These days, the online world is a-buzz with the wonderment that is social media… and we all frown at those who aren’t in the game. But it’s not uncommon that I hear business owners engaged in social media, unable to see any traction outside a few fans here and a handful of comments there. For them, the benefit doesn’t outweigh the cost and they’re left demanding, “what’s the point?!” This is a valid sentiment and a fair question.

It’s naive for online marketers to brazenly prescribe, “just get a Facebook fan page” as the fix for a business in need of a boost. There is so much more to it than that (and so many platforms than just Facebook). If you’re not getting the traction you’re hoping for, it’s possible that your strategy or approach could use a little improvement. Here are some pointers to help make your social media interactions more effective and show you some results.

1. Social media activities should initiate two-way communication with your prospective and current customers.

Don’t forget that Twitter, Facebook, YouTube, and LinkedIn do have a common trait: users and viewers can comment and respond. And you should respond back. It’s called social media for a reason – build your posts and interactions around the idea of beginning conversations with your audience. And remember that it’s not only your own social profiles and pages where the conversations are happening. Be active out there and provoke the two-way conversation on other pages and platforms.

Many businesses get so busy they post something and walk away, checking social media off their list of marketing tasks. But it’s not a post-and-leave type of game. Start talking to people!

How can this make you more effective? Nearly all purchase decisions begin with a conversation.

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2. Social media activities should leverage the opportunities each medium provides.

With all the outlets for your content, it’s easy to get into a cross-posting frenzy. You’re tweeting your articles and posting them on your Facebook page. This is a good thing, but don’t forget to maximize the opportunities each medium provides. For example, a personal trainer may want to build out a YouTube presence to post his weekly strength training sequence. Facebook is a wise idea for an artist – she could post pictures of her paintings and generate conversations with fans. If you’re a brick-and-mortar business, for example a beauty salon, you could run promotions on Foursquare.

Think about what your business does and compare it with the different capabilities of each social media platform… Facebook allows you to post photos, polls, articles, videos. Vimeo lets you create specific groups to share your video content. Twitter lets you share information, links (which can go to anything), and photos. Be smart and use each capability to your benefit.

How can this make you more effective? Deepening the engagement can increase customer loyalty.

3. Social media activities should bolster your brand image.

Social media allows you to show your customers what’s ‘under the hood.’ The fact that it’s a great way to engage your customers is a given, but I’ve found a significant percentage of businesses skip the step of baking in their brand image. Every interaction you have—ever, anywhere—is part of your brand. And the same is true throughout social media. When planning your messages, posts, and tweets, take some time to consider:

Brand elements. What do you want your business to be known for? Weave in those attributes into your online presence portfolio. For example, if you want your customers to trust your advice for their upcoming home improvement projects, provide articles and resources to help them find the right service provider.

Customer experience. Be responsive and attentive to customer comments, and use social media to post testimonials or customer stories.

Voice. Even though the social platforms are meant to be personal, be mindful of the tone you choose. Authenticity is important, so be careful to not be too snarky or too over-the-top syrup-y sweet.

How can this make you more effective? All purchase decisions are made with a brand connection, so use social media as a way to reinforce your brand message and prove how different (and better) you are.

And, please: Remember that everything you say and do affects your brand image. Don’t become such a Twitter addict that you become desensitized and post an inappropriate over-share.

4. Social media activities should provide an easy means to continue the conversation.

The inherently viral aspect is surely one of social media’s most compelling components. If you see my post on Facebook and comment, your friends see it… and they might read my post as well. If I tweet something you love, you’ll retweet for all your peeps to see.

Remember this part: When you’re creating content and posting it to the respective platforms, be sure you’ve thought about your ideal response (comment, share, retweet, post, etc.). You don’t need to phrase every single post as a question, but incorporating a few items that prompt a response is a good way to encourage interaction.

How can this make you more effective? Active participation not only provides social proof (and can influence others), it generates a familiarity between your customers and your brand.

5. Social media activities should be chosen as a reflection of your industry and your resources.

It’s true that Facebook and Twitter are the most common, but don’t forget that there are countless other platforms out there. Do some research and find out what is the most critical for you and your business.

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For example, I create affordable websites for new businesses. Imagine I decided I have a maximum of 3 hours a week to devote to socially engaging online. If the strategy for each were equally clever, which do you suggest I prioritize?

a.) Become an active member of the www.youngentrepreneur.com community forum

b.) Create a Facebook fan page for my business

I would probably get more exposure to my ideal audience participating in the Young Entrepreneur forum. In an ideal world, I’d do both (and probably more). But it’s not an ideal world. Do some research and choose to focus on areas that will help you make traction and get exposure amongst your audience.

And as for another tip on managing social media to fit your resources, use something like Buffer App or Ping.fm to schedule when all your content goes live throughout the day.

6. Social media activities should include measurable benchmarks.

More and more, it is possible to gather sophisticated metrics across the social media platforms. And like everything else you’re doing, you should track your progress as much as possible.

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Metrics can include number of visits, number of impressions, number of views, number of retweets, number of mentions, etc. Seems like a lot? Then pick just one. What do I suggest? When starting out, your goal should be reach, as in, ‘get the word out there.’ For this, a good metric would be number of shares. Why didn’t I choose number of views? Not all page views are treated equal, but a ‘share’ is a specific action that someone did to spread the word to promote you and your business.

Once you get the hang of analytics, start paying attention to other metrics and generate some benchmarks. Maybe you give yourself a goal of increasing number of followers by 5% each week. Maybe you create a list of engagement goals for the content you will produce – number of comments, increased number of followers, number of impressions, etc.

Here is a post on providing further depth to your social media metrics from SeoMoz (one of my favorite blogs which owns hours of my week as I pour over all the great articles) –  Tracking the KPIs of Social Media Engagement

How can this make you more effective? Knowing your metrics and setting benchmarks will help you actively understand your weak points and strive for improvement.

Social media has the power to influence your prospects and turn them into repeat customers—but know your product and know your audience as you prioritize your plan of attack. Simply posting information here and there isn’t going to bring revenue in the door. Be thoughtful about your approach and wise in your execution, and do what the medium does best: start conversations.

This article is written by Hillary Bassett Ross, a Principal with Kinetic Pencil. Kinetic Pencil helps small- and medium-sized businesses win on the Web with affordable websites. Read more articles like this at www.kineticpencil.com, and connect with Hillary on Twitter @hillary_br