By Haylen Bradley

Social media. What do you think of when you hear the words? For many social media is something for the younger generations, something that is too complicated or too burdensome to worry about. But, a sound social media marketing campaign can do your business wonders. As social media can be fickle, though, it is important to get a solid foundation before jumping in head first.

–          Take advantage of your existing networks and communication channels

It’s always said that, in business, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. Social media strategies are similar. In order to launch the most successful campaign you possibly can, you need to reach out to those reputable people you already know and communicate with on social media.

For example, if you were to tweet something from your business profile, each of your employees should also reach out to the people they know. This helps build a reputation for the information in the tweet that is much more natural.

–          Add social media to traditional marketing strategy

It still surprises me. There are many businesses out there that do not use social media as an extension of their traditional marketing strategy. They separate the two, each burdened with the knowledge that the other strategy has so much to offer the other.

Well, you can use social media as an extension of your traditional marketing. Here’s an example: Let’s imagine for a moment that you’ve got a great new product or service, so you write up a standard press release (description, expert quotes, etc.). You’ll then send it out somewhere like PR Web, where your press release will be sent to blogs and news outlets all over the place. You’ll then find the websites that posted your press release, pick the best one, and blast that link out using Facebook and Twitter.

You can also use social media as a planner and exclusive form of event creation. I’ve written about this in the past, and with new technology and techniques, like credit card machines or small crowdsourcing options, using social media to help make sales outside the office walls or online makes more sense than ever.

–          Watch your self-promotion

Keeping your business goals in mind is crucial to any business owner, but keeping them in mind when creating a social media strategy is just as crucial. Your level of self-promotion will depend entirely on your business goals.

There are companies that can talk about themselves exclusively, like Apple, because they create an engaging product. If you own small interior design firm, you’ll probably need to sprinkle in some lifestyle posts with your self-promotional posts. You want to bring the consumer in with good information and build trust. You can’t do that by talking about yourself all the time. It’s a balance, and knowing your audience will help you find that balance.

–          Speaking of content… follow the 1/3 rule

Generally speaking, you should use the 1/3 rule when it comes to your content. You should create original content about 1/3 of the time. This is NOT advertising. This content should be helpful to the reader and answer the questions they are asking.

Another 1/3 of your content should be advertising, promotions, and engaging with the customers. Use this chance to really bring them in, answer their questions, and give them peace of mind.

The other 1/3 of your content should be shared from other trusted resources. This goes hand-in-hand with your original content. You want to show your company’s value beyond the dollar sign.

–          Automate it

You probably have office hours or regular working hours. But sometimes, social media doesn’t adhere to those hours of operation. There are tools out there, such as TweetDeck and HootSuite, that allow you to schedule tweets, Facebook posts, etc., for those prime social hours that come after you’ve closed up shop for the day.

Be advised, though: Automating all of your social media is a bad idea. This takes away from the genuine interaction that is possible through social media. Automating will, however, allow you to reach those people after hours, and save time and stress.

–          Be visual

For social platforms such as Facebook and Pinterest, it pays to be visual. In order to be viral, you almost have to be visual. People respond to visual stimulation much more than they do a long body of text, so give them what they are looking for and pay attention to your visuals first. Then, allow the content to flow from the visual.

–          Be engaged

You’ve got all this great content, a great product, and the customer is engaged. But now they’ve asked a question or made a comment. Are you going to respond?

Absolutely. This doesn’t mean you have to answer every single time someone posts something, but it’s definitely a good idea. You want to create the conversation, be a part of the conversation, and encourage others to join in. By joining in on the conversation your content started, you show that you and your company (your brand), really cares about the customer and maintaining a relationship with them.

–          Create an editorial calendar

By creating an editorial calendar, you have the ability to structure your content (and how it is disseminated), which also allows your brand the ability to build relevance and harvest familiarity among consumers.

More than that, though, you can better track your marketing efforts and come up with better ideas for future posts. For example, let’s imagine you set up your marketing effort to discuss industry trends on a Tuesday and consumer tips on Wednesdays. With an editorial calendar like this, you want have to search the recesses of your brain for topics to keep your content fresh and relevant.

–          Cultivate your brand

The goal of any marketing campaign is to increase revenue and bring back customers. The same is true of your social media campaign.

You can use your social media marketing efforts to build an identity for your brand and be open with your potential customers, which means building out a detailed profile. This is also a great opportunity for you to incentivize becoming a member of your social media circle (i.e. promotions, deals, specials, or exclusive content.

Social media can appear pretty daunting at times, and it can take time to learn, but with the right tools and know-how, you can run a successful social media marketing campaign.

Haylen Bradley is a consultant for small businesses in the Houston area. She is also an MBA student at University of Houston. In her spare time, she writes for Follow her on Twitter.