Social media marketing has become incredibly popular over the course of the past decade, but popularity doesn't always lead to improvement or refinement of a process. In fact, excessive popularity has led to overhyping of the strategy; instead of focusing on practical measures, real returns, and limitations of the strategy, many have heralded social media marketing as some magic solution to instantly higher visibility.

The truth is, social media requires a lot of research and hard work, like any other marketing strategy. It's impossible to learn the ins and outs of social media in the span of a single article, but I'd like to start by addressing--and dispelling--some of the most common social media myths that hold business owners back:

1. Social media is a sales tool. If you want to get technical, then yes, social media could be construed as a sales tool in the sense that using it properly can lead to more sales for your business. However, there's a misconception that social media is essentially a giant sounding board for you to pitch your products, services, and self-serving announcements relentlessly. Think about your own use of social media--do you log on so you can read ads and listen to salespeople? No. You go there to network, socialize, and find interesting content. If your content is all sales-focused, people will start to ignore your messaging. This, in turn, will cause the organic reach of your posts to decrease, as the visibility algorithms pick up on the fact that nobody really cares about the content you post. So keep salesy content to a minimum and instead favor meaningful, valuable, and/or social exchanges. For help figuring out what to post, see 100 Killer Ideas For Your Social Media Content.

2. Likes and followers are what truly matter. As marketers, it's natural to try and justify everything with numbers. You need to earn a value higher than your costs for any campaign to be profitable, but social media's value is somewhat abstract. As a result, many amateur social marketers turn to the only numbers they have--metrics including "likes" and "followers"--which they think directly correlate with a campaign's success. However, bear in mind that not everybody who "likes" your brand actually likes your brand, and a follower may not end up reading anything you publish. Seek engagement metrics rather than these fluff numbers, and favor the quality of your audience over the quantity.

3. Social media is a necessity, not a route for new customers. Some entrepreneurs see social media as just another thing you "have to do" in the modern era. Just as many business owners have reluctantly agreed to launch a basic website because all their competitors are doing it, many business owners have staked a presence on social media--but aren't doing anything with it. To be successful in social media, you have to post actively and regularly; otherwise, nobody will see you, and nobody will take action by engaging with your brand. In fact, this could actually harm you; imagine someone who does find your brand on Facebook, only to see who haven't updated your page in six months. What does that say about your brand's commitment to its public image?

4. Social media is an independent strategy. It's wrong to think of social media marketing as existing in a vacuum, as its own, independent strategy. It actually depends on a number of other digital marketing strategies to be successful. For example, without a strong brand, your users will have nothing consistent to respond to. Without a strong content strategy, you'll have nothing interesting to post. Without a strong website, any traffic you generate might just bounce. Social media is only one part of a well-oiled machine.

5. Scheduled posts will do the work for me. Post schedulers have become popular tools, especially for businesses whose social media work is a low priority. There's nothing inherently wrong with them; post schedulers can be valuable ways to ensure a minimum frequency of posts, especially on weekends when you're away from the office. However, don't use this as a substitute for logging on and posting in real-time. It's called "social" media for a reason; you have to actually socialize with your followers, in a two-way conversation, if you want to succeed.

6. Social media is free, so I might as well do something with it. True, you don't have to pay to sign up for a social media profile on most platforms. You can make organic posts without paying anything. But if you treat social media as a free element of your strategy, you'll value it less; instead, think of social media as an investment of time and effort. Your time and effort are valuable, and the more you pour into your campaign, the higher ROI you're liable to see.

7. You have to "get" social media to be successful. Too many entrepreneurs have made the false assumption that social media is a young person's game, or that you have to be "in the know" to really "get it." Don't buy into this. The basic premise of social media marketing is simple; talk to your customers and show them that you're an authoritative, trustworthy source. Don't hand the strategy off to a collegiate intern because he/she's "young enough to get it"--remember that over 40 percent of Facebook's demographics are over the age of 35, and think, would you trust a new intern with the complete oversight and management of any of your other marketing strategies?

These myths aren't innocent; if you buy into them, you could legitimately stifle your progress or worse--negatively influence the reputation of your brand. Still, don't be intimidated by the world of social media; just because it demands a significant investment of time and effort doesn't mean it's exceptionally complicated. Pay attention to the basic principles of engaging users, providing value, and remaining consistent in your brand voice, and you should have no trouble growing a following.

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