Tweeting, posting on someone’s wall, adding connections to your network. To some, this may seem like a foreign language, but to many, it’s the language of successfully growing your business. Social media is one of the most influential and powerful tools available to business owners and professionals today. With the ability to reach thousands of people in a single click, the opportunities are endless; however, many professionals are missing out on potential interactions because of either their fear and lack of knowledge of social media, or their unwillingness to jump into the networking pool.

While there’s not a one-size-fits-all “how to” book on social media, there are some practical guidelines for how firms can use social media to their advantage, and ultimately grow into a successful and tech-savvy business.

Start simple. Facebook is one of the most popular and most used social media sites in existence today, with over 845 million active users. Because of its success and popularity, many companies start their social media experience with a Facebook company page.

“Facebook captures a bigger audience than other social media sites. It helps get our name out in the surveying community,” says Keith Collins, co-owner of Foresite Geomatics Ltd. in Alberta, Canada, a firm that provides survey and scanning services to the oil sands industry. Foresite Geomatics has more than 100 likes on the networking site, and according to Collins, over 80 percent of them are directly involved in surveying to some extent. “We are using Facebook in combination with our webpage to receive job applications, resumes and work estimates. We’ve posted jobs on our page and within an hour received phone calls and emails regarding the posting.”

Land Surveyor’s Workshops, a company that provides training, software, books, videos and other educational materials, has more than 400 likes on its company page on Facebook and nearly 900 friends on its separate profile. Owner Larry Phipps, who also runs a small surveying firm, says, “Facebook is a wonderful way to connect with people and keep folks up to speed on things.” 

Small business owner Kristopher Klima of Klima Land Surveys started a business page on Facebook called “Love your Local Land Surveyor.” The page isn’t for his company; according to Klima, it’s intended to serve as a public forum for discussion and information. For him, the site offers subtle ways to drive traffic to his company website while also providing a community service. Facebook can be a positive tool for business owners in whichever way they choose to use it.

Of course, Facebook isn't the only social networking tool. Twitter is a great platform to share the latest news, new products or events to a large group of people and to connect in real time with your peers and clients. LinkedIn can help expand your business through strategic connections and valuable discussions. And YouTube, Google+ and newer sites such as Pinterest are other platforms that can help you expand your network and build your brand. Whichever network you prefer, start simply and have a goal in mind.

Keep your audience interested. Once you start your journey into the world of social media and have some followers, finding out what your audience pays attention to the most can be a difficult task. This is often a trial-and-error process with various styles, subjects and lengths of posts. Maybe your audience likes a more conversational tone as opposed to serious headline-worthy news; whatever the results may be, once you find what works, use it. But don’t get too comfortable. Social media is an ever-changing tool, and people like a little variety in their daily lives. Post a news item, then a video; a project summary, then a cartoon. Mixing it up will keep your users more interested than a stagnant series of the same posts day-after-day.

Another way to keep your audience engaged is to focus on topics of interest. “We’ve gained as many followers as we have because we share information that’s relevant to the industry, such as advancements in technology and challenges related to surveying and mapping,” says Jocelyn Hodson, PR specialist at Woolpert, a design, geospatial and infrastructure management firm. The company has more than 900 followers on Twitter and more than 1,000 followers on LinkedIn.

Interacting with your audience is also a key to keeping them interested. Ask questions, start discussions and create polls. When someone sees a question they want to answer or an engaging discussion, that instantly creates recognition with the company name, and they’ll want to keep coming back to your page to see what their peers have to say.

Don’t underestimate the value of a well-written comment. Even if you don’t have your own company page on Facebook or your own corporate presence on LinkedIn, you can strategically build name recognition, expand your social network and draw traffic to your website by adding your own insights to existing groups and discussions. Just be sure to keep your comments professional; an inappropriate post can damage your reputation.

Sharing is caring. We’ve all seen posts by individuals talking up their company’s strengths and boasting of their successes. While some promotion isn’t a bad thing, too much can seem arrogant and leave behind a less-than-favorable impression of your company. Achieving a balance between sharing and promoting is key in the social media world. “I follow the 80/20 rule: I spend 80 percent of my time sharing, answering questions and interacting with others, and 20 percent of my time promoting my business,” says Klima. “The goal is to be viewed as a participant versus a pushy salesperson.”

Hodson agrees. “Focus on knowledge sharing versus using social media as an advertising tool. The more you can interact with and benefit others, the more successful your social media efforts are going to be.”

Consider posting insights on common challenges, links to informative articles, and helpful tips and strategies. If you’re extremely proud of an accomplishment, feel free to post about it; just don’t go overboard. Remember: Sharing is caring, but balance is key. 

Once you’ve started on your social media journey, don’t be afraid to tackle the next social networking site. “It has led to increased exposure and a heightened awareness of our brand, which in turn leads to increased business,” Hodson says. “Social media continues to grow, and those companies that do not embrace it will miss opportunities to build brand awareness.”

In the end, social media can be a valuable tool for professionals and business owners to increase business, reach a larger and more diverse group of people, and ultimately grow the success of their firms.

5 Quick Tips for Social Media Success

Amy Kolis, interactive media specialist for BNP Media in Troy, Mich., shares some social media tips to achieve a higher level of success for your company.

  1. Engage your audience: Ask questions, use video, mix media and create a user experience.
  2. Create quality content: Maintain an environment where you have a continual/steady following.
  3. Provide your audience with value: Give people a reason to “like,” follow or connect with you.
  4.  Use social media to increase brand awareness and generate sales.
  5. Be active in the scene; social media is not just a fad!

“Social Media allows businesses to stand out in a noisy world,” she says. “It increases exposure and allows you to expand your reach and market share. In today’s world, it’s necessary to have a presence on all networks, but it’s important to find what medium your clients focus on and spend time where your audience is.”