In my spare time, I run a mentor connection service for entrepreneurs and startups. In my day job, I run a digital marketing company. So naturally, I often get questions from young companies about how they should use, develop and leverage social media.
When that happens, I find myself countering myths and misperceptions about what social media can do, what it can't do and what you don't want it to do.
Here then are five myths and realities I encounter most in discussing social media with leaders of aspiring businesses.
Myth: Social Media is free.
Reality: Although social media may not directly cost money, doing it right is still an investment.
Startup may not have the payroll bandwidth to hire a community director--the fancy name for a social media manager--someone has to do it. In small, new shops that usually means the CEO or the founder is also the chief blogger and twitter czar. That can be a real opportunity cost in time and talent.
Myth: It's a quick way to build brand awareness and loyalty.
Reality: While you can use social media to build a brand, it takes time. You're not the only one using social media to share information about their business, story or product. In this environment, consistency is crucial. Do not expect overnight results.
Even as you're slowly building brand awareness on social media, you're likely not building loyalty. There is a difference. Loyalty is earned through customer interaction with your people and your product. Social media is the image of your product and company--not the actual thing.
Finally, while social media is not especially fast at building brand, it can destroy it immediately. Social media is a branding weapon of mass destruction and it should be treated with fear and respect. Don't rush into it and don't make it an afterthought.
Myth: Your great idea will go viral...tomorrow.
Realty: More than once I've had a client request that I "make something go viral." I often reply that it's a bit more difficult since I had the "Go Viral" button removed from my keyboard.
I dislike crushing dreams but the odds are overwhelming that your story or idea won't go viral. It happens, but it's absurdly rare. Like lottery rare.
Also, stop trying. One of the surest ways to have something not go viral is to try to have it go viral. On social media, like elsewhere, authenticity sells. Contrived or planned stunts are easy to spot and weaken your credibility.
Myth: Social media is easy, we can do it as we go.
Reality: It's easy to do, poorly.
More and more, the tweets, posts and images that stick are visual--photos, info-graphs, videos. Doing images takes investment.
You may not need to hire a professional photographer to stage TV quality images or hire a graphic artist to design info-graphics for your startup. At the same time, you're more likely to get out what you put in. Production value matters. I tell everyone--startups included--plan what you're going to share on social media. What you share literally represents you and your company so make sure it's worthy of your brand.
Myth: I don't have time to engage 40 different social media outlets.
Reality: While there are hundreds of social media tools, not all of them are created equal. In fact, very few I would consider critical. The big three are Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn. If your startup has a presence on these three, you're fine.
Sure, you can Pinterest, Vimeo and Vine all day long and still have time to share your entrepreneurship vision through song on RedKaraoke.com. But there's no reason you need to be everywhere. In fact, you can't be. So relax.
If your new company sticks to the basics and does those well, you'll be in great social media shape.