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Like most people, Facebook was my first social media site. Mark Zuckerberg launched Facebook in February, 2004. I didn’t join until Winter, 2014. Yep….I successfully dodged social media for over a decade.

I thought Facebook would be a fad, like beta recordings and laser discs or Myspace and Napster. And while Facebook isn’t alone in the social media space, it is highly responsible for the current social media wave. And now, a decade after Facebook’s inception, industry professionals can confidently say “Social media is now mandatory for businesses to be competitive.”

We all know there has been an explosion in social media, largely due to successful social media platforms such as  Facebook, Twitter, Google+, LinkedIn, YouTube, Pinterest, and many others. It’s safe to assume that the use of social media, in business, isn’t going anywhere anytime soon and will continue to grow stronger over time. After all, the whole world has witnessed the expansion and adoption of social media, in business and in daily life.

Whether your current sentiment is enthusiastic or trepidatious, there’s no way around the fact that social media is way more complex than it initially seems. Getting to connect to old friends and share family photos is great, but building a real network that provides real value takes both savvy skills and hard work.

Luckily, publishing content has become exponentially simpler over the last several years, one of the major reasons social media use has skyrocketed. Uncomfortable computer and web users are now able to easily create content on a rapidly growing number of platforms: owned (blogs, hosted communities, etc.), rented (social networks), and occupied (commenting, contributing, etc.).

To get the most out of social media, building relationships should be the biggest goal. Now this might sound a bit utopian and unrealistic for those who are used to a more traditional and tangible business approach. However, the relationships built with customers become the literal foundation upon which other aspects of your business can and will increase.  Relationships flourish when you cultivate them, and no other area offers you the opportunity to do this as well as social media.

Some of the most successful SEO and public relations professionals earn their notoriety, at least in part, from the relationships they are able to build. They’re also good at what they do, of course, but great relationships bolster their already amazing effort. The relationships you build with your customers lead to advocacy and loyalty.  These traits will support your brand during both the good times and the bad. This represents an investment that will remain strong on nearly any platform and under nearly any circumstance.

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Perhaps the greatest value of social media marketing is your ability to foster and engage with a community of other people. That engagement is at the heart of social media.  You have the opportunity to interact with customers from all over the world on a massive scale. If a current or prospective customer has something to say to you or about you, they can immediately do so. And, more importantly, you have the ability to give an immediate response to the client.

In addition to responsive communication, brands and businesses can begin to build relationships with their customers beyond those that happen during normal transactions. These relationships are what keep customers coming back, increasing both loyalty and retention. If those customers become advocates and increase your word-of-mouth presence, you’ll start seeing amazing returns.

By providing regular engagement with your community, you help build valuable, authentic resources for your company.   At the same time, you are also building up authority for your brand within your industry. You’ll find your customers trusting what your company has to say on industry matters, which, in turn, will yield further resources. In other words: the more you give, the more you’ll get back.

Information can be shared through social media at an amazingly fast pace. Users are, increasingly, turning to social channels to share information in real-time. This information often takes the form of opinions. Therefore, if you’re listening for the right cues from your audience, social media can become an invaluable source of insights and feedback. Incorporating social listening into product development can act as an early warning system, save on customer service costs and provide valuable development feedback without a heavy expense.

We’re all on this “social media wave” trying to accomplish big things for our businesses. How do we do that effectively? Well, I’ll ask another question:  How do you build relationships in-person? You’ll be surprised to find that building relationships online is not all that different from building them in person.

Here are 3 helpful social media hints that will help keep you engaged and building relationships.

#1.  Show Up.

I know that sounds simple and obvious, but even with complex subject matters like parenting, some of the best advice is to just keep showing up! Being present is the first step. Engage and respond. However, it doesn’t stop there. You can’t just show up once or twice or a few times out of the blue. Remember to think about how you would build a successful, real-world relationship: you show up and then… you continue to show up. Consistency is key! Give people a reason to invest in the relationship. If it seems like you’re not going to stick around or just pop in intermittently, people don’t have any reason to connect with you in the first place.

#2.  Be Human! (not robots)

Smarter Searches has already done a video blog and blog post on the importance of being Humans, Not Robots. So, I add to the rallying cry: WE ARE HUMAN, NOT ROBOTS! Embrace your humanity. Be real. Be funny. Be yourself. Be kind. Be empathetic to your fellow man. In every interaction, think of the Golden Rule and be all the things that you expect from others. If you come off as automated, heartless robots, you won’t be likable. This translates to not positively engaging prospective customers. So instead, be likable! Be human!

(However, while you are being affable and engaging on social media, it’s best to remember and assume that all interactions are public.)

#3.  Engage Everyone.

You don’t have to be a super sharer. You don’t have to like every post from everyone. However, try to engage everyone that you come across on social media. This creates a healthy balance in your relationships. You don’t want to treat a select few so specially that customers who are new to your brand feel as if they’re on the outside looking in. Strive to make every individual you interact with, and those watching, feel like they are all special.

This blog should seem like common sense.  However, people neglect these 3 simple tips all the time. Building a reputation around these three qualities is part of what goes into building relationships. And remember, building those relationships should be the end game in social media.

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