One of the most effective types of content that engages consumers on social media is an offer or deal. In fact, recent reports show that the top reason most people follow brands on Facebook or Twitter is to get special offers online. It doesn’t have to be a holiday to offer a great special offer online; you can offer one at any time to reward your social media fans and followers, boost traffic to your website, and drive word-of-mouth and social sharing across your followers’ social networks, resulting in more customers for your business. Follow these simple rules to avoid common pitfalls and ensure your special online offer is successful.

DON’T Hide Important Details
No matter what kind of promotion you’re running, disclose the parameters of the offer up front. Do customers need to print a coupon or mention a promo code? When does the offer expire? Is it valid at multiple locations? Don’t leave this critical information to the fine print, or you’ll confuse your customers.  Plus, to protect your business from any legal ramifications, include terms and conditions on your offer, and consult a legal expert beforehand to make sure all the possible liabilities are covered.

DO Include All Locations
If you have multiple locations, make sure to offer customers of any location an opportunity to redeem the special offer, so you don’t limit the effectiveness of your campaign or cause an online uproar. Dunkin Donuts made a mistake when they advertised Free Iced Coffee Day but it wasn’t available in all locations. While the campaign stated it was “in participating markets,” the promotional campaign ran nationally – and Dunkin Donuts received a lot of angry Facebook comments from customers whose areas were excluded from the giveaway.

DO Create Targeted Offers
Want to drive social sharing on Facebook or reward your loyal customers? Create specialized offers targeted to these different audiences, like a coupon or discount for social media followers who share your content to increase online word of mouth for your business. To reward loyal customers, consider sending a personalized email with a special online offer just for them. 

DON’T Spam your Customers
If you’re running a general offer, make sure you promote it on your Facebook and Twitter social media profiles, on your website or blog, and even via email. But don’t flood your followers with multiple emails, posts, and updates that are only about your online offer, or you’ll turn potential buyers off. Instead, balance specials and offers with informative and entertaining content like helpful tips, photos or videos, or an interesting story to underscore your credibility and keep followers engaged.

DO Create a Landing Page
Landing pages are not just for paid online marketing campaigns. Social media and email marketing can benefit from a custom landing page on your blog or website that has a consistent look and feel of your promotion and contain all the critical details of your offer, like the Terms and Conditions. If your online offer requires a printed copy, a landing page is the perfect place to put it, along with any other information you can’t fit in an email or social media page. Landing pages are especially useful for running a special on Twitter, since the 140 character count really limits the amount of information you can share. Plus, repeating your special offer with a clear call to action will drive more customers to take advantage of your offer. 

DO Cater to Mobile Users
If you’re promoting your online offer via email, social media, or even using QR codes on direct mail or in-store signage, make sure you are sending mobile users to a site that’s optimized for mobile devices. Full websites are often too difficult to see on small phones, and could turn off potential customers who can’t find critical information about your offer. Plus, now that over 50% of consumers have smartphones, mobile optimized coupons can make redeeming your offers quick and easy. If you don’t want to bother with coupons at all, take a tip from Café Brazil, where customers only have to show the special offer on their smartphone to redeem it. Just establish a way for employees to manually keep track of the redeemed offers, so you can measure the success of the promotion.

DON’T Be Afraid to Try New Outlets
If you want to reach an audience outside of your typical network of existing customers and social media followers, try using a group buying site like Groupon, Dealon, or Facebook Deals to run your deal. This is one way to reach a lot of new customers who may not have otherwise known about your business. Another option is to offer a special on Foursquare, which lets both new and current customers take advantage of discounts from the local businesses in their area.

DO Measure Your Redemptions
Whether you require customers to print a physical coupon to redeem your offer or you create a special coupon code or tracking number, make sure to set up a unique tracking method for each online offer, so you can measure the success of your program. You can even create a special code for each channel where you promote your offer. For example, a code for an offer promoted on Twitter could be different from a code for the same offer promoted via Facebook or email. That way, you can see which social networks are working best for your online promotion.

DO Educate Your Staff
To keep customers happy and avoid any mishaps, make sure you tell your employees about any online specials or deals you are offering, as well as how to redeem them. Will they need to scan a coupon or enter a promotional code into your point-of-sale system? Will they need to keep a file of all used coupons? Creating a process – and communicating it to your employees – will ensure your business is well prepared for all the new and existing customers who will be taking advantage of your offer.

What tips do you have for running a successful offer or promotion on social media? Have you encountered any snags when running a special offer on Facebook, Twitter or Foursquare? Let us know about your experience with a comment!

Author: Tamara (Farley) Weintraub helps equip small business owners with information about local online advertising, social media marketing, and more as a blogger for ReachCast and ReachLocal.