending employee was let go that night.

Simon points out that “while many sports teams tend to be a little bit tribal with their social, it’s usually good-natured tribal.” When social media is taken too far, the brand is faced with the embarrassing situation of having to publicly apologise and the unpleasant situation of having to fire the offending employees. If the Rockets had had clearer guidelines and put more thought into their social strategy, this awkward message of unprovoked horse-violence and unsportsmanlike behavior would likely never have entered the Twittersphere.

2. Social media is only for B2C.

In the end, the decision to invest in a social media presence largely depends on the product and goals of your business. However, the idea that social media only works for B2C businesses is a myth. In Simon’s experience, any social media presence that is well-managed with clear guidelines can be effective, depending on what the ultimate goal of the business is to begin with:

“If you don’t have a particular campaign you’re trying to do, you’re just trying to keep the account ticking over—it still falls into branding in that respect, but you want to make sure you are within [brand] guidelines, you want to make sure you’re following what’s going on, you want to make sure that you’re responding to the right people in the right way.”

One B2B firm that has fully embraced social media across traditional B2C platforms is the world’s largest container shipping company, Maersk. Maersk’s strategy behind their social media campaign is not to drive sales or collect leads, but rather to interact with its audience through engaging content:

Their accounts are managed by a panel of employees, including Maersk’s directors, and their posts are interesting, educational, and relevant to their business’s activities.

3. Invest your time in a Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Google+ and Linkedin presence. These are the “big” players that get the most engagement.

Top social networks

When companies feel lost about where to start with social media, many are naturally inclined to get their feet wet by creating profiles across the “Big 5” of social media platforms. But setting up and maintaining those profiles takes time and effort which, contrary to popular believe, might not actually pay off for every business.

According to Simon, your choice of social network should depend on your product and business: “There are some social sites that work better for different products. If you’re a visual product you might want to be on Pinterest; maybe that’ll work better than Twitter. It just depends where your products really are.”

He cites one example working with an online university, where potential customers “were not on Facebook, but in specific education forums.” The university found this hidden pocket of customers on a niche website, and they engaged with them by participating in forum discussions and asking relevant questions, actions which eventually drove real sales to their business. By doing their research and honing in on a non-traditional social network, the university maximized their use of time and energy, boosting their ROI.

4. Social media is all about selling.

Social profit

While many companies can and do use social media as a sales platform, it’s certainly not social’s only purpose. During Simon’s time at AOL, they didn’t push an end product apart from “getting people to read the pages and poke around the site.” By focusing entirely on engagement, they strategized around increasing brand awareness rather than selling a specific good or service.

In fact, filling a page completely with product demos and other sales-related material might actually hurt your company’s branding and social presence, as customers are turned off by the constant “hard sell” of your brand’s message. When customers ignore social messaging, the organic reach of your posts will decrease as social network’s visibility algorithms will identify that no one is engaging with that kind of content.

While social media is a sales tool in the sense that an effective social media strategy will increase brand awareness and inform current and future customers of what a business is up to, that strategy is best done through keeping sales-only content to a minimum and focusing on creative and meaningful social exchanges instead, just like the Maersk example outlined in myth #2.

5. Social media pages are the face of the company and need to be kept clean and pristine at all costs.

Sure, all messaging from a business should be “clean and pristine,” or at least consistent with brand guidelines, but social media is a two way street, and the practice of deleting comments and censoring negative reviews can have devastating effects on customers’ trust and loyalty to the brand. As Simon astutely points out, in the course of providing a product or service, “at some point you’re going to have a disgruntled person reaching out to you.”

Responding to angry customers in a timely manner is also extremely important. Simon brings up a famous case regarding lost baggage with British Airways: “The guy’s father lost his luggage with [British Airways] and he tweeted it [at them, but] when he noticed that their Twitter page said ‘we respond to inquiries between 9am-5 pm,’ [he] actually went out and bought a paid ad on Twitter decrying [British Airways} and got a lot of publicity.” The promoted tweet was picked up by a number of news sites, resulting in negative publicity that would have been avoided by a better customer service presence across all of the airline’s platforms, social included.

British Airways

At the end of the day, engaging with your audience on social media doesn’t have to be rocket science. As long as your business creates firm guidelines and goals around its social management and keeps its customer’s needs at the forefront of every decision and interaction, social media users will more than likely respond in a positive manner. It’s only when a business loses sight of the “human” aspect of social media and disrespect customers, whether by posting irrelevant or overly salesy content, approving inappropriate or insensitive posts, or deleting or ignoring customer feedback, that social screwups happen.

For more insights on how not to manage your social media, join Simon Heseltine in person at our June 28 event: Social Screwups and How to Avoid Them!


Longneck and Thunderfoot offer social media management services to build a vibrant audience for your brand across all media channels. Learn more about social media and PR here.