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There is a lot of buzz about social media these days, but what is social media and why is it important for businesses?

Social media is the collection of websites and online applications that are community-based, allowing users to interact, work together, and share content and participation. This includes websites and applications such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Google+, Pinterest, Tumblr, Yelp, LinkedIn, and Vine. People are drawn to these sites because they help share and define the content, and because they are convenient to access with any computer or smart-phone.

This popularity has made social media a popular way for customers to find and compare products, look up reviews and ratings, and contact customer service. Some businesses try to take advantage of this by just throwing out branded pages and accounts – a website, maybe a blog, accounts on – but having no real plan for them. To see real results, it is important to develop a Social Media Strategy as a plan for how to best use all these resources.

The most important part of a social media marketing plan is similar to any other type of marketing – define your company’s core goals, values, and strategy and set up a plan to represent them in a consistent way across multiple sites. It is very important to designate a social media manager, and possibly assign a social media team, making sure content is kept fresh and on-message and that customer questions or complaints are quickly addressed. Many of the worst social media failures have resulted from brands having accounts and sending out scheduled or automated messages but neglecting to respond to major service interruptions, recalls, or other events causing large numbers of concerns or complaints by the public.

Once the strategy and the team or manager are in place, the first step is to set up branded accounts across various social media platforms, using a consistent look and feel and including a call to action and a way for customers to contact you. Then, develop a plan for when and how to post on each medium and generate several types of content that can be shared to keep followers interested and engaged. It is also important to track the results from the various types of posts and shares and to adjust your marketing according to which perform best and to respond to customer questions and suggestions made via social media.

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