by Marshall Communications Account Executive Whitney Moreau

In today’s world that has shifted so much towards communicating with family, friends, coworkers, and even business prospects through social media, it’s easy to become bewildered about what platforms are worthwhile to be on.

Are you reaching your current customers? Prospects? It’s important you know—or, perhaps test—what’s going to work for you, your business, and your industry so you know you’re dedicating your dwindling time to the right places. Because, let’s face it, there aren’t enough hours in the day.

As a society, both personally and professionally, we talk about social media a lot. But really, why is it such an important facet of connecting with consumers? If you look at the numbers, there are more than 158 million Facebook users in the U.S. alone, and nearly 1.3 billion worldwide, and that’s only Facebook. Beyond that staggering statistic, Twitter has 60 million users in the United States and LinkedIn has reached 72 million users. YouTube is the world’s second largest search engine, behind only Google.

The number of users of niche social media platforms like Instagram, Pinterest, Vine, and Tumblr, are also climbing rapidly.

Marketing FunnelLooking at the mere numbers alone, you can see why it’s incredibly vital to have a business presence on some of these networks. Fish where the fish are. Social media lead conversion rates are 17 percent higher than the average lead conversion rate. What this boils down to is that people who find you through social media are 17 percent more likely to do business with you. Approximately 46 percent of online users also count on social media when making a purchase decision.

Not only is it important to reach consumers through social media outlets, it’s also imperative to influence them to know, like, and trust your business. It’s all about building long-lasting relationships, receiving feedback, addressing concerns, and being the solution to their problems. Social media is the most effective and cost-effective way to stay engaged with your target audiences over time.

So, what do your followers want? They want you to deliver value and entertain them. The fan should always feel as though they are benefiting from following you. Provide free advice, useful tips, or anything of value, while also positioning yourself as a trustable expert in your industry and a go-to resource. Reinforce that you care about them and develop a relationship with them long-term.

A few ways to engage with your followers through your posts are to teach them something new, post a photo or video, ask a question, and be creative. You might ask them to caption a photo, guess what something is, or share an experience. Also, remember to manage expectations—people following you expect you to stay on topic by sharing tidbits related to your cause, industry, or business. While people—including myself—love BuzzFeed lists like “15 Signs You Grew Up in the 80s,” it doesn’t necessarily mean it makes sense to share.

To avoid fans unfollowing you, be respectful to them. Use a 6:1 ratio for posts; 6 human interest posts—interesting facts, tips, pieces of advice, articles—to every one sales-focused post that aims at generating business in some way. Avoid storybook-long posts lacking pictures. If you post something and the “read more” link appears on Facebook, the content might be more appropriate for a blog post or content that is housed on your website and linked to on Facebook, for example.

As far as best practices go, it’s important that you remember these two key points: 1) businesses are run by real people, and 2) people want to do business with those they know, like, and trust. Don’t talk like a stuffy corporation or too informally—find the appropriate balance. Use your employees and real people in your posts because it’s difficult to know, like, and trust a faceless business.

People often ask, “How often do I post?” The answer isn’t always the same. Post as often as you can entertain or deliver value to your audience. It might be a couple times a day for one business and once every few days for another. Decide what works best for you, and typically you can gauge that on the engagement level you’re receiving from your followers. If you’re committed to having a Facebook presence, make sure you post at least once a week. This is to ensure people that might stumble across your page don’t think your business isn’t tech savvy, is unresponsive, or even out of business. Save time, effort, and energy by creating a content calendar of what to post and when. This will eliminate days spent scratching your head searching for something to share through your networks.

Another question often burning in the minds of social media skeptics is, “How do I deal with negativity?” Always try to take a negative conversation offline and offer appreciation for the disgruntled individual’s feedback. Maybe they post about how they waited 15 minutes for someone to assist them at your store and they are angry. Try to counter that with something like this: “We’re so sorry to hear that you didn’t have a pleasant experience during your recent visit. Assisting our customers promptly is something we take very seriously. Please private message us your number and we will be in touch. Thank you for letting us know.”

You’ll find that like the comment mentioned above, you may not have to do a lot to defend yourself. Hopefully, many of your fans that had an amazing experience shopping at your store will come to your defense, for instance. Don’t delete comments unless they are profanity, spam, or harassment, and be sure to check your platforms daily so negative comments are addressed quickly.

It’s clear social media is not a trend or a fad. It truly has become the way our modern, connected society communicates. Be sure to stay current on up-and-coming platforms, like SnapChat for example, and learn about emerging opportunities. Plan ahead, be engaging and entertaining, and nurture a know, like, and trust relationship with your consumers. And, hopefully, have a little fun doing it.