When I was a kid, I heard rumors of a movie called "Faces of Death." It was supposedly crazy scary, the kind of scared you can't even imagine, I mean so scary if you watched it you might even die yourself. (So I never did. And I'm still alive today.)
When I talk to clients about social media, I often get reactions that aren't too different, but in a professional way. Fears about what might go wrong with social media efforts are often so overblown that you'd think a company will go bankrupt the week after they launch a Facebook group.
On the other hand, after years of covering word-of-mouth marketing and social media, I thought most brands would understand how to engage properly by now. I thought wrong. This list keeps on growing.
So to be safe, let's identify a few of the faces of failure that you might encounter when getting involved in social media.
1. Inexperience. You'll meet this one when you put post authority in the hands of staffers who aren't familiar with the territory. Seems like this is the issue that Nestle had on its hands recently. Be sure that your representatives understand how to deal with detractors.
2. Irrelevance. A great way to get people fired up is to spend a lot of time and money preparing a big social media launch and then...talking about something they don't care about at all. To counter this problem, Southwest Airlines ran into a customer service issue and posted about it on the corporate blog, facing the issue head on. Understand what your fans, foes, and curious onlookers want to talk about.
3. Inattention. Social media takes effort to manage; otherwise, garbage in = garbage out. Compare the difference in the Starbucks vs. Coca-Cola fan pages on Facebook. Which brand do you think gets more value from their millions of followers? Some initiatives have a natural endpoint, but almost everything else requires care and feeding.
Brands would be wise to take advice from T.S. Eliot and "prepare a face to meet the faces that you meet..."