As a business owner, you’re looking at social media marketing like any other initiative — you’re keen to get involved, but only if it offers clear ROI for your business. And so you go on to make the biggest mistake you could possibly make on social media: you try to cash out too soon.

“But wait a minute,” you say, eyes squinting. “If I’m investing in social media for my business, isn’t the whole point to make my money back?”

Yes! But the worst way to do that is to explicitly sell your products to people before you’ve provided them any value.

People use social media to get news, to follow friends, and to start conversations, so don’t be surprised if you find it difficult to fit in with your self-promotional sales content.

A business that uses social media just to shout about their own product or service is like that one kid that won’t stop splashing in the pool, even after they’ve been asked to stop. All the other kids shake their head and share a knowing look, stepping farther and farther away to leave you a wide enough radius to splash by yourself.

You don’t want to splash solo. You may actually get some folks wet, but you also piss a lot of people off.

So how do you effectively engage others on social media and spark some real conversations? How do you build an engaged audience that will want to actually purchase from you long-term?

Many experts will have you believe the answer is pull the attention off yourself and share other peoples’ content. A few examples:

  • The Golden Ratio (30/60/10) suggests 30% of the content you share should be content you create, 60% should be curated from elsewhere, and 10% should be promotional with calls to action.
  • The Rule of Thirds suggests your social media updates should be evenly split between content that’s A) about or by you B) curated from others and C) personal interactions that build your brand.
  • The 4-1-1 Method recommends four pieces of content curated from others, and one retweet for every one self-serving update.

This certainly appears to be an improvement. If the goal is to use social media to provide value to your target audience and spark conversations, then sharing the very best content from experts in the industry would be a sound route to go. (At least the other kids will play with you in the pool, rather than leaving you alone!)

But let’s not forget your whole goal of using social media. You’re looking to get a return on your investment. You want to drive people back to your website as much as possible so you can send them down your sales funnel. How can you do that if you’re mostly sending them to other experts’ sites and other businesses’ content?

In other words, why not create and share your own valuable content and turn your business into the go-to expert?

To build an audience for yourself, you have to provide some sort of unique value. You need to have a compelling reason for others to follow you, engage with you, like your content, and link to your website. As Gary Vaynerchuk says, you need to give, give, give without expectation.

Of course this isn’t something that happens with one article, one video, or one white paper. It’s a frame of mind, a holistic framework that encompasses how you work as a business owner.

If you can create a large enough reservoir of truly valuable content for your target audience, you’ll have plenty of fuel to drive consistent activity across a number of social media channels. You’ll be giving your audience plenty of reason to organically interact with you, share your content, link to your website, and send others down your funnel for you.

In other words, you won’t need to resort to splashing around by yourself to get people wet.

It takes just as much effort to plan an awesome party as it does to splash by yourself all day along. But instead of pissing people off, you get people jazzed to stop by and get wet. And if it’s truly great, those people will talk up your pool party to their friends too.

By providing enough value consistently to your audience, you actually turn your followers into ambassadors. So make your social media feeds the next great pool party. After a few great events and enough thrilled partygoers, you’ll have a line of people our your door eager to make a purchase.

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