When I hear people debate the ROI of social media, it makes me remember why so many businesses fail. Most businesses are not playing the marathon; they're playing the sprint. They're not worried about lifetime value and retention. They're worried about short-term goals.

~Gary Vaynerchuk

This quote by Gary Vaynerchuk, CEO and co-founder of VaynerMedia, a full-service digital agency servicing Fortune 500 clients from 4 locations in the US and London, speaks volumes.

It’s one thing to question whether social media as you are deploying it or using it is working for you.  We encourage you to evaluate the effectiveness of your strategy and tactics.  But the fact is that social media works…

When deployed properly, social media:

  • expands brand recognition
  • keeps companies top of mind for referrals and periodic business
  • connects companies with the people who buy their products
  • encourages interaction
  • creates a dynamic, two way relationship

Businesses that discount the power of social media marketing are, as my mother used to say, throwing out the baby with the bathwater. Rather than evaluate and adjust, they assume it just won’t work for them, and they dismiss it entirely.

Here are a just few facts reported by Pew Research:

  • 68% of US adults, and 79% of US internet users are on Facebook
  • 56% of online adults use more than one social media platform
  • 81% of millennials check Twitter at least once per day
  • There are more than 65 million business pages on Facebook
  • 72% of Pinterest users use the platform to determine what to buy offline
  • YouTube on mobile alone reaches more 18-49 year olds than any cable network in the US
  • The number of businesses actively advertising monthly on Instagram increased from 200,000 to over 1 million in less than a year

The fact is that people – your customers and future customers – use social media.  It’s where they are.  And with the right strategy, you can reach them there to begin the process of developing a relationship that encourages loyalty to you and your brand.

So if you are one of those who believes that social media is not the answer for your business, what should you look at?  Here are 4 areas that you should be sure to consider:

1. Platform

Not all social media platforms are alike. Each caters to a unique set of demographics and each is used differently by the consumer.  Figure out who your audience is and where they spend their time, and then develop a plan specifically for that platform.  Take into consideration how people use it: are they on multiple times a day, once a day or just a few times a week?; do they want to see pictures, watch videos or read articles?; are they looking for resources or inspiration?  Cater your message to your audience based on the audience and the platform and you will have better luck engaging them.

2. Content

Is the content that you are posting relevant to the consumer that you are trying to reach? If not, they won’t be compelled to engage with your posts.

Remember, you are not always your target audience.  I once had a discussion with a business owner who was a 20 something male.  His target audience for the campaign we were designing was grandmothers.  When we showed him the creative, he told me that he wasn’t a fan, because “the piece just didn’t speak to him”.  I asked him to show it to women who met his demographic profile, and lo and behold, they liked it!

Content also needs to be high quality. Typos, poor quality images, lack of direction, or anything else that conveys a lack of professionalism will just serve to distract and deter customers and potential customers.  Even though it is on the fly and immediate, you can’t afford to skip over the thought and effort (and, yes, time!) that should go into the post.  Yes, other people post typos and use abbreviations.  But companies should be sure that they are communicating professionalism in their posts.  Period.

3. Frequency

Frequency of posts should be determined by the media platform that you have selected and how people use it (see #1!) Do NOT base frequency on how often you have time, how much quality content you can develop, or anything else.

If you are managing your own social media marketing and you have a smaller staff, it is very easy to get off track during your busiest times.  But since your busy times are when your customers are most likely to be thinking of you, it’s really the ideal time to post. Consider outsourcing some or all of your social media at least during your heaviest sales times to ensure that you can keep up with it, or you run the risk of falling out of favor with your fans.

On the flip side, many businesses attempt to post too often, which can also turn off consumers (again, see #1!)  Posting too often can turn consumers off.  On some media platforms, even those that are “daily visit”, some companies see their best results 2-3 times a week or even weekly.

4. Evaluate

This is the step that we see MANY "do it yourselfers" skipping over. To build an effective program, you must evaluate each post, looking at when and what you posted, and test variations.

Just like with other aspects of your business, it is necessary to make adjustments.  What works for some (companies, industries, social media platforms) won’t work for all. Test, learn and make adjustments. ALWAYS.

Social media marketing can be very effective if deployed conscientiously and properly! Discounting and dismissing it as a powerful tool is short-sighted and could potentially damage your business in the long run!

Larissa Hansen is a marketing and communications consultant, and founder/CEO of Springfield Illinois based Targeted Marketing Resources.  She spends her days (and often nights!) figuring out how to help companies connect with their customers both online and off.  Her passion is helping businesses grow!