“You’ve got to be on social media,” says every marketer ever.

At this point, that’s a given. Being on social media today might be more important than having your own website. Recently search engines like Google have been ranking content shared on social media sites higher than content posted on blogs and individual sites.

Search engines tend to favor sites with a lot of traffic and your personal blog can’t reach nearly as many people as Twitter or Facebook.

Take a look at these following examples:

My article, “Book Marketing Isn’t Easy: 3 Questions For Every Author” ranks number 1,2,3, and 5 on Google, but not on my own website. The first result is from Medium, the second and third are from LinkedIn, and the fifth is from Google Plus.

Social Media Ranks Higher on Google SEO

Book Expo Australia gets a comfy little spot on Google when someone searches “book expo” because it’s Twitter presence outranks most websites about book expos.

Book Expo Australia Twitter "Channel" on Google

Popular hashtags rank higher than anything else when someone searches them on Google, Bing, or Yahoo. Take for example the hashtag, #books:

On Google:

Twitter Hashtags on Google SEO

On Bing:

Social Media Ranks Higher on Bing SEO

On Yahoo:

Twitter Hashtags on Yahoo SEO

So the question is: How do I leverage social media effectively?

The truth is there are A LOT of social media channels out there now. It seems like every day a new channel pops up. The challenge is finding which ones work for you.

There is no magic bullet. You have to try them out, see if they’re working and adjust your strategy based on the results.

For example, I’ve found lots of success on Twitter and LinkedIn. I’m also on Pinterest, Tumblr, and a few other platforms, but I’ve found that these aren’t my sweet spots. My audience lives primarily in the world of business and words, and so they hang out on the platforms that cater to those interests.

That’s not to say I couldn’t find success on those other platforms. I just haven’t done enough iteration to create that success. For now, what I’m doing is working, so I intend to keep doing it until growth slows.

Live and die by this phrase: “Always be testing.”

The trick is finding out what works and what doesn’t work. Being bold and trying out new things is the only way to learn this.

Okay, I’ve found my sweet spots… Now what?

Once you’ve done some research and testing and have found the platforms where your audience lives, it’s time to get busy. Here are a couple of ways to start making an impact with social media…

Cross Platform Interaction

It’s likely your audience is on multiple social media channels. In fact, I’d guarentee 99% are on at least more than one platform.

Michelle Wyatt, CEO at CadmiumCD, always emphasizes to her team that it’s important to have at least 7 touch points through 10 different methods with potential buyers over a 6 month period. Connecting with the same person on 3 or 4 social media platforms can cover a big chunk of that work.

But this doesn’t mean just spamming Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram with product advertisements. “Buy My Book,” “Sign Up for My Newsletter,” or “Try Out This Product” are only good calls to action in the right context. On social media, they can get a bit repetitive and look spammy.

Social media, by definition, is about being social. It’s about connecting with interesting people and building relationships with them. It’s NOT about marketing and selling your products, though these can certainly happen by association.

So… what’s this look like in action?

Again, this is relative to your situation. How you respond to your audience depends on their interests, customs, and expectations. For example, following up with B2B leads will look a lot different than interacting with B2C customers.

Still, all your prospects are people. Be personal, professional, and likeable.

For example, when I get a new follower on Twitter that I want to connect with professionally, I follow them back then send them a quick message thanking them.

Initial Social Touchpoint On Twitter

Then, I look up the person’s name on LinkedIn and if I find a match I send a connection request.

Following Up On LinkedIn After Twitter Interaction

You’ll notice that I don’t use the default request, “I’d like to add you to my network.” Instead I personalize it with a reminder of where we first made contact and an invitation to connect over the phone in the near future.

I do the same thing for important contacts I make at networking events, but that’s for another article.

Once we connect further, I find out what other networks their on and connect with them there as well.

The same method could be used to reach out to people on Facebook as well. Or the interaction might start on Pinterest or Instagram. It could even begin on LinkedIn after I meet someone in person and expand to Twitter.

The important thing is making those multiple touchpoints.

Social Media Advertising

I know, I know. I said advertising your stuff on social media could come off as spammy. But most social media sites exist free for users because they have huge amounts of seed money from investors who are just waiting to have people buy ad space on your feed.

That being said, if you know your target audience well, if you craft a message with the right goal in mind, and if you deliver a beautiful, relevant ad, your sales, sign ups, or downloads will increase. It’s a fact.

Still, there are a few things to avoid…

1. Don’t advertise on a platform where your product, service, or brand doesn’t fit in

I LOVE when a McDonalds ad pops up on my Instagram feed. Not because I particularly like McDonalds (I’m a vegetarian who strives to live a healthy lifestyle, so… yeah), but because 99 out of 100 comments are so negative.

McDonald's Ads Are a JOKE

McDonalds is clearly a brand that doesn’t belong on Instagram. Their product just doesn’t fit with the majority of Instagram’s demographic yet they try so desperately. And that’s what it looks like… desperation. It actually hurts their brand.

So, what can you learn from this? Well, do a lot of that research I mentioned above before you start advertising. Know the platform you’re advertising on intimately, spend time connecting with people and understanding what the culture is like. If your product fits in with their philosophy, let the ads fly. Otherwise, it’s not worth it.

2. Don’t expect ROI if you don’t set goals, checkpoints, and expectations

Lots of people put up ads and expect results. Sorry, but it just doesn’t work like that. You’ve got to have a plan before you put your ads out there and you have to be willing to test variations.

What do you expect to gain? How will you get there? How is the image contributing to that? What about the copy? Will a different picture or bit of text be more successful? Will your audience respond to the same ad differently at another time or in another location?

If you don’t have the time, energy, or resources to actively plan, create, and test these things, don’t waste the money.

3. Don’t falter on expectations once your audience clicks through

The worst thing in the world is clicking through on a beautiful ad and being disappointed by the results. The landing page isn’t consistent with the ad. The eBook just didn’t deliver. The feed you followed is spammy or lame.

Your ad is a promise to your prospects, customers, subscribers, and fans. If you fail to deliver on that promise, it’s going to come back and bite you.

Don’t lie, don’t exaggerate, and don’t let your audience down. Be consistent, honest, and relevant. If your product isn’t the best, don’t say it is. Just explain the benefits in a clear and concise way. If you’re not going to post a new article every week, don’t say you will. Just say you’re going to provide quality content on your subject.

If people want what you’re offering, they’ll take it. If they don’t (or if they unsubscribe later or don’t buy again in the future), don’t worry about it. You don’t want those people on your list anyway.

For more on social media advertising check out Mark Dawson’s post on Reedsy’s Blog about Facebook advertising for authors (it’s relevant for businesses too) and KissMetric’s comprehensive article about setting up a Twitter campaign.

Chats, Groups, and Forums

Like I said, social media is about being social. It’s about connecting with others regularly and building relationships.

Posting your articles and sharing other people’s articles is a great place to start, but it’ll only go so far. If you truly want to build relationships with your followers, connections, and friends, you’ll have to go the extra mile and come off… well… like an actual person.

The best way to do this is attend networking events! Yes there are trade shows, conferences, workshops, and happy hours for in-person networking, but there’s a whole world online with events dedicated to sharing ideas and connecting with others as well.

Twitter Chats

Twitter, for example, has plenty of regularly scheduled tweet chats. Hashtags are generally used as kind of a dedicated forum to ongoing conversations, shared articles, and promotions on a particular topic.

But some individuals and organizations have gone one step further and host regular Twitter chats where the movers and shakers of an industry come together and discuss certain topics. For example, I’m a regular participant of #Expochat, which caters to the trade show industry.

To find a chat that works for you and your industry, simply search this comprehensive list of Twitter chats.

LinkedIn and Facebook Groups

There are also plenty of groups on Facebook and LinkedIn where you can meet people and share ideas. Unfortunately most of these end up being a breeding ground for link dumps and foster little conversation. If you find a good one though, you can get a lot of value by making new connections and developing existing relationships.

The important thing is that you are a regular contributor. Share articles you or others have written, ask questions, and comment on others’ posts. People can see through the bullshit and if you’re always posting self-serving content, people will begin to ignore you (or even flag your content as spam). So be genuine and only spend your time in active groups.

Forums and the Rest of the Social Web

Forums were kind of the original social media sites. And they still exist. I bet a simple search with a few industry terms followed by the word “forum” will yield plenty of results.

Become a member, share your knowledge, and ask questions. These are great places to build your brand and drive traffic to your site. The same rules as above apply though. Don’t be salesy or promotional. Be genuine and personable.

Reddit is also a great place to do this. There are subreddits for nearly any topic under the sun and they want your links and comments! Just be sure you follow the rules of the road. Redditors REALLY hate spammers and will call you out for it in an instant. For more about getting started on this platform, check out Matt Silverman’s excellent article on Mashable about the basics of Reddit.

Another place to get social are Q&A sites like Quora and Yahoo Answers. Users on these sites ask questions and are looking for links, resources, and advice that will help them solve their problems. If you’re an expert on a certain topic, you’ll be welcomed with open arms. Just remember: longer, well-researched answers tend to gain the most traction.

And finally we come to what I call ‘upvote communities.’ These are places where people come together to share links, products, or ideas on a certain topic and users upvote the best of the best. They’re a lot like reddit but are hyper-specific.

Product Hunt for example is dedicated to helping people find and share new products (mostly tech and software). Inbound.org is focused on sharing knowledge, news, and advice about marketing and content.

While these sites are a relatively new concept, they’re powerful communities where you can connect with people and share knowledge on a specific topic. And hey, if one doesn’t exist for your industry, why not build one? Which leads me to…

Membership Sites

The ultimate social media site is the one that you own. This is possible with membership sites that people buy into or you offer for free. It’s a gated community forum where your users, customers, prospects, and/or fans can come together to share ideas and talk about the industry you are a leader in!

Remember how I said that search engines now tend to rank social media sites like Twitter and Facebook higher than your own site? Well, building a community on your site also builds traffic and engagement on your site. This is something Google LOVES.

Take Sean McCabe, founder of Learn Lettering and the seanwes.com empire for example. He built a community on his site around hand letterers, solopreneurs, and those wanting to learn how to live life more successfully. When you Google “learn lettering,”” his website comes up numero uno.

Rank Higher Than Social Media By Building a Membership Site

If you want to do this inexpensively for yourself and you don’t have the technical skills necessary, I’d suggest taking a look at the Rainmaker Platform.

You might also consider opening your site to the public so that the content your members are contributing help further improve your site’s SEO.

The important thing is that you own you engage your members, lead your audience, and guide them to be more knowledgable in your industry. This will solidify you as an expert (maybe even THE expert) on your subject and help you accomplish whatever goals you set out for yourself and whatever business you’re in.