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A local retailer asked me for advice on maintaining his social media presence. He knows it’s important, has had some success with Facebook, but has trouble knowing what specifically to do. After all, there’s no limit to the amount of time you can waste online. Here’s how to do social media for your business, simplified.

Social media marketing has only one golden rule: engage your followers. It doesn't have to be difficult or time consuming to be the voice of your company, nor should it be. In fact, you already do it by talking to the people coming in through your door: customers. Followers, subscribers, and "like"rs are nothing more or less than future customers. Treat them as such.

My simple guidelines for social success:

  1. If your blog has only been updated once since the Clinton administration, get rid of it or change its title. Expectations can be set by what the content is called. Blogs should be updated with a full post at least once a week. "Articles" don't need to be on a schedule, and generally should have content that doesn't go out of date quickly. Call it "News" if you just want to throw press releases up and only plan to update when something noteworthy happens in your business or industry.

  2. Take stock of all your social accounts. If fallow, migrate the content elsewhere and delete them entirely. Having 5 followers on twitter and 1 tweet a year means you should abandon it. Few hundred likes (or more!) on Facebook and many posts with comment discussions means you're doing it right.

  3. Forums can be the best way to connect to a community. Find the biggest online forum that serves your industry and specific niche, search for your business name, and respond to any recent posts that come up. Occasionally start threads, even if they're nothing more than "Hey, it's Friday! What's going on in your neck of the woods this weekend?" They directly give your business a human voice. You're not faceless, and you're interested in your customers. Engage the forum members as these are the people who will become your most rabid and vocal brand evangelists. They'll fight to the internet-death on your behalf, for free! It's like having a customer service honey badger. They can smell when someone is being mean about your business, and they don't like it.

  4. Don't get bogged down in squabbles. If a paying customer complains about you publicly, publicly reply with an offer to help solve the problem, as well as contacting them privately. Any further communication on your part should be private only. If you can't offer a solution in the first place, walk away entirely. You getting involved in a flame war on Facebook or in a forum is only going to make your business look bad, just like getting into a screaming match with an unreasonable customer in your place of business. Any negativity about your business is amplified by your public involvement with said negativity. (Note: none of this applies to recalls, safety problems, or the like. Be as forthright, responsive, and proactive as possible in those cases.)

  5. If you're not having fun, reevaluate what you're doing. This isn't writing emails to your vendors on Monday morning, and it shouldn't feel like it. You should be enjoying interacting with your subscribers, sharing cool stories and links with them, like you do with your favorite customers. Not overanalyzing and obsessing over how your likes will increase if you post this news tidbit vs that one. You might be surprised at just how much personality comes across on social media, and no one particularly cares what a soulless stats-robot posts.