4 unrealistic expectations most businesses believe about social media

Plus 4 REALISTIC expectations to consider

Many business owners and social media “experts” have it all wrong. They want to see success on social media produce big results for their business. While this isn’t impossible, it is a little unrealistic. Here’s why…

My story: Help me make my book SELL

I recently worked with a client who finished her print-on-demand (POD) book. She asked me to work with her social media profile to get the word out. I was THRILLED. Social media is a great way to round up your “tribe” and find people who are truly interested in your work. I began to think about how a presence on social media could identify potential readers and connect with more people.

We emailed back and fourth a few times and talked about the best platform to pursue. My client wasn’t going to have time to engage in the comments or create status updates—she simply wanted more sales.

I probably should have stopped right there.

If you’re an author not able to actively engage AT ALL on social, it’s going to be a tough road forward. Most publishers are looking for authors with an established platform—and if you’re self-publishing, the strength of your sales depends on the loyalty of your fans—who are usually on social!

. . . But we agreed to run a few targeted Facebook Ads anyway. It was insanely successful. The campaign got thousands of shares, hundreds of comments, and lots of positive engagement. Exactly what you’d hope to see. I was proud of my work. (still am!) A few commenters even expressed interest in buying the book. (We posted a link to Amazon.)

But no one purchased the book.

Yup, it was seen by over 300,000 highly targeted people, and not ONE person pressed BUY.

You can have lots of “engagement”—but that doesn’t necessarily mean people will purchase.

What I learned

Because of this experience, I realized many have unrealistic expectations of what social can do for them. Especially when it comes to results. They want to see their dollars invested, equal cold, hard cash for their business. They want to see true ROI—return on investment.

4 Unrealistic Expectations

From my experience as a social media consultant working with clients of budgets large and small, I’ve identified 5 unrealistic expectations people have when jumping into social media.

1. SPEED: I want to see stuff happen quick

For the past 4 years, I have argued—and still explain—that social media is a marathon, not a sprint. This means that sometimes you might not get the results you’re looking for…right away. It could take 3-6 months to notice a trend, and another 3-6 months of targeting to get what you’re looking for.

While it might be true that we live in an age where people respond quickly and speed is valued—substantial results take time to test, analyze, and learn from.

2. SALES: I need increased sales!

If you want to see an increase in sales, social can play a piece, but shouldn’t be the only strategy.

Sales as a direct result of social media is possible—but it will take hard work, money, time, and the right perspective.

If you’re running a targeted ad and spending over $1,000 in ads, you might see some purchases—but it depends. $1,000 toward a targeted ad will help you get the word out and provide some results on what to do next, but might not directly “convert” to real sales. You must be willing to accept this. You have to be willing to have a “let’s try this” attitude—and be OK if no one buys.

Sales can eventually come because of social media, but it’s hard to directly track. Here’s why:

Someone might see your targeted campaign this month, but then decide to buy a few months later. So did the social media campaign lead to the sale? Kind of. The takeaway here is that it's unrealistic to believe each dollar spent on social will lead to more business.

3. TRAFFIC: I want more website traffic

“Drive traffic to our website” is often a phrase I hear in marketing. But is the general public honestly looking for more websites to “drive to”??

No. People are not looking for “websites”—they’re looking for something DEEP, personal, and REAL. They want stories that capture their attention, resonate with their identity, and provide social currency. If that means texting on their iPhone, great. If it’s a photo on Twitter, awesome. If it’s a website, cool. The platform isn’t as important as what’s being conveyed and how it’s conveyed.

I agree that website visitors are a valid metric to consider, but it can be misleading. People may visit your site, but not DO anything. That could be a usability issue (layout, mobile-friendly, page speed), a flaw in design, or misleading copy (writing). There are MANY variables to consider once a person “lands” on a website. Tracking their behavior is expensive!

So rather than getting caught up in advanced tracking and user behavior research, take a step back first to understand what people really want. They want something REAL—something that shows you’re human. What can you do to find that in your business? Spending the time and money to answer this is more valuable and longer lasting than vague website traffic.

4. PAGE LIKES: I want to see more likes

There are still a few people on the hunt for likes. They believe that the more likes they get, the better. While likes are a form of engagement, they don’t mean much except…someone clicked like. Good for you!

More likes increase your appearance (1,000 pages likes looks more legit than 100), but if those people aren’t highly targeted, it’s just a number.

Furthermore, any quantity of likes on a page or post doesn’t do much for you unless you do some serious and consistent targeting to those people. Social media algorithms filter content for each user, which means un-boosted posts aren’t guaranteed to be seen. (Yes, that means you have to pay $$$ to be seen and heard.)

Learning to manage social media expectations

If you’re still with me, let’s transition and talk about some realistic expectations.

4 Realistic Expectations

1. BUILD A TRIBE: I want to provide a place to share content that “our kind of people” might like.

Seth Godin’s book, Tribes popularized the term:

“A tribe is a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea. For millions of years, human beings have been part of one tribe or another. A group needs only two things to be a tribe: a shared interest and a way to communicate.” ― Seth Godin, Tribes: We Need You to Lead Us.

If you’re using social to rally human beings together and to lead them, you will be more successful than trying to pound them on the head with offers to buy your thing. Community trumps currency.

2. STORIES: I want to create a place for people to share their stories—both good & bad.

If your goal is to provide a place for people to share stories, you’re on the right track. Social platforms are not the origin of stories—but they’re an insanely effective medium for them to be shared. Rather than focusing on the mechanics of the technology—focus on story.


Customers will share their stories—both good and bad—whether you want them to or not. If the general public is handed a megaphone, it’s hard not for them not to test it out every once and a while, especially when something has their attention.

Use this to your advantage and create the story you want your customers to share. Change up your scenery. Make a photo-opt area. Go above and beyond to impress. If you don’t, people will share stories anyway.

3. CONSISTENCY: I want to consistently share a message over time to a group of people.

If you properly view social media as a marathon, you can start to deliver your brand’s message on a consistent schedule. This top-of-mind awareness and name recognition is VALUABLE for your company.

Use targeted ads to consistently deliver a clear message and to earn people’s attention. They might eventually SEEK you out, rather than you begging at their feet for a sale.

4. SMALL GROUP, HIGHLY ENGAGED: I want a smaller group of people who is highly engaged.

Instead of shooting for a few hundred or thousand faceless people—why not aim to make a difference in 10 people’s life?

Start small. Purpose to get real people engaged and to “win” them as a life-long fan, not just a passer by. If you do this—they will promote you when they’re with their friends. They’ll talk about you and text about you. And that’s WAY more valuable than 100 randos who are just numbers.

Be specific. Be personal. Win hearts—not numbers.

What’s the point, then?

Social media is a lot like social gatherings in real life. There are conversations, opinions, stories, and REAL HUMANS.

The more real and human-like you are on social media, the more real humans will identify your business as something worth reading, watching, and eventually buying from. Good luck.

Question: Which of these expectations do you have? You can leave a comment by clicking here.