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Nine Reasons Businesses Fail at Social Media

Many businesses fail at social media marketing and quit, because they don't understand the social norms or dynamics of social media.
Written Jan 31, 2010, read 1333 times since then.


While social media is becoming more and more accepted by businesses, many of those businesses are still going in without a plan or not thinking out their presentation on social media sites. The following list are reasons I've observed that businesses fail at social media:

1. Businesses treat social media as a sales process, instead of recognizing that its marketing. In other words they spend too much time trying to sell to people with what they post instead of participating and finding out what people want. The primary posts of these businesses tend to either be text that is repeated every few lines or text that is an offer with a link to a website following it.

2. Businesses don't use social media as a customer service platform. They focus on marketing and promotion, but fail to engage customers when it comes to concerns those customers bring up. Choosing to address customer concerns in a public forum can actually help businesses reform public image (if its negative) and also show that they are concerned with customer needs. Customer service can be its own marketing, when done right.

3. They underuse social media sites. A lot of businesses don't know how to use all the features on social media sites and so don't use a site to its full capability. Consequently while they may update their status, they aren't using the sites fully to interact with and get in front of people. Additionally, they aren't fully capitalizing on the means of building deeper relationships with their connections on those sites.

4. They join social media sites without a strategy, or process for using the site. This means they don't have a routine developed that allows them to use the site efficiently and they aren't sure if being on the site is useful for their purposes.

5. They don't understand social media behavior. They treat social media as technology, without recognizing the social norms that influence interactions on social media sites. Consequently they will make blunders such as posting inappropriate information or expressions, which can have a backlash. They need to learn the appropriate etiquette and behavior for using social media sites.

6. They make their activity on social media sites a vanity exercises, focusing more on talking about themselves than learning about the people they follow. For example, some people and businesses will only retweet a mention of themselves. This kind of vanity ultimately is self serving.

7. They apply the same strategy to each social media site without recognizing the design issues that influence how a social media site is used. No two social media sites are the same. Nor are the audiences on each social media site the same. Businesses need to learn how each site works and also learn how the audience for a given site uses it, as well as what their purpose is for using the site.

8. Someone in the business sets up a social media profile for the business before the business is ready and then the business doesn't do anything with it. Businesses need to be clear what their social media policy is, as well as who has the authorization to set up profiles on social media sites. They need to make sure that once they are on the sites, they are consistent in their activity and messages.

9. Businesses focus on Return on Investment without recognizing that social media is about relationship building, and that the ROI occurs later in the process. ROI is a term from the financial industry. While it's possible to analyze the traffic that comes to your website from social media, attempting to put a dollar sign on your social media relationships is crass and ignores the fact that any capital in social media is based more on social capital and less on monetary capital.

Learn more about the author, Taylor Ellwood.

Comment on this article

  • Web Designer, Web Hosting Provider 
Portland, Oregon 
Nedra Rezinas
    Posted by Nedra Rezinas, Portland, Oregon | Feb 09, 2010

    Nailed some good points, so many businesses want a quick return on social media and forget it's all about conversations with real people. You can't shout anymore.

  • Author, Artist and Activist 
Encinitas, California 
Leah Oviedo
    Posted by Leah Oviedo, Encinitas, California | Feb 09, 2010

    Great points Taylor. I'd like to add a tip for small business owners trying to build a customer base.

    Start one on one conversations with people. This can be done in 2 simple steps.

    First find where your target market is. You can do this by using advanced searches on LI and Facebook. You can also find groups on, which is great because you can also create a content rich profile with lots of information about your products/services.

    The second step is to approach those people, by leaving a comment on their profile or a blog post they wrote. You can also send a direct message, just make sure it is not all about you. Ask them questions and find out what they need or want.

    Even if someone doesn't use your service, they may recommend you or keep you in mind for when they do need your product/service.

    *This is also a great way to network B2B.

  • Holistic Business Coach 
Portland, Oregon 
Taylor Ellwood
    Posted by Taylor Ellwood, Portland, Oregon | Feb 09, 2010

    Hi Leah,

    Good suggestion. Thanks for sharing.

  • Author, Artist and Activist 
Encinitas, California 
Leah Oviedo
    Posted by Leah Oviedo, Encinitas, California | Feb 10, 2010

    You're welcome.

    The more I use SM for business, the more I realize how powerful creating relationships with each customer helps me grow.