Last week I published an article dedicated to Marta Kagan’s excellent ‘What the f**k is social media? [one year on]’ slideshow. It’s a great overview of why brands should be embracing social media.

However, it made me think a little bit about what social media will not do for you. It certainly isn’t some kind of silver bullet that will immediately smite business problems and make everything better.

If you’ve got issues then you still need to deal with them, and it’s better that you do so before diving into the social media whirlpool.

So let’s take a look at what social media is not going to do for you.

1. Social media isn’t going to help you sell shitty products
The power of the network can have a huge effect on sales, but only if your products / services rock. 

Take BlendTec and the Will it Blend video series. It ticked a lot of the right
boxes, but ultimately the company generated a five-fold increase in sales as a result of the campaign because the
product is solid
. You could tell simply by watching the videos.

The community can certainly play a huge part in driving word of mouth
and recommendations, in order to generate new business and higher
revenues. It can also help you improve your products, but if you’re
prepared to invite consumer opinions then be sure to follow through
with actions (otherwise your ‘engagement strategy’ will come across as

Takeaway: If your products / services have issues, then the network will only magnify the scale / market knowledge of those problems.

2. Social media isn’t going to revitalise your ailing company
If your company is struggling then it is more likely that you have bigger things to worry about than what to tweet about today.

It’s a question of priorities. We know that the crowd can do great
things for your business, but the crowd won’t fix your problems for
you. They might steer you towards a solution (if you ask them), but be
careful about jumping into this space before dealing with any
fundamental business issues that you may have.

Takeaway: social media may be a distraction you don’t yet need. If you
can’t take action before embarking on a social media strategy then do
you really think you’ll be able to afterwards?

3. Social media isn’t going to fix your crappy website
It seems a bit crazy to execute a brilliant social media strategy only to deliver a poor user experience to your new visitors.

Again, it’s a question of priorities. Make sure your website is
well-optimised and working well to make the most of an increase in
traffic from the social media sites. This is an ongoing task for all website owners, but it’s best to start from a relatively stable position, as far as web performance goes.

Takeaway: Get your house in order and fix the ‘beautiful basics’ on your website before opening the door to more people.

4. Social media isn’t going to stop people from saying bad things about you
In fact, it tends to work the other way around. A problem with bad
noise in the blogosphere five years ago is today magnified massively.

Sites like Twitter, Digg and Facebook are huge echo chambers, and you
don’t need to have a blog to start shouting.

If you’re called out for failing in some area of your business then the
best advice is to own up to mistakes (we are only human, after all),
and then try to learn from them.

Takeaway: You can use social media to let people know that you’re listening, before trying to fix up the cause of the complaints.

5. Social media isn’t going to help you save customer service costs
And you know what: it might even increase them. There are no shortcuts
with social media, given that it is labour intensive and requires
people power (people talk to people, but they don’t talk to robots).

Make no mistake, social media is a people game, and it is best to
spread the workload rather than appointing a social media overlord.
Your staff are your best asset when it comes to dealing with your customers and prospects.

Social media sites will inevitably extend the reach of your customer
service channel
, whether you like it or not. It’s an opportunity, and
if people prefer to reach out to you via third party website then a)
deal with it, and b) take a close look at your existing customer
service operations, which may not be up to scratch (why are people
using Twitter to talk to you?

Takeaway: Expect questions. Provide answers. Train your staff accordingly.

6. Social media isn’t going to turn a bad marketing strategy into a good one
A bad marketing strategy is a bad marketing strategy. You can’t simply
add a dollop of Twitter and a spoonful of Facebook to make everything
better. It won’t work.

Social media sites can certainly help enhance and improve your marketing campaigns, but you must focus on producing great campaigns to start
off with. Badvertising and lame virals will not benefit from the
network effect, so stop wasting your money.

Sites like YouTube, Facebook and Twitter are brilliant feedback
. They can be used to measure the success of your overall marketing
efforts. They are also amazing for driving community involvement (e.g. user
videos, fan pages, new followers). They’ll really work in your favour if your
campaigns are innovative and creative, and are geared up for these
channels / consumer participation.

Takeaway: A joined up, well-thought out approach to marketing is the
best plan of attack if you’re throwing social media into the mix.

7. Social media isn’t about push: it’s about pull
Well, it’s about both, but it pretty much leans towards ‘pull’
marketing. Social media is about service, interaction and user
feedback. Using social sites as a platform only push marketing seems to
be missing the point.

Push marketing (think paid search, advertising, email campaigns, direct
mail) is great for acquisition, but pull marketing is consumer-centric,
and as such is better for cultivating relationships, building loyalty,
brand favourability, and word of mouth. Social sites are well geared up
to pull marketing.

Takeaway: Create great content and participate in order to generate
demand for your updates, and ultimately your products and services. People pay more attention when they tune themselves in.

8. Social media isn’t going to work for you if you aren’t a people person
This is sort of obvious, right? Signing up to social media sites and
then not saying anything isn’t going to do you any favours. A dormant
or near-inactive account is an exercise in pointlessness. There’s more to life than an RSS-based Twitter account.

Takeaway: You can use feeds to push out your content (as we do) but remember to mix it up and get personally involved with the community.

9. Social media isn’t necessarily going to increase customer retention
Ok, a curve ball here, because social media should help you keep
customers for longer. Why? Because it’s all about engagement, and that
leads to customer satisfaction, which in turn leads to reduced churn. But other factors are at play.

You need to manage and surpass customer
expectations if you want to keep hold of them. You need to build a
great brand. You need to prove that your products and services (or
service levels) are better than those offered by your competitors.

It’s no good being brilliant at social media but shipping late, or
sending too many emails, or being uncompetitive, or generally annoying
/ frustrating your cherished customers.

Takeaway: Amaze and delight your customers and live up to your promises. Don’t try to fake it, as you’ll be found out in public.