Social media has been one of the biggest business buzzwords of the past 5 years, but many companies still don't understand how to effectively use social media for lead generation. Unfortunately, years after Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn became widely popular, many businesses are still going about it the wrong way.  

Here are a few realities of social media lead generation that too many companies still don’t understand – and ideas on how to do social media the right way:  

  • No spam. Social media started out as a way for people to meet new friends, connect with like-minded people, explore their interests and get new ideas. Part of what makes social media fun is the idea that there is some kind of genuine personal interaction going on behind it. Unfortunately, too many companies are using social media to send out nothing but sales pitches. Don’t constantly try to “sell” yourself and your company on social media. Don't just talk about yourself all the time – instead, try to create conversations with customers. Be sincere. Be real. Talk to people like you would in a polite conversation at a networking meeting – remember that real people are reading your social media posts, not sales robots. 
  • Number of followers doesn’t matter: Many companies are obsessed with getting more fans, friends and followers on social media. While it’s true that you need to build an audience to make your social media efforts effective, quantity is less important than quality. It’s better to have 100 “good” followers on Twitter who actually pay attention to what you say, and who are willing to share your messages with others, than it is to have 1,000 low-impact followers who never interact with you. 
  • Listen more than you speak: Social media is not just a broadcasting channel to push your own message out into the world, it’s also an ideal way to gather business intelligence and keep your finger on the pulse of your industry. Whether it’s getting feedback from customers, watching what your competitors are saying, or getting a general impression of emerging trends, social media is not just for trumpeting your company’s latest ideas and achievements, it’s also ideal for listening to what others are saying. 
  • Look for problems to solve: People often use social media as a public sounding board to air their complaints and grievances – whether it’s frustration with a delayed airline flight (“I’ve been stuck at O’Hare for TWO HOURS”) or puzzled expressions about the performance of their Web browser (“Is Google Chrome slow for anyone else today?”) Use keywords to search for what people are saying about your industry and your specific solution. You might be able to strike up conversations with people based on what they’re already complaining about on Twitter. 
  • Be committed: Lots of companies start a Twitter account or set up a LinkedIn profile, and then never do anything with it. There are many phantom Twitter accounts with only a few tweets posted, or a few staggered updates a few months apart. Social media requires commitment and a steady presence. Keep at it. Create content ahead of time, or write batches of Twitter messages and schedule them in advance using tools like HootSuite. Even a few minutes a day can make a big difference for your business, but you have to stick with it and show that your business is “here to stay” on social media. 

Social media is likely to continue to grow in importance as millions of people spend more and more time on Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and other social media sites. Your company has a great opportunity to build stronger relationships with your customers and use social media for lead generation, but you need to go about it the right way. 

Don’t use social media for aggressive sales pitches. Cultivate interaction, conversations and meaningful influence over your audience. Be ready to invest some time in making social media into a two-way communications channel to learn from your customers and industry peers. The most effective social media marketing doesn’t feel like marketing at all – it’s an exercise in trust-building, generosity and genuine interest in what other people have to say.