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, Foursquare 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 your goal?
This seems obvious, yes, but you’d be surprised how many of my clients don’t have an answer for this one. You must be specific. Are you trying to sell more widgets? Add addresses to your email newsletter list? You need to identify what the goal (or goals) are. 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 FAQs to help alleviate support, distribute more white papers, establish yourself as an expert, build a profile for public speaking, add names to your catalog list, build a community of followers.

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 account. But, like a garden, if you don’t tend to it, it will fail to prosper. 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 and 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, and tweetups. 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 social 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.

4. Who is your online 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 or locating customers like them for social events, whereas your offline audience may be older and more interested in finding your retail locations.

5. Who can help you reach your goals and audience?
Are you aware of who already influences your customers online? You probably are. What other brands fit well with yours? Find them and search for the social media channels and experts who influence people in that space. Mimic what they do, or better yet 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.

Contact Boone Digital for more information on Social Media >