Finding innovative, effective ways to promote business is becoming increasingly difficult in today’s growing digitized world. With the attention span of the average customer getting shorter, marketing itself is undergoing a shift from its traditional tactics to more timely ones. As a result, social media sites are being utilized as a means of improving digital visibility and driving website traffic.

The main difference between the use of traditional advertising and social media is that the latter allows for interaction with customers, which strengthens brand awareness and builds a better online reputation. This personal touch reaches an audience that may not be accessible by any other way.

The basic purpose of using social media is not to overtly endorse a business, but to have followers advertise it themselves; businesses post their own content, and social media users view and share it. A business’s main goal is to cater to the needs and interests of potential customers instead of their own marketing campaign, in order to portray the business as customer-centric rather than solely profit-focused.

This approach both heightens the level of trust that social media users put into a business and helps to create a loyal base of followers. Users find valuable and unique content much more attractive than a sales ploy, which they can identify more easily than businesses might surmise. They want to be appealed to as a person or a friend, not marketed to like a customer, and this accounts for the trend in traditional advertising forms working less and less efficiently.

Thus, content marketing is the leading current strategy. The perfect place for content to be shared, with the potential for it to go viral, is the realm of social media. Occupied mostly by younger generations, social media sites are used primarily by millennials, who are more likely to trust their friends for reviews and opinions on products, services, and businesses.

Millennials will generally not check information straight from a website unless they establish some kind of credibility for it beforehand, which can come from their friends’ experiences, or lack thereof. This is why social media is an indispensable platform for exposing businesses to new traffic.

Businesses on social media sites essentially use followers to drive their own success forward. With the appropriate content strategy, a company can sit back and relax while their followers sell their service or product for them. For businesses that rely exclusively on social media as advertisement, their marketing budgets are essentially zero, since the sites are free to use.

This makes social media one of the most cost-effective ways to advertise, given that a business is willing to invest the time, energy, and human resources into writing, producing, and posting quality content. If a business feels that it is lacking in resources or is not confident in its writing ability, freelance content writers can always be hired to manage and update social media profiles and posts.

In this regard, the age-old adage of “give and you shall receive” applies heavily to social media, because what a business puts in is what it gets out of it. All posts should be made so as not to be off-putting to followers. Insincerity is easier for users to spot than businesses realize, so businesses should take note of the kind of language being used in their posts, ensuring it matches that of what the target audience would normally use.

Fresh, shareable content should be posted frequently. Not only does a steady stream of content continuously attract social media users and capture their interest, but Google also ranks websites with fresher content higher in search results. Share and follow buttons should be clearly displayed on websites, so that visitors have a smoother time sharing content directly from the source.

Depending on the niche of a business, various forms of content can be posted, including relevant articles, news releases and newsletters, photos, videos, and whitepapers. All of these types of content are more engaging than text-only posts, even text with links attached. Image-centric content is becoming highly important, since social media sites are starting to rank text-only posts lower in users’ feeds. Images are the most popular and effective way to capture the attention of followers.

Content should address issues that are meaningful to a customer base rather than sneaking in a sales pitch for a business. The company should not be referred to more than necessary, and the 80-20 rule can help to prevent this: 80% of posts should be about the business’s industry or otherwise targeted to followers, while the remaining 20% are meant for self-promotion. For the latter, social media can be used to spread exclusive offers and discounts, directed towards a certain market or customer type.

A business’s use of social media does not begin and end with creating content and designing posts. Social media should also be utilized to connect with followers and listen to their suggestions, ideas, and complaints. Customers tend to think of businesses that respond to their inquiries as preferable to others, so it is important to reply to feedback and comments quickly and thoroughly. Identifying and rectifying problems both satisfies the customer base and projects a business as responsible, reliable, and easy to access.

Once a business has built up a solid following on its social media profiles, there is a greater likelihood that users will check out that business’s website and make a purchase. Users perceive social media outreach as a form of transparency and openness, which makes them trust a business more. This greater trust is what increases the chances of users making purchases or requesting services, resulting in an upsurge of website traffic and conversion rates.

If customers are satisfied, they will usually make posts detailing their experiences and purchases on their social media profiles. Their online friends will then be exposed to the posts, and they will probably check out the business selling the product, continuing the cycle of promotion.

Creating multiple social media profiles can also help to increase digital visibility in a less obvious way; it plays a role in search engine optimization. Websites with more pages are generally ranked higher in search results than websites with fewer pages, and this rule of thumb applies to external as well as internal pages. Therefore, websites with social media profiles will be better ranked than those sites which do not have them, which can help to boost traffic.

Besides the big five social media giants of Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Google+, and YouTube, businesses should seek out other social media networks, such as Instagram and Pinterest, in order to most effectively reach their intended audiences. Whatever social media site a business is on, a link or button to the profile should appear on the business website. This way, the entire community of followers is linked to one another, and they can share content without leaving the platform that they are using.

There is no valid reason for a business not to take advantage of social media marketing; it would only face tougher competition from other companies that do use social media. Having a mere presence on social media sites, however, is not enough to see improvement; it must be properly utilized if all of its benefits are to be experienced. Providing engaging content with specific information suited for the tastes and interests of a targeted customer base will no doubt send ROI soaring.