THE BLOG
01/28/2011 03:33 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

4 Biggest Mistakes Small Businesses Make With Social Media

Everyone in business today is in a frenzy to "use social media to grow their business".

Ugh.

Hate to disappoint, but Facebook, Twitter, blogs and other social media tools are not magical. They're communication tools and communication is hard work. Connecting with your customers on a deep and emotional level can pay off big time for all businesses, but it can also backfire. I'm not one to focus on mistakes and prefer, like my friends Dan and Chip Heath (authors of Switch), to stay focused on the "bright spots." But there are just some basics you have to avoid.

So here are some of the most common mistakes I see:

Mistake number one. Many businesses forget that they are dealing with real human beings. With hopes and dreams and pet peeves. People relate to each other through two-way conversation, both online and in person. Ever met someone who hogs the conversation? I have. And I tend to walk the other way when I see them coming. These shiny new tools are not like megaphones. Talking about yourself won't make others talk about you. Don't shout offers and deals and me, me, me. Take your marketing hat off and think like a human being. Invest in getting to know your customers better than your competition does. Listen. Be curious, and interested and engaged. Tell stories and share knowledge. Most of all, ask yourself how you can provide meaning and value. How can you be helpful? How can you support your best friends and biggest fans? How can you lift them up? It's about people.

Mistake number two: Lots of businesses, especially small businesses don't take time to plan or set goals. There is a lot of sameness out there in small business land. What makes you different? How can you let your personality and voice shine when you communicate? What is your unique point of view? What's the passion conversation you share with your customers? And the planning that is most often overlooked? Who in your business has the time and personality to be "social"? Get very real with this one. Don't just add it to someone's job description to tweet or update Facebook or keep up a blog. You have to find someone within your company who has a real passion for connecting with people. Then give them to the freedom to engage and respond. And even surprise and delight your customers.

Mistake number three: No one's home. Said another way, don't start something you can't finish or don't intend to do well. If you decide to blog, make a decision to do it on a consistent basis. Not randomly. And the more often, the better. Be consistent, present and responsive. Or don't do it all.

Mistake number four: So many businesses believe "social media" is a magic bullet. I hate the word social media. I prefer word of mouth marketing. That's something that has been around and will never go away. Technology by its very nature will change. What's hot today technology-wise is often dead or very different tomorrow. Positive word of mouth requires a positive experience. Now there are just more ways to provide that experience. Be remarkable. Both online and offline. (After all most word of mouth happens in person.) Sorry to disappoint, but there is no magic bullet when it comes to making personal and emotional connections with your customers.

So there you have it. Remember you are dealing with people. Think "word of mouth" vs. social media. Let your organization's real personality shine and you will draw kindred spirits your way. Plan and set goals. Be committed to your plan. And most of all, work on creating remarkable experiences for your customers. Treat them like your very best friends.