In fact, if you don't have a social media and online marketing strategy in place, this can fatally diminish your outfit's reputation and bottom line.

It's not enough just to own a social media account. Using social media to stay in touch with an audience and build relationships increases the trust that users will develop for your company. But engaging with the audience in a meaningful way is key.

It's also not enough to use social media for networking. That's a great way to use many social media platforms, certainly, but strategic content should also be part of your social media strategy.

The question in the title of this article doesn't have a single, clear answer. Its answer is constantly evolving.

Social media has created an avenue for online businesses to market directly to thousands of potential customers in one click. Tomorrow it may cast an even wider net. Employing Twitter and Facebook alone offers the power to skyrocket your visibility and sales.

Entrepreneurs successfully use online marketing in a number of ways:

1. Metrics and analysis. Receiving feedback about the social media and web page campaigns your company is employing provides direction about the future of the campaign. Keeping track of what does and doesn't work and continually improving on that ensures that the company evolves with social media.

Social listening is a fairly recent concept that provides marketers with new opportunities and brand awareness by combing social media for reactions, presence, and reach. It's a way to research potential clients and provide targeted content instead of reaching out blindly.

Many of the social media platforms use different metrics and monitor diverging criteria. You need to answer the question of what these various metrics mean for your target market, and how your company can adapt. That will provide part of the answer of how to build a successful marketing strategy.

2. Have specific goals. As with starting any endeavor, identifying reachable goals with timelines will keep a project moving forward. All businesses should seek to raise brand awareness through social media.

Action on a social media platform that uses the culture and personality of the company as a whole to promote its brand should create a unique public character and bestow a voice upon the firm.

Driving traffic to your site is another must-have goal. Website speed, content, and a solid web hosting company to handle your website will help increase traffic. Using other social media sites to promote a primary one will also build traffic.

3. Make a plan. Knowing the strategy by which your company plans to reach its goals will alleviate stress and keep the goals attainable. Your plan could be as simple as writing a message on at least three platforms a day. It may also involve working to bring a new team or team member in to manage the company's social media presence.

The first step toward getting started with any social media strategy is to examine the current status of your company on social media. Some companies may be starting from scratch, while others may have been marketing via social media without knowing it.

After that, define the content and target market to start giving your company a particular voice. As social media becomes part of the daily business cycle, analytics can be helpful for tweaking the process and obtaining better results.

4. Create unique, rich content. Determine your target market. Figure out what problem your company is going to solve. Develop different kinds of content that will address the problem and drive traffic to the website.

This step can be harder than it sounds. Providing enough relevant content at the ideal level of saturation is sometimes a full-time job. Not only does the content need to have a consistent voice or personality; it always needs to be focused. General content or pretty designs will only take your online presence so far.

According to Sophia Zlatin, from website hosting provider iPage, "having depth and focus online builds a reputation of expertise for a company, which builds trust among users." The building block that is content marketing is ultimately what will drive revenue from the Internet.

Avoid spam. A smart email marketing or social media campaign will post rich information sparingly. If the opt-out option on your email campaign or any of your social media sites is poorly designed, that can not only tarnish your reputation; it can lead to being blacklisted.

Focus on trying to connect with a market instead of trying to get as much information out to the world as quickly as possible.

5. Establish a professional website. Even the most elementary web users can tell when a website has been poorly constructed. Clunky graphics and slow load times can really damage the users' experience.

If you invest in a professionally created website, it will look better to visitors and it will also be easier to maintain. Good organization on all aspects of the website, including the blog, will provide users with what they need the first time, and thereby promote repeat visitors and clients.

Published on: Dec 9, 2014
The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.