No marketing strategy today is complete without social media outreach. It can be a revolutionarily powerful tool to help businesses generate exposure, build their brand, and communicate directly with customers. And any business with dealings on the web knows they must build their brand on these platforms or risk getting swept away into the dustbin of the outdated.

But while most businesses agree on the benefit of a strong social media strategy, they’re much less sure of how to go about building it. Not all networks are the same and every platform will offer something different. So here’s a look at some of the things to keep in mind as you start navigating the labyrinth of social media.

Pick the right platform

Some social media platforms will have more to offer a particular type of business than others. They each come with their own set of features and user base which means you have to think about how you utilise each one.

The top 7 platforms for marketers today comprise of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Instagram, Youtube, Google+, and Pinterest. Facebook leads the pack by a long shot with 93% of marketers on the platform, according to research by the Social Media Examiner. It’s undeniably the most versatile of the bunch, working well with both photo and video content while also fostering conversation between businesses and customers.

Meanwhile, LinkedIn could be a better fit for B2B companies. According to HubSpot, "people join LinkedIn to showcase their career, work expertise, and find content and information to make their professional lives better. So businesses who target other businesses will naturally find a higher concentration of their target market on LinkedIn."

Instagram is a perfect fit for brands that depend heavily on imagery. So clothing stores and coffee shops might find a lot more use in it than, say, an accounting firm. One particular strength of this platform is that customers can provide great content for you under a branded hashtag.

On the other hand, Instagram is not a great platform for handling detailed customer service issues. It’s better to point Instagram users to your Twitter or Facebook accounts to place their inquiries or to find product and service announcements.

Master your message

First things first, once you decide to dip your toes into social media, you need to lock down your username. This can get tricky with names already being taken in some cases and character limits in others (keep in mind Twitter maxes you out at 15 characters). If you’re faced with having to use a different username across platforms, at least try to keep the changes straightforward. You might have nabbed HelixRealtyInc in one place but you may end up having to go with HelixRealtyIncorporated in another.

Keep your brand consistent across platforms by using the same logos and imagery but don't dump the same content across all accounts. Each social media channel will have a different audience. Focus on the ones that suit your business the most and grow that user base with relevant content customised to the platform. Once you’ve mastered it, try extending to the next platform with everything you’ve learned about what works best.

Remember social media isn’t a magic bullet

It’s important to keep your goals for social media in perspective. People may sometimes look at social media - and to some extent technology in general - as a magical solution to all their business needs.

In reality, social media outreach is great for creating exposure and brand recognition but does less well at directly leading to sales. In fact, if you try to use your social media channels to serve up ads, you’ll risk turning people off and sounding disingenuous. Instead, think of it as a chance to show your personality to the customer in creative new ways. It does take more effort but your audience will appreciate it and will want to come back for even more great content.

About the author

Kelly Paik is a freelance writer covering science and technology. She hails from San Francisco where she spent some time in the trenches of Silicon Valley, from where she brings that inside perspective as she serves the latest on innovations and updates in the tech industry.