By Will Rees, Co-Founder and Director, Direct Online Services Ltd

Would you like to attract more customers? And would you like to obtain leads at a fraction of the price of standard Pay-Per-Click or traditional marketing? If so, social media marketing may be for you. Personally, since we started taking social media seriously at the start of 2014, we achieved a 1200% increase in website visits from Social channels compared to the year before. We've had great success in capturing new customers whilst maintaining and improving relationships with existing customers through methods such as content sharing (site and industry related), competitions and giveaways. Read on to discover how best to incorporate a social media presence into your marketing strategy:

What are your options?

Have a look online, both at your competitors and brands that you aspire to. Consider the best channels (yes, plural) for your purposes. Facebook is clearly the obvious choice, but don’t expect too much of a return unless you’re willing to ‘boost’ your posts by spending a small amount. If your products tend to be of a more visual nature then think about Youtube or Instagram, the latter typically has a better e-commerce conversion rate than other social channels and therefore the returns can be seen quicker. If you’re a B2B company or service provider, then perhaps LinkedIn is your priority?

When deciding on which social channels to use, bear in mind that the average number of accounts per user is currently three, but increasing. For maximum impact, aim to be present on at least three social channels (although you don’t have to start all of them at once!).

Devise a strategy

Now that you’ve decided which social channels to use, you will need to devise a strategy to make best use of your time. First, figure out your aim. For most companies, social media is successfully used to acquire new customers and empower followers to become brand aficionados.

Do remember that that social media is for life, and that you should develop habits to post on each platform routinely. Set up a schedule at the start of the week or month, and use a tool such as Buffer or Hootsuite to schedule posts in advance across different platforms, to save you being glued to your laptop at 10pm, or even worse, forgetting to post. Both offer free trials so there is no barrier to entry.

Although at first this may seem like a lot of effort, once you get into a routine it will become second nature. With the ever increasing costs of online marketing in general, due to competition from existing and new customers, any form of ‘free’ marketing that reaches your target audience, can only be beneficial. Having said that, don’t rule out paid advertising on social platforms. Exact demographic and interest targeting can be achieved with ease via social media, and from our experience the cost per interaction is less than a tenth of traditional online interactions via major search engines.

What about content?

The next step is to create and share content that is interesting and relevant to your target audience. That could include blog posts or business updates, comment on topical issues or links to articles or images. Social media content doesn’t always need to just be about your brand, but it must always be pertinent - supporting and reinforcing your overall strategy. Remember to include some image posts too — these tend to be shared and interacted more frequently.

Also remember that the value of social media is that it allows two way interaction so make sure that you are following and responding to likeminded individuals or businesses as well as responding to any comments or questions on your own feeds.

Monitor the results

Now that your strategy is underway, how do you know if it’s working? Hopefully you will be seeing an increase in traffic and phone calls, but if you are advertising across multiple channels how do you attribute growth? There are a few options:

Firstly install a (free) website monitoring tool such as Google Analytics. This will enable you to report on traffic sources over defined periods. We’ve seen social traffic increase dramatically over the past few years across our portfolio of sites, and now receive up to 10% of our traffic as direct referrals from this medium.

Next be sure to set up a defined area for feedback notification, for example set up automatic mail forward from all accounts to a specific location or folder and put aside some time every few hours to batch process these and respond where necessary. The benefits of this approach are two-fold — you don’t miss anything and you also avoid getting distracted.

There’s no doubt that social media is a key part of the modern marketing toolkit — and with 74 per cent of online adults using networking sites it’s a channel most businesses should ignore at their peril. But it’s certainly not an easy option, it takes planning and commitment to really add value to the marketing mix. There is never a better time to get your business socially online.