In the world of branding and digital marketing, you hear terms like social media, viral content and online communities being bandied around all the time. Advertising agencies regularly harp on about how no modern company can afford to exist without a strong social media presence, but relatively few will actually take the time to explain what it is and why it’s important.

Social marketing, whether through conventional social media channels or any other platforms, is one of the most commonly misunderstood areas of brand-building. In this week’s list, we’re going to put the record straight by dispelling some of the many myths and misconceptions around social media and online communities:

#1. Everyone’s using social media

2.38 billion Facebook profiles. 330 million Twitter users. Almost 600 million people prospecting for leads or looking for jobs on LinkedIn. Figures like these are often cited as being the primary reasons why brands need to maintain a strong presence on all the major social channels. With built-in global audiences in the billions, it’s hard to imagine a larger demographic to market to.

The truth

There are near eight billion people on this planet, and little over a third of them are using social media. In fact, many younger people are quitting mainstream social media due to privacy and security concerns among others. People are instead becoming more interested in smaller, exclusive communities where they can enjoy more meaningful interaction with other members.

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#2. Social media is for broadcasting only

When you have hundreds of millions of people using the same platform, it’s easy to view the major social channels as a megaphone. Many business social media pages are used only for selling; dishing out promotional messages en-masse in the hope that thousands among the millions will get right down to some online shopping.

The truth

Many brands seem to miss the point that social media is, well, supposed to be social. We’re surrounded by ads, or stuff disguised as ads, all the time, and most of us have grown sick of it. With the banner blindness epidemic now in full swing, it’s never been more important to use social media for bringing value to customers, and not just for spamming promotional content.

#3. You have to be on every major social network

In a world where brands and consumers alike are so spoiled for choice, no one seems to know what to do. And that often means they feel the need to do everything. The belief that brands need to be on every major platform is a widespread one driven by peer pressure, as well as the constant barrage of advertising that comes from social networks and marketing agencies.

The truth

If your target audience isn’t hanging out on a social network, then there’s absolutely no point in wasting your resources on trying to build up a presence there. A B2B company, for example, likely won’t find many useful leads on Facebook, in much the same way as consumers don’t generally head to LinkedIn to chat with friends or go window shopping.

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#4. Negative feedback will always ruin your business

As Warren Buffet once said, it takes twenty years to build a brand but mere seconds to destroy it. In a time when anyone can leave feedback on consumer review sites or social media sites, it’s easy to see why brands are so afraid of negative feedback. But, while there’s a lot of truth in the quote, it only explores one side of the picture.

The truth

Most people put more weight into how brands deal with negative feedback than the content of the feedback itself. In fact, in some cases, it’s possible to turn that feedback into something positive. The absolute worst things you can do, however, is ignore it or try to have it removed. Transparency and the ability to admit your faults is now paramount to brand success.

#5. The total number of members is the most important success metric

We all love big and impressive-sounding numbers, which is why many of us pay way too much attention to vanity metrics like member counts. Many businesses consider headcounts alone to be their primary growth metric, followed closely by things like likes and shares. The common assumption is that big numbers mean big success, or do they?

The truth

What difference does it make if you have a thousand followers on Facebook, yet not one of them interacts with your content, let alone buys from you. The size of your membership rarely has any correlation to the growth and development of your community. It’s much better to have a hundred active members than a million disengaged ‘followers.’

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#6. There’s no point in creating your own community if one already exists

Every brand that’s anything has an online community. Often, this might be something that the brand itself has no control over, or even any direct interaction. Regardless, people talk about their favourite brands, products and services all the time on social media and review platforms. They’re already forming communities by themselves, so what’s the point in making your own?

The truth

Building an internally operated brand community gives you a direct line of sight into the needs and desires of your customers, as well as a way to engage with them meaningfully. By adding value through online community building, you can bring people together and provide them with a place where they can share common interests and provide invaluable feedback.

#7. Brands always know what’s best for their communities

It’s true that no one knows your brand better than you do, but does that mean that you always know what’s best for your customers? Companies often run their own communities with the view that community managers are solely responsible for its operation and that they are there to lead every conversation.

The truth

Brand communities are about two-way conversation and meaningful relationships, or at least they’re supposed to be. Customers know what they want, which is why online communities should serve to empower them with a voice. Brands can tap into these insights to deliver value to customers and better tailor their offers to their specific needs.

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#8. If you build it, they will come

Companies set up new social media groups and pages by the thousands every day, because that’s what everyone else seems to be doing. Others may invest in a costly enterprise-grade community platform before hiring a community manager and then waiting to become the next big thing. It’s a common belief that people are social enough to come flocking in droves.

The truth

Building a community isn’t something you just do and then hope to leave it on autopilot. A real community is a dynamic, living entity that you need to participate with regularly. To that end, it needs a sense of purpose, and it needs to offer value to its members. People need a reason to join and yet more reasons to participate. Promote and position it right, and they will come.

Disciple social spaces help brands enjoy all the benefits of community with an independent, valuable, and trusted platform in a safe space that they own and control. Start building your brand social space today by telling us about your community goals.