With the vast majority of consumers using some form of social networking every day, your business may become more and more invisible if you don’t have some form of social media presence.

But with so many networks to choose from (and only a limited number of hours in the day), it can be difficult to decide where and how to focus your efforts.

Why You Need a Social Media Presence

Social networking is becoming more and more crucial to businesses. As of December 2012, 67% of adults who use the internet were on one or more of these sites. And many of those people use social media to get product recommendations, referrals for services, and information on businesses from which they’re considering buying.

Usage of these networking sites grows every year. If you’re not taking advantage of that fact, you may be missing out on a lot of money.

Types of Social Media

There are a few different types of social media you should know about.

Which ones you use will depend on what type of business you have, and what sort of information and media you want to share:
  • Social networks are what most of us think of when we picture social media. These sites, which include Facebook and LinkedIn, allow people to keep up with their friends and families with short posts and comment-based conversations. They also let people “follow” or “like” a business or brand — making them one of the first types of social networking you should consider.
  • Microblogging sites, the most famous of which is Twitter, give users a platform to share very short messages. Common uses for this platform are commenting on news or entertainment and making short, pithy observations about daily life. As a business owner, you can also use these sites to chat with your customers and provide discount codes and other useful information.
  • Media sharing sites, like YouTube and Flickr, let you create rich visual or audio content to share with your audience. Media you share on these sites can be embedded or linked from your website and shared on your other social networking accounts, giving you a more integrated online presence. Flickr and other photo sharing sites are more appropriate for showing off products or visually appealing aspects of your business. YouTube is only limited by your creativity, and video content is a great way to boost your business’s online profile.
  • Blogs deliver informative or entertaining information to their audiences, with a social function provided in the form of the comments section. Blogging can be a powerful tool for businesses, because it lets you establish your brand’s voice, deliver important information and product guides, and interact with your customers. If you don’t have a blog for your company website, consider making this your first move toward social networking.

Best Social Networking Practices

Once you’ve decided which types of social media will work best for your business, you’ll need to use them the right way to be successful.

A few helpful rules of thumb include:
  • Join the conversation…but don’t be obnoxious. Find opportunities to connect with people in your social networks. Don’t just blast your Twitter or Facebook feed with endless links to your products or content — find ways to engage with your followers. Quizzes, contests, and sharing useful information from other places on the web are all great ways to use your social networking profiles.
  • Respond to questions and comments. One of the biggest mistakes companies make on social media is ignoring direct queries from customers or followers. Remember, a lot of people use social media to “vet” a company they’re considering doing business with. If they get the cold shoulder from your online profile, they’ll figure that’s how you’ll treat them in the offline world too.
  • Use more than one type of social networking for best results. Facebook and Twitter are great places to start. As previously mentioned, a blog is also highly recommended. And adding entertaining video content is another great way to get your company’s name out there.

Keeping up with social media doesn’t have to be an overwhelming task.

An hour or two each day, checking on your profiles, adding new content, and responding to inquiries will go a long way toward boosting your business reputation online. If you’re in need of a roadmap to help you get started, a social media marketing plan may be right up your ally.

About the Author: Freelance writer Angie Mansfield covers topics that help small businesses grow. You can find her on her favorite social network, Google+.