With all the hype about social media these days, sometimes you need to step back and separate fact from fiction. Here is a reality check on 5 common myths of social media marketing.
#5. Social marketing means buying ads on social networks. False.
Some social networks sell identity-targeted ads, and sometimes that is a cost-effective way to reach a specific audience. If you're creative and understand the medium though, there is tons of stuff you can do without buying ads. For that matter, if you don't understand the medium you certainly should not spend money on ads in it.
The core value of social media for business is the ability to grow and keep in touch with a large following of customers and potential customers. We used to call that an "opt-in mailing list," and it used to be much more expensive and less effective.
#4. Social marketing means selling to my friends. False.
This is a common misconception among small business operators. The fact is if you are in business, your business is already a part of your community. People sometimes talk about you in real life, and sometimes they will talk about you on social networks too. Social marketing means creating a presence for your business or brand on the social networks that your customers use, such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and Yelp. You are in control of that presence, giving you some control over how people talk about and perceive your business there.
#3. Word of mouth advertising happens automatically on social networks. False.
Even if you have a presence on social media, that does not guarantee people will talk about you. You should always remind customers at the point of sale to find and connect with your business on the social media they use regularly. This is when they are thinking about how satisfied they are with you, so it's the perfect time to invite them to connect on Facebook or Twitter, or to follow your blog (assuming your blog is on a topic of interest to your business' customers).
Even when you have followers, you need to encourage them to refer their friends. Discuss topics that remind them why they love you - this does not always necessarily mean talking about your business - and you will become part of their conversations with friends. Ask directly for referrals when appropriate, and offer incentives such as discounts or rewards for referrals when appropriate.
#2. You don't need to pay for advertising if you use social media. False.
Fact: For new businesses, social media is a great way to build loyalty among your fledgling customer base and to facilitate referrals.
Fallacy: Social media will generate customers out of thin air and people won't be able to stop talking about you.
It's a fine line between the two. Used properly, social marketing does two things to help your business: First, it keeps you in front of your customers minds in a positive way - without the cost of expensive brand advertising, resulting in more repeat business from the same customers. Second, it encourages people who connect with you ("Like" on Facebook, "follow" on Twitter or blog, etc) to recommend your business to their friends.
Like any investment though, you need to diversify your marketing. Social media should be PART OF but not your ENTIRE marketing strategy. Especially for brand new businesses, it's important to understand that social media is based on word of mouth advertising. If you don't have satisfied customers to spread the word about your business yet, then word of mouth advertising is irrelevant. If you do have satisfied customers, you should ask every one of them to connect with your business on whatever social media they use, and to recommend your business to their friends.
#1. My business will benefit if it goes viral. False.
The #1 myth of social media is that anything more than 15 minutes of fame can be gained from going viral on the Internet. To be fair, a few individuals and businesses (including myself) have made some money with viral marketing. However, most of the content that goes viral on the Internet is as transient as the mumblings in a crowded cafeteria. Going viral is a personal triumph for an artist, but usually does not open doors to riches. Further, when going viral is lucrative, there is always more than "just" viral marketing behind it.
Video clips or other imagery with certain characteristics that appeal to human emotions in a specific way compel people to forward them on to friends and family. Yet, most of the time they are forgotten as quickly as they are forwarded.
Only in rare cases, and those executed with painstaking attention to detail, does going viral actually lead to monetary benefit. In rarer cases still is an actual product or service itself so disruptively different that it merits rampant forwarding. It happens (e.g. Magic Jack) but very rarely, and there's always something more behind it than catchy content.
The best practice for using social media to grow your business is to convert your satisfied customers from real life into social media connections, and then use social media to maintain and strengthen your relationship with them over time. Use proven methods for growing your fan base or following, and consider social media a tool for long-term growth, not a get-rich-quick scheme.