Today, I consider myself both an entrepreneur and an online marketer. But when I launched my online business in 2003, I was only an aspiring Internet marketer, so I was constantly studying anything and everything related to online marketing.

It wasn't until I read the works of Gary Vaynerchuk, owner of online marketing agency VaynerMedia, that I began to understand the secrets of social media marketing.

Vaynerchuk emerged on the Internet marketing scene during the social media explosion of the late 2000s, which allowed him to make tremendous strides in the online business world. He lived and breathed these new platforms, spending countless hours every day engaging with his following.

He built a brand around social media without spending money, but rather by investing real effort, which is a dominant theme in his books. Here are three key lessons I learned from his success that I've applied to my own business:

1. Social media isn't uniform.

In his book "Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook," Vaynerchuk explains that, though content is important, context is the key to an effective social media presence. Herding platforms like Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and Snapchat into a single social media pin is a grave mistake.

Because these platforms are all different, they require a different approach. Facebook, for example, is for storytelling. Twitter is for listening (and then interjecting). Pinterest is for crafting. Instagram is about creating art.

Facebook was initially used to find people interested in products. Now, it's used to assemble and communicate with like-minded customers.

Similarly, Instagram was once viewed as an image-only version of Twitter. Now it's seen as an online venue for art appreciation. We find the art that appeals to our target demographic and curate it for that demographic. This serves as a connection mechanism, and it has helped us find new prospective customers.

2. The world is a "big small town."

Today, your brand's reputation is made (or destroyed) similarly to how local businesses make a name for themselves in small towns. Everyone knows everyone, and if you provide quality products and service, the locals will support you by continuing to patronize your business. When people sing your praises (or call for your head), everybody hears about it.

Vaynerchuk's book "The Thank You Economy" was all about the shift in power happening in marketing. Brands and corporations once had an enormous amount of control over messaging through a limited number of media channels, but they no longer control the conversation.

Social media puts your customers in charge, meaning they can rapidly assemble and rebel when treated poorly. On the other hand, if you provide superior service, they will see your effort and share their positive feelings with the community.

3. Succeeding on social media requires effort, not money.

Vaynerchuk manufactured his own brand through sweat equity. He amassed more than 1,000 episodes of "Wine Library TV" and responded to every tweet. He built his brand through persistent effort, and many of his teachings are grounded in this philosophy.

Today, you can't simply throw money at social media marketing or "buy your way in" through sponsored links and targeted ads. You have to commit to engaging customers through your channels.

Building relationships online is no different from making friends in everyday life. You do things for friends (and customers) and typically don't expect reciprocity.

When many people go online to build their business, they develop less-charitable personas. It's as if they're saying, "Here's a teaser of something you like, but you have to come to my site to read the full version." Quid pro quo. Try making friends like that in the real world.

When polishing your online presence, take a hint from Vaynerchuk. As so with most things in life, you'll only get back what you give, so provide value to people, and they'll likely respond. Through smart messaging and timely content sharing, you can speak to millions of people at once and turn them into your biggest brand advocates.