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If you are new to digital marketing in addition to the startup world, social media can be a bit daunting. Sure, you know how to use Facebook, Twitter or Instagram for your personal use, but that’s completely different to using social media to either promote your business or for professional networking.

And with no indication that social media is going away anytime soon, it really does need to be part of your marketing strategy, whether it’s for your business or your own personal brand.

The good news is, a lot of it is pretty intuitive once you know the basics. You don’t have to be an expert to use social media to connect with your target audience, nor do you need millions of followers in order for it to be impactful.

Read on for 6 great tips to get you start.

  • Know your goals

There’s no point in developing a social media presence if you don’t know why you’re doing it. Are you trying to build brand awareness? Do you want to drive sales? You have to know what your goals are, and just as importantly, you shouldn’t start using social media to market your brand without a plan. Go back to your business planning basics and create a SMART plan (remember, that’s specific, measureable, attainable, relevant and timely) around your social media program. Spend time on different platforms analyzing how other brands in your space are leveraging social media as part of their marketing plans. Consider all of the ways you can utilize social media channels to reach potential customers and convert them into actual customers.

  • Choose the right platforms

When it comes to our personal social media use, we tend to use the platforms that our friends and family use and/or the ones that we prefer. That is not the case when it comes to selecting the right channels for your brand. Even though you may be more familiar with Facebook than Instagram for example, if your target audience isn’t on Facebook you are wasting your time and money. Find out where your target market is spending their time and show up in those places. Also consider what channels best fit your brand and the type of content you can deliver. And finally, don’t try to be everywhere. While it might be tempting to set up accounts on all of the major social networks, chances are you’ll end up doing a poor job of truly utilizing the potential of each platform. It’s better to have a strong presence in fewer places than a weak brand across many.

  • Make your content compelling

Yes, this does mean using engaging visuals like images, graphics, GIFs or videos, but it also means providing content that is interesting or valuable to your target audience. While you definitely need eye-catching imagery to get attention, you need to make it worthwhile once the user has stopped scrolling. The only way to ensure your audience – or potential audience if you’re using paid advertising – engages with your content, is to make it relevant, interesting and appealing.

Also, don’t make the mistake of constantly promoting yourself or your business. You need to provide value in addition to promoting your brand. Depending on your business, you might provide helpful information or how-to videos, or share posts that provide an escape, some fun or inspiration. If in doubt about whether you are falling in to the trap of over promotion, use in the one in seven rule: for every post promoting your brand, create six that are focused on other valuable content.

  • Focus on building relationships

Just as it’s tempting to use social media as a “free” platform to promote your brand, too many business look at social media as simply a means for generating sales. While having sales goals for your social media marketing is totally fine, you need to also consider the value of building relationships to create followers. Why? Because people who are loyal fans will likely turn into repeat customers that are far more valuable than one-time sales, not to mention the word-of-mouth value they represent. Also, keep in mind that people use social media to build connections. If you focus on building a community rather than a sales funnel, the ROI over the long term across your social platforms will likely be far more profitable.

  • Engage with your audiences

Don’t be that brand that posts content, but doesn’t truly engage with its audiences. Just as important as providing high-quality content, is engaging with your fans. From responding to comments or questions, reposting audience content, following and liking your follower’s posts and other relevant accounts you follow, it’s important to take that next step to build engagement – and you guessed it – relationships.

Make sure you schedule time most days, even if it’s only fifteen minutes, to monitor your social media accounts, respond to any comments and at least like a few posts. It’s also a good idea to employ social listening tools to keep on top of trending conversations that are relevant to your brand. That way you can leverage hot topics in your posts and comments, or if appropriate, respond to customer complaints or concerns.

  • Create a schedule

The most efficient way to manage your social media content is to create a calendar and then utilize scheduling software for posting and monitoring. If you block off time one day a month or even a quarter to plan out and schedule your post content in advance, you’ll find it much easier to remain consistent on social media. Having an editorial calendar also allows you to be strategic with your messaging and take advantage of relevant events, holidays and seasonal tie-ins.

That doesn’t mean you can’t post things on the fly as news or events happen or you find a great story or image ad hoc to share, but it ensures your main content rolls out no matter how busy you are with all the other parts of creating a brand or running a business. It is still important to spend some time every day or two monitoring all of your social accounts though, to make sure you keep up the engagement and respond in a timely manner to any comments or questions.

There are loads of tools you can use to automate your social media, create engaging content, and listen to social chatter. Many of them are free or offer different price levels for monthly packages to fit your needs. You can of course do it all with a spreadsheet and a phone as well, but like all things, it’s usually easier if you have the best tools for the job.