Social media has quickly become a necessity for small businesses. Depending on the clientele you're trying to reach, it can feel like you need to spend every waking hour logged in to one social networking site or another. But which ones are the right fit for your company? This article will help your business answer this question.

Using Social Media Effectively
Deciding which social media sites to use can be difficult, and new sites keep launching every year, making it even harder to know if you've made the right choice. Giving up entirely on social media in the face of these difficulties isn't a good decision for a small business, though.

Not every business needs to be active on every single new social media site that comes out. Some companies can even get away with a minimal online presence, provided their customers aren't looking for them on the Internet. You need to know where your customers are active and have a presence in that space.
If your customers are active in the social media sphere, your best social media options depend on whether you're selling to consumers or to other companies. Out of the big three, Facebook is very consumer-oriented, while LinkedIn focuses on building business relationships. Twitter offers the opportunity to connect with both types of audiences.

Automating Your Social Media Presence
As a small business owner, it's particularly important to embrace the tools that will help you efficiently manage your presence on these sites, as well as the more niche-oriented options. The more time you can save, the better. Programs like HootSuite allow you to write messages to post to Twitter and Facebook in advance, scheduling them to go out at the times you'd like. HootSuite also offers ways to streamline your social media efforts, such as searching for mentions of your company online. Other programs, like Crowdbooster, take different approaches, such as recommending the best time to post messages for your audiences and offering reminders when you haven't responded to a comment.

There are debates over how far a small business can afford to take social media automation. Because the value of using social media lies in building relationships, planning your posts too far in advance can result in your posting old information that is no longer interesting, as well as not investing time in responding to fans and followers. You have to decide how to best use social media for your own business and how much automation makes sense, but it should always be a priority to make a meaningful connection over social media.

The Evolution of Social Media Sites
Social media sites continue to evolve, changing the way that your business might use them. Facebook recently changed the way the site displayed content from pages that users have liked, reducing the number of posts that make it to a user's feed (where they're most likely to see updates) dramatically. In the process, Facebook began promoting paid updates, often from brands that users haven't chosen to connect with. This change means that many businesses are scrambling to change strategies, or even to explore other social networking sites. That might mean paying for access to certain types of users where the return on investment (ROI) proves high enough.

Unless your business focuses on social media, it's hard to keep up with these changes. That makes reading blogs and other sites that cover social media necessary, or requires you to consider getting outside help from a social media expert.

The Bottom Line
It's important to let your social media marketing evolve as your business grows and new social media tools become available. Your business should test which platforms are most effective and ask customers where they spend their time online. After all, if you wind up on the wrong site for your intended audience, even the best tools can't help you. Social media marketing can prove very lucrative for companies willing to invest the time and energy into it, however, and social media tools can reduce the investment required to be successful.

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