Social media started out as a way for teens to connect with one another after school, and that’s all most people ever thought it would be. Over the years, however, it has steadily evolved into an indispensable business tool used to reach out to new customers and advertise products and services. If you’re not currently using social media for your business, you’re only giving your competitors an advantage over you, and you’re missing out on opportunities for better customer service, free promotion, and brand awareness.

No matter what size your business is, being active on social media can bring you enormous benefits. Over half of all customers will use social media to get in touch with a company for customer service. These customers are not interestedin calling your listed number for help. They want immediate attention and they want it on their terms. If you don’t have their preferred methods of contact available, you’re going to have a lot of dissatisfied customers on your hands.

You may think that social media isn’t a good fit for every business, but it’s never a bad idea to follow what the most successful companies are doing. If Coca-Cola, Nike, and Netflix have Twitter and Facebook accounts, so should you. Netflix, a company whose services are limited to specific regions, is so popular that millions of people would rather use a Netflix proxy than give their business to competitors. That’s the power of social media.

The world is changing fast, and you need social media to help you stay relevant in consumers’ minds. Here are some key things you need to know to get started:

The benefits of using social media

1. Stay connected

Social media makes you available to your customers 24 hours a day, and it’s one of the most convenient ways for them to connect with you.Social media also makes it easy for you to collect feedback and share positive feedback with your followers. While it’s not always as efficient as using professional customer support services, it saves the customer a lot of time and allows them to reach out in their own way.  It also shows your customers that you run a serious business and plan on sticking around.

2. Gather information

The second major benefit of using social media for your business is getting the opportunity to check out personalized profiles of your customers and fans of your company. This doesn’t require surveys, forms, or hypothetical customer profile creation. You can go straight to one of your social media accounts and look at the people who follow you. This will tell you a lot about the age range of your customers, where they live, and the type of lifestyles they lead. The best part is it’s 100% free. There are upgrades that you can purchase from different social media sites, but your followers’ accounts are accessible to you at zero cost.

3. Share content quickly and easily

Your most loyal fans may check your website every day to see what’s new, but most people won’t have the time or enough interest to do that. Collecting followers on your social media accounts and sharing with them frequently ensures that your news, promotions, and other content will be seen. It’s also incredibly fast and easy to share information and provide updates. You don’t even have to share a blog post every time; just a few simple lines are enough to keep your followers aware of your existence and let them know about whatever you want to share with them.

4. Encourage brand loyalty

A recent study concluded that 53% of Americans who follow brands on social media are more loyal to those brands. When you have social media accounts for your customers to follow, you increase the opportunities for people to show their loyalty to your brand. You may think that this is not much of an added benefit, but every time your loyal followers retweet or share your content, new people are exposed to your brand and products. Another thing to consider is how this correlation is formed. It may seem like loyal customers seek out brands to follow, but the converse may be true: customers may become more loyal by following and being frequently exposed to certain brands.

5. Get new people acquainted with your brand

Social media gives you the chance to branch out and be seen by many people other than your followers. Not only do shares increase the number of times your content is seen, but engaging in trending topics and using hashtags can also lead new people to discover your brand. You can use this opportunity to make a good impression, or you can promote and show off your products to improve sales. This leads to wider brand recognition, which is a huge benefit when it comes to being chosen over lesser-known competitor brands. Shoppers are more likely to choose a brand they are familiar with when forced to make a hurried decision, and if they’re at least a little bit familiar with your brand, they’re probably going to buy your products. You can facilitate this by having a logo that’s easy to recognize and being consistent with your packaging and use of color.

6. Increase website ranking and traffic

The number of shares you have on social media and the links you provide there won’t directly improve your search engine ranking, but having a large social media following does authenticate your relevance. Search engines consider your number of social media followers when measuring the authenticity of your business, and the more relevant you are, the higher you will rank on search engine results. You’ll definitely improve your chances of outranking any competitors who aren’t taking advantage of social media.

7. More affordable marketing

If you’re a small business with a tight budget, you’ll benefit from the lowered cost of marketing via social media sites. Paid advertising with social media can be relatively inexpensive compared to other options such as television or print ads, and you can even choose which regions and age groups you want to target. However, you don’t have to pay a cent to use your own accounts for promoting your business and products. Just a few hours a week are good enough to improve your brand recognition and gain the benefits of being active on social media. Posting promotional content at the right time can make all the difference.

How to Integrate Social Media into your Business

Social media sites to use

The most popular social media sites are still Facebook and Twitter, but othersites, including LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, and YouTube, are equally beneficial for businesses when used correctly. You don’t need to use all of them, but the more you can manage, the more you can expect to increase your customer base and improve your brand recognition. Only register as many accounts as you can handle, because no account is often better than a poorly managed one.

Hiring a social media manager
If your budget allows, consider hiring a social media manager to handle all of your registered accounts. This will allow you to create accounts on as many social media sites as you want, and it will help you keep your accounts up to date. Social media managers typically have experience in advertising, media, digital marketing, and other related fields. Their job is to monitor and post content to the various sites, and they may also be responsible for relaying customer concerns addressed through social media. These can be freelance or they can work in your office with the rest of your employees.

Your Next Step

If you’re interested in using social media to operate and promote your business, your next step is to decide whether you want to hire an expert or allow one of your existing team members to manage your accounts. You’ll also need to decide which social media sites you want to use and how often you want to post content and offer updates. Establish clear goals for your social media engagements and never hesitate to reach out to an expert for help.