I recently received a direct message on Twitter from a new follower that promised if I clicked on his bit.ly link that my business would explode with social media.

Explode? Really?

I pose this question to you – has your, or your client’s, business exploded because of social media? Have any of the big, major, plenty-of-cash-to-spend brands seen explosive business growth as a result of their social media? (Oh, check out Pepsi to answer that question.)

As recently as a year ago social media was on the tip of everyone’s tongue. Today it is being shoved down our throat. While I am certainly an advocate for including social media in your marketing plans I do not believe it is a panacea that will magically cure-all your revenue generating ills. The problem is that so many business owners and nonprofit directors are coming late to the social media game. ofttimes, this is a generational thing. As a result, they can succumb to any manner of snake oil social media offerings only to realize their mistake before it is too late.

Before you click on that next bit.ly link keep in mind a few things about social media and your company:

Guarantee – Outside of death and taxes life promises few guarantees. This is especially true of social media. If someone guarantees you explosive business or donor growth – demand they quantify it. If they are so confident of their guarantee – ask them if it of the money back variety. My guess is the answer is no.

Instant Success – You’ve probably seen the Facebook ads that talk about adding 10,000 fans virtually overnight. Unless you are a major brand with already established market recognition (think Starbucks, Coke, Skittles) people are not going to flock to your Facebook page. Why? Because they don’t know you’re there! Gaining a following in social media is not an accidental thing. you have to earn it. That means you have to market your presence – especially to your existing customers and donors. When the social media genie promises instant success – ask them to define it. Ask them what tactics they are going to use to gain this dramatic growth. Do NOT depend on their case studies because….

One Size Does Not Fit All – Your business or nonprofit is unique. What you offer, what you stand for, what benefits you deliver are specific to your brand. A social media strategy must be tailored to suit your specific needs and goals. It must work in concert with your other marketing initiatives. Social media is not a stand-alone platform. Looking at case studies of social media success (and failure) is a smart. Social media marketing is still a trial-and-error process. As with all marketing genres look to steal the great ideas and avoid the dumb ones. But, remember your uniqueness. You cannot simply slap your logo on someone else’s boilerplate and expect it to work.

Understand Your Need – Just because social media is the modern day equivalent of the Oklahoma Land Rush doesn’t mean you have to pull up stakes and start all over. Take the time to investigate every platform. Doe you need a Facebook page? Probably. How about a Twitter account? Maybe. You Tube? Only if you have the video content. A Blog. I say yes but you better have something to say. Flickr? Google+? Foursquare? Groupon? Living Social? The list can be overwhelming. I have met with countless potential clients who feel the need to jump in with both feet. However, after analyzing their needs, their ability to participate and their goals we often find that certain social media platforms are not right for their business. It is ok to dip your toe in the water and build slowly.

There is no question that social media is exploding. If you are not investigating how this marketing platform can benefit your business or nonprofit you are doing yourself a disservice. However, don’t be blinded by jargon and empty promises. Be smart. Take your time. Do your due diligence.

And, work with someone whose goal is to understand your business and your goals and will work with you to achieve them.

That is your first social media relationship.

Steve Allan, Social Media Specialist, SMThree