Social media may be the most important marketing channel you have as a small business. It’s cheap, fun and can generate plenty of attention from your potential customers. But relax: You don’t have to do everything at once. Here’s the first part of our guide to social media for small businesses.

1. Know your purpose

Is social media for you? Even if there’s a seemingly pressing need to be more visible online, a strong piece of advice is to treat your social media strategy as any other business decision. It takes time, knowledge and resources to grow a following, so a discussion around the main purpose is a good place to start. What do you wish to communicate, why and to whom?

2. Choose your weapons

Don’t try to be everywhere. Remember that an empty social media account is much worse than no account at all. Do you want to be cocky, visual, inspirational, educational, emotional, informative or intellectual? Ask your customers where they hang out. A natural first step is to start with Instagram and Facebook, and later connect a Twitter account. Eventually, when you know your crowd even better, you can expand your universe. There are smart tools to manage several channels at once, for example Buffer and Hootsuite.

3. Be true and consistent

Treat your social media followers like your customers – in a friendly, engaged and polite manner. Be funny and quirky, but never rude. If someone trash talks you on Twitter or Facebook: be twice as nice, and be it fast. Engage in other people’s conversations, comment on blog posts and show honest online appreciation to the kind of people you would like as customers. Chances are they will love you back. Be consistent and update your social media channels regularly. Use a proper plan and schedule the posts if necessary.

4. Don’t rush

It’s easy to get blinded by the numbers, but it doesn’t matter if you have thousands of followers if they’re not interested in what you do. Building an organic social media following with your own unique voice is far better than furiously spitting out updates and hashtags. And, perhaps needless to say, try not to fall for the temptation of buying followers.

5. Involve the rest

If you’re a team, don’t forget to involve your staff in the social media strategy. There are probably many different skills among you. If you find someone who’s perfect to manage the social media accounts for your business, you should seriously consider rewarding that person.

Next time we’ll discuss the perhaps most important aspect of social media for small businesses: How to convert followers and fans into paying customers.

Do this today:

Before getting started with social media for your business, make sure that you know your purpose and that you have enough time to spend on managing your presence in the networks you choose to join.