oopsNearly half of American adults are on at least one social networking site, according to the latest Pew Research Center data. But in spite of the vast potential audience — and the equally vast amount of advice out there — the social world isn’t necessarily a straightforward proposition for small businesses. Here are five mindsets that could lead to trouble.

1. I Have No Idea Why My Business Is on Facebook

If you can’t name at least one — and preferably several — good business reasons to spend time on social media, take a step back and think harder until you do. “Trying something new for my business” can be a wonderful goal, but it’s not everlasting. Build a clear-cut plan for what you hope to gain by spending your business’s time on social sites. Keep that plan flexible; it can (and should) adapt to the growing, changing world of social media.

2. I’m a Sales Machine: Must Always Be Closing

Coffee might be for closers, but social networking is for everyone. Sales are a great thing — good luck to the business that tries to go without them. But if selling is your only social goal, you’re likely to be disappointed. In fact, loyal users of sites like Twitter and Quora tend to frown upon the “ABC” approach espoused by Alec Baldwin’s character in Glengarry Glen Ross. Take a wider, longer view: Think of things like customer service, potential partnerships, or community service. Likewise, consider the possible internal applications — a private Facebook page, for example, could be a no-cost tool for employee communications.

3. I Believe that Any Publicity Is Good Publicity

Social media is proving that legendary PR sound bite wrong on a regular basis. There have been a number of big-time gaffes lately. Twitter seems particularly prone to these cautionary tales. The general public can use social sites to complain when their neighbor’s music is too loud or someone cuts them off in traffic — or to flat-out misbehave. You should think twice before doing the same with your business. There’s no such thing as an inner monologue online, no matter what your privacy settings are. If you post it, it’s public.

4. My Friends Tell Me I Should Have Been a Comedian

A sense of humor is a wonderful thing, but don’t assume everyone thinks you’re a hoot. (See also: Any Publicity Is Good Publicity.) There aren’t a wealth of successful business models based on offending as many people as possible. Creating controversy can generate a short-term buzz, but unless you’re going for just that — a fast, short-term wave of interest, likely followed by digital wrath — it’s often not worth it. Even the professional comedians run into trouble: Gilbert Gottfried recently lost a lucrative deal with Geico after several tweets referring to the recent disaster in Japan.

5. I Know this Is Going to be a Piece of Cake

The social universe involves your business giving up a certain amount of control over its image. People have a very easy, very public platform to pat you on the back when things go well, and to slam you when they don’t. There’s no flip of the switch — to see real results, you’ll have to put in some work. (Though that’s not likely to put off successful business owners.) Take your time, keep an open mind, and don’t lose sight of your core business. No matter how staggering the social media usage stats get, that will still be what matters most.

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