Around three quarters of American adults use social media for everything from entertainment to shopping, so having a social media presence has been an essential part of a successful business for quite some time now.

Not only is social media great for connecting with existing customers, but it is especially effective at reaching people who haven’t yet heard about you.

Getting started with the social platforms available to you isn’t as scary as it may sound and while you should also invest some money into marketing campaigns, even the bare minimum can do a lot for your bottom line.

Before looking at how you should approach social media and what steps you can take to make the most out of it, it’s important to note that you also have to choose the most appropriate and effective platforms for your specific business. Not everything works for everyone, so you need to do some research and decide where you should focus your attention and get the best return on investment.

Fortunately, we already have an article on choosing the right social media platform for your business and it should help you make an informed decision. Check out Choosing the Right Social Media Platforms for Your Business to get started.

Now that you’ve done your research and have decided which platforms are best for your business, let’s look at how you should approach social media.

1. Have a plan

Social media is easy to use and while you can jump right in and start making organic posts for free, it is best to have a strategy in place to maximize your results.

First of all, you need goals. If you don’t have any goals, you can’t really measure your achievements. Go ahead and develop a plan upfront so that your efforts support your business’s specific goals. Here are some tips to get you started:

  • set goals and objectives – it’s a good idea to stick to the SMART framework and set goals that are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Base these goals on metrics which genuinely impact your business – for example, likes don’t affect your bottom line, so strive to get more customers or improve your conversion rate.
  • research your competition – while you shouldn’t copy them, researching your competition and seeing what already works can be a great starting point.
  • conduct an audit – if you’re already social media, take a step back and evaluate your current efforts. While you’re at it, be sure to check for impostor accounts – you never know.
  • look for inspiration – you’ve looked at the competition, but that doesn’t mean you should stop there. Look at businesses in all industries, see what they’re doing and what’s working for them, and maybe you’ll be able to draw inspiration from their efforts and adapt their strategies to your industry and your business specifically.
  • use a social media calendar – this will help you plan your content on each social channel and should include a strategy for your content mix. For starters, it would probably be best to abide by the 80-20 rule, which means 80% of your content should be used to inform and 20% to promote your business. For more on social media calendars, we’ve written a whole article on them: The Social Media Calendar Every Marketer Needs.

2. Create specific strategies for each platform

Each platform is different, with its own nuances, best practices, content type focus, and user base. As such, you’ll want to develop specific strategies for each platform, maximizing each’s potential.

We’ve already established that you don’t need to be on every platform available, so let’s take a look at a few questions you should answer about each platform you are using:

  • Why are you using this platform?
  • Who will you reach on this platform?
  • What content type is this platform focused on?
  • What sets my posts apart on this platform?

If you find it difficult to answer these questions, perhaps you should reconsider using that platform in the first place. If you do have answers for each of these, those answers will also help you develop strategies for each platform.

3. Know your audience

One of the reasons social media platforms are great for businesses is that they allow you to target audiences very specifically. Before you can do that, though, you have to know who your audience is.

Compile some data on your current customers and then delve a bit deeper using social media analytics for a clearer picture of how’s following you.

4. Expand your audience

After you’ve gained more insight into who your audience is, go back to your social media plan and tweak it to ensure you reach more people in your audience. You can also use your social media accounts to reach new potential customers and see whether there’s any untapped demographics you might appeal to.

5. Consider your audience’s demographics

Remember that each platform has specific demographics for its user base, so not everything that works on one platform may necessarily work on another. While there’s sure to be some overlap between demographics, it’s still essential to have these insights and tailor your content and message to each platform for maximum effectiveness.

Focusing your message will produce higher quality content that resonates with your target audience.

6. Foster relationships

Social media platforms allow businesses to interact directly with customers, which is great from a marketing stand-point – or a nightmare if you mess up, but most of it is common knowledge to any marketer/PR person. You can use this channel to build relationships over longer periods of time instead of asking for sales upfront.

Many consumers use social media to research brands or products, and part of that research is getting familiar with a brand’s value. When people engage with the content you’re publishing, it’s good to respond. This builds trust and fosters a sense of community. When people like and share your content, you gain exposure from all their connections and also rise in the platform’s algorithm, again gaining exposure. Nurturing relationships like this can lead to those followers converting to customers.

7. Publish compelling visuals

Social media is very much focused on visual content. The images you share can lead to real-world action, such as purchases.

If you want people to stop and read your posts, you’d better add something visual to them or else people will likely just scroll past it. Even Twitter, which is mostly focused on text, says that “The single simplest thing you can do to get more attention to your Tweets is to add an image or GIF.”

8. Quality over quantity

The large number of social media marketing options available might seem overwhelming, but keep in mind that there’s no need to do it all. What really matters is publishing quality content on a few key channels rather than being present on every platform.

Most importantly, ensure that your content offers value to followers. If all you do is pitch them your products or services, there’s not much incentive for them to follow you. As mentioned earlier, your goal is to foster relationships, so be honest, be human, and publish quality content.

You can’t be everywhere and do it all, and you really shouldn’t try to. Reach out to your audience where they’re already spending their time. For starters, focus your efforts on one or two platforms and once you’ve mastered those, you can move on to others and apply what you’ve learned on the first platforms.

9. Be consistent

How frequently you publish content should be specific to each platform and content type you are utilizing. For example, Twitter and Instagram stories typically require you to be active several times a day to take full advantage of your audience’s potential, whereas regular Instagram or Facebook posts can be published more sparingly.

When developing your posting strategy, consider things like how the algorithm works on each platform and whether posts are shown chronologically in users’ feeds or in an order which is based on other factors.

There are three things you should know before you start publishing content:

  • how often you want to publish content on each platform based on best practices for that specific platform
  • the type of content you want to publish on each platform
  • who your target audience is on each platform

Keep in mind that your followers are likely following dozens of other businesses, so you need to publish new and engaging content often, so you don’t become forgotten.

10. Keep your ear to the ground

Keep an eye on what’s trending on each platform and if you start noticing patterns that align with your messaging and brand identity, it’s a great idea to capitalize on the trend and drive engagement.

Keep in mind, however, that you shouldn’t just jump on any internet trend. It’s still important to create content that aligns with your messaging and who you are, otherwise, you risk alienating your target audience. Just because other brands are doing it, doesn’t mean it’s right for you too.

11. Partner with influencers

A great way to connect with your audience and gain their trust is to partner with influential people in your niche and get them to promote your products or services.

Partnering with influencers with an established following in your niche will help solidify you as a trustworthy business offering quality products or services to your customers. It will also expose you to a new audience that might not have been aware of your existence.

12. Use the right tools

Using social media effectively means taking advantage of the tools at your disposal which help simplify and automate a great deal of the work. Let’s take a look at some tools that can help you manage your business’s social media accounts without needing a large social media team:

  • managing engagement – as we’ve mentioned earlier, you’re going to use these social channels to connect and engage with your customers. In order to make engagement easier across all the platforms you’re using, you can give tools like Sprout Social a shot. Among many other extremely useful features, it centralizes all mentions of your business across social media into one place, as well as the messages you receive on each platform. This allows you to engage with your customers and reply to their messages from a single place, instead of manually checking each platform.
  • analytics – when using multiple social platforms at once, you will absolutely need a centralized place for all your analytics. Fortunately, Sprout Social comes in handy again and offers you just that: a single place to track your efforts across social media channels.
  • visuals – you don’t need a professional graphic designer to create great looking images for your content. For starters, at least, tools like Canva and Piktochart can go a long way toward making your content more eye-catching.
  • curating content – coming up with great new content every day can definitely be a struggle. Curating content helps in this regard; just because you didn’t author a piece of content doesn’t mean you can’t share it with your followers if you believe it can bring them value. Tools like Pocket and BuzzSumo are a great way to find and organize the content you want to share on your social channels.

13. Monitor and respond to conversations

We’ve already gone over the importance of answering people who leave you comments or messages on your social pages, but social engagement means going a few steps further.

Tools like Mentionlytics are great for monitoring mentions of your business across the web and giving you an opportunity to see where people are talking about you and chime in if needed.

14. Schedule content to focus more on engagement

We mentioned social media calendars earlier, and once you have one prepared, you can schedule your posts in advance.

Allocate a block of time per day or per week to creating new content and the rest of the time focus on other tasks like engaging with your followers.

15. Track metrics and fine tune your approach

As your social strategy takes off, keep track of how your efforts are performing and what works with your audience. The analytics tool mentioned above is great for this kind of insight and can help you direct your efforts more efficiently and effectively.

16. Be authentic

The best way to connect with your audience and build a relationship with them is by being your authentic, human self. Give your content personality so your followers can connect with you on a deeper, more personal level.