By James Caan, Business Entrepreneur

The social media explosion is a hot topic, but even some of the larger and most sophisticated companies haven’t been able to master it yet.

No matter what size the company is, social media has to be approached carefully. So where does a smaller company stand – and have you got the time to sort out a strategy when you’re already busy trying to compete and survive?

Of course you can put a strategy together but you need to be aware that social media tools are evolving and changing all the time. So my advice is not to get hung up on the technical aspects of Twitter and Facebook. This can come later and you can always find some expert help to guide you. Try to sort out the more general issues first.

You need to think about your brand identity. Your company is perceived through a brand and that may not be the same as what you do. You may be an engineering firm or a bakery, but your brand will determine how you’re perceived by the customers and suppliers.

It’s important because that way you can use your social media strategy to reinforce your company brand and what it stands for. In other words all your messages and adverts, conveyed through Twitter, Facebook or blogs need to communicate the brand correctly and consistently.

In line with thinking about your brand strategy, think about your audience and the people you specifically want to target, because if you haven’t thought about who you want to talk to then you’re definitely not thinking about what you want to say.

For example, are you trying to reach new customers or are trying to reach out to potential employees who you want to attract to your company as a great place to work?

Your social media strategy works best when you target a specific audience or sector. Try talking to everyone and you’ll end up talking to no-one. If you want to target more than one group then you need separate strategies for each of them.

You can then post interesting messages about your company through your social media tools to generate an online following and reach new and existing clients, this would hopefully increase sales.

If this all seems a little bewildering, think of what you are doing in a good old- fashioned PR campaign. Instead of sending out hard copy press releases or statements to magazines and newspapers you’re simply sending out lots of shorter messages to people personally in an informal and social way to their phones and PCs.

Think about your audience in more detail, they might be potential customers or existing customers but what’s their age group, what do they read and think and do? What sort of messages, ideas, proposals, and communications would they be most likely to engage with?

You need to bear in mind that social media is not primarily a business tool, it’s a social tool that businesses are warming up to. And, as with all things social, you can’t preach to people. Even though you’re calling it a social media strategy, you’re actually talking to people on their “terms” and their time. It’s a different way of thinking and communicating if you’re a business, especially a traditionally minded one.

If you are wondering whether or not you are spending your time and resources wisely, there are plenty of tools to analyse results. But to keep things simple, the whole social media marketing sector is just like any business objective and when it comes to measuring just keep in mind what you were setting out to achieve in the first place.