This article originally ran in the Napa Chamber of Commerce’s June 2012 issue of COMMERCE! I had planned to run it a wee bit earlier for my readers. But, alas, my move (more below) put a damper on that plan.

“Can I make money from it?”

This is usually the first question I hear from a client when asked about joining the social media revolution. The second question is: “What’s it gonna cost me?”

Let’s flip around the equation: How much money will you be leaving on the table if you don’t join Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and other platforms?

You already know your customers are out there using these communications tools. So how much money will they be spending with your competitors who are on these sites? (Good memory is a fickle thing which is why marketing messages are repeated over and over: We simply forget everything that isn’t directly in front of our faces.)

Making sales on social media sites is very much a do-able goal. But like any successful business, reaching that goal requires careful, well-thought out business planning.

I know of several businesses that have made big dollar sales through Twitter connections alone. Pinterest is already racking up big sales for many companies through posts of product photos. And many third-party developers offer tools for engaging e-commerce galleries and sales carts on Facebook fan pages.

If you’d like to jump on the bandwagon, here are a few tips to put you on the road to social media success:

  1. DO create a strategic marketing plan specific to each social media platform. It’s okay to start with just a few sentences in your plan instead of a multi-page essay. But the more specific your plan is, the better your results will be.
  2. DO actively seek out fans and followers who match the demographics and psychographics (how they think) as exactly as possible of your best, existing customers.
  3. DO map out each campaign of fan page updates and tweets with a calendar, tracking results and adjusting each campaign for maximum effect.

On the other hand, just because you can create a fan page or a Twitter account in ten minutes doesn’t mean you should. Why? There are no shortcuts to long-term business success. The key to converting social media buzz into dollars in your pocket is precision planning and execution. Here are a few mistakes to avoid so you don’t turn off followers and fans:

  1. DON’T start your Facebook fan page and then visit only once a month (or less) to update. You’ll give the impression you’re forgetful in running your business and uninterested in your customers. It’s like hanging up a CLOSED sign on your store front door ninety percent of the time.
  2. DON’T assume now that you’ve built your fan page that everyone will be beating down your door, er, Timeline to gush about your fantastic products and services. Just like every other marketing tool you have to earn your “Likes.” Actively seek out fans through page sharing, inviting friends to “Like,” and searching for new fans through contests and ads to grow your audience.
  3. DON’T tweet once a week about your latest sale item and expect your followers to immediately place orders. Do you like being barraged with “Buy Me!” advertising? I doubt it. Keep the promotions to ten percent or less of your tweets. The remainder of your tweets should share valuable content and help your followers. Draw them in like the Pied Piper, er, Tweeter!

Remember, marketing is simply the process of making it easy for your customers to find and buy from you in the most efficient and cost effective manner possible. The more efficient your marketing efforts are, the more profits you will make.

If your search for social media dollars feels more like an endless quest for a lost treasure, perhaps we can help you understand the treasure map.