Social media, like technology, is still growing, evolving and becoming smarter. Most of us began using social media as a form of free marketing as soon as we realized we could reach the masses and beyond. What most of us did not realize is that social media marketing, like all marketing, is a science and an art. Time, education and experience have taught us that we still have much to learn and a whole wide world to reach. Below are just a few strategies for how to use social media as a source of free marketing to help you build your brand.

It is a relationship. If you constantly bombard your customers with what they should buy or do, they will stop your video on YouTube, hide your page on Facebook or stop following you on Twitter. Social media marketing has changed the way we share our message. We can no longer tell our customers what to do, how to spend their money or when to visit. Our customers are smart, savvy and educated. They want to have a dialogue, they want to be heard and they want respect. This is called a relationship. Your first step in successful social media marketing is becoming transparent, becoming a great communicator and becoming a great listener.

Know your customer. With any marketing campaign, knowing your customer is critical to its success. Social media platforms provide a plethora of data concerning those who engage with you and those with whom you are connecting. They also provide you with the option to market directly to your intended customer. Use this information to discern if you are reaching your intended customer. If you do not understand the analytics of the platform you are using, take the time to learn it or seek people who do know it. The analytics of social media will provide you with detailed information regarding the effectiveness of your campaigns and if the goals have been reached.

Engage. The most important element to successful social media marketing is engagement. A great platform to encourage engagement is Facebook. Most companies seek "likes" for their business pages and campaigns. And this is effective. However, most businesses stop there. To continue the conversation, you must provide content. Social media provides us an opportunity that did not exist before. We can now ask our customers questions, ask for their opinions, ask for their ideas and deliver exactly what they want in real time. To extend your reach even further, ask your customers to help spread your message. You can request they share a message with their friends, comment on an idea or even just "like" a post if they agree. Now your reach extends to your customers' friends and connections. You have just extended your reach by thousands if not tens of thousands. If you have engaged with your customers and  listened to their voice, they will be happy to spread your message.

Be patient. When using platforms such as YouTube, it is easy to become discouraged when you see other channels and personalities with more than one million views, 450,000 subscribers and videos that have gone viral. You most likely will not reach those numbers, and your videos may not go viral, but you just need to reach your target market. This will take time. The key is consistency. For example, pick a day and time to upload your videos and keep the schedule. And again, engage your target market. Suggest to them an action item at the end of your video. After your message, ask them to subscribe, leave a comment or share your video.

Train your team. One of your greatest resources is your own employees. Your employees spend the most time with your customers and probably know them best. Begin with education. First, educate your staff on your social media marketing and your vision. Share with them the goal and the expected outcome. Second, educate them on the platform being used. For example, if you choose to use Google+, offer a class or webinar on the platform so they will feel confident when engaging your customer. Google+ is a newer platform but just crossed more than 1 billion users. Surely some of your customers are part of that one billion.

History has taught us that word of mouth is the best form of advertising. And now, social media provides us a "mouth" that reaches the whole world.

BIO

Lori Patterson, owner and CEO of VicteliB, is the creator of fee-based programs that include Boot Camp Challenge and Kids Kamp Challenge. Patterson served in the U.S. Army and has been in the fitness industry for 28 years. You can reach her at lori@victelib.com, at 636-734-8594 or through her website at www.victelib.com.