Small businesses around the world know that social media is here to stay. But that doesn’t mean businesses have had the chance to put in the time or effort necessary to cultivate a proper presence on the right networks. There are many advantages to cultivating your brand on social media. It can help improve your brand’s social customer service, allow you to communicate with customers and prospects on a new level, help engage and reach new audiences, build authority and drive traffic to your website.

In short, creating a practical social media strategy can drive growth for your small business by fostering lasting and loyal relationships with prospects and customers. Here are a few ways businesses can make sure they effectively using social media to grow their business:

Choose the right network

Social media has exploded since they came into our lives in the mid-2000s, and there are thousands of networks dedicated to anything from connecting old classmates to advancing a business.

So, with all these options, how does a business pick the right ones? The advice from most experts is to join the most popular, and choosing the right ones comes down to your audience and your goals. Here’s some information to help get you started:

Facebook: the largest platform, has 2.89 billion active monthly users, and the site is ideal for businesses that want to generate leads and build relationships. If you’re a beginner to the network, check out this guide to advertising on Facebook.

Pinterest: the photo sharing site, is a fantastic platform for businesses with visual appeal (think restaurants, fashion, art, travel, and weddings). It’s more for social discovery than social networking, and is great for driving sales because so many users look to the site to plan purchases.

Instagram: Instagram was so successful that just 2 years after launching it was bought by Facebook, in 2012. Its success is rooted in staying true to its original goal – allowing users to post photos and videos from their mobile. The creation of Instagram Stories (an idea stolen from Snapchat!) featuring content that expires in 24 hours has enabled it to amass nearly 1 billion global users.

Set a goal

Being active on social media has a number of benefits for your business, and there are many things you can accomplish with a social presence. This includes performing customer service, engaging customers, generating leads, expanding your audience, driving sales, increasing web traffic, gaining valuable insights and feedback and much more.

But in order to achieve these with any measure of success, you must have a goal to work towards because you’ll need to take steps to create a social media strategy and get there. Your techniques for driving sales, for instance, will be different from your approach to improve your customer service offering. So, it’s important to know what you want to accomplish.

Come up with a strategy

Once you know what you want to achieve, you have to come up with a plan to get there. Start by designating the person or people who will be part of the social media team, and break up their roles and responsibilities so everybody knows what’s expected and when.

You should also decide on your posting frequency, and create a content calendar that will help you plan posts and don’t miss days. This approach to scheduling is a big part of your strategy and there are great social media calendar templates you can use that lay out. 

Actively engage your audience in relevant ways

Although content is supremely important on social media, it’s not enough to just post your content and walk away. You have to create content that excites and entertains to connect and drive engagement. That way you can foster the relationships you want to build and gain the trust of your audience.

There are many ways you can engage your audience: Comment and share on posts, post polls and surveys, address complaints, share relevant information and much more. 

Watch the right metrics to monitor your progress

Your brand capabilities and social media goals will determine the metrics that matter and it’s important to measure these to ensure you’re on the right track. For instance, if you want to increase site traffic, then pay attention to the amount of referral traffic coming from social.

There are many resources you can rely on for metrics, including Google Analytics, Facebook Analytics and page insights, Sprout Social, LinkedIn company pages report, Keyhole, Twitter analytics and keyword reports, Buffer, and BuzzSumo