According to business analyst Michael Lallana, social media can do a lot more for you than just advertise your products and services. There was once a time when social media was simply about boosting exposure, but now it also serves as a platform for customer service, community building, and reputation management. In short, it allows businesses to engage with their customers and build a following. With the right social media strategy, you might even be able to save your business.
Social media fulfills a multitude of business functions if used effectively. Above all else, social media helps companies connect and network with people in meaningful ways, allowing them to hone their lead-generation approach and connect with potential clients more directly.

"Social media has been the great equalizer in terms of lead generation for small-business owners. No longer must you be reliant on a sophisticated CRM system with thousands of contacts. You can find what you want for free through sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn,” notes Bill Peppler in a Business News Daily article. Pepplermanages the staffing firm Kavaliro.

Every platform is different, but each one offers unique and valuable ways to connect with potential clients. Twitter, for instance, is a particularly powerful in terms of lead-generation because it’s a public forum that allows businesses to listen in on conversations and respond in enticing ways. Businesses can build communities and boost their visibility through the use of tools like trending conversations and the “favorite” button.

Bernard Perrine, CEO and co-founder of small-business marketing technology firm HipLogiq,explains that Twitter presents opportunities for real-time conversations with clients. This allows businesses to reach out “in a personal, direct way through @Replies and popular hashtags.” Furthermore, “with the right listening tools, small businesses can easily find conversations about their product or service happening right in their neighborhood."

Facebook presents some valuable outreach options, as well. Targeted Facebook ads allow marketers to direct their advertisements toward certain demographics, such as users of a particular age range, location or set of interests,according to Michael Lallana,CEO of Mila Venture Group.

But the most important element of all of these strategies is engagement. “With the right customized strategy, you can build communities and loyal fans who will share and retweet posts and help recruit new customers,” suggests Perrine.

Michael Lallanaagrees that a strong social media strategy entails engagement. “Social Media is essentially a free marketing tool. The key is to remain engaging rather than promotional,” Lallana explains.

According to Lallana, “when businesses oversell their products on social media, it could work against them. This is one of the biggest mistakes businesses make. To avoid this, companies should focus on interesting and thoughtful updates, visually-appealing pictures, and messages that open up dialogue with customers. This might even mean posting quotes and updates that aren’t totally relevant to the product. After all, social media users aren’t going on these networks to see ads; they are going there to have conversations, be entertained, learn and share. If they capitalize on these intentions, businesses can go far,” Michael Lallana suggests.

A Forbes article by Shawn Porat offersuseful advice on this subject. “Remember that people spend time on sites like Facebook mostly for socializing and entertainment. If your page and updates are mostly links to sales pages or simply telling everybody how great you are, they will quickly tire of it,” he notes.

Now that everyone and their mother seems to be on social media, businesses have to work harder to make themselves stand out. Social media engagement is truly a full-time job that should be taken seriously.

But implementing social media has also become more complicated than ever before. It used to be just about Facebook and Twitter, but now businesses have to worry about setting up a presence on LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Google+, and the list keeps growing. Narrowing down that focus is a matter of determining which platforms work best for your business’ needs. For example, a makeup or design company can benefit from setting up profiles on visual-based sharing networks like Pinterest and Instagram.

Once businesses develop a constructive strategy and learn how to effectively engage with their audience, it’s important that they continue with that interactive approach by monitoring their accounts regularly. It’s critical to be responsive to questions or customer service messages, remove negative comments, and maintain conversations. Furthermore, it’s vital to use tools like Facebook analytics and other tracking tools to monitor audience and engagement.

Businesses can also benefit from formulating sharable content strategies, Michael Lallana explains. Users on Facebook and Twitter often share or retweet content that they find interesting, entertaining, or funny, and this can be extremely lucrative. For example, a lawyer who posts a funny and insightful video on DUI tips could find that their post went viral overnight and got hundreds of shares. That could boost their following, drive traffic to their site, and ultimately generate new clients for them.

We all know that social media is important for businesses, but simply setting up profiles and making a few updates isn’t enough. To help your business grow, you must actively engage with your social media audience in meaningful ways. As business experts like Michael Lallana and Bernard Perrine contend, engagement is the key word when it comes to successful social media management.

Carly Fiske contributed to this article.

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