Social media is a powerful marketing tool that gives small and medium businesses an affordable way to directly engage customers and grow revenue—when done the right way. Unfortunately, there’s also a wrong way, and the outcome can be a tarnished reputation, lost customers, and lost revenue. To make sure you’re doing social media marketing right, avoid these 5 common pitfalls.

1. Tasteless self-promotion

As a general rule of thumb, you want to follow the 80-20 rule with your social media content. That means 80 percent of your posts should be informative or helpful to your target audience (while still being relevant to what your business offers). The other 20 percent can be dedicated to directly promoting your products and services.

That rule alone doesn’t always keep you out of trouble, though. Numerous businesses have incited the wrath of their followers by trying to be clever and tie a promotion into an inappropriate current event or by using culturally insensitive material. Even huge companies with dedicated marketing teams have made these kinds of mistakes, as this list in Inc. magazine highlights.

2. Failing at humor

Unless you run a comedy club or a gag shop, it’s usually best to steer clear of gags and jokes in your social media posts. Humor is difficult to do well, not to mention highly subjective. Failed attempts at humor make your business come across as amateurish or, worse, like you’re trying too hard at being cool. Instead of trying to be funny in your posts, adopt a voice that reflects how you would speak to customers who walk into your business.

3. Spouting negativity

Social media can be a hotbed of toxic conversations on everything from politics to the latest trending TV show. You don’t want your business associated with those sort of negative conversations. Make sure to always follow these general social media guidelines:

  • Don’t comment on other people’s (or business’s) posts from your company profile.
  • If a customer writes a negative review of your business or tags your business on social media with a complaint, definitely do respond, but don’t get defensive or accusatory. Instead, follow our best practices for responding to negative reviews.
  • Thank customers for positive feedback only if they leave a review on one of your pages or tag your business. Don’t intrude on conversations on people’s personal timelines, as it can come across as creepy, stalker-like behavior.
  • Don’t disparage your competitors online. It makes your business look petty.

4. Using #hashtags wrong

Hashtags are used to help social media users find your posts based on topics, but again, only if you do it right. Oftentimes hashtags can get reappropriated by people who use the hashtags in ironic or offensive ways that change their meaning. Like with humor, it’s best to use hashtags sparingly and only when you are certain you have the right hashtag. Some of our favorite hashtags are #ShopLocal, #SmallBusiness and the various hashtags that are associated with specific holidays throughout the year, including #SmallBusinessSaturday, #NationalSmallBusinessWeek, and so on.

5. Not apologizing

Mistakes do happen, even with the most diligent social media marketers. When they do, the best thing you can do is apologize—and be genuine about your apology. #SorryNotSorry doesn’t cut it when you make a gaff. Acknowledge your mistake, say that you’re sorry, and pledge to do better in the future. Do that and the vast majority of social media users will forgive and forget, and you and your business won’t succumb to the pitfalls of social media.

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