Social media marketing is one of the best ways for small businesses to reach a large number of customers for not a large price tag.

Not that long ago it took tens of thousands of dollars and the expertise of major advertising and public relations firms to develop a brand image for you and your business. For small businesses, this was often out of reach. But social media has leveled the playing field.

Sites like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn give you the opportunity to build and solidify your brand to the masses. You can reach hundreds, if not thousands, of potential customers by using these tools wisely.

Traditional marketing takes a shotgun approach to getting a business’s information out. You don’t have to subscribe nor be in a specific target audience to see the ads on TV or in magazines and newspapers. They are there for anyone who wants to take action.

Social media is voluntary and requires users to sign in, sign up, or follow. These tools ask followers to take action, and encourage them to interact and join a conversation. That conversation helps you understand what is important to your customers and enables you to fine-tune your products and services, keeping you current and relevant. The more the interaction, the deeper the engagement and buy in.

So before you start, make sure you follow some of these rules.

Clearly define what you want your brand to look like. What is the message you are conveying and does it help you stand out from your competitors? Identify what about your business and the services and products you provide keep your customers satisfied and coming back. Once you isolate your differentiating qualities, you can build a social media program that delivers the right message to your customers.

Decide on which social media sites you want to spend your time. Social media can take up a great deal of time unless it is targeted to where your customers live. Who is your target audience? Where can you find them? 

Twitter and Facebook are both great places for B-2-C while LinkedIn can be a great way to go if you want to market to consumers and businesses. Each media space offers you ways to hone in on specific types of groups so you will be reaching the right target market each and every time.

Offer something of value besides your own product or service. No one wants to be sold to all the time and if that is all you offer, you will lose your followers. Always consider “what’s in it for them.”

Social media is all about conversation, content, and engagement. Be generous – give information freely, pass along other people’s tips, bargains, ideas and give credit whenever possible. Generosity helps shape your brand and creates a positive environment for your followers and readers. It keeps them connected and keeps them coming back for more.

Track your results. Create ways to track the success of social media efforts so you know what medium works best. Use different contact numbers and different web addresses on each site so you can easily attribute revenue and activity by site and by promotion. 

Review, revise and eliminate offerings, promotions, and groups that are not working.  You will be saving time for yourself while creating a more streamlined social media program.

Be Responsive. Make someone responsible for checking your social media outlets every day and respond to questions, comments and requests. How you respond provides potential customers with insight into what the experience will be of using your services or buying your products.

Mary Rosenbaum is a Master Certified Personal Branding Strategist and Career Coach with over 25 years experience as an entrepreneur and career professional and 10 years in business and finance. Mary is a dynamic and passionate coach whose talent is empowering entrepreneurs and careerists to perform at their peak by gaining clarity and more effectively communicating and leveraging their value proposition. For more insight into her work visit her website at http://yourcareerbydesign.com or follow her on Twitter.