It’s once again that time of the year when speculations and discussions on possible online trends for the coming year kick in.

Which topics will dominate the media, what kind of technologies will be in the limelight or similar such questions are usually of common interest.

As expected, social media is on this year’s trend list as it enables marketers to reach potential target groups in a completely new way. Characteristics of social media marketing are the active involvement of users in designing brand messages as well as pushing their viral spread. This only works if users are really convinced of a brand, do not feel exploited for advertising purposes and discover personal value. Members of social networks are mainly interested in news and innovations and like to be surprised. They are among the early adopters, and transmit information, after a personal assessment, to their friends and associates. This gives them recognition in their narrower and wider circle of friends and should help them feel and know that they are respected in their opinion.

According to IDC, traditional corporate culture remains the largest barrier to successful social media initiatives today, simply because social media challenges and disrupts the hierarchical management model of many organizations. So let me present to you the different operational challenges organizations face to effectively deploy and manage social media initiatives as well as some hints on what to avoid to be successful with the new Internet-based tools that allows for groups to engage in peer-to-peer conversations and exchange content - including video, audio, text and multimedia, which is then published and shared within a social environment.
The emergence of social media has without doubt generated new and innovative ways to create dialogue and receive useful feedback in a way and scope never before thought possible. Think about platforms like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, blogs, or Flickr and the impacts they have had in recent times.

Even the most experienced early adopters of social networks have had a few lapses along the way before they could use these tools well. Luckily, best practices are slowly turning up as social media becomes more widely adopted. Indeed, it is starting to become almost unacceptable for big brands not to have a social media strategy in place – it’s simply essential, even if it is less-than-perfect. An advantage with the growing world of social media is that most boo-boos will likely be forgotten faster than before. So why not avoid such regrets by learning from the common mistakes made by others? Read on to discover what you can avoid doing in your social media campaigns.
DON’T forget to respond to comments or wait too long to do so

The mechanisms of the so-called word of mouth advertising are from a business point of view really important as it is usually beyond a company’s direct control. In particular, negative opinions can sometimes remain for years documented and commented on the Internet, and have a greater impact on purchasing decisions than in the offline world in which emerging rumors or negative messages about products and services quickly fizzle out over time and are forgotten.

The fact is that you can’t control online discussions about your company or brand. As in real life, people will talk about you whether you like it or not. If conversations are already out there, you should at least be part of it – especially for big/ground-breaking news or a scandal. People expect a response or an explanation and if you wait too long to chime-in, or worse, don’t say anything at all, people may begin to speculate and create their own truths.

DON’T have too much “me” in your social media campaign

Keep the purpose of social media in mind, namely interacting with other people via the Internet. Be careful not to spread information in your latest advertisements only as a monologue as this is usually boring. Instead, you should encourage conversations and discussions, which is pretty hard to do when you are promoting a product or service at the same time. Of course, there is nothing wrong with sharing coupons or other deals with your followers - in fact, this is one of the reasons that people follow brands on Twitter – so it’s best to make the offer exclusive to your followers only. By rewarding them, you will gain an increasingly bigger and more committed group.

DON’T abandon your profile

Believe me, what is worse than having no social media presence at all, are having profiles that were created and then forgotten. According to a Purewire study, 80 percent of all Twitter accounts have fewer than 10 followers and 30 percent have zero followers. One quarter don't follow anyone else. One reason for this phenomenon could be the fact that people want to make sure that nobody steals their username. Of course there are brands that are worried about others that might cash in on what they see as their rightful name. In fact it really isn’t easy to get a username back on Twitter, compared to Facebook, YouTube, or MySpace.

DON’T forget the ethics

The progress and results of your performance can potentially reach millions of individuals on social networks, so actively monitor social media, with for instance Nielsen's BuzzMetrics or Radian6, or other useful tools that can help you track online conversations and monitor them for potentially damaging conversations that can prevent a fiasco. Of course it can be used to watch for praises of your company as well.

DON’T fail to moderate

When it comes to social media, everybody has a voice and can start a dialogue and bond directly with a brand, ask it questions, and become part of its decision-making process. What makes social media great, however, can be frustrating at the same time, simply due to the fact that everybody can say whatever they want including nasty things, too. The only solution to this problem is moderation, which means if somebody writes something potentially damaging on your Facebook wall, @replies on Twitter, or leaves a comment on your blog, you have to react as soon as possible. So, if the comment is factually incorrect you have to provide a correction or if it is a complaint, offer to provide a resolution. Remember that if one person has posted a question or a complaint, it's likely that many others who haven't yet posted feel the same way. People understand that nobody is perfect, so quickly admit mistakes if they are discovered and set it right as soon as possible to prevent a potential social media fiasco.

By Daniela La Marca