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As a small business owner, social media marketing can feel overwhelming. Twitter streams move so fast, in a blink your message can get lost. Becoming an ‘Instastar’ (a person whose Instagram becomes an overnight sensation with 100,000 + followers) is nearly impossible unless you have hours to spend honing the perfect photo and your audience is in their early 20s. So what are the best methods to utilize social media marketing?

1. Start With a Plan

It might sound obvious, but too often people put up a Facebook page or start tweeting without thinking about how these tactics can help their business. Doing social media well requires committing both dollars and people to the effort. (You’d be surprised what $20.00 to boost a Facebook post can do to increase eyeballs.) Nothing will turn off a customer more than old, outdated posts and skimpy content.

In fact, “going dark” for too long can cost you followers. But don’t feel pressured to post every day. It’s best to find a cadence that works for you and your audience and stick to it. Social media marketing is an investment and needs to be prioritized to get maximum benefit.

2. Define Your Target Audience & Platform

Choose a corresponding social media marketing platform.

If you’re trying to reach teens or tweens, then SnapChat might be the right way to go. If you’re trying to reach their mothers or fashionistas, then Pinterest would be a better choice. You can also tailor your social media marketing posting schedule to your audience.

Are most of your customers on the East Coast? Then schedule updates for the times they’ll check their feeds. Keep it simple to start by picking one platform and doing it well. You can always add more later as you gain experience.

3. Content Is King

The top three elements of a robust social media marketing plan are: content, content, and more content!

Keep your content fresh and current. Blogging is a great place to start. As a small business owner you are the expert in your category — don’t be afraid to share your insights, but do so in “customer friendly” language.

Remember, you don’t have to do it all yourself. To build up your content, feel free to repost or share other’s content. (The fancy social media marketing term for this is “curated content”). If you post or re-post someone else’s content and it’s relevant to your products or services, consider utilizing to layover a branded message for yourself to get your customer to your products (I have).

4. Social Media is About "Media"

Social media isn’t just about the written word anymore.

Post pictures that demonstrate your product’s benefits. Video is even better — videos have twice the engagement as photos on Instagram.

You can shoot a simple video with your smartphone that shows your product in use. Consider using one of your customers in the video to build your brand’s credibility and then post it on YouTube or embed right it on your Facebook page and blog.

5. Don't Sell, Engage

Don’t try to sell on social media platforms but instead aim for engagement.

Getting customers to like/share your content is really important (even if it is just your sister). Social media marketing is a way for your customers to get to know what you and your company value and are passionate about. Be authentic and put up share-worthy posts.

Get your customers to like you and they’ll be more receptive to buying from you down the road. Share content that paints your worldview and bring your fans along for the ride.

6. Be Responsive to Comments

Be responsive to customer comments made on social media.

If a customer makes a comment (positive or negative) get back to them right away. Ensure they know you are listening and responsive.

Demonstrating empathy for your customer may not change their mind, but will win you kudos with other readers. Listening and responding to social media requires time and thoughtfulness — another reason to start slowly and build into more platforms over time.

7. Get Viewers to Your Website

Social media marketing is the journey, your website is the destination.

If your social media marketing does its job, your prospects will end up on your website to learn more or make a purchase. You’ll want to have a website up and running before you start your social media marketing activities, so you have a site to point to from your social media channels. It doesn’t have to be perfect out of the gate (consider hiring The Creative Ninja [me] to get yourself online).

8. Be Authentic

Make your social media marketing channels and website a reflection of you and your brand so they feel real and are easy for you to update regularly. Speak in your own voice, but be careful to match the tone of your content to your business. If you are selling a medical product, then your content should be factual and your tone scientific.

If you are selling a fitness product, then an energetic tone may be more appropriate. Whatever the case, always use your own customers on the site — both in visuals as well as testimonials.

9. Customer focus – it’s not about you, its them!

Observe the language your customers use to talk about your field and engage with them on those terms. Use hashtags to join ongoing conversations on social media, and incorporate commonly used terms in your website to help customers find you through web searches.

A lot of customers type questions into their browsers (“how do I season my cast iron pan?”), so if you sell cookware you’ll want to use this kind of language on your site rather than more technical terms that might be familiar to you but not your prospects.

10. Don’t forget about mobile!

Most tweeters use Twitter on smartphones and tablets, and half a billion Facebook users only use the site on mobile devices. And of course, the biggest social media platform — Instagram — is a mobile-first experience.

That means that many of your social media followers will be opening your website on mobile, so it’s important to make sure it’s optimized to provide a great browsing and shopping experience.