Social media marketing--the use of social media platforms and websites to promote a product or service--has been "a thing" for about 10 years. Surprisingly, most companies struggle to do it well, usually because they haven't mastered these three basics:

1. Learn to write clickable headlines

Social media is a waste of time and effort if nobody reads your content. People decide to read a post or a comment on the basis of the title line or the first sentence.

Professional bloggers (i.e., people who get paid when people click on their content) spend almost as much time writing the headline as they do on the content itself.

For premium content, like a substantive blog post or newsletter, write 30 versions of the headline before deciding which headline will get the most clicks.

For conversational content, like comments and tweets, write three "openings" before deciding which will compel the greatest number of people to click "more."

How do you know when something is clickable? Easy.

If you're a novice at headline writing, step mentally away from the content and ask yourself: "Would I click on this?" Over time, use metrics (like open rate) to get a sense of what works for the kind of content you're creating.

It also helps to keep a journal of headlines from other people's content that goes viral. Then model your headlines to match.

2. Clarify what you want to happen

Everyone knows that the ultimate purpose of social media marketing is to get more sales. However, many marketers seem to have only a vague idea of how that might happen.

I recently reviewed a marketing plan that recommended a social media push because "data from different sources indicates different platforms as places to interact with the audiences you wish to reach."

That plan assumed that "interacting" (a.k.a. "engaging") with "audiences" was inherently valuable. However, unless activity on social media creates sales, it's just wasted effort.

Before investing time in social media, ask yourself: How is this going to drive more sales? If the answer is something vague like "create awareness" or "build brand image," you're not spending your time wisely.

Your sales process should connect social media activity with something specific like "get people to browse our online catalog" or "get people to sign up for a free trial usage."

This is not to say that everything you do on social media should flog that call to action. That's annoying. However, a clear purpose behind the activity will keep your efforts targeted and (most important) measurable.

3. Focus your website to make it happen

Now that you know how to get people to read your social media contributions and you've focused on what you want them to do, make it as easy as possible for them to do it.

In most cases, the potential customers whom you've generated from social media are going to end up on your webpage. If it's a typical corporate webpage, though, you're squandering the traffic.

Most corporate webpages are designed as if it's 1996 and people are looking for "destination" websites with plenty of information and choices.

Today, the social media sites themselves are the information destinations. You therefore want a streamlined site that drives the behavior that you want your social media marketing to generate.

For example, if you're trying to get people to sign up for trial usage of a product, the trial usage signup should dominate your landing page. While it might have links to supporting information, they should be unobtrusive.

To summarize, what you want is clickable content that drives potential customers to do "something" that moves them closer to buying. Then make it as easy as possible to do that "something."