It seems like there’s a new social media platform coming out every month. Perhaps you’ve been toying with the idea of making your business known on social networks, but you just don’t know where to start. Social media is a low risk, high reward opportunity for you to market your brand and build an audience. Here’s what you need to know.

1. Pick your poison.

From old favorites like Facebook and Twitter to newer platforms like Instagram and Pinterest, not every social network is going to be right for you. Creating a Facebook page for your business should be the first step to maximizing your reach online. According to Intuit, around 9 million small businesses use Facebook to build consumer awareness for their products and services, and 86 percent name it as the most effective tool for engaging with customers.

Setting up your page can be done in a few minutes. Fill out basic contact information and your ‘about’ section and add a cover photo that relates to your business. Just because this is social media doesn’t mean your page can’t look professional.  Maintain your credibility online by including a logo, your web address and other details about your business. This goes for all other social networks as well.

2. Only take on what you can manage.

Social media marketing can be very effective, as long as you invest the time and effort into updating and communicating with your audience. From a consumer standpoint, there is nothing more irritating than taking the time to follow a person or business online, only to see that they have never touched or nurtured their profile. Set aside time each day to update your social media pages. Don’t have the time to create content? Make someone you trust an administrator to your page, so they can contribute as well.

The point is not to go out there and create eight different social media accounts on Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn and Pinterest just to say you did it. Start with one platform (Facebook for example), and evaluate your ability to manage that page after a week. If you’re finding that you can barely fit in the time to post a new status, think twice about creating that Twitter account.

3. Post the right content.

A good social media strategy should contain a mixture of content. Original, handcrafted content is the most valuable to your audience. Think informational blog posts, stories or photos from your business. Add in any relevant news stories or studies from credible sources. Last but not least, engage with your followers. Ask them questions and incentivize them to connect with you through contests or promotions. This is your chance to communicate with your customers so don’t be afraid to reach out. You can gain some valuable insight.  

 It’s okay to post promotional statuses, as long as you are open and transparent with your audience. Many consumers simply follow businesses for instant updates on events or sales. If you promise something online, make sure you can back it up in person. Maintaining trust is key to openly communicating and marketing with your audience through social media.

4. Measure ROI.

While an extraordinary number of businesses partake in social media marketing, the majority don’t know how to measure their return on investment. So let’s get this straight: You’re going to put time and effort into this marketing strategy without ever measuring to see if it’s actually effective? It can be done folks. Social media can admittedly be difficult to measure, but there are metrics in place.

First, identify your objectives. When you’re talking social media, your metrics may include terms like: visits, page views, shares, mentions, retweets, follows or likes. These all contribute to your online reach or influence.  There are fancy social measurement tools you can purchase, but if you’re limited on funds just use these basic metrics to evaluate whether your social media efforts are contributing to your marketing strategy and getting your name out there.

For more from Lauren Jaeckel, see:

How to tailor your website to the 65+ market

4 ways to make the growing mobile market work for you

3 ways to drive leads on Linkedin