I get the question “will social media work for my business?” a lot. For the purposes of this post, I should clarify that the term “social media” doesn’t just refer to the big sites like Facebook or Twitter. It applies to anything interactive that takes place online—including blogs, message boards, video and more. Not every business will benefit from the same exact sites and tools.

That being said, it seems there is still a lot of S.M.S. disease going around. Social Media Skepticism, that is. 😉 The most insidious form of this disease just happens to be Myth #1:

“My clients/customers/people who pay my mortgage every month aren’t using social media.”

(Or the even more aggressive form, “My prospects aren’t online.” Really?!)

Maybe your clients and customers aren’t on Twitter or aren’t reading blogs regularly. You’ll need to explore exactly where YOUR market is spending their time. But I guarantee that they’re using the web to search for products and services, or book speakers for conferences, or to look for referrals, or….you get the idea.

What I teach my students and clients is how to build a web presence, create a fan base and get their business (no matter what kind of business it is) in front of their target audience. After all, they are already there just looking for business owners like you. Yes, really! (When’s the last time you cracked open a phonebook? They do make pretty good doorstops…)

Myth #2 is one that kind of makes me giggle:

“But it takes too much time to build relationships…”

That sounds kind of silly, don’t you think? We all know and accept that building relationships offline takes time and effort. However, when small business owners decide not to bother with social media because they see it as being too time-consuming, then that is exactly what they are saying. (And I don’t know about you, but some days I’m more than thrilled to stay in my yoga pants and bunny slippers and virtually “press the flesh” rather than have to hit the road.)

The truth is, social media does take time, just like traditional networking does. The key is to select which sites you’ll actively participate in and make it a part of your weekly or even daily habit. Just as with other forms of marketing, consistency is what leads to results.

To use myself as an example, I have bookmarked in my web browser all the links to the social networking sites I use. Every day, I pull them up and accept friend requests, answer questions, start conversations, etc. on each one. This takes less than 15 minutes and has become a part of my regular marketing routine.

As your list of friends, followers and contacts grows, you might find it difficult to keep up with all of the updates, links and information coming your way. However, don’t despair—you are certainly not expected to take in and process every single bit of information that enters your radar. (Phew!)

Finally, with so much focus on the online world, it’s easy for people with very locally focused or storefront businesses to believe that social media can’t help them. Which brings me to Myth #3:

“Social media doesn’t work for local businesses.”

Ah, my favorite.

If you are already using and benefiting from social media in your biz, then you know there are some really good search capabilities available on most of the bigger social media sites that can allow you to access local users. (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube all give you the ability to search locally.) Think about it—would it be helpful to find a couple hundred social media users who are living and working right in your town or zip code? Also, sites like Facebook and LinkedIn each have Groups, some of which revolve around local topics. Can’t find one for your town? Why not create one?

In addition, gatherings of local Twitter users (called “tweetups”) are becoming more and more popular—and you can use a site like Meetup or Twtvite to find or create tweetups near you. (Think of it as local networking for the social media age.)

There are even sites that allow you to search for local bloggers. Bloggers you find there are good social media contacts to have—you never know when they might be looking to highlight local businesses, and this could be a great way to get some exposure.

In addition, your business can benefit by being listed on several social review and Internet “yellow pages” type-sites. Check out MerchantCircle and Google Local to start, and don’t be shy about asking former and current customers to write up reviews there if they’ve been happy with your services.

So there you have it. Now, am I naïve enough to think that every single business out there can get fantastic results with social media? No, but if you happen to be one of those who still has some of these doubts, I encourage you to at least give it a try. You never know where those “social” relationships may end up leading, right?

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