Companies need to communicate with their customers. But what's the best way? Is Facebook's move into cryptocurrency a sign of living or dying? Twitter is losing active users. Instagram limits formatting. Snapchat is big, but 12-year-olds don't have a lot of disposable income. Social media platforms all over are cautious about their long-term health. For small businesses, what matters is getting compelling social media content to their audiences, regardless of the channel. So while some experts decry instability in social media, many small businesses have found impactful ways to engage with their communities.

Today's customers are inundated with messaging. It's coming at them from every direction -- television, radio, smartphones, billboards, you name it. It's ubiquitous, but also a necessity. Companies need to use social media to develop and maintain relationships with customers. Small businesses are often closer to their customers, but may have less capacity to create quality, compelling social media content. These entrepreneurs need to grasp what role social media can play, learn how to create it, and make their content rise above the cacophony -- and it has to be cost effective.

For many entrepreneurs, it can feel like an impossible task. They struggle with social media because they don't know what content to post, don't have training in technology, and fear the cost. Do they hire an outside firm to manage it, or should they do it in-house? How much time will it take to create content and manage customer interaction? It all sounds incredibly daunting.

Relax! It doesn't need to be complicated, elaborate, or expensive. With the right plan, even small businesses can develop an efficient and cost-effective social media strategy:

1. Planning and consistency

From the very beginning, you need to plan for consistency in your social media content. The more you plan and recognize efficiencies in the beginning, the easier the whole process will be. You need to be prepared to participate in any and every kind of social media, even ones that haven't been invented yet. Samantha Barnes is CEO of Raddish, a meal solution and culinary lesson kit designed for kids and their families, and she has built media into the core of the business. "We emulate the same look and feel across every type of media -- from print to digital to live video -- through the help of a designer. By having a template and an 'owner' of the design process, our materials are cohesive, informative, and a reflection of the brand across the board," Barnes says. As you're producing social media content, you'll need to find your voice, which can take many iterations to get right, so have patience. This built-in flexibility is the first step toward creating efficiencies and keeping your budget under control.

2. Don't reinvent -- repurpose!

For small businesses, social media budgets need to produce measurable return on investment. To be cost effective, you need content that's as versatile as possible. Technology has blurred the lines between advertising, public relations, branding, and other traditional content types. Everything you do on social media needs to serve multiple purposes. Barnes offers an example from Raddish: "We took recent 'how-to' and 'did you know' one-sheets from our website, and broke them down into individual Instagram stories. We also conducted Facebook Live events on some of the topics. To cut time and energy on visual assets, our designer has a set checklist of items to quickly repurpose content for different uses, such as a Facebook header, newsletter template, Pinterest graphic, and more." It's about identifying and maximizing efficiencies in what you're already doing. This strategy will save time and money, reduce creative fatigue, and leave you with more content than you imagined. You've just created a social media production plant!

3. Test, mix, and remix

The variety of social media platforms available and the volume of content you'll be producing mean that you'll have a ton of material. With this comes the opportunity to refine content for specific audiences in a very specific way, even without a pricey big data consultant to crunch the numbers for you. Each social media platform has its own measure of success, and what works on one may be a failure on another. You need to learn from the hits and the misses, and keep learning as customer preferences shift. Barnes says Raddish has tracked social media metrics and adjusted content as a result: "On Instagram, we discovered what brought the most engagement were user-generated pictures from the kitchen, sharing a 'Look what I made!' moment. Alternatively, we found that people who browsed free recipes on Pinterest didn't necessarily join right away, but they would often sign up for the email newsletter. We could reach them through retargeting ads and move them down the marketing funnel." By paying careful attention to even basic social media data, you can identify which customer type is looking where, what attracted them, and how they might be persuaded to become a customer. And since you've already got a library of content easily customizable for any scenario, you can begin your outreach right away.

4. Let your customers do the work

It's often said that a company's best marketers are its happy customers. One of the many benefits is that you may have to create far less content as a result. Delighted customers often enjoy engaging with the companies that made a fun moment happen, and they tag pictures and make comments as part of their regular social media routine. All this user-generated content is a gift that keeps on giving. Potential customers love to see products in action, and you may be able to use that content in the social media production plant you've created. Raddish has found particular success through Facebook. Barnes says, "Early on, we created a Facebook community that's grown to over 20,000 members. Now, we have multiple Facebook ads featuring photos from our members that have over 14,000 comments, with potential customers tagging one another and asking questions about the product. Our members are our biggest promoters and defenders!" Using their content means less work for you, and to potential customers, it feels more fun and authentic than anything you could create in-house. Of course, there is one hurdle to overcome: "Just make sure you have an airtight release form at the ready before incorporating this strategy into your brand's marketing program," Barnes says and smiles.