Avoid using social media icons for print marketing

Published June 17, 2011 in the Colorado Springs Business Journal (Read this on CSBJ here)

The other day I was stuck in traffic on the way to a meeting, and the delivery van in front of me made me burst out laughing. On the back of the van was the “F” icon for Facebook, the “T” icon for Twitter below their phone number. I think their graphic designer was confused between how the Web works and how everything else works. On the Web, I can click these icons and wind up in the correct place within Facebook or Twitter. If I was going to try to find this company by simply going to the Facebook or Twitter mega sites and searching on the business name, who knows where I’d end up.

It struck me that using social media icons offline is the same as using an icon of a telephone to indicate “I have a phone number” and an icon of a building to show “I have a retail location.”

Who’s doing this?

After my revelation about social media icon use, I started to look around and holy smokes, everyone is doing it. I see the icons in brochures, on TV… everywhere. Even radio ads say, “follow us onTwitter.” Follow WHAT on Twitter is what I’d like to know. What’s your handle? How can I find you?

If a business wants to be clear about how to locate their presence in Facebook or Twitter, they should print their facebook page URL. It looks like this: http://www.facebook.com/companyname. (at least it is if you’ve claimed your Vanity URL, which you can set up at www.facebook.com/username) Twitter handles look like this @companyname or twitter.com/companyname. Using the correct URL location is not as cute as those icons, but it’s more useful.

The Symptom of a Larger Issue

I see the misuse of social media icons as a visual parallel to the misguided frenzy that businesses participated in when social media hit the mainstream. Business felt incredible pressure to participate without a clear idea of how or why. Web developers were barraged with poorly worded emails that read, “I need a facebook by Friday” or “Can you help me start a Twitter?”

Now that all of the Facebook pages are live and the Twitter feeds have launched (with varying degrees of success) the advertising of these communications channels is hamstrung by a continued lack of understanding about how these venues work or why we ask our customers and constituents to go there.

My personal preference will always be to ask customers and constituents to the company Web site as a main communications hub, and then use the social media icons there to further the discussion. I think it’s a missed opportunity to let potential customers leapfrog directly to Facebook or Twitter without visiting the company site first. But of course this also opens the larger issue how companies expect customers and constituents to interact with them in these venues versus their web site. What is the user path for your company – is it Web/facebook/twitter, or Twitter/Facebook/Web site/phone call? Hardly anyone measures this or knows the answer to that question.

We’ve reached a point where businesses are starting to reassess their social media presence. Some are scaling back, some deleting their accounts all together. The companies that are still interested in social media are much more strategic and interested in pursuing the right strategy for the right reasons.

It’s a good time to stop and think about not only your total social media presence, but also how you alert the world to the fact that you’re online.