Unless you have been under a rock for the past decade, you are probably aware that social media is a tool that small businesses can utilize to promote themselves. Social media is an incredibly powerful platform to connect with your customer-base, receive direct feedback, and engage in productive, two-way communication with a wide swatch of stakeholders.

The best part about social media is it is seemingly so simple: you set up your accounts, populate them with clients and prospective clients, and off you go. The thing is, it’s not as easy as that.

We’ve all seen great examples of terrible social media; accounts left to whither and die, devoid of quality content or engagement at any level. Or the accounts that are so bloated with irrelevant links and posts that their followers grow immediately annoyed. Even worse, the ones that post planned content, but don’t stick to their brand, muddling the overall message.

There is hope.  From these terrible examples (that are most likely clogging your newsfeed right now), there are lessons to take and your small business doesn’t have to suffer the same fate. Below are our suggestions for effective small business social media:

Be consistent, immediate, and authentic.

Frequency of posts is a tricky thing to figure out. Too little, and you have little chance of engagement.  Too much, and you’ll scare away your client-base.  A basic rule of thumb is a couple Twitter posts a day, a couple Facebook posts a week.

When interacting with clients on social media, be sure that your responses are timely and kind. Unlike advertising, which is one-way communication, social media is a dialogue with your followers. Keep it conversational, and respond thoughtfully and quickly.

In addition to the proper frequency, you have to be concerned with the content. It is easy to sniff out bad sales pitches on social media, so ensure the content you create isn’t just driving sales; which brings us to our second tip…

Don’t sell (specifically); Network.

Social media is not for repurposed ads; it is for dialogue with your followers.  Although social media can be utilized for promotions, these promotions should aim to be informative rather than persuasive.  Keeping a warm, friendly, conversational tone, and considerately communicating with those who engage you is key to growing your followers.

Stay on brand.

This cannot be stressed enough. Please, for the love of god, understand your brand before attempting to do anything with social media. When used well, social media will strengthen both your brand AND your relationship with your clients. But if you stray from your brand, it damages your business’s reputation and complicates your message. Keep it simple, stay on brand, and your social media will become a powerful promotional tool.  Posting content that is not consistent with your brand will only do your business harm.

A final warning:

A lot of small businesses earnestly attempt to do their own social media. But after a few weeks of posting consistent, relevant, brand-specific content in a reasonable frequency, many small businesses drop off and give up.  The reason? The lack of immediate results.  The fact of the matter is that social media needs to be recognized as a communication tool; a tool that can consistently improve your relationship with your clients and help strengthen your brand. By sticking with it, you only have greater relationships to gain, and those relationships will eventually translate to greater sales.