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You don’t need to master every platform in order to excel at social media. Here’s an essential guide to what you really need to know in order to gain a successful following for your small business, your career or in your community.

Essential symbols, sayings and social media savoir faire

Are you less than savvy in social media? Don’t fret. With so many new applications for social media, it’s hard to be an expert unless you’re online 24/7. But who has the time?

The good news is, if you’re looking to use social media to advance your career, small business or a community cause, you don’t need to master every single platform. Some popular applications may not serve a function in your life. And that’s fine.

To help you figure out what you really need to know, here’s a basic guide to the fundamentals of using social media to make an impact.

“It’s called ‘social’ media for a reason. If you want to be successful, you’ve got to offer up your human side.”

 

BEST PRACTICES ACROSS ALL SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS

“It’s called ‘social’ media for a reason,” offers Andrew Macarthy, who wrote the bestselling tome 500 Social Media Marketing Tips. “If you want to be successful, you’ve got to offer up your human side and spend time helping others with your knowledge and expertise.”

"Don’t spread yourself too thin,” says Macarthy. “Pick one stream and stick with it. It’s better to have one solid engagement than to be spread out across 20 different platforms.”

Post consistently. Depending on the platform, active users will post anywhere from one to eight posts per day. For blogs, two a week may be sufficient, but for Twitter it could be 12 per day.

Add a link to your social profiles in your email signature. “Think about how many emails you send per day,” suggests Macarthy. “Each email will encourage people to engage.”

 

SMALL BUSINESS ESSENTIALS

Best platforms: The most popular platform for promoting a small business is a Facebook page, says Macarthy. “But it really depends on where your customers spend the most time,” he says. Doing a survey where you find out which platform your customers use most will help you decide where to focus efforts.

Twitter’s microblogging site is also key for any business with customer service because you can immediately respond to anyone who’s complaining. Some companies like picture-friendly Instagram and also FourSquare, where users check in when they visit your location for promotions and prizes.

Business tips 101

The hard sell does not work: “Social media is not a place to talk about how great your business is,” offers Sarah Milstein, co-other of the The Twitter Book. On Twitter, for example, you want to build relationships by sharing interesting information and talking to people as people, rather than talking down to them.

Rely on a dashboard tool: Hootsuite or Tweetdeck are applications that allow you to schedule posts to your social media sites so that you don’t have to remember to do it yourself all day.

Use the rule of thirds: Share your own content a third of the time, post related material from an outside source a third of the time and interact with your customers on a one-to-one basis a third of the time, suggests Macarthy.

Try paid promotion. Many social media sites offer paid promotion where you spend anywhere from $7 and up to promote your message so that it reaches more people.

 

CAREER-BUILDING ESSENTIALS

Best platforms: The best site for your professional career is LinkedIn. You absolutely need a profile, say Macarthy, but blogging on Wordpress or Blogger, or using Slideshare and Google+ to promote yourself are good backups.

Social media career tips 101

Get Linked: “Create your LinkedIn profile using short paragraphs or bullet-pointed lists, where you describe yourself in terms of what you accomplished or how you helped a business grow."

Grab a Vanity URL: Rather than use the random URL that LinkedIn assigns, Macarthy suggests going to the "public profile" section to create your LinkedIn URL of choice. “This will make directing potential clients to a memorable address that much easier.”

Clean up your act: Once you begin using social media professionally, it’s important that every platform, including your personal profiles, portray you in a flattering light, because employers are going to look at all of you, not just LinkedIn.

Tout your expertise: Blogging is a great way to get your name out there as an expert in your field. “Write posts that help others,” says Macarthy, “and use eye-catching headlines that offer to solve problems.”

Use share widgets: These are the buttons that allow people to Like, Share or Tweet your blogpost. In addition to others sharing your post, you should always post your own blogs to LinkedIn, as well as Google+, which has a special authorship feature that increases your visibility online.

 

COMMUNITY ESSENTIALS

Best Platforms: Facebook pages are the best platforms for raising awareness or promoting a social cause or shared interest, says Macarthy, but having a presence on Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, Twitter and Vine can supplement your main hub.

Community-building tips 101

Create shareable content. “This is key,” says Macarthy, “because if people are engaged, the first thing they want to do is share it. It reflects well on them not only in their own mind, but in the way that other people will think of them.”

Blend your streams. “Make Facebook the hub of your wheel, and the spokes Instagram, Twitter, and Vine,” advises MacCarthy. Do this by encouraging fans to spread messages across other platforms using a particular hashtag. And then you can grab those photos and post them on your Facebook stream.

Engage creative participation. “If you’re trying to raise money, you need a really good central idea,” says Macarthy. A recent promotion that was popular in the UK included the #nomakeuphastag. “It was a campaign where women took selfies wearing no makeup in support of a cancer charity and it went massively viral on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.”

Create a Google+ Community. Google+ makes it easy to create any type of community online and set up your rules for posting to it, says Macarthy. You can also use Google+ hangouts, a free application for communities of any size to engage in face time classes and share learning and ideas.

 

TOP SOCIAL SITES & APPLICATIONS AND WHAT THEY’RE FOR
(In alphabetical order)

Facebook: Social networking site that allows for sharing of text, links, photos, videos, games and locations. Account holders can start pages for businesses, campaigns or various causes.

Flickr: An online community for image and video hosting. The site enables users to post images that may be accessed by nonusers and share links to their accounts on other social networking sites. Flickr houses millions and millions of images.

Foursquare:  A location-based networking service for smartphones and other GPS-enabled mobile devices. The service allows people to “check in” at locations and become designated frequenters called “mayors.” Businesses can benefit from engaging with their Foursquare users.

Google+: Google’s version of Facebook, which allows users to separate their connections into specific circles. It also serves as an authorship tool that helps to link authors directly with their content on the Web.

Instagram: A photo- and video-sharing site as well as a social networking site that enables users to take photos and then use filters to enhance them and then post them on other networking sites.

LinkedIn: Professional networking site that allows you to post your resume and other career-oriented information, connect with people in your industry or company, join industry or alumni groups (like the University of Phoenix Alumni LinkedIn group) and network for your career.

Pinterest: A “visual discovery” tool that allows people to collect images and articles for projects and ideas and pin them onto virtual boards for themselves or to share with others. Often used for recipes, home decorating, weddings, etc.

Spotify: A paid music streaming service that allows users to create public playlists of music featured on the site (where you can find just about everything), develop followers and follow your favorite artists. Users can directly share their Spotify activity on other social networking sites. Certain businesses can use the service to connect clients to playlists.

Tumblr: A social networking application for “micro-blogging.” The site enables users to create accounts and post short-form blogs that can be posted, followed and re-blogged, much like Twitter’s tweets.

Twitter: A social media site where users can post short-format text, links, and images. Users aspire to follow other Twitter users they’re interested in and to be followed.

Vine: A Twitter-owned app that lets users post brief (up to six seconds) looping clips of videos that can be shared on social networks.

YouTube: A video-sharing site that enables users to upload videos, view them and share. While it’s primarily individuals who use this site, businesses—including major corporations—also use it for promotional efforts. This is usually the place you see instant Superbowl replays … of commercials.

 

Jenny Jedeikin's writing has appeared in Rolling Stone, In Style, and The San Francisco Chronicle.