I’m often asked about how to USE social media but there’s a massive difference between using social media (and by that most people mean Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn), creating accounts and posting content, and USING social media – implementing a strategy that will deliver certain results.

Anyone can use Twitter. It’s really not that hard (but if you’re ever stuck we have training courses available), but not everyone can implement a well structured strategy for success on Twitter. Being able to click the right buttons and type isn’t in itself a strategy for success but with a few pointers most people can start to use social media to promote a business and start to generate some real returns.

Here are my top tips for creating a strategy for your social media use.

1. Your audience
You really need to know who you’re targeting. No really, you do. Don’t just try and appeal to everyone – niche is best when it comes to social media so really focus in on the people you want to appeal to. If that list is longer than one type of person then think about creating multiple social media profiles to appeal to different markets. For example, if you want to attract more Doctors and Health Workers to your business then your social media output needs to include content that they’ll find interesting. If you start to dilute the content with posts that would appeal more to Tradespeople then you’ll put off the Doctors and vice versa. So create separate accounts so you can talk Health on one and Trades on the other.

2. Tell a story
Just promoting yourself and your products will get boring very quickly. Boring for you and ultimately boring for your followers. Try to find the story in your business and in what you do and talk about that – everyone loves a good story. If you don’t rate yourself as a writer, don’t worry about it. You don’t need to be a James Patterson or JK Rowling, just be yourself (and don’t worry too much about grammar). The story is the most important thing.

Along with stories are insider tips and advice (like this article). Help people solve common problems and you’ll start to generate a regular readership and you’ll see your likes, follows, shares and +1’s increase over time.

3. Pay to promote
There’s no way to avoid this any longer – you’re going to have to pay to get your social media accounts moving. Facebook and Twitter have pretty much forced business users to promote a business on their platforms. Facebook Ads are a favourite of mine and we use them for all our new Facebook Pages. Done correctly they can generate quick likes for your page (crucially giving you access to the Insight Stats for your page once you get over 30 Page Likes) but ultimately they generate sales too. Twitter Ads are new in the U.K. but if you want to get followers quickly it’s the only way other than to follow lots and lots of people yourself (and rely on the “you follow me, I follow you” approach).

If you’re worried about the cost of paying for ads, fear not – you can set the budget and pay as little or as much as you want. We regularly spend as little as £25 for clients advertising on Facebook and Twitter and get adverts in front of as many as 20,000 people with that budget.

4. Track your traffic
If you haven’t already, get Google Analytics on your website and start to watch for social media referrals in your traffic stats to your website. Correlate spikes in traffic to content you’re posting and see if you can spot any trends. Did that article on the Top 10 tips for baking better bread produce a rash of visitors to your site? If so, would another bread related article produce similar results?

5. Keep up the good work
Now that you’re going, keep going – don’t stop. There are thousands of social media accounts that are left to flounder with no updates for months on end. If you start on the social media path you have to keep going, even if you just post once a day – keep it up.

6. Add value
Is there any other way you can use social media for your business? Could you use it to answer customer enquiries or provide some other service? At Lobster, we use our main brand Twitter account @lobsterdm to look out for local people asking for help. For example, if someone asks if anyone knows a good hotel to stay in we’ll spot that request and respond to them with our recommendation. It’s just something we like to do to generate good will and help people.

7. Learn to use search
The search tool on Twitter is very useful. Type in words you think your target customers might be using and you’ll soon start to spot opportunities where you can engage with users. For example, I often see people asking for recommendations for movies to watch – a perfect opportunity for a company like Netflix or Odeon to jump into the conversation and help. Easy to do but can have fantastic results and generate good-will.

So, those are some ideas to get your social media strategy going. I love to hear of others that have worked so if you’ve got any good ideas and tips let me know in the comments section below.