Once you have selected the social media platforms that are most appropriate for your business and have made decisions regarding the type and frequency of your content, it’s time to establish your social media presence. Keep in mind, more is not always better; it is far better to use one or two sites than to have a user profile on every social media site, but never add content or interact with other users. It’s okay to pick just one or two to begin with and add more later, if you have the time and resources.

You will need to create on effective online profile for each social media platform that you have decided to use. You may decide to have two user profiles for each platform – one for yourself and one for your business. While you can get a little personal to connect with existing and potential clients, it’s important to maintain a professional image and avoid giving too much information. Adding profile photos (or avatars) can make your profiles more interesting and personable, but be sure maintain a professional presence at all times.

Most social media sites allow you to include a short bio or summary. A well-written description here can mean the difference between someone wanting to find out more about you and your business and someone skipping past your profile. Keep your bio brief but compelling, keeping in mind those with whom you would like to connect. Be sure to include links to your Web site so that people can learn more about you and your small business. Although these links do not add any significant SEO value, they can generate traffic to your Web site.

Once you have your profiles set up, it is time to connect with the communities and your existing and potential clients. Keep in mind that once you’ve established a presence on a particular social media platform, the public will expect you to actively participate. Digital Producer Hannah Twigg explains, “small business owners should be aware that social media is not a set it and forget it strategy. Consistent participation is absolutely necessary for success and it takes time to build a loyal fan base and reputation.”

Social media is your opportunity to engage with people; rather than simply speaking to someone, you want to speak with them. Social media is a two-way street, and your presence will be enhanced by your active participation. Twigg recommends the 80/20 principle: 80% or your activity is “being friendly” through retweets, comments and other participation. The remaining 20% is your chance to add new content. In this way, you are an active participant, engaging your audience, rather than limiting your social media presence to your own promotion.

Most experts will remind you that social media should be less about you (and your company) and more about the user base. Providing content that is relevant and useful to your existing and potential clients – perhaps a topic that pertains to your industry rather than just you – may be better than making yet another post about how great your products are.

Engaging your audience also means asking them to take part in the conversation, whether by asking a specific question or by inviting people to submit photos of them using your product. People may be more likely to engage if they are invited.

Social media influences consumer decisions. When it comes time to make purchasing decisions, consumers increasingly consult with their friends and families through social media platforms. In fact, according to a study by digital marketing agency ODM Group, 74% of consumers depend on social networks to steer their purchase decisions. People are able to interact, learn, investigate and make purchases all online. Your followers, fans and connections have a lot of influence over their friends and families.

Your ability to influence depends on two factors: your credibility and your reach. A strong, professional and engaging social media presence adds to your credibility. Your reach can expand beyond the number of fans, followers and connections you have as they share your content, products and services within their circles.

Next: Implementing A Small Business Social Media Strategy: Maintain Your Profiles »

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