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Is your small business using social media effectively?

Small business owners often think that social media is reserved for bigger companies that have huge target audiences and lots of money to throw around, but that's not true. Social media is becoming a crucial platform for every type of business, whether it's a nationwide chain or a local operation. With so many people browsing the Internet from their computers and mobile devices, it's easier than ever to interact with companies and do their own product research before making a purchase. But simply making a profile on a platform like Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn isn't enough. To take complete advantage of the benefits social media has to offer to small businesses, you have to do your part.

But, according to a recent ProOpinion poll, many business professionals don't actually have someone handling important social media tasks on a regular basis. Only 31 percent of respondents reported posting frequently on social media, while just 15 percent ask readers and followers questions to get them to interact. Both of these actions can improve your reach and score loyal customers for your business, so if you're not participating on social media, you're missing out. Here are several ways you can improve your social media presence and get your small business out there.

"Limit your company's profiles to just 5 different platforms."

Pick the right platform
There are all kinds of social media platforms these days, but you don't have to worry about getting involved in all of them. However, it does pay to be particular about which ones you do use. Spend some time doing industry research to see what other companies in your field are using for social media, and consider which platforms your target customers use. For example, if you cater to business professionals, it's a good idea to make a profile on LinkedIn, while a company geared toward students may want to take advantage of Facebook. Forbes magazine recommended limiting your profiles to just five different platforms, since it's nearly impossible to keep track of more.

Focus on quality, not quantity
You want to get people to notice your business, but you don't want to post so often that your updates become annoying. Find a happy medium by focusing on quality over quantity at all times. Entrepreneur magazine pointed out that you'll need to post regularly to keep up consumer interest, but making sure your posts are engaging is what will keep customers coming back for more. Use your platforms to build relationships with your readers and followers instead of just to get their attention. Don't hesitate to put some personality into your posts and connect with your customer base on a deeper level.

Time it right
The times when you post on social media might seem trivial, but you'd be surprised how much more interaction you'll get at certain times over others. Forbes pointed out that for many businesses, Monday through Friday at around 10 a.m. and 4 p.m. are the best times to post, since this is right before people will likely be going on their lunch breaks or leaving work. Not all industries follow these timelines though, so consider your ideal customer and what his or her schedule would be like.

Analyze what others are doing right
In the ProOpinion poll, just 18 percent of business professionals reported observing and learning from big brands on social media. That's a problem, because figuring out what others are doing right can give you ideas about what you should post. If you've had a small social media presence in the past, take a look at your most successful posts that attracted the most follower interaction. Maybe it was a post that ended with a question or a link to an interesting article from another business. If you're brand new to social media, take a look at what some of your competitors are doing. See which posts have the most likes, retweets or comments and use that information to tailor your posts.

xPictures and videos can help you communicate with customers quickly and effectively.

Use images and videos
Photos and videos are becoming increasingly popular ways to communicate online, as they're easy and quick for followers to process. You don't want to go overboard, but using an infographic or quick video here and there can get your point across successfully. Just make sure that the material you use is easy to grasp and high quality. You can even link to other people's images and video content if you credit them properly.

Interact in real time
Your social media profiles won't help you much if you don't pay attention to what people are posting on them. Simply using auto-updates to post frequently isn't enough. If someone asks a question on one of your posts, he or she expects an answer, so give one. If a group of people raise a concern, address the issue out in the open. This way, customers will know that you're invested in them and appreciate their business.

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