For many small or medium-sized businesses, social media marketing can seem like a confusing labyrinth that they’d rather avoid. The honesty and transparency so inherent in social networks can put a lot of people off, who would rather not risk putting their business ‘out there’ in this way. But there really is nothing to fear, and the rewards of building a strong social media presence are huge. In fact, to ignore social media as a marketing channel entirely could see your company fall behind the competition.

But make no mistake social media marketing isn’t easy and success certainly won’t come overnight. You will need to stick with it to see a real payoff. What’s more, there are some easy mistakes that a lot of companies new to social media marketing can fall into. We’ve listed five of the most common here.

Spreading Yourself Too Thinly

One common mistake businesses make using social media is using too much of it.  In other words, it is possible to be too social. Establishing an effective presence on any single social media platform takes a lot of work so trying to do it across a multitude will often result in a failure to make an impact at all. It’s far better to have a significant presence on two social networks than it is to have a lacklustre presence on four or five.

Whilst it’s tempting to go straight for the big players like Facebook and Twitter, these aren’t always the best options for every business. For those in B2B, LinkedIn can often be a much better option than Facebook, and if your product or industry is highly visual (think fashion or interior design) then you really can’t afford to ignore Pinterest or Instagram.

Not Understanding Who Your Customers Are

Another social media mistake is not appreciating who your customers are. Yes sure, you want to drive more traffic to your website, but you also want to drive the right kind of traffic to your website; that is people who are likely to browse your service pages, check out your blog and maybe even make an enquiry via your contact form. Your social media strategy needs to be built around identifying and then engaging with your ideal customers and this means defining who those customers are. Building marketing personas that characterise your ideal customers is a very powerful way of doing this.

By taking a closer look at your existing customers you can extrapolate key characteristics such as their gender, age, interests, buying habits, wants and needs, as well as the kind of problems they face. Mapping out your ‘perfect customer’ in this way will help inform your social media strategy and target the right kind of content to the right kind of people by engaging them with the things they care about or want to know more about. Talking of engagement…

All Talking But No Listening

It’s all too easy for businesses to fall into the trap of regarding social media as a platform for shouting about how great their business is. This is probably one of the most common own goals social media marketing beginners make. Social media marketing is about engaging with your core market and adding value. If all you do is talk about your brand then people will quickly switch off.

Don’t be afraid to share other people’s content you find relevant, interesting or even funny. If you think your followers and potential followers will like it then share it. Engagement and interacting on social media means acting like a human being instead of a faceless business. Ask your followers questions and also for their opinions around certain pertinent topics and issues. Social media can be as much of a market research tool in this way as it is a promotional tool.

Not Measuring Your Results

It’s a crucial aspect of any social media marketing campaign that you identify key performance indicators (KPIs) that you can accurately track to measure the comparative success (or failure) of your social media efforts. It’s tempting to relate everything back to website traffic and whilst this is a good indicator it’s not the only measure of success.  Followers, shares, comments and engagement rates are all relevant analytics when it comes to establishing the extent to which your social media presence is growing. Also, look out for mentions of your brand on the web and on social media as this may also indicate your campaign is getting traction.

Brand building on social media isn’t an overnight affair so web traffic may take a while to follow through. For this reason, it’s important to see the early signs of success so you know whether your efforts are paying off.

Ignoring Social Media Management Tools

There are a wealth of social media management and monitoring tools out there and if you’re serious about building a presence on social media then it is foolish to ignore them entirely. Whilst the options can seem daunting, there is plenty of advice online to help you ascertain what is out there and what can help. Tools like Hootsuite, for example, allow you to simultaneously view feeds from across multiple social networks, schedule messages or posts, connect RSS feeds to your social accounts and monitor activity in a variety of ways using analytics like Google Analytics and Facebook insights. Other tools like Buffer are simpler and allow you to schedule posts and updates across various social accounts.

There is a danger of relying on social media management tools and automation too much of course. The trick of social media marketing is to know when to automate and when to apply the human touch.

Paul Morris is the director of Bristol-based digital marketing agency Superb Digital and has worked in the web industry for over 16 years. During that time he has worked in many roles, including design, development, SEO, and business development.