Just because you operate a smaller business does not mean that you can’t benefit from social media. Social media is rewarding for businesses of all types and sizes. Look at it as a way to build relationships, boost your reputation and reach more people.

However, there is that one thing that looms over the heads of many SMBs: the cost of social media. Social media isn’t cheap, especially for small businesses. It’s not like you can hire a dedicated social media specialist, either. So what do you do?

Luckily, you can take matters into your own hands and implement some of the best practices for social media. The first step is to create an account on Facebook or Twitter and start posting updates.

Unfortunately, simply broadcasting updates on these social networks is not enough to attract people and engage followers. Making the most of social media requires time, effort and understanding of the individual platforms and the audience you’re trying to reach.

If you can’t afford to hire a social media specialist, there are certain practices that you should be following. Let’s take a look at what they are and why they are important.

1. Use Data and Analytics

Guess who your two best friends are in social media? Not Facebook and Twitter. They are data and analytics.

Data and analytics help you gain insight from your followers and those who mention your brand on social media. Some of the data you should be collecting include who is posting about your business, how many followers this person has and who has made one-time purchases from you in the past and could use re-targeted ads.

The more you understand who you’re connecting with, the better you can personalize your messages and build stronger, more meaningful relationships.

2. Seek Quality Over Quantity

As much as people say to value quality over quantity, it’s a tough concept to appreciate. How are you supposed to feel when your Facebook page only has 500 likes while one of your competitors has over 5k?

We use information such as likes, shares, fans and followers to do a quick assessment of how popular something is. But I can’t stress enough how important it is to focus on building meaningful relationships rather than superficial ones. Those 500 likes mean way more than 5,000 likes if each fan is truly invested in your brand.

It’s also important to point out that it takes time to build relationships, so cut yourself some slack. It may take several interactions with a person for them to finally “like” your page.

In the end, social media can provide great ROI but it may not be immediate. And if you’re an SMB with limited resources, the time it takes to see the return may be even longer.

3. Use Location-Based Marketing

If you have a physical location, social media is an excellent way to reach nearby customers. You can provide them with targeted content that meets their needs rather than dishing out generalized content. Plus, you can offer incentives to customers who check in online. There are many benefits to location-based marketing, but perhaps the biggest is that you can make the most of your local customers without having to spend a lot of money.

4. Create a Content Calendar

It’s way too difficult to scramble each morning and figure out what to post. Instead, plan ahead by creating a content calendar for a month or two in advance. You can make adjustments based on what’s going on around you, but the calendar will help keep you organized in the meantime. Plus, a content calendar prevents you from doubling up on content and being repetitive.

5. Make the Most of What You Have

Take advantage of content that you have already created. This will make your life much easier, and it will allow you to do more with less. Share recent blog posts or give updates on new products in your store. Ask customers to share photos of themselves using your product, and post them to social media with their permission. There are plenty of ways to keep your customers engaged without having to come up with new content all of the time.

6. Serve Interactive Content

One of the best ways to engage your audience is by creating interactive experiences for them. Examples include quizzes, polls, live Q&As or competitions. Anything that gets your followers interacting with your business counts.

Remember, social media is for building relationships, so anything that gets your audience talking to you is beneficial. As long as you are treating your followers with respect, it’s okay to take some risks. Social media is still new, so there is plenty of room for originality.

7. Respond to Feedback Quickly

Although it would be nice if you could be on social media without hearing any criticisms, this probably won’t happen. When people have something to say, social media is one of the first places they turn to. It’s easy for people to speak their minds on social media because they don’t have to deal with the awkwardness of face-to-face interactions. But don’t let this deter you from being active on social networks.

To avoid having negative feedback damage your reputation, be ready to respond quickly to customer feedback – good, bad or neutral. People enjoy being recognized, and it doesn’t cost you anything to do this.

If you do see a negative comment, resolve the issue quickly. Don’t be embarrassed of the comment either. Look at it as an opportunity to show other customers (new and potential) that you care about their experience with your company, will respond quickly to criticism and will make changes as needed.

8. Personalize Your Interactions

Personalization is important in all of your interactions. When you post updates on Facebook or Twitter, personalize your content to appeal to your audience. This will help you connect with them and build stronger relationships.

Don’t underestimate the value in real relationships. While it’s nice to personalize your messaging, your customers should also know the face behind the business. This is especially important if you’re a local business and plan on dealing face-to-face with customers.

9. Turn Relationships into Sales

Social media is mainly for building relationships. Selling comes second. Still, you would be silly not to think how some of your fans on social media will become loyal customers of yours one day.

As you create stronger connections, you can turn social media activity into sales opportunities. A great example is personalizing special offers on social media to increase traffic and sales. It’s amazing what a discount or a free item can do to bring people into your store.

Social media is necessary for most businesses. It offers numerous benefits that will help your business evolve and reach new markets. If you don’t have a lot of resources, don’t let that stand in your way of developing a lucrative social media marketing strategy. By following the nine best practices from above, you can make the most of social media without having to deplete your resources.