When social media first arrived on the scene, it was seen as more of a toy than a technology. And it certainly wasn’t viewed as a legitimate communication channel to connect with customers. In fact, the very idea was met with ridicule.

Well, fast forward a couple of decades, and social media isn’t just a viable and effective corporate touchpoint: for many businesses in both the B2B and B2C space, it’s among their most valuable and essential tool. Indeed, whether the goal is to generate brand visibility through YouTube or generate quality leads through LinkedIn, social media has earned the right to have a place in the marketing mix.

However, while the role, prominence and importance of social media is rising — not the least reason being the shift from desktop web surfing to more social media-friendly smartphones and tablets — many businesses are not reaping significant (or any) rewards. And this isn’t just small businesses that are having a tough time. Many large organizations and enterprises are struggling to achieve social media ROI, and find themselves slipping behind more digitally savvy competitors.

If your business social media program isn’t firing on all cylinders — or you’re about to launch a dynamic startup and you want to ensure that your social media success is assured from day one — here are four essential best practices that will put and keep you on the right track:

  1. Go where your target customers are.

Many businesses create Facebook and Twitter accounts, and then wait for the likes, upvotes, shares and conversions to start pouring in. However, this simply can’t and won’t happen if customers are congregating elsewhere on the social media landscape. Indeed, there are over 100 platforms out there, including YouTube, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Spiceworks, and the list goes on. While not all of these platforms will be suited to all businesses (for example, Instagram is still more of a B2C channel), the message and lesson remains the same: go where your target customers are.

  1. Feed your social media platforms fresh, relevant and original content.

If social media accounts are cars, then content is the gas that makes them run. And just like drivers need to choose gas that has a certain minimum octane level — or else their vehicle will spend time in the repair shop vs. the road — businesses must fuel their social media platforms with fresh, relevant and original content. This can include photos, videos, infographics, surveys, polls, links to on-site articles and blog posts, and so on. It can also include curated content, which is material that you hand pick and share with your customer community.

  1. Generate interaction and don’t feed the trolls.

The most effective — and therefore most profitable — social media platforms are those that generate interaction with fans (existing and potential). This can include answering questions, providing guidance, or simply responding to a “thank you” or “great post” comment. It’s vital to stay on top of these engagements and be responsive.

With this being said, it’s just as vital to avoid “feeding the trolls.” These are individuals who have an axe to grind, and want to use social media as a way to amplify their unhappiness — and if possible, inflict brand and reputation damage. Sometimes the trolls attack a business, and other times they attack other community members. Maintain a careful and continuous watch on inappropriate posts, and ban those who don’t follow the rules. However, don’t delete or run away from what is legitimate feedback or a real concern. The best way to deal with these situations is to try and move the discussion off social media, into email or via phone.

  1. Use technology to ensure social media compliance.

A growing number of businesses are facing public criticism, regularity fines and in some cases civil lawsuits because the content on their social media platforms is not in compliance. For example, a well-meaning but nevertheless irresponsible employee can leave a small post on the corporate Facebook page about how they’re “looking forward to working with their new team.” What’s so bad about this? Well, if their “new team” happens to be part of a to-be-announced acquisition, then this seemingly harmless post could derail negotiations, and draw the attention and ire of the FCC, FTC, SEC, and other regulatory bodies. It’s not as sexy and exciting as posting a cool and fun Infographic, but make no mistake: social media compliance is arguably the most important piece of the social media puzzle.

The Bottom Line

The smartest, safest and most successful way to view social media is that it is not a technology or group of accounts and platforms, but that is a significant business investment. Keeping all of the above best practices in mind, and making sure that they’re part of your social media plan without exception or compromise, is the best way to ensure that your investment is profitable now and for years to come.

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