If you're old enough to (vividly) remember life before social media, you've witnessed a shift in the way companies market their products and services. While print ads, billboards, and commercials on radio and TV are by no means dead, modern companies spend an estimated $31 billion a year creating content for platforms like Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Instagram. The surface-level conclusion to be drawn from the emphasis on digital marketing seems simple; people interact with social media a lot, so it's the best place to catch their attention. A deeper look, though, reveals a powerful change in the way consumers relate to brands.

You're unlikely to see social media content featuring salesmen pushing a product or service. Instead, you'll see beautifully photographed articles on vacations in Croatia from a travel company, a recipe video from a meal kit delivery company, or a list of ways to draw attention to your blog from a content company. Notice a pattern forming? The concept that consumers need to have an emotional relationship with a brand isn't new, but in previous decades the desire for emotional connection could be overruled by lack of choices or reliance on salespeople for information. Consumers now have unprecedented access to information and options. This challenges brands to market through relationships and use social media to integrate with their customers' lives. These tips can help you build an authentic social media relationship with your audience.

Tell a story.

In order to capture an audience's attention on social media, think beyond the products and services you sell. If you sell vacuums, for example, you don't just sell a cleaning tool. Your vacuums deep-clean carpets, rugs, and furniture so that customers can be more comfortable in their homes and host guests with confidence. The content you post on social media should paint a picture of the life consumers want to live, with the product or service you offer in a contributing role.

Find your friends.

Every brand has a primary target audience, and it's important to know that audience well in order to market to them on social media. What do they value in life? Who are the influencers they follow? Are they after the lowest price at all costs, or do company ethics take precedence in buying decisions?

To learn about the type of people your brand attracts, examine data from the people who visit your website, buy your products, or peruse your existing social media channels. You can invest in powerful tools that give you robust data on your website visitors, or you can find free or low-cost tools like Facebook analytics that provide basic information like age, gender, and career. Whether the information you obtain is detailed or general, use it to set the tone of your social media posts.

Keep in touch.

Maintaining social media accounts is challenging, especially for a small team, but a consistent view into your audience's online lives can be a great advantage. If there is a need your company can fill or a repeated complaint about your product or service, you'll know about it in real time and can respond promptly.

Schedule your social media posts to go out around the same times every day, every week, every month, and so on. Use social media management tools like Hootsuite to schedule them in advance.

Marketing results are increasingly built on trust and customer loyalty, both of which stem from relationships. If you make the effort to get to know your audience and offer them consistent, valuable content, you'll see your brand's reputation grow.