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For anyone who has been in business more than a decade, the new social media reality represents an entirely new world of ubiquitous and non-stop posts, pins, likes, texts, and tweets. When added to an already full plate of professional responsibilities, the sheer volume of information and activity can oftentimes seem overwhelming. However, for the savvy marketer or business owner, the power of social media also represents an amazingly cost-effective opportunity to reach new customers, retain existing customers, build a strong business brand, and broaden a company’s scope and appeal on an international stage.

Although social media platforms are constantly being updated, there are a few mainstays where companies and entrepreneurs have found success. Some of the most popular outlets include: LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and YouTube – just to name a few. Because each platform has its own language and rules—and potentially runs the risk of immediate backlash—understandably, many professionals shy away from social media altogether, leaving a lot of opportunities on the table for the competition. There are countless instances of a random or reckless tweet (Twitter) receiving a wave of negative reactions, often to the detriment of the company. More than a few established brands have been torn down as a result of an ill-timed or ill-informed social media comment.

To avoid disaster and increase awareness, here are some tips to make the most out of social media marketing and content management:

Create a Plan – Social media plans essentially provide a broad outline of topics to address and information to share, while still leaving room for real world and real time reaction to news and events. Plans can be organized by topic and audience; and also scheduled on a monthly, weekly, and daily basis—depending upon which platforms are in use. It is not necessary for a company to have a presence on every social media site—just on the ones that are relevant to the desired audience and that have a plan for consistent content management and updates.

Establish Rules – It’s important to remember that even though social media can be silly and fun, it’s also serious business. From the start, companies should establish Social Media Guidelines and Policies regarding specific individuals in the business who have access and authority to publish content on behalf of the company. Many brands have been damaged by knee-jerk responses from someone with a personal opinion they wanted to share. It only takes seconds to destroy years of brand-building success with inappropriate comments online.

Provide Meaningful Content – Social media content should provide useful, valuable, and interesting information to the readers and subscribers. Sure, if a company is in the celebrity entertainment business, then random factoids about a favorite TV or movie personality are acceptable. But for a business that sells widgets and gadgets, information about what the owner had for breakfast will fall flat. On the other hand, a short instructional video about how to use a particular widget or gadget on a DIY (Do-It-Yourself) project is likely to generate a lot of “likes,” comments, and shares to other social media users.

Be Consistent – Consistency is also a key element of social media success. Companies should be mindful to only post or publish content when they actually have something worthwhile to say; which is why the social media plan and calendar are important. It’s easy to develop when social media managers know in advance what topics will be covered each day, week, or month. For example, B2B posts (business-to-business) on a site like LinkedIn can offer monthly professional presentations and feature new career opportunities; or daily tweets on Twitter can highlight upcoming events that are open to the public.

Be Responsive – Social media for businesses is a value-driven exchange that focuses on interaction and engagement; not promotion, not marketing, and definitely not sales. Also, when a customer or potential customer reaches out to a company via social media, there is an expectation of an immediate acknowledgement or response. Social media moves at the speed of light, and therefore a delayed response is viewed as a negative, which can produce undesirable consequences.

Simply following a few basic guidelines can help content marketers speed down the information highway and experience social media success. For more information about connecting with The Institute, visit www.TheInstituteNC.org and follow the organization on social media @TheInstituteNC.