More and more small businesses are recognizing the marketing power of social media and joining such sites as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. Indeed, Facebook alone is anticipated to reach one billion users by the end of 2012. Even those who have been most resistant to joining the revolution are unable to ignore the ability of social media to attract customers via the viral nature of social networking.

However social media networking does not end with the creation of a profile on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn; indeed the creation of a page or profile is just the beginning. It will take time and effort to build a presence and gain brand recognition.

There are several strategies that small businesses may employ to ensure that there are using social media effectively. To start, it is a good idea for smaller-size businesses to learn from the social marketing strategy of big brands. Why? Because large brands have large marketing budgets and have developed keen insight into what works and what doesn’t with regard to online marketing.

Since the budgets of smaller-size firms are limited, developing an online marketing can present somewhat of a challenge. However, if needed you can always compare credit card deals on sites as and in this way give your marketing budget a boost while managing cash flow.

What follows are two key strategies that big brands utilize in developing an effective social media presence.

Develop an online marketing strategy

Taking a page form large brands, understand the mission of your firm and direct your online marketing plan toward that mission.

For example, the main value proposition of Starbucks is to offer exceptional customer service by providing a ‘third place’ where customers may enjoy a variety of coffee-based beverages in a warm and welcoming environment. To foster this mission, the company regularly posts updates to various social media sites regarding discounts on certain drinks, as well as pictures of new concoctions it has developed. The posts of Starbucks always invite reader comments which serve to further develop engagement.

As per social media guru, Frank J. Kenny, it is essential for small businesses to learn from large brands. As per Mr. Kenny, small businesses have an important advantage over larger firms in that they are able to foster close relationships with the clients or customers they serve. With this in mind, base your social media strategy on the brand you wish to develop in the minds of consumers.

Your social media strategy includes selection of which social media sites to build a presence; how you will build customer engagement based on our company mission; assigning a person to oversee the social media function; how often you will post information and/or comments to the site; content that will be most valuable to your target audience; and groups that your firm would benefit from joining?

Set goals

Large brands plan their social media strategy months in advance and months and develop clear expectations of what they wish to accomplish within certain periods.  If you are new to social marketing, create short term goals, whether that is a week, one month, or three months. Establish a target your business desires to reach, most often stated in quantifiable terms, such as number of Twitter followers you wish to develop over the next month or number of desired lead-to- conversion rates per site over a given quarter. Think about how you will reach these targets.

It is important that the goals you set be realistic to the time you have to devote to the social media effort and what you are able to deliver to customers based on the size of your firm.

While a large brand such as Starbucks can plan on gaining a million or more Twitter followers or a similar number of ‘likes’ on Facebook, these figures may represent an unrealistic goal for your firm. A more realistic goal during the early days of building an online presence might be to increase engagement with current customers via status reports or tweets with relevant links. Due to the viral nature of social networking, these posts may be picked up by your customer’s circle of influence who will then become fans or followers.

Written by Guest Post