Most of us check our personal social media accounts on a daily basis. The latest Ofcom report on media use found that in 2017, 76% of internet users have a social media profile. We don’t always see this level of usage among the small business community.

Some small businesses have made a conscious decision to steer clear of it, while other founders aren’t necessarily aware of how social media can benefit their business. But when used in the right way, it can provide huge value, enabling you to scale at pace and compete on a global stage. 71% of consumers are more likely to recommend a brand to others if they have a positive experience with it on social media.

What was once only available to large corporations with big budgets, can now easily adopted by small businesses through social media. You can differentiate your brand from your competitors, build the right reputation and successfully market what it is you are selling – and all at a fairly affordable price.

Effective social media accounts can also create trust with customers and attract new prospects. Here’s how you should work out what’s right for your business:

Do your research

Before you do anything, investigate which channel is right for your business. Research the benefits of Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Google+ and Instagram and survey your clients to find out what networks they use. Take a look at competitors and how others in your field are using social media. Consider networks like LinkedIn and Facebook, for instance, to target audiences with specific interests.

Be strategic

Once you know which social media channel you are going to use, get a really strong strategy in place. It’s no good having a profile if you aren’t going to post or engage with anyone on it.

No two social channels are the same, so you’ll need to work up a strategy for each one. It might be that you just start with one, so you don’t overwhelm yourself.

Develop a content calendar with clear goals mapped out against the plan. Incorporate a call to action within the plan. Think about what it is you want your followers to do/get from the content you share? An obvious one is to purchase what it is your selling, but you also want to increase your following and improve brand engagement.

Don’t bite off more than you can chew

Running social media accounts takes time and a neglected account will reflect badly on your business. Only open new accounts if they can be handled as part of the overall business strategy. And don’t underestimate the time involved in managing more than one social media account.

Keep it real

Ensure your content is varied and most importantly, human. You need to be original and say something insightful and fresh to attract followers. Point to a news story about your business or link to information that’s relevant and useful to your customers. While sharing useful content like this is beneficial, try not to share too much personal or trivial content – save that for your personal accounts.

At all times you should be thinking whether your post gives your customers information that they will value without it looking like all you want to do is make money by them buying what you are selling. It’s a careful balance.

Get out there

Make sure any social media accounts you run are integrated into all your business communications. Add them to business cards, put live links on all email signatures and feature them on your website as live links. It sounds obvious, but if you don’t tell people about your accounts, they won’t follow you.

Think carefully about your brand, the service you provide and the way you interact with your clients. Your social media presence should be an extension of that. With a little practice, it will become an integral part of your business – and you’ll wonder how you managed without it.

Words by Donna Torres, director of SMB at Xero