Chances are your company already has some sort of presence on Facebook or Twitter.

So now that you’re there, the question is, why are you there?

“I think most companies have matured into the (social media) space in the sense that they are active, but I still think today many of them are wasting their time,” said Nathan Wright, founder of social media consultant Lava Row Inc. “They don’t have a defined strategy, they don’t have the right people in place to actually execute it, or they are doing it for all the wrong reasons. So I see a lot of participation, but a lot of messy participation.”

Complicating matters is a constantly changing social media landscape. Facebook and Twitter seem to regularly roll out new features, while sites such as Pinterest rapidly gain users. Things that were best practices two years ago may not be today.

Whether your company has a robust social media presence or is still figuring out what the “like” button means, here’s a quick, relevant guide to how a company should use social media for marketing.

1. Start with some themes

-There aren’t uniform rules on how to do things on social media. Sure, that would make it easier, but the reality is that your strategy 
depends on your company, your goals, your industry and perhaps most important, your customers. 

-The thinking behind social media marketing has evolved, experts say. Having a robust social media presence isn’t enough. Your social media marketing plan needs to be part of your overall marketing plan. Soto says he used to help clients drive traffic to their websites, but companies often would fail to convert those website visits to sales. He evolved his company to help customers with their entire digital strategy. Similarly, Templeton’s role at Kum & Go has transitioned from social media manager to digital marketing manager. “We are further connecting the dots between what’s happening (on social media) and what the broader strategy might be,” Templeton said.

-Although this guide focuses on marketing, many companies, including Kum & Go, use social media for customer service as well, maybe even giving that the same importance as their marketing strategy. Sometimes those areas overlap, so whether you have the same person handling both or you split duties, it’s important to keep that part of the equation in mind.

2. What kind of content should you be posting?

-The content you post should be aligned with business goals, said Wright. That doesn’t mean direct selling as much as it means incorporating creative and relevant content into efforts to achieve an overarching company goal. For example, one of the Hy-Vee Inc. stores that Lava Row works with ran a campaign around graduation time highlighting employees who were 18 and getting ready to go 
off to college. 

“And at the very end, it’s like, ‘By the way, if you need graduation ideas for your high school senior, come in on Saturday to our showroom and we have all these ideas,’” Wright said. “So they humanized the brand a little bit ... and it connected back to an overarching goal that aligns with that.” 

-Melton recommends an 80/20 rule on Facebook – 80 percent of posts should be quality content designed to engage readers, and 20 percent should be direct sales messages. The more your Facebook audience likes, comments on or shares your posts, the more your future posts will show up in their news feeds. Then you can “sprinkle in” your sales message.

-There are no hard and fast rules, said Owyang. Your posts should depend on what your customers want. How do you find that out? Ask them, he said, and analyze their behavior by paying attention to what posts they interact with.

3. What is the goal?

-Setting your business goals is the first step for anyone when writing a plan, according to Owyang. 

“Whatever the goal is, the strategy and tactics to achieve that will vary,” he said. “So make sure you start with clear business goals.”

-Think about what your goals are as a company first and foremost, and tailor your social media plan to help you achieve those, Wright said. Social media doesn’t have to have its own goals; it could have its own benchmarks, but it should supplement what the company is already trying to achieve.

-Goals can, and often should, include making direct sales, but it’s also important to recognize the power of branding your business by using social media, said Melton. You may not see direct sales right away from that, but over time, brand awareness leads to sales. Moth Media starts its clients off with a 10- to 12-page online strategy report. 

“What’s the point? Why do we want to be on here? The point is always going to be, how are we helping the customer?” Melton said. “Well, you are providing them with the information they need.”

-The “blessing and the curse” is that there are so many different ways you can measure success, Templeton said. He recommends picking a couple of key measurements to focus on – measurements that should align with your business goals. One of Kum & Go’s primary goals on social media is to raise brand awareness. To measure that, the company looks at how many people are specifically talking about the company online or seeing messages that the company puts out, and then benchmarking and tracking that data over time. 

4. How often should you post, and when?

-Most experts say there is no exact science when it comes to frequency or timing of posts. You can generally get away with more posts on Twitter, which has a shorter shelf life, and fewer posts on Facebook. As to when you should post, experts say to look at your analytics and see where you get the most interaction.

-Consistency is important. However often you decide to post, be consistent with it. Wright recommends creating a content calendar shaped around different marketing initiatives that the company knows will happen throughout the year. That also helps prevent writer’s block.

-Soto has a rule of thumb on frequency. He recommends one to two Facebook posts per day, which keeps your brand in front of clients’ eyeballs and helps work the Facebook algorithm in your favor. On Twitter, he recommends posting, at minimum, three to six times per day, and says that it’s OK to retweet more than that. Templeton at Kum & Go takes the approach of posting daily on Facebook and tweeting seven to 10 times a day, either posting original content or retweeting or replying to things that customers post. 

5. What platforms should you be on?

-3 general rules on platforms:

1.  Look at where your audience is. That’s where you want to be.
2.  It’s better to focus your efforts on two or three platforms than try to have a presence you can’t maintain on all platforms.
3.  A good way to measure how effective you are on a given platform: Run a promotion only on that platform and see what kind of return you get on it.

-What you should know about each platform:

Facebook: Facebook is an easy “go-to” platform, Wright said. It is the most mainstream and social of all the platforms. For some companies, though, it doesn’t make sense. (Melton uses the example of a company she used to work for that restored sewers and manholes.) But if your company is a business-to-consumer company, it should be on Facebook, experts say.

Twitter: Twitter is a good way for companies to provide in-the-moment communications. It’s also good to use for deals and promotions, if that’s something your audience responds to, said Wright. Melton adds, “If you are taking the time to be on Facebook, yes, go ahead and add Twitter.” If you have a Generation X audience (ages 30 up to about 50) or younger, you should be on Twitter, Soto said.

LinkedIn: Make sure your business page is cleaned up and up-to-date, Wright said. Your company should have  a stan-dardized version of the company page that employees are linking to on their own profiles. 

Pinterest: The platform is effective primarily if your business lends itself to being displayed visually, and if your business can be an effective curator of other content to lead conversations as a brand.

Google Plus: Although the platform has a lot of users, it hasn’t gained much business traction, Wright said. But being active on the site can help your search engine ranking. Soto is of the belief that Google Plus has turned into the next big thing in social media, and businesses are missing the boat. And even though there isn’t a lot of business interaction, there is interaction among people who are representing businesses. But when weighing the time you have to be on social media, “I would say you don’t need to have it,” Melton said.

Instagram: If your demographic is teenagers or college students, your business should consider Instagram, Melton said. Wright warns that your Instagram content should be different than what you share on Facebook or Twitter. Of note, Instagram just added the ability to post 15-second videos. 

Vine: Vine, a product of Twitter, has generated buzz lately. It allows users to post videos that are six seconds or less in length. Social media marketers seem to be keeping an eye on it. Templeton pointed out a campaign done by Lowe’s Cos. Inc. where the company posted short “how-to” home improvement videos.