It's hard to imagine life without social media - and for some of us, it would be hard to imagine running our businesses without it too. A recent report shows 83% of female internet users and 75% of male internet users have social media profiles. In other words, you avoid it at your peril!

As the co-founder of CourseGenius, an online training platform for small- to medium-sized businesses, I have found social media to be a valuable channel for acquiring new customers, as well as engaging with existing ones. If you are thinking about launching a new social media strategy, here are some key things to consider when you're getting started.

1. Identify Your Ideal Audience

Start by identifying what your ideal customer looks like. Ask yourself some basic questions- what is their job title, what industries do they work in, what size company do they work for, how old are they, and so on. This is the first step to creating your buyer personas.

Answering these questions will help you work out which social media platforms your ideal customers are active on and what types of content are relevant to them. This will help you to focus your effort on what will have the greatest impact.

2. Engage & Build Presence

Set up business accounts on social media platforms frequented by your ideal customers, then start engaging them by sharing content relevant to their needs. This content should also intersect with the product or service you offer.

For example, if you provide event planning services you might share articles that include tips for planning, budgeting and running a successful event. These articles might be from your own blog, or from someone else's. You shouldn't be afraid to share other people's content if you know it will be useful to your ideal customer (and you acknowledge the source).

Post regularly to build up your company's online presence. You can either log in each morning or, even better, use a scheduling tool to pre-plan your weekly posts. This allows you to focus on measuring which content is getting the most engagement.

3. Pay, But Not for Likes/Follows

Paid social media advertising can be a highly effective lead generation channel, but it can get quite involved. A great way to start is by promoting content that is getting more engagement from your audience. This will amplify the reach of your successful content and attract more people who look like your "ideal customer" to like/follow your company.

The one thing you should never do is pay for likes or follows. The whole point of building a social media presence is to attract an audience that is interested in what your company offers. If you buy likes/follows, you simply don't have that any more.

You are much better off spending your marketing budget on promoting specific posts each week to build your follower base. At the end of the day, it's not about how many followers you have; it's about how relevant those followers are to your business.

Now Get Started!

Sometimes the best research comes from biting the bullet and actually starting. Set aside some time and just do it - set up your page, start sharing your content and measuring the results!

In Part 2, I'll talk you through some techniques on how to reach new potential customers and how to re-target people who have already heard about your company to effectively drive leads and new customer acquisitions.

Sarah Mateljan is the Co-Founder and CEO of CourseGenius, the world's simplest online training platform. CourseGenius empowers small to medium businesses to easily create and deliver their own custom online training, either to train their staff or sell to customers. CourseGenius have also recently launched a suite of pre-built online compliance training courses to enable businesses to quickly and cost-effectively train and onboard their staff with topics including Work Health & Safety, Bullying & Harassment, and Social Media. Learn more at www.CourseGenius.com