08/20/2013 08:15 am ET Updated Oct 20, 2013

5 Ways to Be Socially Savvy

You cannot turn on the television, read the paper (a "real" newspaper, remember those?) or go online without hearing or reading the phrase 'social media'. Here we are a few years from its' birth and more and more people continue to flock to it, not just for business or as a means of keeping up with the current news and trends, but as a simple way to engage with friends, family and acquaintances. Said simply, it is a connection point for people. Social media is a tool that gives us a voice that allows us to communicate on a large scale with those people in our communities.

I was fortunate to learn social media in general, and the leading sites specifically, in their infancy. Twitter and Facebook were the two big platforms on the scene way back then (like 3 years ago... LOL). LinkedIn was around but it wasn't as popular as it is today. Now the 'big players' include not only Twitter and Facebook but LinkedIn, Pinterest, Instagram, Google+, YouTube and several more. For those that are just starting on social media, making the commitment to 'go for it', can be like trying to get a drink of water from a fire hose.

Many business owners are still shying away from taking the plunge because social media can be just that, overwhelming. Forget the sites for second. Think about how many ways there are now to consume social media. Today's consumers are connecting on social media using their phones, tablets, laptop and every other type of web-connected display.

Guess what? You need to be there. You need to remove whatever obstacle is holding you back. It is time to embrace social media. No more dipping your toe into the water or saying, I will get to it 'next week'. It's time to start building new relationships with customers and prospects. You have an opportunity waiting for you where you can carve out a chunk of your market using the power of social media!

Here are five tips that you can help you become socially savvy...

1. Listen and Respond

One of the most common concerns we run into when we consult with corporate clients is their fear about what others are saying or could say about their brand. They are concerned about the negative things being said and how they can 'hide' the negative comments that will invariably come from time-to-time. While negative comments can be tough to hear, it is a great opportunity to engage and fix the problem openly and transparently. You will create many brand ambassadors if you do this. People do not mind if you make a mistake nearly as much as they do if you do not fix the problem. Fix the problem and then tell your social media community that you have.

Use social media to listen to your customers and ideal prospects and then respond with what they are telling you what they need.

2. Lead With Value

The first rule of thumb when it comes to social media is that it is not about you, it is about them. My friend, Jay Baer, really highlights this concept in his recent book "Youtility, Why Smart Marketing Is About Help Not Hype" If you focus on providing great value, without the immediate expectation of reward, I can promise you that you will enjoy success on social media. To quote Jay, "Youtility is marketing upside down. Instead of marketing that's needed by companies, Youtility is marketing that is wanted by customers. It's massively useful FREE information, that creates long-term trust and kinship between a company and its customers"

Push marketing does not work on social media. Lead with value and you win!

3. Engage, Engage, Engage

This one piece of advice is really critical so please listen up. Social media is NOT a broadcast tool. It's a communication tool. The term communication denotes a two way street. Social media is all about people talking to each other. If you want people to be interested in you and your business, you have to be genuinely interested in them as well.

4. Be Authentic

It can be a real struggle as a business owner to realize that we have to come out from behind the logo and let our audience 'know' who we are. Yet this is what makes us real and authentic. Trust me, this is what they are looking for! People are tired of the status quo when it comes to their buying habits. They are looking to spend money with companies that care about them, that are real, transparent and human.

5. Focus Your Efforts

It can be tough to manage all of the social media sites and you can quickly find yourself overwhelmed. It is better to NOT be on a social media platform at all than to be missing in action. Showing up is half the battle as they say and if you are not showing up regularly, this can really harm your brand image. If you fail to respond to customer inquiries or comments, this showcases lack of interest in them and they will take their business elsewhere.

To narrow your focus, determine what social media platforms your customers and ideal prospects are using the most. Once you have this information in hand, focus your efforts there. It may be two platforms instead of six or seven.

Social media can, at first glance, seem totally intimidating for entrepreneurs and small business owners but with the right strategies and tools, social media can be an amazing way to take your business to new heights.

Follow these socially savvy tips and you will be on your way!