Social media is the place to be for small businesses — or so it would seem.

With Twitter’s 320 million and Facebook’s 1.59 billion active monthly users, there’s a very real reason that social media calls to small business. The potential to reach anybody who’s anybody online is beyond tempting, especially with the lower prices of social media marketing versus more traditional routes. But is it really worth the price for small business?

The Mass Potential of Social Media

If there was any doubt that social media could become more than a branding tool, a 2015 study by Internet Retailer has completely annihilated it. According to the data Internet Retailer collected from 50 retailers invested in social media, businesses with well-oiled social media machines showed a 26 percent increase in trackable social-derived web sales year over year.

That’s no small potatoes. So why do so many small businesses throw in the towel on their social media marketing? The biggest problem with social media is the same thing that makes it so promising: the nearly limitless access it gives companies everywhere, regardless of budget or size. This double-edged sword has made it tricky for new social media campaigns to really find any traction because so many businesses lack a solid social marketing plan or direction to help them navigate the chaos.

There’s also a matter of being able to properly gauge the effectiveness of social media marketing. Unlike with telephone or walk-in sales, you’re really never going to be completely sure who is buying because of your social media and who is simply hanging out and waiting for your next clever post. You need both because the second kind of social media follower will share abundantly with friends, but you have to realize that social media isn’t typically a direct marketing tool.

Most marketers tend to think of social media as brand marketing, but even that isn’t quite right. Today, having a social media presence is almost like having a business card — it’s what’s expected. Those businesses that aren’t on social media may not realize just how many people are passing them by because customers simply expect them to be social media-ready.

Getting Started in Social Media

A social media presence for a small business doesn’t have to take a lot of time or money, allowing even the smallest business to give it a try.

You’ll need to think differently to make your mark on the very loud social landscape. There’s a lot to distract even the best marketer, having a plan before you go in is your best bet. When you’re just starting out, choose just one platform from which to launch and then take a look at the competition so you know what you’re up against.

Successful social media marketing engages audiences, it doesn’t attempt to force a sale. Social media is all about giving — so give. Give information, give news about your new products, give out some coupons. Giving increases the chances that someone will share, and shares get eyeballs on the screen.

While you’re busy giving, don’t forget to keep your business information, such as the right phone numbers and email address(es), up-to-date. If you can really nail the attitude of social media marketing, you may find that you have to hire an in-house receptionist or live answering service to keep ahead of the calls.