Social media marketing has become a necessary and valuable marketing tool for businesses today. It’s one of the best ways to increase awareness and connect with an audience, but it can also help you grow your business and generate leads—if you do it right.

So to give your business some practical direction, we’ve outlined seven social media marketing pitfalls to avoid.

1. Not having a strategy

Social media should be treated as any other marketing initiative you undertake—starting first and foremost with strategy.  Many businesses jump into social media with no real strategy or gameplan. They’re “doing” social media but their overall efforts are disjointed and lacking direction and focus. Proper strategic planning is critical to the success of your social media marketing and should be the foundation of everything you do. Be sure to align your social media efforts with your overall marketing strategy and set measurable goals and Key Performance Indicators (KPIs) to gauge success.

2. Being on EVERY social media channel

If you try to be on every popular social media channel, you will ultimately spread yourself too thin and become overwhelmed. And not all social media channels make sense for every business and every industry. Start with just one or two social media channels that fit best with your business and audience. LinkedIn is usually a good place to start for most businesses, since it is a professional networking channel. Once you are comfortable and in a rhythm of posting often, then you can begin to expand to other channels as they make sense.

3. Not being consistent

One of the worst things you can do is set up a social media account and then leave it dormant for days or even weeks. One way to prevent this is to dedicate an employee to doing your social media so that it doesn’t get put on the back burner. Then, make sure they are posting at least a few times per week, but daily is preferred. Staying active is key to building your following and increasing brand awareness.

4. Using social media as a sales platform

While social media is helpful for building your business, it is not the place to pitch your products or services. People will quickly leave your page and unfollow you if you solely trying to sell. Incorporate the content marketing philosophy of adding value and providing relevant information into your social media content strategy.  Social media provides an informal space for you to show off your company culture and thought leadership in your industry. Sharing industry articles and your blog posts will provide value for your followers and keep them engaged with your business.

5. Having an intern do it all

While it’s fine for interns to help execute your social media, it’s vital that there is someone from management that is driving the strategy, planning and content. If not, then your social media marketing can quickly become unaligned with your brand. Just like you wouldn’t send an intern alone to a tradeshow or press conference, you shouldn’t have them posting content online without strategic guidance and oversight.

6. Not engaging with followers

Social media should not be a one-way street. To be successful and build a following that matters, you have to be social! Share others’ posts on Facebook. Ask questions. Answer questions. Retweet. Share articles. Thank people for retweeting your posts. Repin. Like others’ posts. These are all ways to be involved in social media. The more engagement, the better; so don’t forget the social in social media!

7. Not tracking analytics and KPIs

Why set KPIs and measurable goals if you aren’t tracking the results? Social media should be treated the same as your other marketing activities and properly measured. You can’t assume that simply keeping tracking of the number of fans or followers is a good enough indication of success. Social media channels have matured to the point where there is an increasingly high level of analytics behind them.

So be sure to keep a close eye on your social media analytics such as Facebook Insights, LinkedIn Page Statistics and Pinterest Analytics. There are also tons of third-party social media tracking tools out there to help you measure the success of your social media and gain additional insights as well. Here are 5 recommended tools for social media management and measurement.

Your company’s website analytics (such as Google Analytics or more advanced analytic tools) can also be a great measurement tool to tell you how much website, blog and landing page traffic your social media channels are actually generating. When a visitor from social media is guided to a lead-generating landing page, it can move from what is nothing more than a fan or follower to an actual lead or potential customer. This is where analytics can help you prove the true value of your social media efforts, by keeping track of social-to-visit-to-lead metrics.

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While there are many firms on social media, not every company is seeing the value or reaping the rewards of their efforts. Be sure you are not falling into these pitfalls, and you’ll begin to realize the real value that social media can bring to your marketing strategy and business.

Benjamin Franklin warned: “By failing to prepare, you are preparing to fail.” Without a marketing plan, you and your organization are adrift on an ocean of opportunities – opportunities to succeed, and opportunities to fail.

Why do you need a marketing plan? We asked Kay Keenan, President of Growth Consulting, Inc. and Project Faculty Member at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School, who identified three key reasons:

  1. A marketing plan lets you tell your boss “No” very effectively and without emotion.
  2. A marketing plan tied to your strategic plan allows you to probe deeply into the matters of true importance to your organization.
  3. A marketing plan moves you and your team from debates over font choice/size to how marketing can best support the objectives of the organization.

The bottom line: A strategic marketing plan is critical to your ability to reach your targets efficiently, stay focused on goals, and ensure you’re investing your time and resources to generate the best results for your organization.

You can learn more from Kay Keenan at the American Marketing Association’s Nonprofit Marketing Conference this July, where she will present a highly interactive preconference tutorial: “Write a Marketing Plan in Three Hours.” Keenan’s workshop was so well received at the 2014 conference, she has been invited to give an encore presentation. The AMA’s signature annual conference for nonprofit marketers zeros in on essentials to help nonprofits engage their audiences and meet mission-critical objectives. It attracts marketers from around the country in organizations, foundations, and associations both big and small. This year’s conference will be held July 13-15 at the Fairmont Washington, DC in Georgetown. Learn more and register at www.ama.org/nonprofit today.

Kay Keenan is a former Vice President of Marketing for Big Brothers Big Sisters of America, where the repositioning she led was featured in the New York Times as breakthrough. Her background includes consumer products, B2B marketing, and service marketing before becoming a nonprofit marketer. She is the former chair of the American Marketing Association’s Nonprofit Marketing Conference and is a skilled presenter. Follow her on Twitter @ConsultKeenan.