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Ask the Experts

How To Use Social Media To Market Your Business

Social media marketing is anything but quick and easy. Here's what it really takes to promote your business on social platforms.

[Photo: Flickr user Paul VanDerWerf]

Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram—they're all free platforms businesses can use to directly engage with their audiences. But the idea that engagement is easy, free, and quick is false, according to Amy Vernon, social marketing consultant and cofounder and CMO of Predictable.ly. "One of the biggest false assumptions about using social media for marketing is that it doesn’t cost money and it’s fast," says Vernon. "Like all good things, 'getting the word out' takes time." Luckily, she says there are things you can do to help speed up the process.

Amy Vernon

Build Your Channels Early

"Don’t wait for launch day to create your social media channels," says Vernon. She suggests you start building your social media accounts—and your presence—early. But what can you share before you even launch your business? "Share information relating to your industry," says Vernon. "Become a resource of information. Connect with others in your industry and talk to them."

Build Relationships With Influencers

"Just like your social media channels, you need to build relationships before you 'need' them," says Vernon. She suggests starting out by looking for journalists and bloggers who write about your business topic. "Read, comment on, and share their posts, if appropriate." Connecting and developing relationships with influencers and experts in your field of business will help you down the road. "When you approach them later, they’ll be more likely to recognize your name, or at least be receptive, because it’s obvious you know what they cover," says Vernon.

Photo: Flickr user Dan Markeye

Find Your Audience

If you haven't taken the time to build your networks and develop relationships ahead of time, Vernon suggests figuring out which social platform is best to reach your target market. Then she says you should study those platforms and, when possible, take your targeted advertising to those platforms.

"Find out who's talking about what, where they're talking about it, and then start listening there," says Vernon. Figuring out where to find your target market on social media does take time, and involves searching for people who are talking about topics that are important to you. There are many social listening tools out there that can help. She suggests FollowerWonk and SpiderQube.

Join The Conversation

Vernon suggests just joining the conversation. "You can participate in Twitter chats and Google Hangouts that relate to your business," she says. Or you can join an ongoing conversation about a topic by using popular hashtags on any platform. "You can’t just jump into the conversation with, 'Buy my stuff!', but if you join in the conversation, you’ll raise awareness."

While LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are the most receptive social platforms for business, Vernon says that no platform is off limits so long as you adapt your content to that platform. "I'd have thought, for example, that people would hate seeing businesses on Tumblr," says Vernon. "But IBM does a fantastic job on Tumblr because the content they create for it and share there really taps into the type of content that Tumblr fans like." Vernon says that as long as you are a part of the community, and understand that community, and you're not just promoting your business, you can succeed on any platform.

So, when can you jump in with "Buy my stuff!"? Vernon says that the general rule of thumb is 90/10: Ninety percent of your content should be sharing other people's content, and 10 percent should be promotional. While that's not a hard and fast rule, Vernon says that "people are not going to come around often to check out what you have to say if you're talking about yourself all the time." Instead, Vernon recommends sharing content that interests your audience so that when you have something to promote, your audience will be more likely to listen—and they just might even be interested.

There's No Such Thing As A (Totally) Free Lunch

"Any of these efforts take time, however, and that’s where the budget issue comes in," says Vernon. If you have the time but not the funds, do the work yourself. But if it's time that's in short supply, you'll have to consider paying someone to do it. "Just because you don’t have to pay to have a social media account does not mean that it doesn’t cost you in some way," says Vernon. "Too many people have pretended it doesn’t, and that’s done a lot of people a grave disservice."