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Common Social-Media Screw-Ups By Small Businesses. Here's How to Prevent Them!

Many small businesses are ready to jump into the social-media world.

That's Great. But before doing so, small business leaders need to know that being a user of social media and understanding its strategic applications for PR, marketing, and communications initiatives are two markedly different skill sets.

Sherrie A. Madia, Ph.D., director of communications at the Wharton School, University of Pennsylvania, and co-author of The Social Media Survival Guide: Everything You Need to Know to Grow Your Business Exponentially With Social Media (Second Edition), offers these mistakes to avoid:

Mistake No. 1: Diving in without a strategic plan: Don't start podcasting, blogging, tweeting, friending on Facebook and posting YouTube videos until the company knows what its messages are, who will manage them, who the audience is, and how the audience and the company are going to benefit from the content and relationships.

Mistake No. 2: Not having a social-media policy: The social-media policy needs to outline how employees behave in the online universe during and outside of work. It should include education on style preferences and confidentiality. All messaging coming from employees should be aligned with the company's values and brand.

Mistake No. 3: Failing to tailor the plan to the target audience: Home in on sites, tools and applications that the target audience is using. Is the audience out walking in the park most afternoons, without so much as a cellphone? Or are they technology lovers who are never parted with their BlackBerry or iPhone? Research the target market to find out who they are and how to reach them.

Mistake No. 4: Producing weak unfocused, or unhelpful content: The same messaging rules that apply to classic public relations and branding apply to social media. Create strong, smart, well-thought-out content that adds value to customers' lives. Don't waste their time with self-serving promo. Give them something they can use - tips, incentives, product information, new ideas, fun and inspiration.

Mistake #5: Allowing social-media efforts to stagnate: Gone are the days when companies could put up a Web site that sat on the screen like an electronic business card. Social media are about maintaining a dynamic conversation between the company and customers. Equip the content for the RSS-share-save-post-to revolution so it gets out there in multiple places. Answer blog, Flickr, and podcast posts; respond to tweets; engage "friends." Remember: A social-media effort, done right, is not a one-off campaign by a handful of staff; it's a long-term corporate commitment.

For more information about Madia and the book, please visit

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