Without question, word-of-mouth has always been the most effective advertising available.

When a delighted customer tells a friend about their awesome experience, or your name pops into their mind when a family member has a problem, you’re not just getting access to prospects you didn’t have before. You’re also getting the implied (or enthusiastically stated) endorsement of the person recommending you, leveraging all the respect and trust built into that relationship.

In short, you score a hot lead who’s far more likely to convert than anyone who hears about your business from some other form of marketing.

Of course, there’s a catch: You can’t control whether or not your happy customers talk you up to their friends and family. All you can do is do truly remarkable work, make the referral process as easy as possible, and trust that karma — or whatever other mystical forces control business success — will reward you with word-of-mouth buzz that actively grows your business.

Today, that word-of-mouth most often takes place across social media.

While “social media,” in its most basic form, has been part of our lives nearly as long as the Internet has been in existence, the last few years have seen an unprecedented expansion in both the technical capabilities of social media platforms and the incredible level of influence they wield in modern life.

From entertainment to politics, apps like Twitter and Instagram have become so enmeshed in the fabric of daily life, it’s hard to remember what it was like before they existed. Did we really have to wait until 6 pm to find out about the news of the day?

It may be in the world of business, though, that social media’s impact as a vehicle for communication, engagement, and marketing has truly created a sea change.

That’s because today, social media is word-of-mouth. Small businesses taking advantage of social media have noted some common characteristics in its many forms:

Here’s a list of top mistakes small businesses make when approaching social media strategy and execution. Can you relate to any of them?

Social Media Mistakes

While small businesses can theoretically screw up social media six ways from Sunday, the most common mistakes can be summed up in the following five categories:

1. Completely Ignoring It

Let’s get this one out of the way right off the top:

It’s 2017, folks. You can’t keep your head in the sand and ignore social media completely if you hope to compete in today’s hyper-connected, digital-first marketplace.

OK, if you’re the proud owner of the only grocery store within 30 miles AND the deal your great-grandfather worked out with the local farmers’ guild has miraculously allowed you to keep your prices on par with Wal-Mart… you might be able to squeak by without it.

But for the overwhelming majority of small businesses, your customers don’t just want to find you on Facebook and Instagram, they expect it. And if they can’t find you where they expect to, your business suddenly seems less real to them. It’s not necessarily fair, but it’s a fact.

So, embrace your need to be where your customers are and take advantage of the benefits social media has to offer your small business.

2. Using It Strictly to Promote Yourself

This is probably the most common mistake small businesses make on social media. They view it as a megaphone designed to shout out all their latest offers and accomplishments for the world to hear over and over again.

Obviously, there’s nothing wrong with letting your followers know when something important is going on:

But if that’s all you’re doing on your social media channels – all day, every day – then you may as well not bother. No one’s listening.

Just imagine going to a party where 30 people are milling around quietly talking to each other, and as soon as you walk in the door you start loudly calling out, “Hey! Hey everyone, look at me! You need to see this!” and throwing business cards at people. What looks are you going to get? How many people — other than the mortified host, perhaps — are going to voluntarily come over to you?

That’s just not the smart or polite thing to do. You would come in, maybe grab a drink, walk around and make polite conversation with people on a one-on-one basis. The same principle applies to social media. You want to become part of the conversation, add value, be polite, and then — in those circumstances where it’s helpful and appropriate — casually bring your business into the conversation.

Not only does constantly promoting yourself turn people off to you and your business, it also saps all the power out of social media’s ability to occasionally aid in self-promotion. The more you engage, entertain, educate, or enlighten others, the more likely they are to pay attention when you do talk about yourself.

3. Having No Plan or Strategy

When you’re spending a few hours on Saturday morning scrolling through Facebook, you don’t need a strategy. But to find success on social media from a professional perspective, you absolutely do. Social media for business can’t be approached in the same way we look at our personal social use.

Many businesses own multiple social media accounts on various channels. Employees likely have their own personal profiles as well, and there may even be more than one business profile on the same channel, used for different purposes. With all these possibilities, things can get confusing pretty quickly. And, if you’re confused, you can bet your followers are, too.

Likewise, keeping all of your professional social media channels operating and engaging your audience with fresh content and conversation can be a challenge, especially if you’re strapped for time and don’t have a full-time employee to handle digital marketing and customer service.

On the other hand, a well thought-out, documented social media strategy will:

4. Expecting Too Much

Social media marketing is powerful. But it’s not all-powerful.

It’s important to enter into a social media strategy with appropriate expectations, and a thorough understanding of what it can and can’t do for you and your business.

With the right expectations established from the start, you’ll be in the best position to allocate appropriate resources to any social media strategy and maintain positive ROI throughout your efforts.

5. Going It Alone

The final mistake small businesses make when it comes to social media is assuming they can succeed on their own with no special skills or training.

It’s easy to understand why this is such a common feeling: we all have our own Facebook and LinkedIn profiles, maybe a Twitter account or YouTube channel, and we handle those just fine when we’re catching up with relatives or rehashing last night’s episode of Game of Thrones.

But creating and carrying out a professional social media strategy that produces real results for your business is very different from fooling around on Facebook for personal reasons. Business owners who assume social media marketing is as simple as logging in and posting some stuff are in for a rude awakening when the results fail to materialize.

The fact is, social media marketing can be very time consuming, and most small businesses simply don’t have the bandwidth to give it the attention it deserves.

While it’s important for business leaders and staff to be involved in the company’s social media marketing efforts, it’s often more effective bring in outside help – like a freelance social media manager or a content marketing agency – with the resources, knowledge, and experience to do the heavy lifting for you.

That frees up more time for you to focus on doing what you do best while ensuring you’ll have a robust, effective social media marketing strategy working on your behalf.

Make Social Media Count

Mistakes are common when a new marketing channel like social media first gains popularity, but they don’t have to ruin your efforts. By doing your research and asking for help where you need it, you can make social media count for your business.

For help improving your business’s social media, check out our Get Social With Mary series.