9 mistakes companies often make on the internet

I think it was 2001 or 2002 when I first got involved in an online communication project related to a company (it was Coca-Cola). Back then it was called e-marketing or e-presence. Now it is called interactive, direct marketing, special projects, social networking, PR 2.0 and so on. Based both on my own experience and also on others projects, which I’ve studied in order to be able to come up with good solutions for my customers, I’ve assembled a list of DON’Ts or common mistakes companies usually make online.

  1. Too much control, perfectionism. Successful companies search for perfection with their their products and services, launched in a competitive climate and carefully tailored to consumers’ needs. Blogging and social platforms have a very different philosophy, consisting of spontaneity, reaction speed, lightness, tolerance for error. Unlike printed texts, blog posts can be corrected after publication and if mistakes are not brutal, there will be very little frustration and criticism because of them. 
  2. Make it too much your own. Only link to sites within your corporate ecosystem, only quote your experts, only talk about your achievements: it may work offline, but it just doesn’t on the Internet. The first two mistakes are common even to classic media moving online. Linking to your own sites can bring SEO benefits, but it’s hardly relevant as content provided to users, and links are content if made properly. Web 2.0 is about collaboration among numerous small or niched content producers and it can be a bad idea to act as if they didn’t exist. They do exist and can become very vocal against you, especially if they perceive your brand as arrogant.
  3. Corporate language, official tone of voice. Official language appeared for a purpose. One can’t conceive neither administrative reports, nor legislation in slang, for example. But being official on a blog or on Facebook is as wrong as wearing black tie at a beach party. Think more of your ‘sound’ compared to the voices of other successful content outlets on your niche, than of what would the other specialists say about you. Don’t copy the style of other companies without good reasons: they might be unsuccessful or ill advised.
  4. Yes, gimme a blog!/What! Do I have to post on it three times a week?! Yes, you do. The internet is full of beautiful blogs belonging to people with senior management positions or politicians, but many of them haven’t been updated in weeks or even months. Asking or agreeing to start a blog is a one-way process. Once the blog is launched and everybody can see it, not updating it is much worse than simply not having launched it. True, sometimes it’s the consultants’ fault, especially if they are very young and with no communication background other than blogging and the Internet. Don’t listen to them if you don’t feel confortable with writing, at least in MS Word or a similar processor. Ghost writing will be one of the few options left in such cases, and it seldom leads to anything famous.
  5. Don’t ask for immediate results. It seems easy to achieve 1,000 likes on Facebook or 200 unique visitors per day on a blog. It is not, or at least you have to have a lot of resources at your disposal in order to do it in a week. The internet is not a joke anymore, it became very competitive and it may be very expensive to achieve certain goals.
  6. Avoid hard selling. The Internet and especially Web 2.0 are the territory of reluctant users/customers. Overselling things on it is as wrong as using a corporate and impersonal language. People do interact, are critical (most of the time with a reason), tend to exercise their judgment on the Internet. Most of the successful Web 2.0 campaigns are characterized by less emphasis, more discreet pack shots and so on. Classic advertising is for classic media. And don’t expect immediate sales increases in terms of results of Internet communication, which is more suitable for brand/image campaigns than for noisy promotions. Material earnings or awards can be good incentives, but symbolic rewards such as stars and ranks on forums work surprisingly well online.
  7. Avoid talking heads. Yes, they’re common on TV. But take a look at what is successful on YouTube: hardly any sound-bites or official persons talking corporate. Take a look at the numbers: material which looks like TV hard news is seldom popular.
  8. I can do Web 2.0, me. True, everybody can setup a blog on WordPress or Blogspot. Most of us can take acceptable pictures with a pocket camera or even something more high end. But think of the vast majority of amateurish setups nobody loves and visits. You may be able to quickly learn which are the best permalinks and which plugin is better in order to use Feedburner for RSS. But is it your goal to become a web designer? Knowing a little of what your providers do is fine, because you pay them for that. But if you end up by substituting yourself to the specialists it’s obviously a waste of time and resources. This is connected to the way you manage your project: don’t lose yourself into technicalities. You will lose focus.
  9. Don’t forget about corporate values. It sounds funny, especially after what I’ve written above about corporate language and everything. However, the people working for you will lose direction if you don’t give them an input about your mission, business objectives and so on. Whatever may seem obvious to you, as a representative of the company, may be cryptical for outsiders, especially if the market in which you evolve is a complicated one. Assuming the philosophy of your company is more than a pile of cliches about customer satisfaction and growth, any differentiating information will be welcome. Remember that strategy is your domain more than the size of tags in the tag cloud and the way you can control it.
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