Did you ever feel as if you were trying to keep too many hula hoops spinning at once?

This time of year, with the holidays and the end of the year rushing towards us, that’s a pretty common feeling for PR and marketing professionals.

One of the side-effects of a rushed schedule is that we tend to “re-prioritize” or cut back on some communications channels in order to keep up with others.  This time of year, that can hurt your marketing ROI.

Being human, as we try to keep all those hoops spinning, it gets easier to make mistakes, too.  So as you’re trying to keep all your hula hoops going this fall, try not to make these common social media mistakes.

Posting Sporadically or Inconsistently

Social media, like blogging, is a marathon – not a sprint.  Even if your very first blog post or tweet gets tons of clicks, there’s no guarantee that the next one will do the same.  Measureable results aren’t instant.  So don’t be a drive-by Tweeter or LinkedIn group poster.  You know the type:  they come in and post five or six comments….and then you don’t see them for weeks or months.

Plan your day so that you spend a few minutes every single day posting, responding to tweets, thanking new followers, and being part of the social media community.

No matter how busy you are, on most days you can find 15 minutes to check in on Twitter, LinkedIn and Facebook.  (Smart phones let us get an awful lot done while standing in line at the lunch counter, waiting for meetings to start, or riding the bus home.)

Falling Into the Self-Promotion Rut

This is the social media pitfall most PR people are most prone to.  We all use social media primarily to get people to visit our content – content on a website or blogs, and in publications that have written about the company, our press releases, and other content.  But if all we do is promote our own content, the people we’re sharing with will soon get tired of reading nothing but marketing hype, and they’ll stop paying attention.

Stephen Selby of LIMRA put it this way:  “The concept of generosity – of focusing on the community, and your contacts in the community, and sharing THEIR content, THEIR ideas, and THEIR information – is at the heart of what makes someone a social media success.”

He’s right (as usual):  it really isn’t all about us and our goals. Social media is just that: social.  So try to share or retweet or reply or comment on other people’s content every day.  It matters.

Failing to Plan and Track Messages

Don’t mistake social media’s informality for an unplanned, free-form anything-goes environment. Nearly everyone we read about in the news who has gotten in trouble with federal or state regulators, lost a job, or been sued over something they posted online has forgotten that social media isn’t a conversation between friends.

Things you’d say to your friends over a round of drinks down at the local bar after work can turn into serious problems if they’re posted online. Instead of reacting or writing off-the-cuff comments that seem funny at the time, take the time to plan your social media messages, and track them by category.

How many of your tweets last month promoted content?  Responded to other’s messages?  How many shared ideas and information from other sources? You don’t need to be formal about it unless you work in a regulated industry (healthcare, education, insurance, financial services, casino gaming, and pharmaceuticals are the most regulated).  But think before you hit send….there’s no delete button on Twitter.

Leaving Your Manners at Home

Social media is about connecting, sharing, communicating, and exchanging ideas and opinions. It’s an election year, where the country is sharply divided.  Most PR people and marketing pros have personal social media accounts as well as business accounts.  And we’re human:  we have opinions.

It’s perfectly OK to disagree with someone in a social media setting – just as if you’re at a cocktail party and offer a mild conversational disagreement with another guest. But it’s not OK to be snide, offensive, or dismissive of someone else’s opinions or ideas just because you disagree with them.  Remember three things before you start name-calling in social media:

  • Google never forgets.  The flame war you walk into today may show up in search results linked to your name or your company years from now.  No matter how secure your alias seems now, it can wind up being linked to your real name all too easily.
  • Most people you meet in online forums are sane.  But some aren’t.  Run into one of the crazy Internet trolls out there, and you can find yourself embroiled in a situation that’s nearly impossible to get out of.  People have abandoned email addresses, Facebook profiles, Twitter handles, and LinkedIn profiles they’ve spent years building after they ran afoul of someone with more time than good sense, someone who turned a sharp reply into cause for a personal vendetta.  It’s just not worth it.
  • Your mother was right: you only get one chance to make the right first impression.  If you can’t say something nice, say nothing at all.  And, above all, don’t say it unless you’d be comfortable with everyone you know (your boss, your minister or priest, your mother, your fiance’s parents – everyone) reading it on the front page of the newspaper.

Cutting Back on Press Releases

Historically, companies send out fewer press releases during the final quarter of the year than they do during the other quarters.  No one knows why, but it can be a huge mistake to cut back on the number of press releases you send during October, November, and December.

If you sell products or services directly to consumers, you’re cutting back on press releases at the time when newspapers and magazines have lots of space to fill.  Reporters are just as busy as you are – and at a time when more and more online journalists are paid in part based on the amount of readers or traffic they draw, many of them are scrambling for things to write about this time of year.

If you sell products or services to other businesses or to government agencies, remember that a lot of them have budgets that must be spent before the end of the calendar year. So your customers are actively researching products and services this time of year, in an effort to reach their own objectives.

Either way, making sure that press releases about your products and services are fresh, SEO optimized, and delivered in a timely fashion is a smart move this time of year.

Photo credit: ©2012, Deb McAlister-Holland; used with permission.