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Busting the Top 5 Social Media Myths

Leading social media practice at a major company is never boring. And yet, I do find myself sometimes sounding like a broken record – especially when it comes to helping people understand some very basic principles of social media for business. Here are the five social media myths I wish I could bust for the universe at large. For now, I will settle for busting them for the people who take the time to read this post.

Social media is for fun. 

Yes, it’s absolutely true that social media can be fun. But in a business context, you shouldn’t be doing social media just for fun. Social media goals must align with your business goals. Social media should in fact help you drive your business goals. When I have people come to me with shiny object syndrome, we start with a real conversation about why they want a social media account. The top two answers I get are “to raise awareness” and “to reach stakeholders.” Neither is specific enough. Worse yet, “my boss said we should have one” and “my competitor has one” are both terrible reasons to start any social media account.

Social media has nothing to do with making money.

If you’re doing it right, social media should have a lot to do with making money. When I consult on social media strategy, the first thing I ask is “Forget social media. What is your business trying to achieve this year?” This is the right place to start because the business goal should drive all of your subsequent decisions, including who you are trying to reach, which platforms to pick, what type of content you need, how you will target your posts and how much budget you should allocate.

For instance, if someone says to me, “We are trying to increase e-commerce sales on our website by 10 percent this year,” that is a very specific goal where social media clearly can play a role in driving toward that target. In this example, we would structure our social media strategy around using social to drive e-commerce sales and website traffic, with content that appeals to our core customer base and maybe others we think could become new customers. There are also instances when the stated goal does not seem like a good social media play. If we’re trying to influence a local government to approve a plan, those are conversations that probably aren’t best held on Twitter or Facebook (and city officials may not appreciate being tied to your business in a public way like that). You should use social media as a tool in your toolkit just like you utilize other tools – when appropriate for the specific goal you are trying to reach.

Social media is free. 

Bottom line: nope, it’s not. At the very least, you are dedicating staff time to running your social media account, so that’s people’s time, which is money. It is also very likely that you will need help creating assets for your posts: photos, videos, graphics, and copy. You can hire an agency to do that ($) or use in-house resources. But that’s still time, which equals money. And finally, more and more, social media is becoming a “pay-to-play” environment, where you have to pay to reach the audience you want. A proper social media strategy needs to include paid to spend. So social media will cost you, time, and budget dollars, which definitely makes it NOT free. And, as social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter look to make more money, chances are pretty good that these costs will only go up in the future.

If you build it, they will come.

In a past life, I was a business reporter for 10 years. My beat for the entire 10 years was retail, so I worked with merchants big and small. I cannot tell you how many of them (especially smaller mom and pops) put up a Facebook page just to post things like “Ground beef is on sale this week, $2.99/pound. Come stop in today!” They presumed that just because they had an account and posted something to it that everyone would see it. But that is decidedly not true, and it is becoming less true every single day. To those of us in this business, this is a discussion about “organic reach.” Basically, the number of people you will reach by simply setting up a page and posting to it is much smaller than you’d expect – even of the people who have liked or followed your account. Depending on which platform we’re talking about, you may only reach 2-3 percent of the people who have opted in to follow you. And you will not reach anyone else beyond that group.

Anyone launching a social media strategy must do the work of figuring out who the target audience is, what content will be appealing to them, and when/how to post it to get the most return. Then, if you’re really doing it right, you probably need to pay to expand your reach – especially if you want to reach people beyond your own followers (see myth three on how social media is not actually free). Simply make an account and posting are not good enough. It’s the social media equivalent of building a baseball diamond in an Iowa cornfield and crossing your fingers. (Yes, I know that at the end of the movie, people did come. But that’s a Hollywood ending, and I’m guessing you don’t have Kevin Costner hanging out at your business.)

Everyone can do it.

There are lots of ways companies error here:

  • Assuming people can run social media on top of their day job. This is unfair to the employee(s) in question. Social media is real work and should be built into someone’s job as a percentage of their time or an “official” responsibility. It’s not a hobby and it’s not a side project. Depending on what you’re doing and how much of it you’re doing, it can even be a full FTE or more.⠀
  • Assuming the youngest person in the office is the best person to run the Facebook page. If I said, hey, your local newspaper wants to interview you about your business. Let’s let the intern who has no media training do the interview! You would look at me like I’m crazy, right? That’s essentially what you’re doing if you put the intern in charge of your social. Young does not equal “good at social media.”
  • Not taking the time to identify the right person. I have seen people put individuals in charge of their company Facebook page when that person doesn’t have a personal Facebook account. I have seen people put someone in charge of social media who has never posted a single item on social media. Find the person who has a natural gift for social, the person who is plugged in and always on their phone anyway, and the person who has a decent understanding of “how stuff works online.” Without identifying the right person, you could be making a mistake that’s equivalent of asking a cashier to fill in as the head of R&D. You wouldn’t hire a new employee without evaluating whether their skills match the job, and this is no different.

If you’ve read this far, then I want to thank you again. And I’ll give you a bonus sixth myth: 

Social media is something you can ace out of the gate. 

I can pretty much guarantee that your social media strategy will constantly evolve. You will need to nurture it like a plant and change courses when you learn more about what works and what doesn’t for your key audience. It is a space where you must iterate constantly and learn continuously from your mistakes. This is why this Winston Churchill quote is one of my all-time favorites (and is on the wall in our social media command center): “Success is not final, failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.”

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Sue Serna

Sue Serna is a Consultants Collective member consultant and the founder and CEO of Serna Social, a social media consulting agency focused on social media governance, risk, security and strategy. Sue is one of the nation’s top experts on social media safety and spent nearly nine years leading the global social media program for Cargill, one of the largest private companies in the United States. Sue pioneered many industry best practices that the world’s largest companies use to keep their social media footprints safe. While in that role, Sue managed Cargill’s more than 50 partner relationships with social media agencies around the world. In addition, Sue is an accomplished social media trainer and an established communicator with a passion for creating compelling content. In 2022, she was named to the Advisory Committee of the National Institute for Social Media.

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