I’m a great champion of social media. It offers companies a way to strike up a conversation with their clients, suppliers and trading partners and it can set you apart from your rivals by giving people a flavour of your firm in terms of your offering and personality.

How to make your business social
So what makes for a good social media approach? Here are my tips:

Think about what you want to achieve

It’s not about simply going on Twitter or starting a blog because that’s what other firms are doing. Think carefully first about what your goal is for using social media – if your strategy doesn’t match the needs of your company and its customers then it’s not going to work for you. If you’re a new company with a new product, you’ll want to create a buzz and help people get to know you better. More established companies might use social media for online customer service or enquiries. Or maybe you are on a recruitment drive or you want to use social media to network with your industry, suppliers or customers. Whatever your objective is, design your strategy to meet it.

Give them what they want

Think about your audience or community and meet them where and how they want to be met. Consider what content they would find useful or interesting, not what is easiest for you to crank out. Look at their feedback (the entire point of social media is that it’s interactive) and act on it – if they say: “We want more content!” try your hardest to provide it; if they ask you a question, try and answer it.

Content is king

Using social media means that you’re not relying on journalists to tell your story for you. You can speak to your audience directly. But the golden rule of good PR still applies: your message must be a strong one for it to be picked up. The Internet is such a crowded space that if what you’re doing isn’t interesting and unique then no one will look at it.

Good blogs, videos, tips and information on your website are essential: they will build your credibility and stop people drifting away from your site. One last thing – good content isn’t a direct sales plug. Today’s online audience is too sophisticated for that. They’ll just click onto another site.

Stay authentic to your brand

Think about what messages you want to get across or what discussions you want to encourage and take part in. There’s no point being part of a conversation you have no interest in. You wouldn’t hang out at a medical conference if you’re into digital marketing, so why should online be any different?

Use common sense

Don’t get overexcited about every reply you receive to one of your tweets or posts. Remember, through social media you’re trying to create a conversation with your customers. You can’t shut that down just because someone says something you don’t agree with. You think you run a great firm and that you’re telling a good story. But others might not see it that way. You need to keep a sense of perspective, particularly if someone is simply expressing an opinion. Count to ten before replying.

Engage your own people

They will need the freedom and confidence to go online. But you are also going to need some social media guidelines, so everyone is clear and comfortable about what they can say in their own online conversations. Everyone in your business has a part to play in creating content to share on social media – never underestimate where the next great idea might come from.

Be prepared

If you think you’re only going to do the occasional tweet, blog or video, think again. Having an online presence means you could be asked for assistance by customers, suppliers or partners at any time. You need to be ready for that and to respond quickly.