Using Social Media to Your Advantage: Tips for Entrepreneurs

It's no secret that the world communicates using social media. Of the 7.2 billion people on the planet, 2 billion have a social media account.

Given those staggering figures, entrepreneurs simply cannot ignore social media when marketing their businesses from their virtual offices. To be successful, you must learn how to use social media to your advantage.

There's a great deal of disparity in how each social platform operates and what types of posts gain viral status. Crazy cat videos on YouTube. Snarky memes on Facebook. Sarcastic quips on Twitter. Foodie reviews on Yelp. Over exuberant professional networking on LinkedIn.

While each platform promotes different types of content, each represents an opportunity to grow your business. And regardless of the specific type of content, there are some universal truths when it comes to using social media to market your company. Here are six things to consider.

1. Quality trumps quantity.

From the confines of your virtual office, bigger probably seems better. But rather than amassing a huge number of connections that don't interact with your brand, aim for quality connections. It's better to cultivate 1,000 high-quality connections instead of 15,000 who drift away after the first encounter, never to be heard from again. 

2. Add value, not clutter.

If you only focus on your product or service, your social media efforts will become white noise. Focus instead on creating relationships. What's more, if all you're doing is pushing out information about your product, you can easily get labeled a spammer. That's not good for any business, whether brick and mortar or virtual offices.

Value comes in the form of useful content that gets people talking or laughing or otherwise having an emotional reaction. Social media isn't the right place for a hard sell. Rather, it's a place to market your company's own usefulness. For example, if your company sells fireworks, write a blog post called, "Ways to Use Firecrackers Safely on July 4." Push the content out via your social networks in the days prior to Independence Day. You've just become useful to your online connections.

3. Engage with your audience. Ask questions they like to answer.

Social audiences like to give their thoughts and opinions. Just look at the comment thread on any trending news story for evidence of people's willingness to share their own thoughts and ideas. Use that to your advantage with polls, surveys and simple questions in your own social campaigns. Going back to the fireworks company, ask your followers to share about their favorite Independence Day memory from childhood or to identify their favorite place to view public fireworks displays. They'll happily engage with your brand and establish brand loyalty in the process.

4. Use images instead of just links. Add a quote for better results.

Written content may persuade your audience, but a picture gets them to it. Linking to a blog post or news story from Facebook? Find a photo to go with the post. It'll get much more attention and interaction among followers. Ramp it up even further with a quote pulled from the linked content. It gives skimmers' eyes just enough to take the bait.

5. Respond to negative comments 

Social media communication must be a two-way street, even if the news isn't good. While it's tempting to hide negative comments or reviews in the darkest corner of your virtual office, instead respond to them promptly and courteously. Apologize and offer to rectify the situation, if possible. And leave the comments up. Unless it's abusive in some way, never delete negative content or watch your company loose authenticity quickly.

6. Don't expect results overnight

Change will come, but it won't come overnight. Millions of companies, many with much deeper pockets than fledgling entrepreneurs, are vying for attention on social media so yours will be an uphill battle. That doesn't mean it's not worth it. All it takes is the right strategy, the right content at the right time to thrust your company into the spotlight