How important is social media to the success of your brand? For many businesses, the importance of Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest or any of the other of dozen (or so) of the most popular social media networks is only vaguely understood by business owners and managers. Very often, we find responsibility for managing a company’s social media account(s) assigned to one of “the young people” in the office who are assumed to understand “how it all works.”

And while a young person who has spent the last four or five years of their life on social media may know how to create a post, share a pin or or respond to a tweet, they are often “in the dark” when it comes to knowing how their company’s presence on social media might be beneficial.

That’s trouble. And if it sounds remotely familiar, it’s double-trouble.

So here’s a quick run-down of the things we encourage clients to think about when it comes to using social media to build their brand. Sometimes they’re able to do these things using existing, in-house talent. Sometimes we pick up some of the slack. Every now and then, we wind up doing most of the work. It all depends on the client and their commitment to engaging, two-way conversations with the people who matter most to their long-term success.

Have a mission in mind
Probably the largest, single mistake we see clients make is they have no purpose for being on social media other than to tell people their on social media. In fact, most business and brand pages on Facebook are testimony to the fact that most business and brand managers don’t know what they’re doing when it comes to being on Facebook. Twitter feeds that languish with only a few followers and a post every month or two are another example of a marketing initiative with little-to-know forethought behind it.

Given the ability of social media posts to attract new eyeballs to your brand’s unique stories and, eventually, drive traffic to your website, it’s a wonder why businesses aren’t more serious about their social media efforts. In fact, for B2B marketers, social media can improve close rates with new prospects dramatically.

This past year, we just finished an analysis of a social media program we’ve been running for a healthcare client for the past four years. In that time, we’ve been able to stimulate 20-24% increases in web traffic each year over the previous year. That’s the power of great storytelling on social media (and a great brand, too).

But the failure to focus in on a mission for a brand’s social media strategy is just the first of many mistakes companies make – and that’s because not all social media channels are created equal.

Choose the right channel
It’s important for clients to have a complete understanding of the strengths and weaknesses of the different social media networks they should be considering for their brands. This post, from UK-based Vertical Leap, provides a nice rundown of the various pros and cons to consider for each network.

One of the things we recommend clients consider is the intended “audience” of each social network initiative. In fact, we will sometimes suggest the client set up multiple pages on a platform like Facebook and that each page have a different intended audience and, at times, different strategic focus.

Choosing one social media channel over another can also drive how content is produced (as well as distributed). There are some basic rules when it comes to social media content, though, and chief among them …

Keep it fresh and focused
Good social media content is fresh (this means you can’t just continue to re-post information off your website – unless it’s recent blog posts) and focused to the desired audience and intended strategy for the page (or account). On many platforms, this means your content needs to be much more visual and, if possible, utilize video.

Jeff Bullas does a great job of explaining the importance of using highly visual content on social media. According to Bullas, social media content is “high quality” if it can meet the following criteria:

Is it informative?
Is it shareable?
Is it actionable?
Is it relevant?

In other words, in order for content to be of value to your social media audience, it needs to be interesting and important to them – and it needs to beg for a response. This is, at its essence, what “engagement” is all about.

But this isn’t a new idea. In fact, those who knew how to “engage” their audience – whether it was a prospective customer of a future father-in-law – had a leg up on their competition.

“A gossip is one who talks to you about others, a bore is one who talks to you about himself, and a brilliant conversationalist is one who talks to you about yourself.”

Be a brilliant conversationalist
I love this quote from the actress Lisa Kirk because, in a nutshell, it sums up where we must focus our conversation if we’re going to be a success on social media. Too many companies re-publish their web content on social media and then wonder why they don’t see their audience continue to grow or their posts “go viral.” These businesses are being boorish – they’re too busy talking about themselves to be really interesting.

Our experience in social media (specifically Facebook) started by asking folks who make jams, jellies and pickled vegetables to share their favorite memories about time spent in the kitchen. We saw more and more people join in on the conversation and, before long, we had thousands of people following our client’s page. Similarly, when we commented on and shared other people’s posts on Twitter, our follower counts increased dramatically.

Talking to our fans, friends and followers about themselves is a great way to get the conversation going. And by doing that – by being a good and gracious host – we’re actually building equity in the relationship these folks have with our brand.

Focus on engagement
But it’s not just asking questions and getting folks to talk about themselves – it’s answering questions too. By promptly answering questions when their asked, a company is not only providing important information when it is most relevant,  it’s demonstrating that it’s listening (and that means paying attention). The respect given is very often reciprocated over and over again by gracious customers – who go from being pleased with a product to sold on the brand.

There are a number of ways to engage people once their sold on your brand. They’ll visit your website, test your new products, give you opinions about new ideas and share information with their friends. We often use contests to drive engagement on specific social media channels – and the contests frequently require people to sign up for e-newsletters, answer questions that might help us fine-tune an aspect of our on-going marketing or some other exchange of information and attention.

One piece of information we often ask of our social media friends and fans is the identity of other social media accounts they may be following. And that’s with good reason.

Invite others to your party
Once we have an idea of other social media pages/accounts that may be competitive or complimentary to our clients, we often look on those pages for content we might be able to share with our friends, fans and followers. Additionally, we offer our content to those pages – all in an effort to mutually build each other’s circulation.

You’ll be surprised as to how receptive other social media managers are to offers of cooperation and joint-promotion.

Measure results
You don’t know where to improve if you don’t take time out to see where you’ve been. Spending a little bit of time to understand the metrics available from social media platforms like Facebook or Twitter is time well spent.

Not only should you be looking at general trend data like growth of friends or followers – but you need to see what kind of posts are out-performing the rest and then find a way to continue generating that kind of content. At BLPR, we evaluate our social media performance on an account-by-account basis every month.

Being a social media success isn’t easy – but it is do-able. It takes discpiine and time. But there is a way to win the social media game if you have the patience to play it.