Beware the hidden dangers of social media.

Social media is all the rage. All the cool kids are using it; at least, that’s what the cool kids on the internet are telling us. The number of businesses on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and YouTube is mind-boggling, but the real question is how many of them are using the tools wisely?

If you own a business, work for or with businesses, I’m sure you’ve heard from nearly everyone you know that you must be using social media. The pressure to jump into the game immediately, plus the perception that social media success is both free and easy, have led many businesses to make very visible mistakes online. A poorly constructed and executed social plan often leads to results more problematic than had the business done nothing at all.

How many businesses have we all seen have their efforts undermined because they failed to recognize the signs that they weren’t prepared? The good news is that we can all learn from their mistakes, a few of which have led to…

Signs Your Business Should Not Be Using Social Media (Yet)

1. You Like It Because You Think It’s Free

Your primary reason for wanting to use social media is that you think it’s the “modern” way to send your promotional messages out to large numbers of people all at once with very little cost and effort. Perhaps, you’ve sent out promotional postcards (a.k.a. junk mail) in the past and are now looking for a more cost effective way to reach more people. If this is your primary activity online, you are not a marketer. You are a spammer.

 

2. You’re Obsessed with ROI

You are under the impression that you must know the precise ROI (Return on Investment) of your social media efforts before you begin. Using digital platforms successfully to build community, relationships, and trust is an iterative process. It is, and should be, a strategic approach beginning with thoughtful first steps, followed by measuring the results and adjusting things where appropriate.

Anyone who tells you that if you do X [some social media task], you will achieve Y [specific number of Facebook fans, % increase in sales, etc.] is blowing smoke in your direction. Did you calculate the ROI of the telephone or the company car before you invested in them? Did you know up front how to connect those investments to the bottom line? Of course not, but you knew they were important to the business and you have continually evaluated your use of them to maximize their value. Understanding exactly what you want to measure and how to measure it takes time. Don’t expect to have this completely nailed down before you even begin.

 

3. Meet Your New Chief of Social Media: The Neighbor’s Kid

The kid spends all day on Facebook anyway, so it makes sense to let him handle all of the social media for your business, right? Plus, you don’t need to pay him. He’s happy to put in a couple of hours a week just to have access to your swimming pool in the summer. If this is the direction you’re heading, or a similar plan to assign the task to a student who will work for peanuts <ahem, intern>, I encourage you to do some research and consider finding someone who is qualified to guide your efforts. Spoiler alert: Being able to tweet or post photos to Facebook from a smartphone doesn’t count as a qualification. 

 

4. Set Up Your Social Accounts, Watch the Money Roll In

You’ve heard the stories; a bookstore (or was it a coffee shop, no wait, it was a computer company, or was it a magazine, it’s so hard to remember) set up a Facebook Page and six weeks later had 2.5 million Facebook fans and increased sales by 420%.

Stories are just that – stories, not reality. Here’s the truth about social media: It’s not magic; it takes work. It is not a “set it and forget it” proposition. Like most things in life, success comes with focus, competence, passion, a unique vision and, yes, work. In fact, simply setting up pages and then letting them go stale without any activity can do more harm to your brand than had you never set them up in the first place.

 

5. Your Business Sucks

Incorporating social media tools into an overall business strategy definitely offers important opportunities which wouldn’t have been possible any other way. That said, investing in social media will not save you if your product or service, uhm, sucks. If your customers or your employees aren’t happy, adopting social media will not save your sinking ship. Social media provides a larger platform to be who we are and amplifies the voices of those talking about you. If whatever you’re selling doesn’t work the way it’s supposed to, it might be best to focus your efforts on fixing that problem first and tackle social media once the business sucks a little less.

 

If these signs describe your view of social media, take heart, you aren’t the only one. Too many are under the impression that going online is a sure-fire way to boost business with little to no effort. If you take the time to really understand the benefits, risks and best practices (or partner with someone else who understands this), you could well be on your way to building the kind of online presence that suits your business best. It won’t happen overnight, but it can happen.

 

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Image courtesy of upyernoz