As the year wound down, Boston Business Journal published a great list of the 10 worst social media mistakes brands made in 2012.

As I read them, I saw a huge difference between the implications (and lessons to be learned) from these mistakes. In my mind, the mistakes fell into two categories:

Bad Marketing: The first I would call bad marketing mistakes. 6 of the 10 fell into this category. They included things like:

  • Chef Marc Orfaly, who unloaded an expletive-laced rant on an unhappy customer who posted her review of her Thanksgiving dinner at Orfaly’s Boston restaurant
  • Gap tweeting "All impacted by #Sandy, stay safe! We'll be doing lots of shopping today. How about you?"

These bad marketing mistakes can be attributed to an ill-considered statement by one person. These can usually be prevented just by making sure that you have good marketing people and a culture and a process to think before you hit send.

Bad Management: This second category are the really scary ones. These are mistakes that are caused by systemic problems happening far away from the marketing department. Here are the four mistakes highlighted in the BBJ article that fall into this category:

  • The tweet that went viral: "My sister paid Progressive Insurance to defend her killer in court"
  • Starbucks' #spreadthecheer hashtag campaign backfiring in the United Kingdom, where users hijacked the hashtag and tweeted out negative, sometimes expletive-laced tweets about the chain's workplace practices
  • #McDStories hashtag. People were supposed to share positive stories about McDonald's. Unfortunately for the burger chain, people began sharing some very unappetizing stories
  • Boloco CEO John Pepper alerting 50,000 email subscribers that the chain planned to keep its restaurants open for business during Hurricane Sandy. Angry tweets and emails immediately started pouring in, criticizing Boloco for potentially putting employees in harm's way.

These aren’t social media marketing mistakes. They are Social Era management failures. These are the kind of failures that should keep every leader up at night. And they are a clear harbinger of the dramatic changes to come.

Social technologies empower your customers, your stakeholders and your employees. They move the conversation away from branding where you get to say who you are to a conversation about what you do. Social means (among other things) that your actions can become part of a public conversation. And actions, as my mother always said, speak louder than words. Scary right?

So what’s the answer? The last chapter of our book Intangible Capital is entitled Reputation is the New Bottom Line. In it, we make the case that reputation is the metric that determines your ability to make profits. Starting a new year as we are this week, I submit that your reputation will be much more important to your performance in the coming year than your earnings last year.

What drives reputation? Your intangible assets. Your people, your culture, your shared knowledge, your partnerships, your business model. It’s what you do and how you do it. These intangibles are very real economic assets. And they’re actually easy to inventory and measure. And, if you want to avoid the second category of “social media” mistakes, you better start paying attention to the intangibles.

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