By Jason Sullock, New Customer Marketing Manager, Sage

It's a shocking statistic; 80% of businesses see the value in social media, but only 3% have a strategy.
But it shouldn't be shocking. Let's face it; where do you start?

Actually 'using' social media is fairly easy, but what do you say? How much do you write? How many Tweets do you make per day? What does a good blog look like? How many Followers should you have? How can you get your message to go viral?And so on and so on.

It really is a bit daunting, and that's coming from a seasoned marketer.

Using social media tools, is like being given a big box of Lego on Christmas Day, and finding there are no instructions for making anything, that's up to you. So left to your own devices and no instructions, you could get a mutant Donkey with six legs, missile launchers, and Bat wings (Stop saying 'cool'... I heard that).

No one knows the rules. Even 'experts' have only been experts for at most a year or two. They've learnt what to do and what not to do by trial and error. Before that, the experts were just 'us'. But with a little bit of knowledge, some planning, and a few pieces of tried and tested advice, you'll stand a much better chance of success when you're introducing social media into your business marketing.

Here are my top tips for making sure you don't end up with a mutant:

Understand your audience

The top reasons for being on social media are, according to a recent Business to Business (B2B) Marketing Seminar 1) to find solutions to problems, 2) to engage with fellow business people, and 3) to stay up to date with the latest industry thoughts and technology, so it would seem sense to try to help your audience achieve these aims.

Look and listen before you leap

If you plan your social media engagement in simple stages 1) listen, 2) connect, 3) engage, then you'll stand a much better chance of understanding your audience. This will allow you to "decide what type of house you want to build before you decide what tools to use."

Go where your audience is...sometimes

Introducing social media to your marketing doesn't necessarily mean creating your own blog site, Twitter feed, Facebook page, etc. It is fairly well understood now that you need to live in the space your customer lives in if you want their business. This might mean joining in your customer's forums rather than building your own.

A one-to-one conversation

You don't necessarily need thousands of followers to 'break into' social media. It's about the quality of your network, and what you are trying to do with it - not the size of your following. Social media is for promoting a deeper dialogue with your audience, and if you give them the opportunity to voice their views, a growing proportion of them will do so. You can't necessarily do that if you are trying to keep track of thousands.

Embed social media into your existing marketing

Social media should ideally be integrated with your existing sales tools, business cards, letterheads, direct mail, email footers, etc. This is because there is a very real cumulative effect from combining multiple messages.

Have you thought about social media being a real time audience insight for your sales team? Did you realise that social media combined with TV adverts can boost responses by a factor of five if done well? Did you know that customers are increasingly using social media links combined with the web to research a product or service prior to calling in? Have you considered how social media can be linked to your PR strategy?

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