Social media can be a powerful marketing tool. But used the wrong way, social media sites can have a negative impact on your business — costing you goodwill and prospective customers. So how can you create a positive impression of your business and/or your products on popular social media sites, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+ — and avoid potentially costly social media blunders? asked dozens of social media experts and managers to find out. Here are their top 15 picks for the most common social media mistakes businesses make and how to avoid them.

1. Not having a social media policy.“Companies who fail to provide guidelines for how their employees should conduct themselves online are dealing with a ticking time bomb,” says Brandon Harig, social media strategist, Identity, an integrated public relations firm.

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“By establishing expectations of how employees represent themselves online, both during work hours and after, brands not only help educate their staff on potential problems, they create a fallback when someone goes too far,” Harig says.

2. Treating all social media sites as if they are the same. “Each social media channel has its own language, customs and audience,” explains Simon Tam, founder and director of Marketing for The Slants, an Asian American dance rock band. So before you start using Facebook or Twitter or LinkedIn, “it’s important to learn how people communicate and share on that particular network.”

“Many businesses simultaneously blast the exact same message across Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, etc. not realizing that this comes across as fake, impersonal or spam-like,” adds Raj Kadam, the cofounder and CEO of Viralheat, a social media marketing suite. To avoid coming across as fake or like a banner ad, “businesses should make the effort to understand how each individual platform works and tailor their messages and content to be platform specific.”

3. Not making the most of your social media bio.“On many social media platforms your bio is the first thing that someone will see,” notes Hailley Griffis, a social media engagement specialist at ReSoMe (Relevant Social Media). So “be sure to include your location and website [URL] — and be creative with the bio,” if you can, she says. “If people don’t know what your company does… give them a good reason to [follow or like you].”

4. Using social media as a megaphone. “Social media isn’t simply a megaphone for your brand, it’s a two-way street — hence the ‘social,'” explains Thom Fox, chief idea architect at consulting company the BrunoFox Group. “If you’re going to do social media… dedicate personnel to monitor engagement; create an editorial calendar to generate conversations around promotions; and most importantly, be human,” he says. “Interaction builds loyalty, and loyalty translates to sales.”

5. Focusing on quantity of followers instead of quality. “Some companies are willing to do anything to get more followers, fans or likes from buying followers to staging a fake Twitter hack,” says Dave Hawley, senior marketing director of SocialChorus, a provider of advocate marketing solutions. “The problem is, likes don’t equal sales.”

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