Whenever I speak with clients and other business people about social media I always get an underwhelming response.  Everyone sees the power and is excited by the prospect of reaching vast audiences.  But most professionals fail to achieve their social media dreams.

Some do, of course.  Comedians, speakers, service companies and other consumer-related businesses have built a profitable engine around social media sites.  People in the media use social media all the time to do research and communicate with others.

So why do I encounter so many business people that have yet to use social media effectively?  I think it’s because they failed to ask themselves three key questions before ever getting started.

  1. Where are my customers?
  2. Who will do the work?
  3. What are my expectations?

Let’s start with customers.  If you’re running a neighborhood flower shop it makes sense to have a Facebook page for your store.  This is a hobby to most people.  It’s fun.  And you can draw in your community there.   But if you’re running a company that makes silicon coated paper for user in the packaging industry I’m not so sure having a Facebook page will bring you much better.  Or a Twitter presence.  Or a site on Pinterest.  Your customers are not there.  And if they are on any of these sites it’s probably to play games or reconnect with old friends rather than to talk about silicon coated paper.  If your customers are not on social media then you shouldn’t be either.  Go where your customer are.  It’s OK not to have a Facebook page if no one’s going to visit it.

If you do decide to have a social media presence get ready to devote a lot of resources to it.  Who’s going to do the work?  Larger companies now fully devoted social media teams.  I have a person who helps me keep up with my tweets and updates during the week.  I can’t do it all.  A social media site needs to be active, informative, educational and a place where people coming back to.  You’re busy enough as it is and this won’t happen by magic.  You will have to have someone do this.  Which means you’ll have to pay someone to do this.  You’ll have to spend time supervising that person.  You will have to very familiar with what’s happening on your site(s) and be planning out content that you want to deliver.  It takes time and money to do all this.

And so why are you doing this?  What are your expectations?  Many business people think that social media is another form of marketing.  It’s not.  It’s about building a community.  It’s about communicating information to help your customers stay close to you and, if you do a good job at that, bring in new customers.  My best clients who use social media to its maximum advantage focus on customer service first, and marketing second.

Social media is just another way, another tool, for keeping your community close.  Maybe you have a better way to do this.  Maybe you frequent trade shows, conferences, send emails, make a lot of phone calls…whatever.  You don’t have to have a social media presence.  But if you do, make sure you’re answering the above three questions.