We just finished our first semester of Students Helping Startups and it provided insights into how small businesses think about social media and uncovered reasons their social media marketing strategies fail (read more about the Students Helping Startups program here).  Overcoming these problems  will go a long way toward ensuring social media marketing success.

BTW, we’ll start this program again in the fall, so you can apply using the link in the original post listed above.

5. Misunderstanding How Social Media Works

Several sub-elements exist here including:

  1. Thinking social media is just another form of advertising and PR.  So, you only push messages about your company.
  2. Not understanding how platforms differ — Facebook is different from Google+, which is different from Twitter not only in functional ways, but in the way consumers use them.
  3. Not considering your target market in determining which social media to use.  Folks seem to think they HAVE to use Facebook and certainly, with over 850 million users, overlooking Facebook in developing your social media marketing strategy requires justification.  The reality is that some groups make little use of Facebook and use other social media more.
  4. Or firms use outdated ideas to determine where to build social media marketing strategies.  For instance, companies think they can’t reach baby boomers on social networks while statistics show this is the fastest growing group of users on social network sites.
  5. Especially on Twitter, certain language conventions help condense messages into 140 characters. You need to know these to communicate effectively.
  6. Not understanding SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategies rounds out the list of things firms don’t understand and leads to social media marketing failures.

4. Not Being Realistic

Businesses are unrealistic about resources required for social media marketing success — they don’t realize the amount of time and money necessary.

There’s the old saying you can have it fast, free, or effective; you can’t have all 3 at once and you’re lucky if you can get 2 of the 3.

Sure, social media marketing is MUCH less expensive than traditional media, but you still have to pay for some elements.  While social media platforms are mostly free, you’ll need to spend a little on creating attractive and effective pages.  You need professional images and video, which cost money.  And, you need people to run your social media marketing. Trying to run social media marketing in your spare time around running your business is not effective.

3. Not Measuring and Monitoring

Folks using social media underestimate the importance of metrics in developing social media marketing success. Firms don’t install analytics, don’t look at their analytics often enough, and don’t track trends across their metrics.

Developing a social media dashboard is as important as the dashboard in your car.

It tells you what’s working and what’s not.  Incorporating a listening post into your dashboard is essential.  It allows you instant access to sentiments about your firm across the ‘net.

2. Not Building Engagement as a Hallmark of Your Social Media Strategy

NOTHING happens in social media without engagement and, if this isn’t an integral part of your social media marketing strategy, you won’t achieve the results you want.

Engagement is really the fuel behind spreading your message in social media.

1. Fear of Social Media

By far, the leading cause of social media failure is FEAR.  This is why businesses set up camp in social networks, but then don’t do anything there.  Businesses feel this paralyzing fear that they’ll do something wrong and it’ll hurt their brand.  What they don’t realize is that NOT DOING anything is MUCH worse than anything they actually do as part of their social media strategy.

Best case, being afraid keeps you from benefiting from social media — which is an incredibly effective, low-cost option for building your business.

Worst case, you damage your brand.  If you’ve set up pages on social networks and don’t post or don’t respond to customers’ comments on these pages, you’re committing social media suicide. Not responding to customer questions or complaints escalates dissatisfaction and damages your brand.  It also gives dissatisfied customers something else rally supporters against your brand.  Not rewarding folks to engage with you (by responding to them) withers future engagement.

Saying something, unless it’s truly vulgar or insensitive, is better than saying nothing.

Read more: Four Lessons From A Few of 2012’s Best Social Media Fails