Regardless of your type of business or product, ignoring social media marketing is a bad idea. But before you dive into the world of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram and the like, you’d be smart to have a plan. You don’t start a long vacation without an itinerary, did you?

Here are five questions you MUST answer before beginning to use social media for your business:

#1. What’s the goal of your social media strategy?

This seems obvious but you’d be surprised how many of my clients don’t have an answer for this one. You must have specific goal for your marketing campaign.

Are you trying to sell more widgets?
Add addresses to your email newsletter list?
Send people to the content on your website?

Those are just three examples.

You need to identify what the goal is of your social media strategy. You may want to use social media to reach multiple goals, but don’t muddy up the waters by making it too complicated. Three goals are the most I’d recommend. Here are a few examples, in addition to what I already mentioned:

  • Increase traffic to your website
  • Engage customers
  • Provide customer support
  • Establish yourself as an expert
  • Add names to your email list
  • Build a community of followers
  • Sell your products

#2. How much time and resources can you devote to social media marketing?

It’s really not that hard to launch a Facebook page or Twitter (or Instagram) account. But, like a garden, if you don’t tend to it, it will fail to sprout. No one wants dead flowers.

Identify how much time you can spend nurturing social media, because that will help you determine how to use it. If you have very little time, don’t try to provide support or build events via social media, just give people information they can use to find you, buy your products and services. If you have more time (and resources, like cash to fund some campaigns), you can plan more complicated strategies, like blogs, online chats, tweetups, video, and social media ad campaigns. Research how much you can budget to place social media ads or hire a social media company to help you.

#3. Who will manage your social media channels?

Whether it’s you, one of your employees, or a professional digital marketing expert, you should figure out who will be handling the job of managing your social media profiles. If it’s you, brush up on how to mange your time as efficiently as possible. If you can possibly do so, hire a social media expert to help you set up systems that will enable you to schedule, plan, and track your social media campaign.

PRO TIP: Don’t leave this important task to a family member or staff member who calls themselves an avid social media expert. These are the so-called “power users” and most of them have no formal training in marketing.

#4. Who is your audience?

This may seem simple to answer, because usually your online audience is the same as your offline (or brick-and-mortar) audience. But it may be different, markedly or slightly.

Your online audience may be more interested in finding deals, whereas your offline audience may be older and more interested in finding your retail locations. Do your research.

#5. Who can you partner with?

Are you aware of who already influences your customers online? Ask yourself these questions: What other brands fit well with yours? What other activities do your customers enjoy? How do your target customers get their information?

To find social media influencers, search social media channels and locate experts or popular figures who influence people in your space. Partner with them to reach your online audience. If you’re a health food specialist selling nutrition supplements, find a popular exercise guru who has a lot of followers, go where they are, establish yourself, and offer information that compliments theirs.