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If you mount up without a social media strategy, you're going to fall off, or saddle yourself with a time-consuming task that gets no results.

Q: We hear all the cool companies are doing social media. Should we be on Facebook and LinkedIn? Should we be tweeting? Creating YouTube videos? And what about Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat and Myspace?

A: Whoa there, cowboy — hold your marketing horses! Yes, your business should have a social media presence, but don’t go galloping onto every platform without knowing which ones would be worth your time and money. And clearly this is your first rodeo, because you mentioned Myspace, which has been out to pasture for years.

There are compelling reasons to giddy-up. Business buyers and consumers expect companies to have a social media presence, and it affects their buying decisions. In a just-released study, 82% of B2B buyers surveyed said a vendor’s social media content has an impact on their buying decision. Fully 74% of consumers rely on social media to making buying decisions.

But don’t go thinking you can trot out an effective social media presence in a day. You need a strategy. Otherwise you’re going to mount up only to fall off, or saddle yourself with a time-consuming task that gets no results.

Here are 6 tips to get you started on a social media strategy. We have provided links to resources that will help you along.

  1. Decide on your goals. Are you aiming just for brand awareness, or are you hoping for leads and conversions? Your goal will help you determine which platform to focus on, as well as the amount of time and money you should be investing in your efforts. Business News Daily has concise descriptions of the biggest social platforms and what each one is good for.
  2. Identify where your audience is being social. If your company makes elevator parts, it’s doubtful potential customers are looking to connect with you on Instagram. A LinkedIn account would make sense. Sprout Social has a newbie-friendly article on user demographics of the top 5 social platforms, based on a 2016 study by Pew Research Center.
  3. Make social media someone’s job. Maintaining a meaningful social media presence requires a bare minimum of 6 hours a week.  The person with this job needs to create and implement a content strategy (check out Hootsuite’s content strategy tips), write regular posts, choose good photos to go with them, quickly respond to customer messages and posts, and monitor mentions of your company.
  4. Set aside a budget. You will have to pony up money to boost your posts on most social media platforms. Posts you don’t pay to boost reach about 5% of the people who like or follow your page. Businesses were spending 9.4% of their marketing budget on social media in 2014 and trending toward 21.4% by 2019. The good news is that paying enables you to select demographic targets and reach as large an audience as your budget allows.
  5. Align with your brand framework. As in all marketing, brand consistency is key to gaining awareness in your target market. Your social media pages should reflect your brand identity — the same logo and color scheme. The articles, videos and other content you post should have the same voice and tone as other brand messaging.
  6. Make a long-term commitment. Building relationships in your target market takes time in life and on social media. You have to show up consistently, with something to say that provides value for others. If you’re not going to give it at least a year of solid effort, don’t even start. It is better to have no social presence than to create a page, post a few items, then stop. Visitors to your page will conclude that you don’t get it and you don’t care about wasting people’s time. That’s not cool.