Ever since Facebook first hit the scene, social media has been held up as the marketer’s Shangri La: an inexpensive way to market to the masses. But as social media platforms increasingly favor paid posts and advertising, and as consumers’ attention spans become increasingly hard to hold, it’s important to be realistic about this channel. While social media does offer a way to connect directly to your consumers, “likes” don’t translate directly to dollars, nor do shares have any direct correlation with your growth over last quarter. It’s not that social media isn’t a powerful tool for connectivity and customer interaction, but it must be approached realistically and managed pragmatically. To that end, we offer five tips for engaging in social media marketing realistically.

  1. You’re not going to go viral – Okay, maybe some of you are—but not many. And even if you do, it wears off quickly. The point is that your social media efforts shouldn’t be aimed at creating that one big thing that will get six million shares in twenty-four hours. Instead, focus on building a long-term connection with your core audience.

  2. Have a strategy – Giving that new intern your passwords and telling them to post as they see fit doesn’t count as a strategy. Sure, they understand the social piece, but they have likely not been engaged in your business long enough to understand the marketing component. Each social account should have concrete goals associated with it; give your Facebook page a reason for existing and know what you want LinkedIn to accomplish.

  3. Choose a champion  Your social media strategy and content output should be managed by an expert in your business—someone who understands all the channels, has a firm grasp of your business goals, and can make decisions based on strategy, content, and data. In some cases, this champion may need to stand up against stakeholders, so being prepared with a solid social marketing strategy and measurable outcomes is critical.

  4. Measure Campaign Effectiveness – Call Tracking software is a great tool to help marketers prioritize social ad campaigns, allocate spend, and measure exactly which campaigns are delivering results. Allocate tracking numbers to each of your social campaigns, and any related calls are tracked and associated to the correct online advertising channel. Calls can also be sent into Google Analytics as events and into Google AdWords as conversions, for seamless workflow and reporting.

  5. Actually create content – Don’t get so caught up in the endless feed of others’ post that you forget to put in the time to create and post your own content. Sure, liking and sharing others’ content is a good way to keep your network thinking about you. But creating your own content is more powerful, as it tells your audience what to think about you. Blog posts, articles, infographics, and videos give you a chance to demonstrate your values, your expertise, and your unique take on your industry, community, or customers.

  6. Don’t get lost down the comment-thread rabbit hole – Opinions are like Facebook pages—everybody’s got one. And there will be times when you need to respond to customer opinions or complaints in a thread. But it’s best to direct most—if not all—negative feedback into a different channel. Offer to email or private message the disgruntled customer complaining on your page, or direct them to a knowledge base for answers. Don’t go negative yourself, and don’t exhaust your resources wallowing in the comment threads. Make amends when necessary, and just move on to the next piece of content.

Remember, your social media efforts will only matter to your audience if they truly matter to you. Be real, and have realistic goals, expectations, and strategies surrounding your efforts. Starting small and building authentic connections with a few consumers at a time will convert to more paying customers, down the road.