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Despite its popularity, social media can still be intimidating and confusing, especially for small businesses. The most common reasons my clients aren’t doing social media are lack of time and resources or lack of understanding. Even marketing-savvy clients sometimes struggle with where to begin. Here are some key insights I regularly share with them:

  1. Do it right, or don’t do it at all

If you’re not ready to commit to the best practices of social media engagement as part of a marketing strategy, consider skipping it completely. This just means starting small and doing a couple things really well rather than trying to do too much or not do a good job at anything.

If you go too broad, lack valuable content or don’t maintain the channels, this will reflect poorly on the brand and could cause a negative customer interaction — the opposite of what you want. Even a small social media presence that’s done very well will still add value to your marketing portfolio.

  1. Always start with a plan

If you don’t have a plan for using social media channels, you’re likely going to flounder or be quickly overwhelmed. A plan should include some goal setting, content ideation, media calendar, best practices for customer engagement and general posting practices. It should also include a budget to curate, collect, manage, write, review, post and manage information. he beautiful thing about social media is instantaneous feedback — you know what’s working and what’s not.

You should have a plan and metrics in place to gather this information and make decisions from your findings. Knowing that plans may change and evolve throughout the year is an expected part of the process, but starting with a plan will give guidance and benchmarks to refer back to as you grow.

  1. Social media is an active relationship

Along with creating the plan is managing the plan. Some clients don’t account for the time and resources it will take to manage their social media channels. Social media is not a “set it and forget it” tool like a print ad or TV commercial.

It takes active, genuine engagement and interaction with customers to reap the benefits of the tool. Not only should social media be a dialogue with your consumers, it should also be an active dialogue within your company. Those who are managing social media channels should keep leadership updated on success stories, customer feedback, ideas and metrics of these tools.

  1. Start with leadership

Gone are the days when you prepare a marketing plan in January and execute for the rest of the year. Things used to change on a monthly or weekly basis, based on sales, media metrics, online volume or consumer engagement data. Now they change on a daily, even hourly, basis. Leadership has to trust those people managing their social media channels to be engaged and responsive in a nanosecond, or the window of opportunity to be responsive will be closed.

Red tape, executive reviews and long approval processes do not fit into the fast-moving world of social media, and most businesses have not adequately adopted new processes to accommodate the speed of execution. If your leadership team is still struggling to understand social media, how to use it, or why you should use it, then start small, share updates regularly and give your efforts time to prove their value.

  1. Know what you already have

Understand your target customers and engage them in the right place at the right time with the right information. You cannot simply replicate what others are doing — not even your competitors. Social media content should be original, unique, relevant to the reader and align with your brand.

Content can come in many forms, such as blog postings, articles, videos, photos, whitepapers, industry and company news, or exclusive content. You probably already have an arsenal of materials that you could post. They just need to be packaged properly for social media posts.

  1. Consider the channel

When planning for social media content, think about what channel is being used and what message is being posted there. For example, Facebook may be a place where you post several times a week and could feature materials ranging from a newspaper article to team celebration photos.

Don’t be afraid to get personal when appropriate since social media users expect a chance to see the human side of organizations. LinkedIn may be best suited for more credible content and thought leadership on various subjects related to your business or industry.

  1. Social media is evolving and nobody’s doing it perfectly

Just when we think we understand social media channels and apps, a whole new breed of tools pops up overnight. The truth is, even the savviest firms feel the pressure to keep up and stay ahead. Even prominent companies that have been at the forefront of the social media movement have stubbed their toe a time or two — Apple, Kenneth Cole and even Facebook itself included among them. Learn from their mistakes and be willing to make a few of your own.

Follow other companies that you like, both in your industry and outside, to see what they’re posting and to generate ideas for your own social media efforts. It’s never too late to get in the game!

{This article was originally posted in the October 2014 Business Journals publication}

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