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As a search engine marketing and social media (SMM) consultant, more firms are approaching me every week to help them develop integrated SMM strategies.

While in many ways social media is a completely different discipline to search; there are plenty of similarities when it comes to developing a strategy and many search experts are taking to social media marketing like ducks to water.

The one thing I am telling all these companies is you have to be careful as a bad SMM strategy can often do you more harm than good.

Everyone knows that bad news travels fast, and this is where the risk lies for short-sighted social media plans.

While the ability of a user to message their friends worldwide within seconds or set up a website in minutes offers many opportunities for marketing; it also means any mistakes you or your agency make can quickly reach an audience of millions.

There are a huge number of resources online covering social media marketing -great news for anyone looking to find out more about the topic, but as a consequence it means there are plenty of people claiming expert status.

They might be techies with no understanding of how marketing works or offline experts who have a mate who mentioned Myspace down the pub the other day, neither of which provides them with the skills to create a comprehensive social media marketing strategy.

The problem with these "gurus"' lack of experience is that there is a distinction between getting the message out there and spamming.

If you’re just submitting your press releases to digg or del.icio.us it’s unlikely they will ever pick up any real momentum and if the community labels you as spam you might end up getting your domain banned from its services.

A few sloppy mistakes now could prevent your killer content from going viral some time in the future.

Similarly, you’ve got to be realistic about the appeal of your campaign. Setting up your own social network on your website just because it’s fashionable might sound appealing.

However, if you have no real plan to attract members or interact with them it will reflect terribly on your brand.

Never be tempted to fake it - it’s almost inevitable it will backfire. Do a quick Google search on “sony psp blog”. Filling up the results is the backlash against Sony’s fake blog promoting the games console.

Your company might not be under the same scrutiny as the manufacturer of the Playstation but you should still learn from its mistakes.

It’s easy to see how it might seem better off ignoring social media when it could have such a negative effect on your brand’s reputation, but don’t let the risks put you off.

Not every campaign is going to be successful, but every mistake you make provides you with more knowledge and experience, making you less likely to make the same mistake again.

There are always going to be problems if you are at the cutting edge, but however traumatic these dramas may seem they are insignificant compared to the stress and strain you will have to go through if you get left behind.

Just like when appointing any marketing agency you have to do your homework -unfortunately there our cowboys out there who claim they know what they are doing, but don’t let that stop you from experimenting.

The opportunities to engage with your customers in ways that would have been impossible just a few months ago should inspire you and your agency with ideas to drive your business forward.

Damon Lightley

Published 3 May, 2007 by Damon Lightley

Damon Lightley is Owner at Lightley.com and a contributor to Econsultancy. 

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