How Small Businesses Can Avoid Social Media’s Most Common Pitfalls

Keith Pillow has almost 20 years of experience in the corporate and agency domains

Much has been written about how small businesses can use social media campaigns to achieve objectives such as sales and brand awareness increases. It’s easy, it’s free, and doesn’t require much time or effort, right?

Wrong. As a marketing consultant to small businesses, I’m constantly talking to principals about the importance of marketing, and the results it delivers. In these discussions, I always ask about social media. Not surprisingly, the responses vary from “Yes, we have a comprehensive program,” to “What in the world is social media?” A more common refrain:  “I just don’t have the time, nor do I see the value.”

In actuality, most small firms are clueless about social media. In fact, the vast majority with programs are doing it incorrectly and inefficiently. I can count on one hand the number of small firms I’ve encountered that have effective social media initiatives and are generating solid results. Where’s the disconnect?

Execution, as it is with most marketing tactics. Here are the most prevalent social media pitfalls, and what small businesses can do to avoid them:

1. Develop a plan. Without one, failure is likely. A company needs a framework with objectives, audiences, and tactics to make it work.

2. Commit and invest. These programs require both time and resources to be successful. Social media’s not really free, although businesses can limit spending by planning ahead.

3. Do the basics, and do them well. A small business doesn’t need a presence on every platform. Begin with Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and use these heavily and consistently. Consider adding others, such as Foursquare or YouTube, later.

4. Integrate profiles with other assets. To drive traffic to and interest in a company’s profiles, they must be integrated with every single marketing asset:  Website, sales collateral, print/e-mail newsletters, print ads, etc.

5. Track results. This is the only way to know if it’s all working.

Social media is a powerful channel which small businesses should use and leverage daily. Follow these steps to optimize your efforts in this evolving medium, add value to existing marketing programs, and create some serious ROI.

Keith R. Pillow, APR, MBA is president and CEO of Caddy Marketing and Communications, Inc., a full-service marketing consulting firm which works exclusively with small- and mid-sized businesses across multiple industries. He possesses almost 20 years of experience in the corporate and agency domains, with a specialization in corporate communications and product marketing. For more information, please e-mail, or visit Keith is also on Twitter via @keithrpillow.


5 comments on “How Small Businesses Can Avoid Social Media’s Most Common Pitfalls

  1. Keith,

    Terrific post. I am in the process of attempting to launch a small business myself. Essentially I will have a website where I review new tech products for my readers. My site will be different from others in that I will charge on a per review basis. For example if a reader wanted to know what I thought of a new cell phone on the market they would buy my review of it for 4.99. The only issue is that I do not poses enough start up capital to purchase all the tech products I would need. I believe I can make this a non issue by asking the customer to front the amount needed for me to purchase the product they want me to review. I would purchase the product and then later return it for a refund and send the money back to the customer.
    I know my business plan is not ideal but in this current economic climate novel cost cutting solutions are a must, especially for under capitalized start up companies like my own. My question is how could I effectively use social media to launch a unique company like my own at little to no cost? Your insight would be greatly appreciated and I look forward to your response.

    Andrew, if you or your readers have any insights/suggestions they would also be greatly appreciated.

  2. Tom:

    Excellent question. And this sounds like a great business concept.

    For starters, here is what I suggest to get around having to pay for the technology products, and this is based on my years of experience in working with consumer tech companies who live and die by product reviews. There’s really no need for you, as the blog’s editor, to EVER pay for a product in advance. You are a media outlet, and as long as you design and manage the blog in a legitimate, objevtive fashion, you should be able to request products to review from major manufacturers. These companies will lend the products to you for a specific period of time, and then you return to them once your analysis is completed. To maintain impartiality, almost every product reviewer now returns, and does not keep, any of these items that are loaned to them. In fact, most manufacturers insist on this approach, and provide you with shipping materials and airbills to ensure their safe return.

    As for the social media component, I would prefer that we talk offline, as my suggestions are simply too lengthy to offer here in the comment section. Please feel free to e-mail me at, and then we can arrange for a separate, in-depth conversation. Sound good?

    Best regards,

  3. I completely agree with your post Keith. Especially when it comes to tracking results. This has been invaluable to my company as it lets us see where we are succeeding and where we are failing.

    My question to you is what is the best way to reach targeted audiences that are using social media? This issue seems to always come up at our office.

    As for the commenter before me with the business idea, I try to never be negative or pessimistic but that has to be one of the worst business ideas I have ever heard. There are thousands of free reviews available online of every tech product that has been made. These reviews are thorough and are written by professionals with much experience. These reviews are free so I do not understand why anyone would pay 4.99 for a review. There are also hundreds of thousands of free customer reviews available on the internet. I am not trying to be mean but I think it’s for the best that you probably do not invest time or money in this concept. You will save money in the long term if you discard this business idea. What’s next, paying to view other peoples user comments on blogs?

    Thanks in advance for an answer to my question Keith.

  4. Sandy, here different approaches my firm uses to connect with target audiences already using social media. Admittedly, some of these are not cutting edge, but it gets the job done! 🙂

    1.) Use traditional, built-in (i.e., search functions integrated with Facebook, Twitter, etc.), and social media search engines to connect with influencers in a given audiences.
    2.) When it comes to reporters and industry analysts, most organizations now list social media profile URLs for key contacts on their respective Websites. If not, oftentimes this information can be found in standard media databases by Vocus, Cision, and the like. Make sure you’re following and interacting with all of these people.
    3.) Constantly encourage target audiences, at every turn, to follow your client through one or more available channels: press releases, Website, e-mail and print newsletters, sales and marketing collateral, business cards, etc.
    4.) With customers and prospects, it’s more difficult. This is why it’s important to have an offline social media strategy that communicates those profile destinations via every possible marketing asset.
    5.) Lastly, when in doubt, or if the information is not findable, simply ask the target: “Are you on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, FriendFeed, etc.? We would love to follow you and occassionally interact with you through those channels…but only with your permission. Thanks so much.”

    This should cover most of the bases. If you have additional ideas about how you go about this, I’d love to hear them — especially if they save time and energy!

  5. @Keith: thanks for mentioning Vocus. We often link to social sites from the profile, in addition to linking to news articles the reporter has written. It’s a tight integration to make it easy for PR pros to check what a contact has written about when making a decision to contact them.

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