By Adria Saracino (Head of Outreach, Distilled)
Starting a new business is a daunting experience. You have a limited amount of time to become profitable and there are only so many resources to go round. Choosing what to spend time and money doing can therefore be a tricky decision, particularly when it comes to marketing.

Social media is often touted as a cheap and easy way to grow your sales. There is some truth in this idea, considering there is an 82% increase in social media usage of sites like Facebook and Twitter since 2008. However, like any panacea, it comes with a fairly comprehensive set of caveats and get-out clauses.

For many businesses, social media is a waste of resources and, occasionally, results in costly side effects. So, before you decide to dive into the online world of social media, consider the following points to determine if social media is right for your new business.

When it’s good it’s very good…

The three main reasons for a small business to do social media are:

  1. Connect with customers
  2. Increase visibility
  3. Self-promote

These are three conditions to meet before you even dip your toe in the world of social media.

If you understand your customers and have the time and knowledge to create a social media strategy that you can then implement to deliver any one of those results, your new business will be headed for social success.

Let’s take a closer look:

You need to understand your customers.

Without knowing about the social behavior of your audience, how do you know they’re going to be spending time in the same social networks as you? If you’re B2B, are your customers really going to be looking on Facebook for the next partnership? If you are unsure what the social landscape looks like in your industry, conduct market research in order to get a better sense of your customers’ social behaviors.

You need a strategy.

Social media covers a huge array of activities so, without a clear strategy, you risk wasting time and effort to achieve what could amount to not very much.

You need to be able to implement the strategy.

If you’ve never done social media for a business before, don’t underestimate the effort involved. Although an update here and a shared link there may only take a few minutes, you’ll also need to spend time finding or devising material to share. What’s more, customers are becoming accustomed to rapid responses if social media channels are open, and this can be a huge resource-drain for small businesses.

And when it’s bad, it’s terrible…

There are plenty of examples of hugely successful social media campaigns that have helped businesses grow quickly and inexpensively. But there are just as many examples of businesses getting it all wrong. Consider the following:

Once it’s on, you can’t switch it off.

Getting people to talk about you online may be hard, but getting them to stop once they start is almost impossible! You need to assess whether your business has the means to go all in because once you’re in the social space, there is no going out unless you are ready to risk your brand and customer experience.

An out-of-date online profile is worse than none at all.

If you start an online profile but don’t keep it fresh, you’ll damage your brand and customer experience, leaving readers wondering what else you leave neglected.

Who is representing you?

It can be hard to be the only voice behind your business’ online presence, but do you have anyone you trust to communicate on your behalf to potential customers? You just have to start Googling ‘social media fail’ to get an idea of where that path can lead…

In conclusion..

Despite these warnings, social media is an amazing opportunity for many small businesses, leveling the playing field and bringing growth to those that really deserve it. As long as you keep your business sense sharp and bear in mind the advice above, social media can be a lucrative way to drive sales.

Editor’s note: Got a question for our guest blogger? Leave a message in the comments below.
About the guest blogger: Adria Saracino is the Head of Outreach at Distilled, an SEO agency with offices in London and Seattle. Adria enjoys connecting with interesting people on the web. She also writes about style at her personal fashion blog, The Emerald Closet. Follow her on Twitter at @adriasaracino.