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One of the biggest benefits of social media marketing is how easy it is to get started. Anyone can sign up for a Twitter account, or a Facebook account and start using them right away. It’s easy to put up a blog, and, of course, to engage in the conversation.

But the thing to remember is that the ease of use of social media tools does not directly correlate to how effective they will be for your business objectives. Stated another way, you need to think social media strategy first, and tools second.

Very often, people get overloaded with social media simply because they don’t have a strategy. Someone says they should be on Facebook- so they join. Someone says to get on Twitter, so they do. Someone else says to stay connected via LinkedIn- and they do. And it goes like this, on and on, because the number of sites you “should” be on will never stop increasing- and there are hundreds more social media sites coming online each day.

If you constantly jump from site to site, you risk wasting time and losing money.

Instead, start by considering your social media strategy. If you don’t have one yet, let me offer some suggestions and advice for building one:

1) Understand what business objectives you want to reach by engaging in social media. Business objectives might include outcomes such as increasing your network, becoming more visible, positioning yourself as the top expert in your field. Business objectives may also include outcomes such as growing your database, increasing blog visitors, and improving your online reputation. While several of these can be accomplished in parallel, for the most part, stick with one objective at a time. What is the one outcome right now that would move your business forward in the most significant way?

2) Acknowledge the time frame for your business objective. Social media is not a quick hit strategy and it can take a certain amount of focused effort to start seeing returns. If your time line for results is too short, you will feel like you’ve wasted time. If your time line is too long, you’ll feel frustrated, when it seems like results aren’t happening fast enough. For example, if you want to add 100 names to your database, you can probably accomplish this in 4-6 weeks. If you want to position yourself as the top authority in your niche, it will probably take a bit longer, especially if there is a reasonable amount of competition. Right-size your time line to the size of your business objective.

3) Focus on depth rather than breadth. While it can be tempting to be join 100 social media sites, you risk spreading yourself too thin, and diluting your resources. Better to select 2, 3, or 4 sites which you can commit to participating on regularly, than joining 100 sites you never have time to access. Repetition is an important element of building recognition and reputation. Focus deeply on a select group of sites, and participate as fully as possible.

4) Test your levels of participation to define how much is enough. There will be a sweet spot in terms of time put in and results obtained. This is true for any business process. Try participating very fully for two weeks, and see what your results are. Participate slightly less often in week three, and see if your results change. By focusing on measuring one specific business objective, you’ll have a good sense of how much effort you need to make on the social sites in order to reach your desired results.

5) Adopt new technology thoughtfully. There are multiple tools you can use to implement your social media strategy. Typically, you want to use the tools which are easiest, most cost-effective, and which provide the best results. Don’t adopt every new technology blindly, but then, on the other hand, don’t delay when a new technology can help you accomplish your business goals faster or easier.

Remember, the ease of use of social media tools does not correlate with their effectiveness in your business. Craft your strategy first, and then use tools to execute it. That’s the right order for business success.