In the very early days of the web all that was really needed to succeed online was a website. As the online world grew, it became necessary to promote that website, one of the chief ways of which was to ensure that you were listed in the main directories.

But then search engines came into being, along with search engine optimisation. Today though it’s largely about social media, and the many ways in which social media can be used to increase brand awareness, maximise marketing potential, and engage with customers in a more proactive way.

At each stage of the organic development of the web, and of online marketing, it has been necessary for businesses to fully understand the best ways in which their business can be promoted. Not every business benefits from the same exact formula, and often it is only by discovering a unique combination of tactics that businesses achieve the online success they need.

But whilst no one would deny the huge importance of social media in any online marketing campaign, it is without doubt one of the most complex areas of online marketing ever to have existed. On the plus side, the opportunities are tremendous, and more exciting than any other online marketing opportunity in the past. But on the downside it is terribly easy for businesses to misunderstand the opportunities which social media has to offer, often with the result that businesses invest many hours of their time, and often substantially sized budgets, with very little to show for it.

In fact in a recent survey over 65% of businesses were unable to justify their existing use of social media. The reasons for the lack of success with social media, disappointing results, and general confusion about how social media can help to promote a business successfully is largely down to three common errors. By understanding these three common mistakes which businesses make when using social media it is easier to step back and consider much more objectively what the best way of using this astonishingly powerful resource actually is.

1. Brand Consistency – A huge number of businesses have web sites which are formal and professional, printed leaflets which are similarly formal and professional, and on the telephone or in person their staff are also formal and professional. Yet when it comes to them using social media, such as Twitter or Facebook, they start to come across as matey and chummy. It’s almost like your dad trying to be cool with your friends when you were a teenager. It is important that businesses remember that when using social media they should remain consistent and honest rather than trying to appear streetwise.

2. Commitment – Often businesses have launched into the world of social media with a flurry of daily tweets and Facebook updates, yet after just a matter of weeks or months the whole machine starts to grind to a halt. Over committing too early or without any real long-term strategy in place can result in a marketing strategy which makes the business look rather amateurish and uncertain. An abandoned Twitter page or a Facebook page which has been left to gather dust does a business more harm than good.

3. Purpose – Ask many business owners why they use social media and often they’ll be rather lost for an answer. With search engine optimisation the answer was easy. SEO is important in order to make sure that the business rides high within the search results so that more customers will click through to the website, boosting sales. But what is the purpose of social media?

Is it about brand awareness? Is it about boosting sales? Is it about marketing?. It’s about whatever you want it to be about, but unless you know why you’re using social media, you will almost certainly be wasting both time and money.

So make sure that when it comes to using social media you remain consistent to your brand image, you provide a level of commitment which is sustainable, and you know full well what the purpose of your use of social media is, so that every tweet or update takes your business further towards a fully identifiable goal.