People still ask me and I still love to have this conversation, although the method behind the social media madness has changed over the years, my suggestions, from years as a PR professional and as a consultant that has managed brands for over 100 clients, are generally the same.

We could write an entire book on how to be successful in social media, as social media marketing is both complex and simple. There are a few pieces of advice that apply to everyone:

Why Go Social?

  1. Social media can expand your business
  2. Social media can cover locations and niche markets that a website won’t reach
  3. Social media will give a personal touch to your marketing
  4. You can monitor your brand and your industry using Social media
  5. Social media gives you established platforms to create content for your brand

Set Social Media Goals

  1. Commit to constantly learning, as social sites are constantly evolving
  2. Be aware and conscious of your time as a valuable resource
  3. Mind your manners and do not adopt a spam attitude
  4. Understand the difference between sites and post/interact accordingly

Have a Social Media Strategy

Don’t just jump in and splash around like a newbie, even if you are a newbie. But also, do not be afraid to make mistakes. Take the time to build a strategy. It does not need to be complicated, but you need to spend the time. You need to ask a lot of WHY questions and probably some HOW questions. Sit down and write out a plan – this is crucial. Those large blank pages are telling you something. If you cannot define it in words, it will not come to life in your business. Perhaps you should start with a PR plan and see where your social media fits within all of your communications. Decide if you are targeting media or customers – or both.

  • Research

Research your industry, target audience, current customers through deep study into the local market, ally groups, and competition; anything you can learn through a business association, university, or company-sponsored research will be valuable in launching your company or service.

  • Plan

Create a tactical marketing plan that includes: summary and introduction, marketing objectives, situation analysis, target markets, strategies, tracking, and evaluation. This can be a one-page document for entrepreneurs or solo practitioners.

  • Strategize

Create a long-term strategy that can absorb changes such as growth and competition. Your market will change. What possible changes will come up and what will you have in place to address them? Perform a SWOT analysis for the current business and future scenarios.

  • Invest

Continually invest in the brand. As a sole proprietor, time will be the biggest issue. How will you ensure that building the brand stays at the top of the priority list? A full-time marketing employee is expensive, but someone needs to care only about marketing every day. This is an area where multiple hats make a hot mess.

Outsource it or Learn it

You need to understand the platforms, know when to vary your content, and how to create a voice that is appropriate for each particular platform. LinkedIn varies greatly from SnapChat. A one-size-fits-all approach will limit engagement and results. I need to say this again because I still see lots of bad examples of social media via intern gone wrong. You need to do yourself or hire a professional. Yes, a marketing intern may do a great job, but vet them like an employee on other core competencies, do not just pick someone young. Hire a consultant and let someone who has the expertise and natural inclination do it. Just like you probably are not doing your own taxes, remember outsourcing can be a valuable time saver.

Use an Editorial Calendar

A simple spreadsheet could mean the difference between following an efficient roadmap and losing time to writer’s block when you are down to the wire. It’s never comfortable to sit, staring at a laptop, wondering what to post. Find topics that are relevant and plan when you are going to post. Using a dashboard like Hootsuite is helpful, but there should be some organic posts as well. For example, you can pre-plan many posts leading up to a national trade show, but you are going to want to real-time photos of employees, product demos and customers at the show. So the strategy needs to be well-planned, but flexible. Don’t hire your young niece because she is always on Facebook. A social media consumer, which anyone under 25 is, does not make a business communicator (see above.)

Reduce, Re-Use, Repurpose

Repurposing a single blog post into smaller social media-sized bites is a great model for streamlining your workflow. No piece of content should be used once – all content should be crafted to plug into the larger story and should be evergreen (meaning it continues to be relevant over time.)

Aim for a 70-20-10 Content Mix

70 percent of your content should be made up of relevant topics that link back to your website or blog. 20 percent of your content should share others’ posts—a great tactic for because it reduces the volume of content you’ll need to create and gets you closer to your community. The last 10 percent of your posts should repost or comment on news topics of interest to your audience.

Enjoy it!

Lastly, and so many people forget this: enjoy it! If you hate social media, then don’t force yourself to do it. We are in a relationship economy. Show a bit of personality and be authentic. If you are struggling to ‘get’ social media it will come through. If you do not love it then there are other ways to promote your business. Engagement requires steady momentum; it follows that a daily social media routine will help to grow your brand’s following. Three ways to make this daily social routine easier are to (1) use a content calendar; (2) learn to reduce, reuse and repurpose content; and (3) have a content mix that is easy to stick to and will move your content forward.