Since its inception in December 2007, HauteLook has come a long way. Starting with a payroll of just four, the online sample sale site now boasts 260 employees and shows no signs of slowing. It plans to increase its workforce by nearly 50% this year.

CEO Adam Bernhard attributes a great portion of the company’s popularity and success to its social media efforts.

“No matter what your business is, you need to be connecting with your customers or clients via social media to maintain a strong marketing relationship with them throughout the year,” he advised.

HauteLook allows users to skip the long lines often found at sample sales and offers 48-hour sale events on top fashion for men and women, accessories, beauty, kids, home brands and weekend getaways.  The online retailer is closing in on 4 million members, which, according to Bernhard, is a testament to the company’s commitment to social media. 

On Dec. 7, 2010 HauteLook launched its first sale on Facebook, which featured pieces from Diane Von Furstenberg, and generated more than 36,000 new fans for HauteLook and DVF combined, according to Bernhard.  HauteLook was able to increase its fan base by 35% during the sale and it was the second highest grossing event for the company.

A Nielsen study from August 2010 shows people spend up to a third of their online time on social media sites, specifically Facebook, which creates an opportunity for small businesses to build a following.

If you are looking to get a slice of the social-networking pie, but not sure where to start, don’t panic.  Bernhard shares his tips on how your business can use social networking to generate customers and boost your bottom line.

1) Make Your Online Presence Reflect Your Real-Life Presence

Executives and entrepreneurs should use their own social media profiles to promote their businesses, Bernhard suggested.

Take a critical look at your own Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn pages and see if they reflect your business. You want potential customers to be able to learn about the business no matter what page they stumble upon online. 

2. Share Special Sales and Events

Offer special sales and events online to generate a buzz about your brand.

HauteLook engages customers by offering live Q & A’s with style experts on Facebook, giving them the opportunity to pose questions and get real-time advice and tips.

3. Hire the Right People to Manage Your Online Profile

Make hiring and talent recruitment a top priority, Bernhard advised, saying this generation comes equipped with the knowledge and understanding of today’s technology space.

4. Learn From Your Mistakes

As the economy starts to rebound, it’s important for businesses to evaluate last year’s online campaigns to determine what worked and what didn’t.

Offline campaigns are much more difficult than point and click. We found great success with Facebook advertising,” Bernhard said.

6. Keep it About the Customer

Use social media tools as customer support and always listen to what your customers want.

At the end of the day, it’s all about the customer, anyone who tells you different isn’t going to have a successful business, warned Bernhard.