The nature of the internet economy has given myth new importance in the digital age. One need only look at the field of SEO to see just how prominent (and destructive) myth can be.

Social media has a lot in common with SEO and one area where that’s especially true is in the number of social media myths that have become entrenched. From the belief that social media ROI can’t be measured to the idea that your business can thrive if you get to the right influencers, social media myths run rampant today.

Myth: ROI can’t be measured.

Reality: This is perhaps the biggest myth and it’s absolute hogwash. Social media is measurable. For online businesses, tracking traffic and conversions from popular social networking destinations is no different than tracking traffic and conversions from, say, AdWords. For offline businesses, there’s no good reason that the same methodologies that are frequently applied to measure the impact of ‘branding‘ campaigns in other mediums can’t be applied to social media. Given that there are companies measuring the impact social media has on their businesses, I feel comfortable stating that most of the people who continue to repeat that social media can’t be measured are either lazy or have something to hide.

Myth: Social media is still immature.

Reality: Obviously there is still some disagreement about the formal definition of ‘social media‘ but let’s make this simple: online message board communities were popular in the late 90s, blogs have been on the scene since the turn of the millennium (you might recall that Blogger launched in 2000) and Friendster put today’s style of social networking on the map back in 2003. So to call social media immature is a bit disingenuous. If you need further convincing, consider that your grandmother may be on Facebook.

Myth: Social media is about conversations.

Reality: It may sound cynical, but oftentimes social media degrades into a less formal exercise in corporate shilling; an extreme extension of the ‘tell the customer whatever he wants to hear‘ mentality. One example is instructive for brands: when former Frontier Airlines customer Andrew Hyde complained about the airline’s standby policy, Frontier’s willingness to hold a “conversation” with him didn’t matter because he wasn’t being told what he wanted to hear. I personally admired that but from a social media standpoint, you can be sure that Frontier would have won a lot more praise from the social media community if it had apologized when it felt no apology was due, committed to using Twitter @JetBlue-style and paid lip service to Hyde. And I do mean paid.

Myth: For brands, authenticity is a must.

Reality: For brands, money is a must. Brands that are willing to open their wallets can easily influence consumer perception of them in the realm of social media. There are plenty of case studies demonstrating that social media denizens are easily bought off. From Twitter users who will tweet just about anything for a chance at a prize to mommy bloggers gladly write product reviews in exchange for free product, there’s no doubt: the easiest way to play is to pay.

Myth: Social media is killing off [insert industry name here].

Reality: Social media has definitely made an impact on the media landscape. But blogs aren’t killing newspapers (newspapers are doing a fine job of killing themselves thank you very much), television is far from dying, etc. etc. etc. The smartest players are taking social media for what it is: a new channel. Nothing more, nothing less. This isn’t an either-or proposition: when used strategically, social media can augment multi-channel initiatives.

Myth: There are no social media experts.

Reality: Debating whether anyone deserves to be considered a social media ‘expert’ has become a waste of time; you could probably argue that in most industries today, things move so fast that nobody can truly lock in ‘expert‘ status. The reality is that there are savvy individuals who have used social media to demonstrably benefit their businesses and the businesses of their employers. While their experiences and track records don’t guarantee future results, they’ve earned more credibility than, say, someone who calls himself an ‘expert‘ but doesn’t have any real-world case studies to back up the title. So the real question is not “Are you an expert?“; it’s “Have you walked the walk?

Myth: Social media is ‘cheap‘.

Reality: So is television advertising, print advertising, direct mail, radio advertising, etc. With one catch: it’s all relative. When it comes to social media, the true measure of ‘cheap‘ isn’t determined by how much it costs you to register on Twitter and tweet, for instance. The true measure of ‘cheap‘ is how your investments (including of time and labor) relate to what you get in return. For some companies, social media may be extremely cheap. For others, it may be far too expensive.

Myth: It’s all about influence.

Reality: Are there influential individuals who can collectively make or break your business? The good news: in some cases it appears that the answer may be ‘yes‘. The bad news: you probably have no way of knowing who they are. The whole concept of ‘influence‘ has been reduced into an oversimplistic mechanical view of the social media world. The reality is that the serious ‘science‘ of influence is far more nuanced and complex than many have tried to dumb it down to be and for companies, this means that looking for the right haystack is probably a better strategy than finding the needles within it.

Myth: Social media is the future.

Reality: Social media is the present. The future is unknown. If your company treats adoption of social media today as some form of future-proofing, chances are when the next big thing comes along, you’ll look a lot like those companies who are still trying to figure out what the big deal about the internet is.

Myth: Social media is a passing fad.

Reality: There’s a lot of noise but that doesn’t mean that there isn’t signal. Remember: a lot of businesses fail when they attempt certain things. In the world of SEO, for instance, I’d venture a guess that more than 50% of the companies that have implemented some sort of SEO initiative have failed. Does that mean that SEO is a passing fad? Of course not.