The truth about social media marketing

Social Media Fact vs FictionCredit: MyselfSocial media is a great way to gain exposure for your business and build your brand, however the information available on using it can be misleading at best.

Far from being a mysterious new technique, social media marketing has become almost an essential for most businesses, and as such the days of hiring self-proclaimed "social media gurus" are drawing to a close.

Instead, social media is becoming something we all know a little bit about, and a regular part of marketing. This article aims to improve your knowledge of the subject by clearing up some of the more common misunderstandings, hopefully meaning you'll be in a better position to tell good advice from bad in the future.

#1 Signing up to all the social media sites will get us new customers

The myth

You'd be forgiven for thinking that signing up to Facebook et al is some sort of magic bullet, the way people go on about it. Many businesses sign up to these sites completely unaware of the effort that needs to go into building a successful presence, and expect to be overcome with fans and followers anyway.

The truth

First of all your content being shared needs to actually offer something attractive to potential followers. If the majority of your posts are self-advertising and you offer no other benefits, listening to you will not be a particularly attractive proposition for most people. Interact with people, instead.

If you're on Twitter you can monitor hashtags in your area of expertise and answer questions that come up, making you seem like The Expert.

If you're on Facebook you can "like" other pages and display them on the sidebar of your page, giving them exposure. You can also link to other pages using the @name format, which adds your message to their wall too. This means you can interact with other businesses/pages and get your name in front of their fans at the same time.

Share interesting things from around the web, regardless of whether you wrote them or not. If people find value in what you're giving them, they'll be much more likely to pay attention when you are advertising something of your own.

Managing your various accounts also takes time, which a lot of people are unprepared for. While I'm not suggesting you need to spend every hour of every day glued to your computer, you should be posting on a vaguely consistent basis to keep your name in front of your readers.

#2 More followers or fans is always better

The myth

More followers or fans mean more people see what you say, so more people will like it, so you're more likely to get new customers/readers.

The truth

More followers gives you a look of authority, and could be the deciding factor if someone is deciding between two people to follow in the same niche. However, sheer numbers are not always the best plan and you may benefit more from a quality over quantity approach.

On Twitter for example, you can easily find lists of hundreds of people who when followed will follow you back. Does this actually gain you anything, though? If you're running a blog about advice for coping with teenage motherhood, an auto-follow list of 500 middle-aged businessmen is unlikely to be as worthwhile as 50 pregnant teenage girls.

It's best to go after a nice mixture of followers, the relevant demographic is always your main goal, but there's nothing wrong with bulking out your follower account as long as that doesn't become your priority.

#3 Too many people use social media to advertise nowadays, I've missed the window

The myth

Social media exploded in recent years and there are far too many spammers and other self-interested individuals making use of these platforms. It's tempting to believe that the best chances are already past and the bigger companies have sites like Twitter and Facebook all sewn up.

The truth

Social media can still pay off in a very big way. Now that you know the quality of your followers is more important than the quantity, start thinking about how you're going to appeal to your target audience and just go for it. What do you really have to lose, other than a few hours of your time?

Sites like Twitter are completely overrun with spam on certain topics, but this doesn't mean it's impossible for a newbie to get their voice heard. The trick is to gain the support of other influential users in the same niche, pursue their followers, and as always keep sharing useful content.

Once people start to notice your regular quality updates, you'll be sorted, just be prepared for this to take a bit of time depending on how much effort you put into getting your profile in front of people.

#4 Social media is for kids, not serious businesses

The myth

Younger people tend to be the early adopters of new technology, so there is a perception that social media is geared towards the younger demographic. These sites would therefore be useless to a business or blog looking for people a bit older, and not worth putting any effort into.

The truth

Did you know that over 25% of social media users are in their 30s and 40s? Obviously the statistics are different from site to site, with places like MySpace being used by much younger people and LinkedIn by much older ones due to their respective niches, but Facebook and Twitter are well-suited to reaching most age groups.

In reality, blaming the lack of a certain age group is just one more excuse not to put in the effort with social media. It's possible that without any real understanding of how the platform works, your efforts could fall down flat and it's this fear that gives rise to some of the more common excuses.

Anyone willing to put the time and effort into interacting with others and being a valuable member of a site (or sites) will find their follower count and influence growing over time. Anyone not willing can sit by the wayside and watch the rest of us embrace this new way of marketing.