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If you want to have an online presence that actually helps you make sales, you need to be on social media. Today we have a big menu of options when it comes to how we can use these channels to attract new prospects, activate our already-existing fans, and kickstart growth.

Don't get obsessed with follower counts.

Right off the bat, when it comes to social media, you want to make sure you're looking at the correct metrics for success. The most obvious place to start would be your follower count and, indeed, that's the first number you'll see dutifully reported on when you review any sort of analytics.

Here's the thing: Anybody can buy junk followers. What you're looking for is quite the opposite--followers who will buy from you. Getting those people's attention takes sustained work, but it starts with developing a clearer picture of who that actually is. If you haven't done any work on buyer personas, now is the time to get started.

Share great content.

Once you have some specifics in terms of demographics and taste, you can start targeting conversations that you want to be a part of by using hashtag research and strategic follows of adjacent brands. Again, this isn't about immediately saying "hey, buy my thing," it's about getting yourself in the picture.

One of the best ways to meaningfully participate in the conversation is by creating and sharing great content. This is why so many marketers are advocating a content marketing approach. Beyond the traditional how-to articles and whitepapers, you can also take the opportunity to share anything you do locally, whether that's sponsoring a softball team or hosting a block party.

Run a contest.

Social media is a great tool for cultivating your brand. However, actually making the sale requires a little more. One of the easiest ways to turn your followers into customers is by running a contest. The trick is to be smart about what you require for entry.

For a relatively small investment--for example, a $100 gift card--you can send people to a sign-up form that captures their email addresses from which you can create a mailing list. That list can be used to offer targeted deals or content. Alternatively, you could require entrants to share a picture of themselves using your product, or a story about why they use it, along with a specific hashtag to make them easy to find. These kinds of contests can generate shareable, creative content that showcases your product--and which you wouldn't be able to generate on your own.

From followers to sales

Like any other marketing channel, social media is ultimately just a tool. It's a means to an end, and you need to have a strategy if you want to make it work for you. If you want to use social media to boost sales, you need to think about who you want to engage, how you want to engage them, and, ultimately, how you're going to transform that person from an interested follower into a buyer. By staying in the conversation while slowly taking steps to draw them nearer to you, you can be sure that they'll come to you when they're looking to buy.