Social media has gotten a bad rap. Many businesses view it as a waste of time, too costly, or not relevant. But most of that is excuses. Because the truth is, no matter your industry, social media is where your audience is hanging out.

And more than that, they're not only spending time on social media, but they're making purchases there too. From Facebook to Instagram, nearly a third of consumers say they use social media to browse items while more than half follow brands to keep up with their latest products.

Whether you have a service to share or an app to get in front of the right audience, this is what you need to do to get started on social media.

1. Outline your marketing goals.

As Lewis Carroll so aptly put it, "If you don't know where you are going, any road will get you there." Writing down your goals breathes life into your marketing plan. It also clearly aligns your team with your mission and vision.

Be bold, be clear, and be strategic with your goals. Don't allow emotion to cloud your judgment. Say what you're going to do within your first 30 days, then commit to following through.

2. Get to know your audience.

We talk a lot about buyer personas in marketing. Everything from knowing your customer to understanding their journey. But the problem with that is it's all blah, blah, blah until you've actually gotten to know them. Have you spoken with or spent time with your target market? Have you asked what matters or what they're looking for?

Remember, when you try to speak everyone's language, you end up speaking with no one. To succeed on social media, you must zero in on the needs of your exact audience.

3. Develop your value proposition.

Your value proposition tells your ideal customer (e.g. your social media audience) why they should follow, engage, and ultimately buy from you. Define a common language that bleeds into your company culture and instills a feeling of strength in your brand.

Your value proposition is designed to build strong brand recognition, establishing brand equity and an eventual buy-in across your social channels.

4. Write your brand story.

Now it's time to align your value proposition with your brand story. To do this, you need to craft a story that evokes emotion and encourages interaction.

If you have a hard time refining your story, do this. Take the top problem you solve, add it to the one detail that makes you unique, and mix in the number one word that defines who you are. That's your perfect recipe for a compelling and persuasive brand story.

5. Choose your social channels.

One of the biggest early stage mistakes is to spread yourself out across multiple social networks. Don't make that mistake. Instead, find out where your audience is hanging out and be there. Then master those 2-3 networks. Show up consistently and engage in conversation.

Getting ahead of yourself (e.g. spreading yourself out too thin) is the quick road to burnout.

6. Set up and optimize social networks.

Once you've set up your social networks, it's time to optimize them for search. Not sure how to do this? It's as easy as identifying the words that best define and describe your business.

Those words will translate into keywords or hashtags across social media. Go to sites like Hashtagify or RiteTag to find keywords that are relevant to your audience. If you're a bakery, use the words your audience would actually use to describe you. It's that simple.

7. Put a scalable strategy in place to manage communication.

As you begin to market your business on social media, something magical will happen. Conversation starts to form around your brand. Don't get caught off guard.

Many brands spend so much time creating and finding great content that they miss out on relationship building. Instead, pay attention to the needs of your audience. Use tools like Social Mention or Omgili to stay involved in the conversation.

8. Stay focused on what will make the biggest impact.

To make the biggest impact, you have to stay focused on what matters most. But too often, businesses are unclear as to what kind of data to track in social media. Is it statistics? Analytics? Research? The answer is "all of the above."

Not taking advantage of data is like stumbling around in the dark. That's why your social media decisions must get backed up by real data.

9. Never stop learning.

What works today won't necessarily work tomorrow. Always be testing, iterating, and perfecting. But never be afraid to push your solution out. People need what you have to offer. Holding onto it only allows competition to zoom past you and your audience to move on to the next best option.

10. Ensure there's a clear feedback loop with your audience.

Strengthen customer loyalty and retention through consistent conversation. Have a launch coming up? Let them know about it. Rolling out a new feature? Promote the benefits and ask for feedback.

Identify your top promoters and create a more effective customer communication pathway through social media. You can do this by refining personalization of your content across all social networks. Don't push the same content to each channel. Be aware of specific needs on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat. Manage content and campaigns to optimize engagement and advocacy.

11. Create demonstrable results.

The only way to succeed at business, social media, or life is to double down on what's working - and what's going to allow you to grow demonstrably over time. Simply put, that's your audience, the people you're looking to connect with - the ones who will eventually buy from your company.

Word of mouth marketing is your best way to grow. Use social media to expand WOM and build company loyalty. Pay attention to the data and work to encourage: customer loyalty, customer engagement, and market ownership.