When you start a business, you want to get your name in front of as many potential customers as possible. Social media is sometimes a great way to do that and sometimes it isn’t. I have two cautionary pieces of advice.

First, every entrepreneur has two critical and limited resources: time and money. Your goal is to reach critical mass before you run out of startup capital. Critical mass is the point at which your business can sustain itself on its own internally generated cash flow. In other words, it is no longer dependent on savings, credit card debt, loans from friends and family, angel investments, or any other outside sources of capital. You may still need outside capital to grow rapidly and get bigger, but once you reach critical mass, you can relax a little bit because you know your company can survive without it.

Until then, you need to be cautious about how you spend your time and your money. If you run out of either one, your startup will fail. You need to take that into account when deciding how much time and money to devote to social media. Breaking through the pervasive social media noise takes a comprehensive digital marketing strategy and people who can execute it well. Can you afford to spend the time to do that, or the money to hire someone to do it for you?

Second, I think, for most startups, social media should be used in addition to, not instead of, more traditional means of getting the word out. One-on-one contact with prospects will always be more effective than mentions on Twitter or Facebook Likes. Never underestimate the power of personal, face-to-face meetings with prospective customers. Direct contact is especially important if your initial success will come from local sales. You’ll probably find more customers by doing things like attending networking events, industry meetings, and trade shows than through a big social media campaign.

Social media platforms are tools that we should all use wisely. Just don’t put all of your eggs in that basket.


From the June 2015 issue of Inc. magazine