By Kristin Hersant, VP of Corporate Marketing, StrongMail

What was once considered a trend has developed into something far too powerful to be ignored; social media has fundamentally altered the way in which we communicate as marketers.

If your campaign isn’t successful it could result in confusion, turning off your customers and a lot of negative publicity. But by spending a little extra time planning your online marketing strategy you will soon be reaping the benefits.

Keeping that in mind, here are nine common social media marketing best practices that help companies and customers alike.

1. Ask yourself, “What do I want to achieve?” This doesn’t need to be profit orientated — brands are still struggling with how to best quantify social media marketing in ROI terms. Improved SEO, prospect list growth, and improved relationships with current customers are all reasonable social media marketing goals, and can be measured.

2. Consistency is vital. Being persistent in engaging with your communities is key. Too many brands don’t think about the messages they are sending out, and instead end up shelling messages out to everyone in hope that whoever is interested will come to them. However, quite the opposite happens — you will be regarded as a spammer. Determine your tone and be aware of what should and shouldn’t be emphasised online. Also be sure to have a quality check for tone and messaging before you publish anything.

3. Keep it short & sweet. The more personable you can be the better, but make sure your message is meaningful. Many consumers resent the fact that their social network has been hijacked by brands trying to sell to them. Too many brands view social media as a content distribution channel for existing marketing programmes. Obvious advertising messages and sales solicitations are outright taboo in most social communities — it will only result in people blocking you.

4. Get to know your customers. A little research goes a long way. Only deploy accounts on relevant platforms; don’t create a Twitter account if your audience doesn’t use it. Search for topics that relate to your business on LinkedIn and Facebook. Or search for your business on Yelp or Insider Pages and other such resources to see what people are saying about your company. Your customers will likely be willing to share their social behaviours; so don’t forget to ask them.

5. Make it simple for others to find information. Well, that is the whole point marketing, isn’t it? Include links back to your site in social media communications, and remember it’s all about balance and the goal is to participate in conversations don’t just self promote.

6. Be relevant and share. The fact that people can find and share information that they value is the backbone to the success of social media. Link to your company’s assets but don’t forget to show that you’re engaged in a wider conversation by sharing blogs, news stories and other relevant information that would be interesting. Don’t forget to link to sources, there is great potential for the spread of misinformation in social media, so back up your statements as often as possible.

7. No one likes talking to a brick wall. Don’t expect your campaign to be successful unless you’re prepared to spend some time on it. The “social” part of social media is its greatest potential, and surprisingly its most unexplored. Most people these days rightly expect that you will talk and interact with them. If not, you’ll be perceived as, well, unsocial.

8. Get actively involved. There’s no such thing as too much or too little communication, but you won’t get anywhere if information is only flowing one way. It depends on the setting, the industry, and others involved in the conversation, but be prepared to contribute daily, even if that just means responding to comments or adding to a conversation.

9. Don’t be a quitter. Revert back to rule number one. If you’re not getting the results you want, try new ways to connect with your audience. The web makes it simple to reinvent your message and try fresh strategies.