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For getting the word out about your up-and-coming brand, finding new customers, and turning existing ones into loyal followers, social media marketing is one of the best small business-friendly strategies out there. Depending on your business niche, an effective strategy can involve keeping your audience informed, entertained, and updated via Twitter and Facebook, building bridges and gaining the trust of industry communities through LinkedIn, or maybe inspiring your followers with compelling image content on Pinterest and Instagram.

There isn’t a universal guidebook for getting social media right. After all, the internet would be a much less interesting place if everyone was following the same game plan. As an entrepreneur, your mission is to find your voice, to discover what gets your audience to sit up and listen, and to build on what works for you.

If you can spot the possible pitfalls (and steer clear of them) you can help to make this as smooth a process as possible. So with this in mind, here’s a dozen mistakes and mishaps to avoid as you put ‘social’ to work.

1. Not having an objective

Avoid the temptation of diving in without being clear on your objectives. Do you want new customers? Or is it more a case of wishing to stay connected with your existing client base? Are you exploring brand awareness? Do you want to explore a new market, perhaps? Being clear on what you want to achieve,  will help you focus on the right platforms and forms content for your business.

2. Guessing your customers’ habits and tastes

“Everybody is on Facebook. So that’s where I should focus my efforts”. Assumptions like this could cause you to miss out on capturing the right audiences in the right areas. For instance, your Generation Z T-shirt buyers might be heading to Instagram for inspiration and ideas. But for business buyers, LinkedIn might be the go-to platform for information. Instead of guessing, research the behaviour of your audience.

3. Being everywhere at once

Your time is precious, and you can help put it to best use by focusing on platforms where your efforts are going to have the biggest impact. This is a key thing to consider when it comes to social media marketing. You should not feel that you ‘must’ open an account on each and every platform just for the sake of it.

4. Ignoring the competition

Looking at what others in your industry have done with their social presence can give you useful guidance on what type of content attracts high levels of engagement. It can also inform you what platforms to focus on in order to reach your audience.

5. Going quiet

If your business has one or more social accounts, potential customers are likely to visit them as a matter of course in order to find out more about you. A social page that hasn’t been updated for some time sends out the wrong message about your business. Especially if comments have gone unanswered, it can cast serious doubts on your attitude to customer service.

6. Not setting up alerts

If a social follower has taken the time to respond to one of your posts, you have a potentially valuable opportunity to connect with them by getting a conversation going. More generally, customers may use your social platforms to post general queries. Reply swiftly to show the customer trying to make contact, and your wider audience, that you are ready and willing to help. Have message alerts delivered direct to your mobile to help with this.

7. Getting tetchy with customers

We all have an off day occasionally. Take, for instance, the TFL employee who tweeted to a customer in response to a complaint, “Leave early you will not be late next time. Hope this helps.”  Remember that you are in a very public forum. Responses that lack empathy are a huge turn-off to anyone who might view the exchange.

8. Treating social as a sales platform

No-one wants to be sold to constantly. If your social media output consists solely of ‘special offers’ and posts telling people how great your products and services are, followers will eventually lose interest. Use the ‘80/20 guide’ as a rule of thumb: aim for 20% of posts relating directly to your brand, and 80% more general content that speaks to the interests of your audience.

9. Bombarding your followers with posts

You should aim for a steady flow of content to stay on customers’ radar, without clogging up their news feeds. On Facebook and LinkedIn, many small businesses aim to post on a daily basis. On Twitter, you could aim to send out two to three tweets daily.

10. Not sharing content from other sources

As an entrepreneur who manages their own personal social media pages, the idea of keeping up a steady flow of posts might seem daunting. By no means do you have to create all of the content you post: discover and share videos, images, articles, and even funny memes from other sources that you think your audience will be interested in.

11. Being boring

There has to be a reason for your viewers to stop scrolling through their feeds and click on your content. For instance, vintage aftershave brand, Old Spice revamped interest in its product through tongue-in-cheek humour with the Old Spice Guy (“the man you could smell like”). Work on ways to take a ‘sideways’ view of your product or service to encourage your audience to stop and think. Your social media marketing efforts will be pointless if your content isn’t engaging and interesting.

12. Automatically regarding ‘likes’ and ‘shares’ as a measure of success

If you launch a competition or social discount code, for instance, you may get an instant boost in engagement. But is this helping to draw in potential customers , or is it just attracting people who like ‘free stuff’? Usually, interaction is a positive sign but you should also keep a close eye on your analytics tools to check whether your efforts are translating into visits to your website, and, (hopefully) increased sales.