Using social media as a way to reach new and existing customers can be a refreshing change for business owners accustomed to more traditional and expensive marketing methods. Such marketing vehicles “talked at” people instead of conversing with them.

The new way of doing things is much more conversational.

But not everyone understands how to have a proper online conversation. And some attempts at conversation are downright awkward. They push potential customers away and do more harm than good.

Just like a stilted, uncomfortable conversation might make you avoid that person, the same goes for attempts at online customer engagement.

Decide what you want social media to do for your business

Sprout Social lists several potential benefits with social media for businesses. Are any of these among the goals you’ve set for your business?

  • Boost brand awareness among existing and potential customers
  • Increase your profits
  • Create a fanbase for your brand
  • Become a credible presence in your industry

These and other goals should have impact when you craft your Social Media Marketing Checklist. Each decision you make about social media – the what, when and how you post – should help you achieve your objectives.

Figure out who your audience is – and is not

If you run an efficient business, you likely already know your social media target audience – your current customers and those prospective customers you want to attract.

What stories can you share that they’ll find interesting, amusing or, more importantly, compelling enough so they’ll buy from you or simply share your content?

Just as you wouldn’t forward humorous-yet-vulgar memes to a prudish aunt, don’t post things on your social media pages that make your target audience uncomfortable.

If you’re unsure how to define your target market, The Daily Egg offers a simple, yet comprehensive guide on finding your target market so content marketing works.

Create shareable content

Does it matter if your content is shareable so long as it appeals to new and existing customers? Yes, it does. The growth potential – think “customer reach” – is too great with social media to ignore.

When people engage with your content by liking, sharing or commenting on it, those activities are  viewable by their social media contacts. It’s as if a person carries a print ad around to their friends and family saying, “This is great! Have you seen this?”

If you’re unfamiliar with how to create shareable and effective content, check out Buzzsumo’s tips for creating shareable content.

Be engaging

There is a difference between shareable content and engaging content, even though they’re often one and the same.

Engagement means you converse with your followers. If they ask a question, answer it as promptly and thoroughly as possible. It’s your chance to show potential customers that your customer service is prompt and complete. People are drawn to that kind of business – the companies that respond quickly to resolve any issues.

For more on ways to engage your customers via social media, check out American Express’ tips for using social media as a customer service tool.

Diversify your social media offerings

It’s short-sighted to use just one social media platform. You may want to focus on one more than others based on how its typical platform user aligns with your target market. But to ignore other platforms can exclude you from conversations you should have with potential customers.

This doesn’t mean you should make a frenzied effort to post to as many platforms as possible. But your social media plan shouldn’t exclude certain platforms just because you don’t know or understand them. Learn about active social media platforms. MakeAWebsiteHub offers a comprehensive list of them. Only then should you start posting.