Over the past few years, we’ve seen an explosive growth in social media. Some platforms have fallen by the wayside, while others have seen up to 300,000 new members per day at their peak. If your organization isn’t involved in social media, the silence can actually be a detriment to your business, as information hungry consumers have come to not only look for your presence, but expect it.

For all the upsides that social media can bring to your business, there still remains a great deal of uncertainty and misconceptions about what social media can actually accomplish in terms of overall business growth. Far too often, high (read: mismanaged) expectations can lead to disappointment, even frustration with the mechanism.

5 things social media can’t do

1. Replace Marketing & PR. I’m not exactly sure when and where this started, but let’s all say it together now, “Social media will not replace my marketing strategy.” Good. Now that we’ve got that out of the way, let me remind you that social media is merely a channel and should be used as a part of your overall marketing strategy. Sure, there are a lot of avenues of social media that fit onto the marketing roadmap, but by no means should social media consume your entire efforts. The same can be said for your publicity people. Social media can certainly provide some major brand lift and exposure, but without the right maximizers behind it, an amazing story could fall flat and simply be average.

Solution: If social media is your marketing strategy at the moment, it’s time to head back to the drawing board. Social media can certainly be a major component of how you’re going to reach consumers, but you’re going to need to redesign your plan to also include a number of other key marketing principles.

chess 220x219 5 Things Social Media CANT Do2. Deliver Results Overnight. As any chess player will tell you, success is earned. The same is true with social media. If you’ve just opened your Twitter account, posted a few photos to Picasa, and created a Facebook fan page, do not expect the fans, followers, and comments to come rolling in overnight (see marketing strategy above). You may have the platforms all set up, but other than what your organization does or delivers, what other reason would I have to become your fan?

Solution: There are actually two problems within this scenario. First, how do your consumers know about your new social offerings? Got a newsletter? Make a big deal about your new channels. Got a website (of course you do), add a few social icons in your header to point people in the right direction. You might even want to consider an offer to get them to Fan or Follow you. 1 month premium accounts, a free donut with an offer code exclusive to Facebook fans, etc.

The second problem here is, “Where’s the beef?” What are you providing to the community that would spur consumers to follow you? Are you providing insider tips on how to use your product? Maybe a, “Here’s how we make the widgets?” photo montage, etc.. By building up a consistent catalogue of quality and interaction, you’ll begin to form a loyal social media base. Then, and only then, can you start looking towards results from your social media activities.

3. Guarantee Sales. Let’s get something straight; social media is not a sales tool. It can be a great supporter of sales goals, but at the end of the day, social media is a communications, marketing, and advertising avenue. The fastest way to turn fans and followers off is by walking in with a sales pitch. Remember, just with your more traditional forms of marketing, social media can help drive leads, build bridges, open doors, etc., but it will not serve as a sales tool.

Solution: Like all other forms of marketing, it’s ultimately up to you and your organization to convert them to a sale. Customized landing pages, whitepaper downloads, newsletter subscriptions, etc. these are all excellent ways of opening the sale, but should be saved for your organization’s platform, and not for the social media conversation zone. Caveat: there are organizations that do direct selling through Facebook with apps such as Payvment, but the majority of the interactivity is focused on customer/company relations.

4. A Short-term Project. Tying into the “It won’t get done overnight” theme, a social media presence is just that, a presence, a long-term commitment. There’s nothing more shameful than an empty dancefloor, and the same is true for your social media activities. Don’t expect to do a splash and dash and continue to build trust and social capital. A successful social media campaign is a lot like buying a home. It’s not something you want to rush into, and a project that you’ve got to put some time, money, and effort into to bring you satisfaction.

Solution: One way to gradually increase your social clout and generate a thriving fan base is to remain consistent. If your updates are haphazard, and one-off’s, your community, whether they know it or not, will detect this inconsistency. Even if it’s simply carving out time to respond to comments or tweets, make sure that your approach remains consistent. Social media, by definition, is a two way street. Just like your sales team is going to meet clients on their own turf, the same should be applied to your social media activities. Start joining the industry conversations, and the industry will start joining you.

baton 220x220 5 Things Social Media CANT Do5. Be Handled by One. Social media is a team sport. According to the Altimeter How Corporations Should Prioritize Social Business Budgets report, even novice social media teams on the enterprise level are comprised of 3.1 people, with an average budget of $66k. Given the wide range of responsibilities that social media can encompass; Marketing, advertising, digital, and PR, etc. your social media team, or even person, cannot do it all.

Solution: Communication, communication, communication! Even if you’re operating on a shoestring budget, communication within your own organization is crucial to your social media success. Which conferences are your sales people attending and/or presenting at? Is your mobile development team only a few weeks away from producing their first XYZ for WP7 app? Was Tom from finance recently recognized for excellence in his field? By letting the social media people in, you’re providing a great deal more content that they can work with and ultimately share with consumers in a positive and interactive manner. Similarly, while an individual or a small team may author most of your content, don’t make social media a one-department show. If staff members are hesitant about social media, work together with your HR department and establish some ground rules and policies about company social media usage, and provide some in-house trainings. HR will love it, as it gives them the opportunity to lay down some rules, and you’ll love it because in one afternoon, you’ve laid the groundwork for a truly company-wide collaborative effort.

Using social media effectively can be a great way to humanize your company, open doors that would otherwise remain sealed shut, and provide a common ground for the back and forth of ideas, comments, and concerns. Whether you’ve been active in social media since Friendster, have an established following, or are just getting your toes wet, by reviewing the points above you can further optimize or set yourself up for social media success.