Note: This article was filed by a paid contributor to Xerox Corporation.

If you are an entrepreneur today, and not using social media to promote your business, you are missing out on a huge opportunity. But, contrary to what most people preach, it isn’t entirely free. Most social media outlets don’t require a subscription charge, but they certainly require an investment to be hard hitting – in people, in technology, your reputation, and your time.

There are hundreds of consultants out there who will take your money for guidance in this area, but I recommend that you start with some free resources on the Internet, or one of the many recent books on this topic.  In a classic one I read a while back, “How to Make Money with Social Media” by Jamie Turner and Reshma Shah, Ph.D., hits all the right points from my perspective:

  1. Lead with a strong relevant first impression.

    As with many startup activities, you only have one chance for a great first impression. You can jump into social media with a poor brand definition, poorly focused content, unrealistic expectations of customer service, or be killed by malware or viruses. Check your brand definition against the clarity of this one from Xerox for office software. Businesses can engage several approaches to stand out among competition including printing dynamic brochures and quality business cards and personalized direct mail.

  2. Assess social media relevance to your product or service.

    If your business is industrial B2B products, social media may be low on your list. Spend your time and money on other platforms. If you are selling to consumers, especially millennials, your business won’t survive without an effective social media presence.

  3. Attract key stakeholders with sensitivity.

    For some customers and many investors, a heavy focus on social networks and viral marketing may be a negative, rather than a positive. A balance of conventional and social communication and marketing is always advised.

  4. Pick the right platform for your business.

    Within each of the platform categories defined above, there is a right one and a wrong one for your audience. For example, LinkedIn is attuned to business professionals, Facebook is dominated by the social and upwardly mobile crowd. If you are selling a B2B printing platform from Xerox, posting on LinkedIn would likely be the best choice.

  5. Use strong communication and writing skills.

    Heavy texting experience is not a qualification for communicating via social media. In additional to strong journalistic writing and storytelling, you need business acumen, strategic thinking and planning, and the ability to do the right research. These days, video production is also a useful skill.

  6. Make social media an integrated part of an overall strategy.

    An integrated marketing strategy starts with an overall brand management strategy, delivered through online and offline communications, promotions, and customer engagement vehicles. For example, if your world is printers, your blogging messages better match your print advertising message.

  7. Find the right tools to analyze the ROI.

    Return-On-Investment metrics are not new, but the tools are different. Get familiar with current social media tools, such as Google Analytics, SproutSocial, and HootSuite analytics. Over time, put together the data you need to measure your progress on a weekly/monthly/yearly basis. Xerox® VersaLink®  multifunction printers (MFP) come preloaded with direct, secure access and out-of-the-box connectivity to Google Drive™, Microsoft® OneDrive®, DropBox™ and the Xerox App Gallery. Additionally, they feature the Xerox App Gallery – so regardless of whether you need a single or multifunction printer you can access the Xerox® App Gallery direct from the user interface and add your own apps.

The key social media platforms today include communications (WordPress blogs, Twitter), collaboration (Wikipedia, StumbleUpon), and multimedia (YouTube, Flickr). In looking ahead, don’t forget the mobile platforms (iPhone, Android), and location-based services (Foursquare, ShopKick).

As with any resource or tool, you need to optimize your social media costs against a targeted return. That means first setting a strategy and plan for what you want to achieve, then executing the plan efficiently, and measuring results.   It’s not free, but it’s an investment that you can’t afford not to make.

Martin Zwilling is founder and CEO of Startup Professionals, a company that provides services to startup founders around the world. His background includes a 30-year track record as an executive in general management, computer software development, product management, and marketing. Contact Martin Zwilling directly at marty@startupprofessionals.com.

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