So it’s almost time to launch your new business. You may think you’re ready but in a marketing sense, are you fully prepared? If you haven’t taken full advantage of the power of social media beforehand, the answer is probably not. In today’s marketing climate, an increasingly large number of marketers are realizing the importance of incorporating social media into their mix. Studies have shown that social sites such as Facebook and Twitter are very powerful tools for not only generating leads but also acquiring new customers. But, if you wait until your business is already launched, you’re wasting a lot of valuable time. The best time to lay the groundwork of your social marketing strategy is in the preparation stage—before your business is completely off the ground. How do you do this? Here are some tips to help get your business off to a great start:

Decide which sites to target most heavily

Social networking is a multi-layered beast. You can, and probably should, set up accounts on many or even most of the large number of social sites out there. But depending on your business, some will be more valuable to you than others. For example, if performance art is your business, you might find YouTube more useful than LinkedIn. But in order to know this, it’s important that you learn what sites are out there and what they can do for you. Some examples: Facebook is great for socializing; Twitter is sort of a real-time micro-blogging site; Pinterest is an online bulletin board for images; YouTube is great for creating and sharing videos; LinkedIn is a business-oriented social network; Technorati is a blogging directory slanted towards technology. And these only a few—there are many more and the number is growing all the time.

Manage your social networking

Setting up accounts on a dozen social networks is the easy part. The harder part is using your accounts wisely. Lack of time will be your biggest enemy. So you will need to visit each site on a regular basis. But an even smarter approach is to use one of the many free tools available (e.g., TweetDeck or HootSuite) that let you view and manage several accounts at once, all appearing on one screen side by side, without needing to log in to each account separately. They also let you set up a scheduling system for posting content on different sites at pre-determined future dates and times.

Build relationships

Keep in mind that promoting your business on social media is not a one-way street. The whole concept of social networking is rooted in interaction between people. So in addition to generating one post after another about you and your business, you will need to read and react to other people’s posts at least as often. The greatest benefit to your business will come from the two-way connections that you forge with others and the strength of the relationships that you build. So if you happen to come across a news story or an item of interest from an outside source, share it—and don’t be afraid to start a conversation about it. And when you post, give your followers a glimpse of the personal side of you—not just the business side. People like doing business with people they know and trust. And don’t be shy about asking their opinions!

Add some spice with multimedia

Words are great but most of the time they don’t have anywhere near the impact of visual images. And fortunately, today’s technology gives you lots of tools that make it easy for you to go way beyond text and make your content dazzling. Pictures of your business? A look behind the scenes? Even better, how about some videos? Or online tutorials showing people how to use your products? The possibilities are only limited by your imagination. But the tools are definitely available and waiting for you to use them.

Leverage your website

If you don’t already have a website for your business, get one started right away! And if you do already have one, then use it in effective harmony with your social media accounts. Add social media “follow” buttons to your site so your website visitors will know where to find you in the social media jungle. And after you do that, expand your reach by adding “share” buttons which will enable your visitors to easily share your content with their own social media connections. Make the connection the other way too. Provide links to your website on your social accounts. And make these links available in what you make available for others to post on their accounts as well.

Social media is a great tool for promoting your business. But you don’t need to wait until your business is fully active to start using it! In fact, smart business people plan ahead. They develop their social media strategy first so that it is already in place when the business is launched. As a smart business person yourself, you can use social media to help make that launch a big success.

Christopher Wallace is Vice President of Sales and Marketing for Amsterdam Printing, a leading provider of personalized
pens
, promotional pens, and other personalized items such as imprinted apparel and mugs and customized calendars.