With 1.06 billion monthly active users on Facebook alone, according to a recent company press release, social media represents ripe pickings for business. However, getting in front of those users involves a different method for each social media channel. Facebook users tend to stay on Facebook and only venture out to follow links sent by friends on their network. So one of the best strategies when approaching this audience is to create a Facebook page for your business.

Facebook pages

A Facebook page has the same features as a standard user page: a timeline, room to post short messages and pictures, and it's free. But just like the best Facebook user pages, the ones likely to attract the most ‘Likes’ are ones that are vibrant and which update regularly. Many businesses make the mistake of just creating a Facebook page and then leaving it, regarding the page as little more than a static advertising opportunity. Unfortunately many users don't realise that this may be the business’s intention. So when users access the page as an alternative route to customer support, and post messages requesting help and information, such questions remain unanswered. Any new customer coming to the page will presume the company doesn’t care about them.

If the time and attention required to create a successful Facebook page sounds like a lot of work, then there's always the advertising alternative. Unlike print advertising or net advertising, Facebook advertising allows you to target adverts to specific types of user. It allows you to target specific geographic areas, or certain demographics, such as, say, women aged 20-25.

Twitter

Twitter has a radically different audience to Facebook. Unlike Facebook, where everyone contributes comments, the majority of the 500+ million users on Twitter prefer to stand on the sidelines and watch. Twitter also limits your ability to promote your business by restricting the number of characters available to just 140, and the sheer number and frequency of Tweets on a Twitter feed means your message has just a small window of opportunity.

To be successful, a tweet pitching for new work needs to aim at the right audience and needs to be retweeted as often as possible. You have three choices when it comes to writing a successful tweet: make it useful, make it engaging, or combine the two.

"Be helpful, be useful, but don't offer comments that are blatant adverts, and avoid a signature that looks like a logo. Posting on forums is all about creating a relationship. It's no different from a pleasant conversation at a party where the hard sell is off-putting."

It's unlikely that just tweeting about your product or service from your business’s Twitter account is going to grab anyone’s attention. You have to take the message to the market. Go out and look for your customers. The secret is to find people who want to buy from you but just don't know it yet. Use Twitter's search to look for people tweeting around your product or service. Once you've found your market then follow them and observe. If you think it's appropriate, then tweet them. Don't be aggressive in your approach, or overly familiar, and if they don't reply, then back off. Lastly, make sure you can deliver what you say. There's no point tweeting someone in India if your service isn't available there.

If you have a budget then consider advertising. A promoted tweet gets over the problem of your tweet getting lost by keeping it at the top of a user’s Twitter stream. And just like Facebook advertising, you can do some slicing and dicing of who sees the advert, although the opportunities to do so are much reduced since Twitter knows less about their users than Facebook.

Forums

Once they've ticked off Facebook and Twitter, many businesses believe they're got social media covered. However, while these sites are undoubtedly huge there are plenty of other social media destinations that warrant investigation. Specialist forums such as MoneySavingExpert, Mumsnet, and AVForums have large audiences and are open to direct banner-type advertising. But a limited budget shouldn’t stop you using the forums themselves to advertise your business. Although, just like using Twitter, you need to be prepared to put some effort into getting your name known.

The first rule is to get to know the forum and to understand the active users, and the easiest way to do that is to just log-on and observe. Then you can join in discussions. Be helpful, be useful, but don't offer comments that are blatant adverts and avoid a signature that looks like a logo. Posting on forums is all about creating a relationship. It's no different from a pleasant conversation at a party where the hard sell is off-putting.

While this outreach work seems complicated and time-consuming, your company website's reputation will benefit both now and in the future. Social media sites all have much better page rankings than your website could ever achieve. By mentioning your name and by getting your name mentioned, you will be adding to your standing on the search engines, getting your products and services higher up on Google’s list of search results.