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The Small-Business Owner's Guide to Advertising Injury

The 7 Deadly Sins of Social Media (+ 3 Tips for Getting It Right)

By Rieva Lesonsky, founder and CEO of GrowBizMedia

Headshot of Rieva LesonskyI talk to a lot of small-business owners, and because I own a media business, a lot of them ask me questions about social media. What I've found is that social media is kind of like exercise: everyone knows that it's important, but most people struggle with finding the time to do it and aren't sure how to get the greatest benefit from the least amount of work.

As a result, too many business owners waste valuable time and money on social media efforts that deliver very little ROI. Luckily, there's hope. Here's a look at what I call the Seven Deadly Sins of Social Media. Avoid these, and you'll be able to fit social media into your schedule and maximize the impact your efforts have.

Social Media Sin #1: Mixing Personal and Professional Accounts

Did you know 14 percent of small-business owners blend personal and professional accounts? (Source: AdWeek.com.) It's understandable, especially for businesses that start as side projects you want to promote to your family and friends. But as soon as you start selling, you need a separate page for your business. Otherwise, you could end up facing a messy lawsuit or alienating potential customers (see below). The time it takes to set up and maintain a business account separate from your personal page is well worth the effort.

Social Media Sin #2: Talking Politics (or Religion)

I've spoken to small-business owners who reasoned that posting their political views on their business pages made sense: after all, isn't the point of social media to give your business a personality? Yes, but that's only half the story. Your business's personality needs to be carefully cultivated to appeal to your target audience. Business owners already have so many factors working against them — why add another by potentially turning off customers who would otherwise be enthusiastic buyers? (The caveat here is if you own a political or religious business. Then, of course, posting about your views makes sense.)

Social Media Sin #3: Posting Too Much Information

On the one hand, you want your fans to know you're having a sale this weekend. On the other, you don't want your competitors to know exactly which items you're discounting and by how much. That's the thing it's easy to forget: when you post on social media, you're not just talking to your customers. Anyone can see your messages, including the people who would love to take some of your customers off your hands. When using social media, it's important to figure out how to pique interest without saying too much — for example, announcing that customers should be on the lookout for an email coupon for an upcoming sale (with a link to subscribe to your email newsletter, of course).

The good news here is that sharing less means less time spent updating your various accounts.

Social Media Sin #4: Thinking the Social Media Fad Will Pass

Radio's heyday is over, and newspapers are on the decline. But impermanence is no reason to skip social media — after all, nothing lasts forever. Social media is one of the most powerful marketing platforms available today, and pretending otherwise will cost you major business growth opportunities.

Social Media Sin #5: Failing to Think Like a Customer

When you're interacting with your favorite brands on social media, you probably expect certain behaviors — quick responses, easy-to-find contact information, etc. Are you offering the same to your customers? When designing a social media policy and maintaining your accounts, remember to approach the resources from the customer's perspective: what does the customer want and how can you accommodate that? Without taking the time to answer these questions, any work you do for your social pages has the potential of being wasted.

Social Media Sin #6: Ignoring Ratings & Review Sites

Ninety percent of online shoppers note that they're influenced by online reviews. Even more important? Seventy-two percent say they put as much weight on online reviews as they do on recommendations from family and friends (Source Search Engine Land). That's incredibly significant for a small business. If you don't go to sites like Yelp to claim your profile, you won't know what people are saying about you — and you'll miss out on a major opportunity to address issues that bother numerous people.

Social Media Sin #7: Thinking Social Media Doesn't Apply to Your Business

I was at an event not long ago, and the audience was retailers who sold to very niche markets. Almost none of them were using social media. That's crazy! Niche and specialty markets are perfect for social media — and the Internet in general. Making yourself visible online lets you connect with potential customers well outside your geographical region, something that's crucial for businesses whose target markets are limited by taste or specialty.

Getting It Right: Social Media for Small Businesses

The good news? Social media doesn't have to be hard, and you don't have to be perfect to reap benefits in the form of increased customer engagement, expanded online reach, and improved brand awareness. Here are three strategies I've found help make social media more manageable for small-business owners:

  • Limit the distractibility potential. It's no secret that social media can be a major time suck. Avoid wasting hours of your time by using management software that lets you schedule posts ahead of time. That way, you can take care of it once a week and move on.
  • Ease into it. If you're new to social media, don't expect to figure out every platform right away. Make one account at a time, get used to that platform, and then add another.
  • Integrate your social presence into the rest of your business. It's no good having a social media page nobody can find. Add share buttons to your blog, website, and other web properties, and update your email signature to include links to your social media pages so people can interact with your business easily.

Rieva Lesonsky is CEO of GrowBiz Media, a media and custom content company focusing on small business and entrepreneurship. Email Rieva at [email protected], follow her on Google+ and Twitter.com/Rieva, and visit her website, SmallBizDaily.com, to get the scoop on business trends and sign up for Rieva's free TrendCast reports.

Next: Chapter 2: What Counts As Advertising Injury? A Look at Slander, Libel, Invasion of Privacy, and Copyright Infringement

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