Just a decade ago, few people could have imagined just how powerful social media would become. Now so big, it has transcended the digital world of social interaction to become a powerful tool for change. For the first time, millions of people can consume news, information and marketing materials direct from the source — without the need for third-parties such as private TV news broadcasters and newspapers.

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A global audience for your products or services

There are more than two billion active users on Facebook. Twitter boasts and average of around 330 million active monthly users, while Instagram has 800 million. It doesn’t matter what you’re selling, you simply can’t afford to ignore these huge audiences.

Imagine you’re selling unique cupcakes in your hometown. Before the age of social media, your business would probably be limited to the immediate area. The chances of making your business an international concern would have been remote to say the least.

But all of the major social media platforms are free to use. Instead of selling your cupcakes in your local neighborhood, you can now sell them in the world’s biggest international markets. With no initial outlay and minimal effort on your part, you can sell your baked goods to people living thousands of miles away.

Engage with potential customers

Modern consumers have more options than ever when it comes to spending their cash. The hard-sell techniques that used to deliver results 30 years ago no longer apply. To earn the trust, loyalty and business of potential customers, you need to be a thought leader — an organization that people turn to for advice and reliable information.

One of the great things about social media is the way it connects businesses and consumers like never before. A business can now answer questions in a direct and personal way. This develops the bond of trust that often results in a sale — and long-term loyalty.

The ability to converse with individuals also gives you some crucial data that is essential to the future of your business.

Let’s imagine you run a mobile app business. Your apps are aimed at helping businesses run their daily operations efficiently, so they need to adapt to the ever-changing conditions of global markets.

In order to give your customers what they need, you need their feedback — whether it’s derogatory or positive in nature. Social media platforms allow you to engage with your customers on specific issues.

Publish a tweet asking for feedback about a particular aspect of an app. Or create a Facebook survey about the efficacy of a newly-published app. You’ll get honest and constructive feedback — which you can use to improve your current products and develop new and more effective apps for the future.

Develop a killer brand

Unless you’re selling a patented or copyrighted product, your customers can probably go to hundreds of your competitors for more or less the same thing. In many cases, building loyalty and repeat custom comes down to building a brand — and social media is perfect for the job.

Create your social media homepages using the colors associated with your brand logo and marketing materials. Choose the right messages to send at the right time, and deliver them using language and sentence structures that are in keeping with your brand identity.

A consistent message that upholds the principles of your business’ mission can give your organization its own personality. Your target audience should eventually associate your brand with your industry, or with the products you sell. And in modern business, this level of visibility is priceless.

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Build trust

The Internet has changed lives and made it easy for small businesses to compete with their larger rivals. But one of the downsides has been the ease at which unscrupulous and fraudulent organizations can dupe consumers into parting with their cash for substandard or non-existent products.

But social media gives honest, reliable businesses the opportunity to demonstrate their trustworthiness. By posting content with real value — that helps consumers to make purchasing decisions — your organization can become a real thought leader within your industry. You can develop a level of credibility that a simple website can’t achieve in isolation.

By being active, interacting with people and developing trust, it’s possible to gain the kind of competitive edge that is needed for growth.

Social media options that suit your business

Depending on your brand, what you sell and the nature of your industry, you can choose a social media platform that is best suited to delivering results.

Each of the major platforms available today offer their own range of features and benefits — and knowing which of the is right for your business is the key to making social media work.

For example, if you’re selling something to an audience of young, socially active consumers, Facebook is perfect. If your business deals in B2B sales, something like LinkedIn might be more appropriate.

Although people don’t think of YouTube as a social media platform, it has all the hallmarks of one. People can share, rate, comment and create, and they can create their own communities — with friends or people who share similar interests.

If you’re selling complex, niche products that require a degree of demonstration and explanation, YouTube could be the way to go. If you’re selling something photogenic that requires a visual impact, Instagram is a great marketing tool. Perhaps you’re a confectionery producer who wants to showcase a range of sweet treats. Or maybe you’re a jewelry designer who wants to sell using evocative imagery. Instagram is all about visual stimulation — which is one of the most powerful marketing tools of all.

Whether you choose twitter or Pinterest to reach out to your consumers (or both), you get to control how and where your messages are delivered. Experiment with all of the main platforms, and monitor the results to discover which of them deliver results for your business.

It’s easier than you might think

You don’t need to be a professional marketer, programmer or designer to create sleek and impactful social media content. The basic tools are easy to use, and can be mastered in a matter of hours.

And when it comes to the more technical stuff, help is at hand from Cloud-based services such as Xara. For example, you can use a simple interface to create professional presentations for Facebook or YouTube.

To grab the attention of social media users, Xara helps you to create eye-catching graphics in a matter of minutes. So rather than spending a small fortune on hiring a digital design team, you can create something at your own work desk.

Social media represents the cheapest, largest and most impactful marketing channel the world of business has ever seen. Utilize it in the right way, and the potential for growing your business is limited only by your imagination.

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