Imagine having a potential customer base of millions without having to spend a dime to market your company. Sound too good to be true? That’s what using social media as a marketing tool can do for you.

According to eMarketer, by 2013 164.2 million Americans—or 67% of the nation’s Internet users—will use social networks.  So, if you have not yet joined the ranks of companies that use social media as a way to promote their businesses, you might want to reconsider.

However, before you rush off to create a Twitter account, you’ll want to educate yourself on the basics of social media marketing.

1. Develop your strategy.

First, decide how you want to use social networks to grow your business. Is it to gain more customer awareness? Will it be for concrete sales? Or is it to improve customer service? Pam Dyer at Pamorama has an article titled “12 Reasons to Use Social Media to Grow Your Business” which can help you think about how you want to use social networking in your business marketing.

2. Choose your platform(s).

Next, figure out which social media platforms you want to use. Each social networking site works differently (e.g., Twitter allows only 140-character-long posts, Facebook allows you to create polls and discussions) and not all of them will be conducive to your goals. The more you learn about what they offer, the better you’ll be able to create an effective marketing strategy.

3. Estimate your time commitment.

Also, think about how much time you want to invest in your social media efforts. Tweets are ephemeral, so if you want to keep people aware and interested you’ll need to tweet at least once a day.  And if you post on a site such as Facebook you’ll need to schedule plenty of time to respond to people’s comments.

Blogging is a great tool to get your message out there without spending a lot of time. You don’t need to write a 500-word article each time, nor do you need to post daily. Try to do two to three quality articles per month with information your readers can use, plus one or two short posts per week linking to an article or video related to your industry. You can also link to your blog from your Facebook or Twitter accounts.

4. Start engaging!

Finally, don’t forget the social aspect of these tools. Customers want to feel like they’re communicating with a person, not a corporate suit. Display the personal side of your business and engage with customers in a way that builds trust and encourages transparency.

If you’re not sure what kind of content to develop for your blog or Facebook page, drop us a note or call our office. We can help you plan how to turn your business’s best and brightest ideas into content that will meet your social media goals. And be sure you’re subscribed to our Twitter or Facebook feeds for daily tips on communicating with customers.