According to Entrepreneur Magazine, consumer-shopping behavior has evolved rapidly since 2014. With platforms such as Twitter and Facebook, the online shopping experience, which is increasingly done through mobile devices, has become very social. Here’s how you too can leverage social media to improve your sales and grow your small business: Choose the Right Social Media Platform to Reach Your Audience Where do you start if you don’t have hours of free time every day? There are enough social media platforms to keep a business owner-occupied for a long time. Instagram users engage each other with pictures, while LinkedIn users are typically looking for information regarding their respective careers. Twitter, WhatsApp, and SnapChat all have different uses as well. The goal is to reach your audience, so do your research to determine which is the best platform to accomplish that. Pinterest and Instagram are also highly effective and user-friendly platforms. Pinterest is particularly useful, with 100 million active users, 83 percent of whom are more likely to follow a brand rather than a notable celebrity. Twenty-five percent of consumers will purchase a product or service they discover on Pinterest. Be mindful, however, that since social media has become so lucrative and so trendy, the digital scene is now besieged with newcomer networks swearing that they will be the “next big thing.” Cultivate a presence where the multitudes are – Twitter and Facebook – but still pay attention to the upstart networks just in case they live up to their hype. Be Helpful Lend a helping hand and create goodwill, instead of just using the platforms to make sales. Make sure your content gives rather than asks to receive because people like to do business with those they know, like, and trust. Your potential customers will block you if the first thing you post to your Twitter account is a link to your sales page. Social media is chiefly a trust-building platform, so your main sales building efforts probably should not happen there. Make sure no more than 10 percent of your content is advertising if you do opt to sell. Create a Consistent Brand Message From your logo to the way you script your business name to the phone number you list for clients to contact you, if you plan to leverage social media, make sure everything about your business information is consistent everywhere you’re present online. This builds trust with users and with search engines. Once you make your brand consistent, you can follow up by rolling out campaigns that offer benefits to your customers: a 10 percent discount for signing up for automated texts, a coupon for subscribing to an email newsletter, or a free product for following a company account on Twitter. Try to create a culture that users can follow, as this will bring individuals closer to your brand. Make Your Content Easily Shareable We talk about “going viral.” Keep in mind how viruses are shared: by contact from one person to another! You can use tools such as HootSuite and Custard Media to help you with this. Hootsuite helps you schedule and manage tweets and messages on multiple social networks. With Custard Media, you can create videos and make them go viral on content distribution social networks such as Pinterest, YouTube, Reddit, and Digg. Show Your Prospects “the Real You” Clients and prospects should get to know the real you on social media. Post a picture of the company picnic, or even a pic of yourself gardening, if that’s your passion. While it’s great to provide business tips or a link to your blog, giving your clients a glimpse into your personal life comes across as authentic, and you’re likely to engage more prospects in that way. The most important thing to consider when using social media for your small business or startup is that the platform is not a 60-meter dash, but a marathon. Define your audience and select the best media to reach them. Add your social media links and symbols, do your research, share your content, and keep a record how things are going. Follow these simple steps and you, too, will be successful at leveraging social media to grow your small business.