Are you being misled by popular social media myths?

Social media is not free, it doesn’t level the playing field, and influencers won’t make you successful.

Social media is many things to many people.

For some, it’s a core part of their business and marketing strategy. For others it’s a key player in driving traffic to their blog, or a new toy they’re just beginning to play with. And for some, it’s about as interesting as pond moss.

Depending on who you speak to, social media has a lot of uses and definitions. But there is one place where all the definitions come together: the area of social media myths. These are claims from people that should know better, either for a hidden agenda or a lack of foresight.

Here are a few social media myths that we can probably agree are out-of-date thinking at best, and dangerous advice at worst.

1. Social media is free

Bzzzzt (insert noisy buzzer sound here).

This one has been doing the rounds for a while now, and still seems to pop up even though everything points to the opposite. Let’s make this simple: Social media is not free.

Yes, the tools are free—unless you have the premium version of something likeHootsuite, or pay for services like Socialbase. And no, not everyone will be looking at the cost investment.

But even if you’re a small business user or solo entrepreneur using social media to help raise awareness of your brand through interaction, you have to invest a serious amount of time for any traction to begin.

Take whatever salary you give yourself, deduct the man hours you put in by the financial cost of this, and you have the bare minimum of how much social media is going to cost.

Add to that any advertising on Facebook or LinkedIn, and then determine how you’re going to integrate all your online stuff into your everyday marketing and promotion. The costs start to add up.

Sure, you can bootstrap your way around social media—but free it ain’t.

2. Social media levels the playing field

One of the pros of social media, according to many of its most vocal proponents, is that it levels the playing field. This comes from the viewpoint that it allows the consumer, who never had much of a voice before, to air his grievances in a more public forum and access the leading players at these brands.

The belief is that this now means the brand is no longer in control, and the little guy is now the giant. It’s true, social media allows the consumer to be a bigger part of making business decisions, yet there’s also the flip side for businesses. A lot of social media purists will say that small businesses and solo practitioners can compete with the huge corporations and the big agencies because the tools are the same for everyone, but they’re not.

A corporation with a $10 million budget for research, strategy, implementation and measuring is going to have a heck of a lot more at its disposal than a small business with $10,000 to play with. Then the scale factor comes into play. Can a one-man band (or even a two or three-man band) monitor and respond to social interaction the same way a dedicated team of 50 can for the bigger guys? The simple answer is no.

Yes, social media can level the field somewhat, but you have to get new machinery to keep it level, and that’s still beyond the capabilities of many businesses.

3. You need the voice of the influencers

Like any ecosystem, social media has many layers. At the forefront of these layers are the influencers. Usually these people are early adopters in the space who have become influential for identifying trends and looking at how these tools can be used for business.

The problem is that influence is based on relevance, yet many businesses still try to get influencers to talk about their products, regardless of whether they’re experienced in that brand’s niche or not. The mindset is that the influencer has more than 100,000 Twitter followers, or tens of thousands of blog subscribers, so it’s an easy “in” to that audience. It’s not.

Chances are the influencer will only share your brand or product for a reward, whether that’s hard cash or a large amount of swag. He will write about you once, and then move on to the next brand because influencers are not usually invested in you.

Your brand advocates are invested, however. These are the ones that write and talk about you every day, both online and offline. These are the people who have your best interests at heart, so they’ll offer you honest feedback on how you can improve. Compare that to the influencer who thinks, “Your product is great, now just pony up the greenback.”

The influencer may get you a quick buzz, but longevity and success rarely come from a fire sale. They come from having an army of advocates and loyal customers. Look after your advocates, and they’ll look after you better than any influencer can.

There’s no doubt that social media has changed much of the business landscape, and continues to do so. With potentially game-changing products like Google+ entering the fray, the real fun could be just beginning.

We need to make sure we’re keeping a level head at what social media can—and can’t—offer. If history has taught us anything, it’s that hyperbole is very often the precursor to, “Remember so-and-so?”

Danny Brown is co-founder and partner at Bonsai Interactive Marketing . He blogs at DannyBrown.me , where this article originally ran.

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