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Creating a viable social media platform

Date posted:  8/14/14 09:15:00 AM Social media can help a business engage with clients.

As director of strategy at Carrot Creative, a full-service digital agency that creates, designs and builds campaigns for brands around the globe, RG Logan knows a thing or two about social media. He told Mashable the social media landscape continues to change, and the newest trend is "pay-to-play."‡ That means many companies are doling out cash to advertise their social media pages.

"It's quite difficult to break through if you're not putting money behind your efforts," Logan said.

He urged small businesses that are serious about social media marketing to create a budget solely for social media and brand building. While it may seem that social media is being used as a free tool, it takes time and hard work to build those channels into viable social media outlets.

But there is a silver lining for cash-strapped business owners. Logan said if you can't afford to budget for your social media, focus on providing quality over quantity.

"If you can't compete on a paid level, then you should focus on building the right audience on social - this means getting your most avid customers to become a part of your social media audience and providing value for them once they're there," he said. "If you take care of that core and show them that you care, they'll reciprocate by singing your praises to their own networks, thus increasing the opportunity to build your audience more organically."

Research the competition
Social Media Examiner recommends small businesses to research their competition‡ before starting up a page.

Doug Quint, owner of Big Gay Ice Cream in New York City, has more than 56,000 followers on Twitter. Quint told Mashable that small business owners should consider using - not copying - some of the elements that they like from other social media pages they frequent.

"I think the best advice for businesses that are trying to take things online and create a presence is first to watch - instead of jumping in - and look at pages that you like and make active observations about what's going on," Quint said. "Secondly, if you're not comfortable on one of these streams, don't sign up. I didn't go on Foursquare for three years because I couldn't make sense of it for me and how I wanted it to come across. So don't go places where you're not comfortable."

There are also a couple of tools that can help business owners see what's popular on a competitors network.

SEMRush indicates what keywords bring competitors the most traffic, allowing a business to use similar keywords in their own content. Meanwhile, Social Crawlytics creates an analysis of competition's content and reveals how often each post is shared across each of the social networks being used.

Give it away

One incredibly simple way to draw social media interaction is by providing followers with a chance to win a product or service. Asking followers to "like" or "retweet" a post regarding a sweepstakes or contest can generate major buzz.

"Everybody loves free stuff - that's been true since the dawn of time," Logan said.

Nike, for example, offers a free pair of shoes on its Twitter account for followers that retweet a post.

Now that doesn't mean a business owner has to give away an item worth $100 every week to create buzz, but they can offer smaller prizes, coupons or other incentives to get word out about their company.

"We've worked on enough of these [campaigns] to realize that the real strength in a sweeps is the scale of the audience you'll bring in," Logan said. "Sweepstakes and contests are a great way to generate leads and build your CRM database."