Once upon a time, social media was something all the kids were doing; it appeared destined to become a fad. Fast forward a few years and social media isn’t only for posting statuses and commenting on funny links: it’s also an integral part of a successful bottom line. In fact, if your company isn’t engaging in social media for business, you’re missing out on a whole world wide web of customers.

SOCIAL MEDIA FOR BUSINESS, DEFINED

When you look past the names and gimmicks to the root of social media, the premise is quite simple: utilizing websites and applications, users are able to create and share content with others. Social media for business works in a similar fashion as social media for the sake of just being social. The exception is that instead of connecting with relatives and college friends, social media for business allows you to connect with past, present, and future customers.

THE POPULARITY OF SOCIAL MEDIA FOR BUSINESS

In regards to marketing, social media for business has quickly become the beautiful girl that everyone wants to take to prom. In other words, it’s popular. According to Forbes, its use has skyrocketed in recent years: one survey suggested that as much as 90 percent of American small companies use social media for business on a routine basis.

The reasons social media for business has become so widely used has to do with its effectiveness (more on that below), but also because of its simplicity and low cost. Social media for business is something anyone with a computer can do. It’s also very affordable – things like Twitter and Facebook are free to utilize and even their advertising prices (because they are set up as pay-per-click) can be geared to fit small, mom and pop budgets.

Some of the companies who have been most drawn to social media for business are those who rely on e-commerce to sell their products. These types of companies need to continually reach new customers in order to survive and social media for business allows them to do that.

But, of course, you don’t need to be selling something online to use social media for business to your advantage. Using it to recruit – either by going directly to sites like Linked In or vetting any applicants by reading the kinds of things they’ve posted on their personal pages – can save both time and money. And, perhaps most importantly, social media for business can be used to showcase and advertise your products – whether those products are tangible items like cookware or a service like cooking classes.

BEGINNING YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA FOR BUSINESS CAMPAIGN

Not having a social media presence (or at least a website) in this day and age is kind of like having your senior picture left out of your high school yearbook: people are bound to forget about you. Yep, even if, at one time, you were super popular. This is why a social media for business campaign isn’t just a smart idea, it’s virtually a necessity.

Still, the decision to start a campaign may be the first step, but it’s far from the only one. The truth is some social media for business campaigns fail where others succeed. The trick is to follow the patterns that breed results, while ignoring those that give birth to little more than frustration.

HOW TO USE SOCIAL MEDIA FOR SMALL BUSINESS

STEP ONE: USE SOCIAL MEDIA FOR BUSINESS EVEN IF YOUR TARGET AUDIENCE ISN’T ON SOCIAL MEDIA

Many companies ignore social media for business because their target audiences are not large consumers of things like Twitter. However, doing this can be a mistake because of the way social media improves your search engine optimization.

Using social media for business and sprinkling in a few keywords into your pages can help your website – i.e., your product or service – be found by search engines like Google. Because millions of people use internet search engines to find the things they need, this is vital.

STEP TWO: KNOW THAT SOCIAL MEDIA FOR BUSINESS ISN’T THE END ALL BE ALL

According to the Wall Street Journal, a Gallup survey found that only about 30 percent of consumers are directly influenced by social media. Thus, while about one in three costumers will decide to purchase (or not) based on your social media for business campaign, two in three customers won’t. This is important to keep in mind merely so you don’t put all of your eggs in Facebook’s basket. Social media for business is important, but other forms of marketing are as well.

STEP THREE: PUT ENOUGH TIME INTO YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA FOR BUSINESS CAMPAIGN

If you were to use the average teenage girl as an example, it’d be perfectly reasonable to conclude that an effective social media for business campaign is one where Twitter is updated every three seconds. But, realistically, a social media for business campaign doesn’t need to be updated with the hyperactivity of a hummingbird. Instead, hosting a weekly chat on Twitter (and inviting everyone on your contact lists) is a great way to connect with customers without constantly updating your social media pages. These chats are a prime time to discuss any issues your customers may be having as well as promote sales, new services, and new products.

STEP FOUR: MAKE SURE YOUR SOCIAL MEDIA FOR BUSINESS CAMPAIGN IS TARGETED

Anyone who knows anything about marketing knows that trying to reach everyone is like spending hours watching cat videos: it’s a giant waste of time. The fact remains that very few products and services (if any at all) have a target audience of the entire world. This is why your social media for business campaign must be condensed to reach those with the most potential to go from viewers to consumers.

One of the ways you can do this is to figure out what social media site your potential customers are most often on. Instagram, for instance, has younger demographics than Facebook –it’s pretty much the place everyone went when their parents joined Facebook. Per Business Insider, more than 90 percent of Instagram users are under the age of 35. Thus, if you’re using a social media for business campaign to market your retirement community, Instagram probably isn’t the platform you want to be on…not, at least, for three or four more decades.