Most small business want to use social media, many do but only a few do it well. The promise of online engagement is so great, but where’s the payoff? This is the question that holds many small business owners back from either getting started or is the reason why they often abandon it after a short and frustrating false start.

So what are the main barriers to small business success on social media and how can they be overcome?

#1 Choose the right platform

There’s plenty of them out there now and picking the right one for your business can be difficult. You need to find the social network where a) your customers are and b) where they want to engage with you and c) that will increase customer satisfaction and revenues. Often, small businesses take a be everywhere approach to social media and forget the #1 rule of business is location, location, location. Not sure where you should be? Try a few out and see where you get the most traction from and then focus on that particular social media network. Or better yet… be social from the start and just ask your customers where the best place to meet online would be.

#2 Success is not a given

I often hear from small businesses “we have social media now so it should be easy”. The problem with that line of thinking is that so does everyone else. Social media use is now table-stakes for small business. You need it to be in the game but simply anteing up does not mean you are going to win the hand. Understanding this upfront sets the right expectation.

#3 It takes time

It took you how long to start and grow you bricks and mortar business? Years? You didn’t just hang up the shingle and customers immediately lined up at your door. You’re kidding?  When you got started you had to hustle to win new business and hustle even harder to keep it. Why would you expect anything else with social media? Customers are customers regardless of what medium you use to talk to them. Social media just allows you to talk to more of them, more often and faster!

#4 It may not be a perfect fit for your business so make it work anyway

That’s right. Social media just may not be a perfect fit for your business. If you manufacture ball bearings then Facebook and Pinterest may not be for you. Some small businesses that make and sell things that do not have universal consumer appeal have figured out how to use social media to make their products exciting and so can you.  You will need to make some tough choices like is it really worth the time posting picture after picture and tweeting about ball bearings? If this is the case for your business and you still want to leverage social media try focusing on your corporate citizenship story, providing radically awesome customer service online, share your innovative manufacturing processes or heck, you could even point out how dull bar bearings are as a satirical marketing strategy. Poking fun at yourself will make you more approachable and human. There is something really interesting about every small business, even if it’s not the product. What is it about your business or industry that people would like to talk to you about?

#5 You may not have a corporate “brand”. That’s awesome.

Ok so you may not be Nike or Coke. They’ve spent bazillons of dollars developing a consistent and recognized brand and you only have a logo and 20 years of providing awesome customer service. That doesn’t mean you don’t have a brand. You have something better than flashy graphics and big budget PR campaigns… a small business has character. It has real individuals behind it and a real story to tell. This is what people really want to engage with on social media not bland nameless corporate brands. You may recognize the Nike swoosh right away when you are online, but you can’t get to know and trust a logo the way you can come to love a small business and it’s owner.

So how can small business make social media work?

Stop over thinking it. Start doing it.

Stop trying to be Nike cause you’re not. But like Nike, just do it!

Stop trying to reinvent yourself for social media. Start focussing on all the things that made your business what it is today.