Social media offers endless possibilities for marketing and selling your product online. But you know that already. (And we must have been going on and on about it.) You know that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and similar social media sites are great for E-commerce and online retailers – that, if leveraged properly, they can help you engage targeted communities, increase your online visibility, enhance your brand, drive traffic to your site, and maximize your sales opportunities.

Now – hold on right there.

Before you even think of getting started and unleashing your campaign unto the wonderful world of social media, you may want to be aware of the common mistakes that businesses – regardless of size – make. Mistakes that can make social media marketing a burden instead of an opportunity. Mistakes which you should at all costs avoid.

Don’t throw yourself into social media without a plan or strategy. Some businesses think all it takes is to sign up on as many social media sites as possible. It doesn’t work that way. You have to set your objectives clearly before implementing anything, and you first have to understand the risks and rewards of social media marketing. From there, you have to craft a strategy and gather up the resources needed to follow that strategy. Do you have the processes in place? Is there a person or department that’s going to be 100 percent dedicated to make your campaign work? Oh – and you have to have a solid website or official blog. You may think it’s pretty obvious, but there are businesses and retailers who seem to think they can successfully drive a social media campaign without linking their profiles to a website or blog. Big mistake.

Don’t sell too hard. It’s all about subtlety. If you’re using Twitter or Facebook, don’t make every status update an advertisement. Don’t tweet the same thing over and over. Avoid spammy words and phrases, and go easy on the marketing buzzwords and sales pitches. Otherwise your community of fans and followers will not hesitate to block you from their social streams. Social media is about engaging with other people, so don’t use it as your platform for constant trumpet-blowing, self-promotion, and hard-selling.

Don’t forget that social media is public. Be aware that the content that you put out there, the activities that you do, are all open for everyone to see. So avoid saying negative things about your company (or your competitors), publishing confidential information, and offending your audience. Committing social media faux pas may do significant damage to your brand.

Don’t sound or write like a four-year-old. It’s not just about keeping the Grammar Nazis away. If you keep making sloppy grammatical and spelling mistakes, people will hesitate to trust you. You won’t look too credible, and you may even be viewed as lazy – regardless of whether you have a great product or service to offer.

Don’t lose patience. It takes time to see the fruits of your labor. And it takes time to see how a thousand new followers, or hundreds more fans, can spell a well-deserved return on investment for your business. Of course, you have to understand that no amount of social media marketing will help your product or service if it’s of bad quality. So do your best to continue improving in all ways that you can. And continue to stay active in social media. You know what they say: Rome wasn’t built in a day.

Don’t let your social networks die a slow death. A lot of businesses make the mistake of letting their accounts on Twitter, Facebook, etc. grow outdated or inactive. Social media marketing requires a regular stream of refreshing, relevant information to keep audiences engaged. These people don’t want to feel ignored or undervalued, so don’t be content to log-in just once a month and expect social media to do wonders for you. Check and update your social media profiles regularly – every single day – so that you don’t lose your most loyal followers or miss out on important conversations in which you could have made a valuable contribution.

Don’t lose your brand personality. Social media should solidify your brand – not make it confusing. And yet a lot of businesses think that being a jack of all trades on Twitter or Facebook is charming. It’s not. So don’t be a social schizophrenic: don’t be a comedian, a live news feed, a business authority, a politician, and an intimate online best friend all at once. Join only the conversations that are relevant to your industry, and keep the same personality for each tweet or status update.

Don’t be a stalker or a social climber. Just because someone has a hundreds of thousands of followers doesn’t mean you have to spend all your energy on trying to connect with that person. Focus instead on building and engaging with a community of social media users who are actually interested in what you have to say and offer. If you’ve been blocked or rejected once, don’t be stubborn. There’s plenty of fish in the sea, and it’s perfectly all right to get over business connections that don’t seem to want to be part of your social media network.

Don’t make the conversation all about you. Social media is a two-way messaging strategy, so make the effort to listen to what your connections have to say. Answer their questions, and assure them you’re working hard to give them a better product or service. Don’t let weeks or months go by without you interacting with a single fan or follower; otherwise your audience will see your social media existence as a selfish one.

Don’t forget to monitor. There are plenty of monitoring systems and tools in place that provide you with stats, click-through rates, sentiment ratings, and a bunch of other metrics and insights. (A number of them are free, too.) Don’t fall into the category of brands that have no clue whatsoever if their social media marketing strategies are working or not. Do things the right way by leveraging these tools to find out where you stand with your social networks.