Social networks using digital technologies have emerged as a defining characteristic of how humans communicate in this decade. Increasingly, businesses are learning that social media is not just for kids or for connecting with old friends. In fact, with its widespread acceptance and reach, social networking is a key factor in successful businesses’ marketing and support strategies. If you do not have a well-rounded and balanced plan for using social networking to support your business goals, you are behind the curve and need to adjust your strategy immediately.

As with all business plans, the first step in developing successful strategies is to understand and communicate your goals. Perhaps your goal is to generate more leads or contacts; if possible, quantify your goal for ongoing re-evaluation. Simply establishing an account with a social networking site is not a business strategy. You must have clearly defined goals that drive your use of the tools.

An offshoot of your goals is defining your target audience. With hundreds of millions of potential viewers, you want to direct and develop your presence in the online world to attract and support potential clients. Determine where your potential clients are in the social media world; spend your time in that milieu. Remember: not everyone is on Facebook.

You must develop and deliver content. This content must be tailored for your clients, easily used, and in a variety of formats. Use more than text, but be judicious in your approach. Update regularly, but not aggressively. You want to provide value to the users, and you want your users to be able to share your content and expertise with others. Clearly define the topics you have expertise in, create content and conversations around these topics, and you will have better success with directing and achieving your goals with social networking.

Your presence in the social media milieu should cover all the major outlets and, possibly, some smaller ones as well. Create and maintain your brand across these services, even if your primary content resides in just a single place. You can direct people from one service to another, but you need to be present to capture the clients. However, it is also essential to plan your use wisely. Time is a valuable resource and social media is not the only place for you or your staff. Schedule time to support and engage with social networking, but also schedule time to complete other tasks and duties. It is all too easy to spend hours, if not days, moving from one online need to another. Do not forget your overall business goals.

Metrics are the final piece of the puzzle. Do not set up a social networking strategy without considering how you will measure the results of your campaign. The metrics you’ll want to track will be based on the business objectives you defined, so be sure to understand the objectives and the metrics before you launch.

The final analysis is that all business, but especially small businesses, can use social media to achieve business objectives. Your social media strategy should reinforce and support your existing business marketing strategies and your strategy should yield measure results. Social media is here to stay and it is essential to use it to your advantage.

Jane Frankel is a Social Media and SEO specialist and has been involved in online marketing in some capacity since the late nineties.

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