Social media is playing a greater role in businesses with over 90% of businesses now implementing social media marketing according to the 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, which was based on a survey of over 3,000 marketers. The majority of these businesses have less than 1 year of experience on social media.

Many "newbies" on the block don’t fully understand what social media is about and are easily disappointed. With clearer expectations of what social media can do for you (hint: selling is not the priority), you can focus your efforts on what social media does best: the social aspect of marketing, engaging your community, and providing value to them.

What Social Media for Business Is Really About

Most newbies wrongly believe that social media is about direct selling. In fact, hard selling on social media backfires because Internet users are savvy about and bombarded with advertising these days. Instead, social media is really about…

  1. Relationship Building: Social media is about being social. As with any relationship, the trust you build with your potential customers on social media will take time and patience. With a personable and authentic social media presence and by consistently providing value, you build a following of people who may not only turn into repeat customers, but who would also highly recommend you to others.
  2. Providing Value: Your social media platforms aren't a soapbox to just talk about yourself. For instance, we use our Mavenlink Twitter account to discuss Mavenlink at times, but also talk about the latest in some of our integration partners such as Google Apps, QuickBooks, PayPal and how you can benefit from them, along with project management, managing remote teams, and many other subjects. This is similar to our intentions with our blog with posts like 7 Google Docs Tips & Tricks You Should Know.
  3. Brand Awareness: Attract, engage, and interact with potential customers and be more personal with them. If you’re able to leave an amazing impression, the more people who recognize and are aware about your brand, the more people discuss your company through word of mouth. Online publicity increases your company’s visibility. Establish your expertise in your field and control how people see you and your brand.
  4. Customer Service: With over 800 million users on Facebook alone, it will be more convenient for many of your customers to communicate with you through social media platforms. By answering questions and handling requests efficiently and promptly, you develop a positive reputation for your business.
  5. Reputation Management: Whether or not you’re on social media, eventually people will be talking about you online. Be in charge of both positive and negative feedback. Outspoken Media presents a case study of how Brownes & Co. did online reputation management all wrong, which resulted in negative publicity making up over half of the links on the first page of Google when you search for the small business. Take control of that early!
  6. Industry Networking: Social media is not only a platform for you to connect with past, current, and future customers, but it also facilitates connections with others in your field. For small businesses, these mutually beneficial connections are indispensable. Share tips, mutually enlarge your networks, and promote each others’ offers to help each other grow.
  7. Strategic Observation: There’s a lot to learn from your competitors online. Observe their marketing strategies, take note of their pricing, and watch how they manage public complaints for example.
  8. Research & Development: Social media provides a casual, non-committal atmosphere where people feel more willing to share their opinions whether directly to you or as part of a conversation with others. You can actively poll others or amass opinions, and also passively be a strategic listener on the Internet through keyword monitoring, which can help you identify trends in your industry.

6 Social Media for Business Myths

Now that you understand the true objectives of social media marketing for business, we can dispel other common misconceptions about social media:

  • Myth #1: I’m going to see the results of my efforts immediately.
    Social media is a long-term investment because it depends on relationship building. The relationships may to business or partnerships, but only when there’s trust, which takes time and patience to develop. Michael A. Stelzner, in his 2011 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, found that almost 100% of marketers using social media for at least a year have successfully increased public interest in their business. Furthermore, almost three-quarters of those implementing social media for over 3 years have used it to successfully conduct business.
  • Myth #2: I can easily build a fan base from scratch.
    When you create a Facebook page or Twitter account, you’ll have zero fans and followers. That means that no one is seeing the content you share. Let’s say you have one fan on your Facebook page and that fan has 100 Facebook friends. That means, every time this fan interacts with your page or shares your content, there’s a possibility that 100 people (this fan’s Facebook friends) may be exposed to your company. The beginning is the slowest stage, but it gets better with every additional fan and fans snowball by word of mouth if you’re engaging them.
  • Myth #3: Social media is all about my company.
    Who wants to hang out with the guy who’s full of himself? Nobody, especially if you’re a small business in the highly competitive World Wide Web? It’s a recipe for disaster (or at least non-growth) if all you’re posting are about you and your company. You may get a few meaningless Likes and Retweets here and there, but the real interaction comes with interest and generosity. As much as your company may already provide value and generate interest, be careful that your posting pattern doesn’t resemble direct selling. Engagement on social media means creating a community where people are likely to stay and interact, and you do so by taking the time to acknowledge fans, ask fun questions in your field, share quotes, recognize others’ work… the sky’s the limit!
  • Myth #5: I should get as many fans and followers as I can.
    With cheap social media services like those offered at Fiverr, it’s not hard to find Facebook pages with hundreds of fans and Twitter profiles with hundreds of followers yet very limited interaction. Without the key component of social engagement, social media does not benefit your business.
  • Myth #6: Social media can do the selling on its own.
    Though it’s true that selling is a byproduct of social media marketing and should not be the focus of social media efforts, that doesn’t mean you can’t make it easy for the fans and followers who are ready to do business with your company. Your website, storefront, landing page, and/or sign-up form should be easy to find and access. This is where availability is also an important factor. If your company’s online personality is regularly available and willing to engage, potential customers will be more likely to take the steps along with you to close a deal.

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What can you do to improve your social media marketing approach? What tips do you have for other businesses using social media?

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