With so many social media platforms out there, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with where and how to start. Mistakes are made which are costly because they drive away the very people you’re trying to reach – your customers. It’s important to incorporate a social media strategy into your marketing plan to make sure your business stays in the forefront of your customer’s minds, but it’s equally important you avoid certain mistakes.

If you don’t have a social media presence, you’re missing out on a valuable tool to engage and reach your fan base. So the first step is to research what’s out there and decide where you want to engage with your customers. Once you create your social media accounts, whether on Facebook, Twitter, Google+ or something else, take note of these 5 mistakes small businesses make and avoid them as much as possible.

1. It’s All About You

Let’s say you’re visiting with a friend and all they do is talk about themselves, never giving you a chance to speak. Doesn’t make you feel very welcome or valued, does it? The same holds true for social media. If you only post about your company, your products, your services all the time, people will stop following you in droves. Instead, post relevant content, ask questions, and post stories about your industry so you can create dialogue with your targeted audience.

2. You Neglect It

Social media can be fun, but it also takes work. Your fans expect regular updates and engagement, and same-day responses to their questions or messages sent to you. Too many times, a business will create a Facebook page or a Twitter account, post a bunch of updates in a short period of time, and disappear never to be heard from again.

Without regular posting and interaction, your customers will lose interest and confidence in you. If you’re going to have a social media presence, make it a part of your daily routine, like checking the mail or answering your phone.

3. You Post Updates at the Wrong Times

When you post, be sure you’re posting when your fan base is most likely to see your updates. It doesn’t do any good to post at 8am on Facebook if most people are at work don’t check their Facebook account until lunch time. The same holds true for Twitter. However, some social media platforms like Linkedin see more traffic from 7am – 9am, so that would be an optimal place to schedule a post for 8am. Think about your target audience and when they’re likely to be online, and post accordingly.

4. You Ignore Negative Feedback

When you sell a product or service, there’s always a chance someone will be unhappy about their experience and decide to let you know online. More people use social media as a way to communicate, so you can bet if they have a bad experience they’ll probably post it on your social media platforms for all to see.

So how do you deal with this situation? Don’t ignore it. If you do, you’re telling your fan base 1) you don’t care and 2) the complaint is valid. Instead, respond immediately in a courteous manner and apologize if necessary. Offer a solution and a way for the customer to keep their trust and confidence in you.

5. You Don’t Have a Plan

As stated above, many businesses make the mistake of rushing in and posting irrelevant information, posting too many times or not enough, and at the wrong times. When you decide to start using social media to reach your targeted audience, have a plan in place. Take a look at your business plan and see where you can fit social media into your overall goals, benchmarks, and tasks.

Then research how it helps small businesses, how it works, and where your customers and prospects are hanging out online. You can find this out with customer surveys, and once you know where to spend your time, plan strategically. Decide on who will handle your social media marketing, how often you want to update your platforms, and when.

It’s certainly a given that social media is not going away anytime soon. You can try to ignore it but it’s nearly impossible since more and more brands are embracing the technology as a way to reach millions of followers and future customers. It’s important to do it right, and although these 5 mistakes are easy to make when you’re first starting out they’re also easy to avoid. Do your social media “homework,” apply what you’ve learned, and watch your social media presence help your business grow.