Social media has evolved from a potential fad to a must-have marketing tool. As businesses and organizations try to wrap their heads around how they are going to use social, many stumble into the same pitfalls including the five below. Social is free

While it’s true that social media is often free to set up, it isn’t entirely without an investment. As more businesses enter the social space there is an increasing amount of noise for consumers to sift through. If you want to stand out, you now need to set aside money for content creation (copywriting, video production and stock photography), and advertising (a pay-for-play move so your content is seen). Facebook, which is constantly tweaking its newsfeed algorithm, allows you to “boost” posts so you remain at the top of the newsfeed. Twitter, which is churning out 500 million tweets a day, allows you to promote a tweet, an ad product which makes your tweet more visible. The newsfeed is crowded, expect to pay when you really want to amplify your message.

The abandoned page

Having thousands of fans means nothing if you aren’t pushing out content on a regular basis. It’s like having thousands of email addresses but never sending a single email out. Most users will visit your page once to “like” it and then the rest of the interaction takes place via the newsfeed. To keep content flowing, plan ahead and develop a content calendar. Make it easy on yourself by assigning a specific, relevant topic to each day– Mondays may be how-to tips, Tuesdays may be a trivia question about your brand, and Wednesdays may highlight a special deal. Your content should drive actions that help meet your business goals. Don’t fall into the “Happy Friday” or “It’s National Taco Day” mode. It may get some response initially, but it’s generic. Great content drives engagement while telling your business story.

Boring content

The newsfeed is competitive and people will scan right over your posts if you don’t grab their attention. One way to do this is by including engaging visuals. The rising popularity of Instagram and Pinterest has proven that people love pictures. If you don’t have photos, use stock photography from sites like istockphoto.com to make your posts more interesting. In addition to photos, keep your posts short. Twitter limits you to 140 characters but some people can’t hold themselves back from a long, rambling Facebook post. If you struggle with this, try breaking your content into bite-sized portions. If you have a new menu, for example, don’t post the entire menu as one image. Instead, feature a dish, a day for the rest of the month. This is a double win – more digestible content for the reader and more content for you as the poster. Also, don’t be afraid to add a little humor or personality into your content as long as it’s a natural fit with your brand.

Wanting to be everywhere at once

Some people want to be on every social media network right away, which often leads to a trail of abandoned pages. To determine what networks you should devote your energy to, find out where your customers are spending their time. Read up on the demographics of the various social networks. If you are targeting teens then go to Instagram; females, think about Pinterest; or B2B, try LinkedIn. If you’re unsure, Facebook, with more than 1 billion users, is usually a safe bet. Be sure to take a look at where your competitors have had success on social and consider following suit. Once you’ve mastered one or two networks think about the time and energy it will take to add another, and only go that route if you have the necessary support.

The I-can-do-it-all syndrome

Most people had too much on their plates before Twitter and Facebook came along, and now they’re struggling to incorporate social media into their to-do list. Social media takes time. That’s why companies are creating internal social media teams with dedicated community managers or looking to agencies for support. You have your day job so don’t beat yourself up if you can’t seem to post on a regular basis, but do make sure you get the right support. Social media works best when you have someone who is monitoring, responding and creating engaging content daily.

By avoiding these five pitfalls, social media can be another powerful component of your marketing mix.

(Also appeared in Business First)