Have you jumped on the Social Media bandwagon yet? The early-adopters have been touting it as a less expensive way to market. After all, you won’t be spending money on paper, printing and postage. And a lot of the stuff that’s out there is fairly DIY. (Social media speak for do-it-yourself.) But I think we need to stop and take a look at some of the perceptions that are out there and make sure we get our perspective lined up with reality.

Social media is not free. It requires an investment of time, people and technology. If you have the budget, you will need to invest money up front to fund the talent necessary to find, engage and follow up with your community. This is not a task that you want to add to someone’s job description. Consistency is critical. The time investment to train and do the job well is important to your success.

Engaging without a plan is a set up for failure. Setting up a Twitter account, LinkedIn profile and Facebook pages are relatively easy. However, without a clear understanding of who you’re trying to reach and what you are trying to accomplish, your actions will lack focus. Well-conceived goals and a roadmap will get you to your destination faster and make it easier to measure your success. If you’re not sure where you’re going, how will you know when you get there?

Like anything tied to marketing, results that affect your bottom line need time for germination and growth. Getting started on Twitter or Facebook will not magically bring in customers by the boat-load. The ROI of social media can be measured and even generate conversion as sales. However, If you’re expecting immediate results, you will be disappointed.

Listening is just as important as responding. One size does not fit all. Your ideal customer may be online in many places. You need a program that reaches out on multiple platforms. You want to find out what inspires your customer. what aggravates them, what options they have, what their challenges are. With that kind of information, you will know how to exceed their expectations!

All that said, social media is the new black for business. At the Facebook Success Summit last fall, Jay Baer of Convince and Convert said,” The goal isn’t to be good at (Social Media)—the goal is to be good at business because of (Social Media).” How good do you want your business to be?

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