The fun thing about social media is that it is always evolving and there are constantly new ways to improve your social media approach no matter what industry you are in.

Deirdre Breakenridge, who co-wrote Putting the Public Back in Public Relations with Brian Solis, recently offered up some excellent social media advice on Kimberly Ciesla’s blog, “PRactice Makes Perfect.”

Being the social media lovers that we are, we felt compelled to share these 5 frequent missteps companies and professionals make in their quest for social media success.

Mistake # 1 – Rushing to socialize. Yes, executives are often in a hurry to launch products, make shareholders happy and increase performance but they often rush right past the first and most important step in social media…listening. You cannot skip the listening phase in social media. It doesn’t matter who you are or how many years you’ve been in the business.

Why is this detrimental? It is critical to listen first before you engage.  Listening is the only way to learn about people, their needs, concerns, and the questions and frustration that they may have.  Listening is a big part of your research process and it provides rich information and useful input that can be utilized to offer better insight and feedback to the people in the communities that you want to reach.  Listening also helps to cull research that can be placed back into your product development cycle to enhance your customer’s experience.

Mistake # 2 – We’ll participate to control the message! Brands shouldn’t participate in social media so that they can control what is being said and not have their employees participate. This is the wrong approach because employees and consumers will talk about those brands anyway in their social networks.

Why is this so detrimental? In social media there IS no control over conversations. You can certainly gain a better understanding of what people are saying by listening and participating to correct any miscommunication.  However, you can’t stop the opinions or the different perspectives. Instead, work on managing the conversations and helping with damage control by offering real people to fix real problems.

Mistake # 3 – Let’s be everywhere! This is a common social media mistake.  It’s that feeling that you should have your profile on every social platform and/or your company needs to chart a social map that extends to over 100 networks.

Why is this so detrimental? It’s better to be in a few meaningful places, where the conversation makes sense for you to engage (and where there are influencers and other stakeholders you want to meet) then to be everywhere.  When you spread your resources too thin the result is less meaningful interaction. It’s better to start slowly to build communities so that you can become an active participant and develop better relationships in a network that makes sense for your brand.

Mistake # 4 – Spamming. Nobody likes being spammed and social media users are no exception.  It’s amazing that even after all of the wikis, with blacklisted PR people and/or their firms, there are still professionals that risk spamming people and offending everyone in their social media travels.  It’s such a shame to blow a potential relationship on the first spammy message you send someone.  The reason this is so detrimental is self explanatory. People will unfollow and/or block you if you spam them, so knock it off!

Mistake # 5 – I speak, and if you don’t listen, I’ll speak even more loudly!  Social networks are made up of many different types of people with strong values, who build tight knit web cultures. If you don’t study the dynamics of the culture this may cause issues in your communication approach. Study the way people interact with one another, what kinds of topics ignite passion and also which topics may be sensitive to community members.  If you are going to participate in a community, then it’s up to you to know the right approaches (another listening exercise) so that you don’t offend the group or any members individually.

Why is this detrimental? It doesn’t matter if you are sitting with friends having a cup of coffee, at a team meeting with your colleagues, or in a social network, everyone should be allowed to have their opinions, without having to change their views to pacify a another community member.  It can be particularly damaging at the beginning of a friendship to be too forceful with your opinions, or to be proving your point to make the group agree.  Social media is all about healthy debate and opinions will naturally differ, but not to the point of discomfort among chatting parties.

The wonderful thing about social media is that it is never too late to fix your mistakes.  If you realize that you are engaging in one or all of these social media blunders, it’s very easy to change your approach or to apologize, if you offend someone.

Remember, social media is all about relationships, don’t say or do anything you wouldn’t say or do to a potential new friend!