In the frequently turbulent sea of social media, the need to set your business apart from your competitors has never been greater. It’s also never been more frustrating. There was a time in which it was as simple as posting regular updates on Facebook or Twitter. But now? Social media platforms have multiplied by the hundreds, with new ones gaining traction every other week, each with its own particular strengths and weaknesses. Suddenly, regular updates are no longer enough. Analytics. Customer engagement. Rich data content. It’s a far cry from 2010 when there were only a handful of sites to choose from. It’s been estimated that the number of social media users worldwide will top 3 billion by 2021. A recent study from Social Media Today indicated social media posts influenced the buying decisions of some 78% of users. Yet despite this, many companies insist on taking an ad hoc approach to social media branding strategies. They have neither a well thought out marketing plan nor do they seem to have any awareness of current trends. And if the lack of either hasn’t made a significant impact on their sales yet, what will 2021 bring?  Branding strategization isn’t merely about following trends. It’s as much about innovation as it is adaptation. But how can you hope to innovate when you don’t even have a strategy in place? And even if you do, why isn’t your social media strategy bringing you the traction you deserve?

1. Visuals Are Everything

It’s been estimated that posts which include visuals are likely to produce a higher engagement than text-only posts by a staggering 650 percent. This may be the result of our hardwiring. People tend to form a first impression in only 50 milliseconds. That’s not a lot of time to comprehend a well-detailed mission statement.  If you’re overlooking visual optimization, you’re overlooking a huge chunk of your audience. Image curation. Color palettes. Templates. Logos. All of these make a distinct visual impact on the viewer. They all need to remain consistent if you want to communicate a clear and unified message. Without that consistency, you’re merely sending across a hodgepodge of jumbled and confusing images—which is likely not the message you want to convey when establishing brand identity.

2. Choose Your Platform Wisely

There are some platforms—Instagram and Tumblr, for example—which are intensely visual specific, often to the exclusion of all else. There are other platforms which are more text specific, such as LinkedIn and even Facebook. Each has their own demographic as a result. Sometimes those demographics are appropriate to your business. Other times, they’re not.  Keep in mind that social media demographics can change over time, owing to adoption and popularity. Limiting yourself to one may result in losing out on a gigantic chunk of your audience. But follow trends carefully. A platform that has historic appeal to users predominantly 18-25 is likely not the best place to launch your life insurance business.

3. How Credible Is Your Voice?

Unless you’re already a well-established business, credibility does not come overnight. It takes time and consistency to develop an authoritative voice. And if you’re not generating content regularly, your message will invariably be overlooked. One error many businesses make in developing a social media brand strategy is merely counting the number of followers they have. But a large number of followers does not necessarily mean they’re actively engaging with your brand. Measuring engagement through analytic tools can prove essential in pinpointing where your message succeeds, as well as where it fails.  And without them, you may find yourself merely second-guessing your audience.

4. Keep Your Content Consistent

It may surprise you, but more than a few businesses insist on using social media for completely irrelevant purposes. Other times, they’re tailoring content individually to appeal to a specific platform’s demographic. All of which can send an incredibly confusing message to your audience. Streamline your efforts. Make sure your message is consistent and unified. Make certain your posts, whether image or text oriented, are in line with your brand. Very few people want to hear an investment advisor’s opinion on heart disease, no matter how valid your viewpoint may be.

5. Your Profile, Your Brand

Despite the earlier caveat about visual optimization, your company profile is still the most valuable asset you can possess in social media. Consider visuals to be a lure to your underlying substance. Many companies make the mistake of littering their profiles with numerous hashtags or quick, vague statements that do nothing to reflect their identity. Again, well-established businesses can get away with this if they’re already entrenched in public perception. But if you’re a small-to-medium sized business, you need to create a succinct and potent mission statement that reflects both your services and your goals. Without it, users will simply be puzzled—and in social media, commanding attention span is everything.

6. Promote Your Presence

Don’t make the mistake of assuming that your current customers will automatically follow you on Facebook or Twitter. And don’t automatically assume that your Facebook or Twitter followers are your current customers. Don’t be passive in promoting your social media presence. Include links on your site or in your email blasts. Cross link on other social media platforms (if you’re using more than one). Sharing posts from followers and other users where applicable can often result in a noticeable profile engagement. Print it on brochures and flyers. Promote your presence whenever and wherever you can. High visibility means high engagement.

7. Customer Engagement: Your Secret Weapon

No one likes to be thought of as “just another customer.” Frequently, they consider their purchases to reflect their personality. They like to be thought of as actively involved with a brand. And since social media is based on (surprisingly!) social interaction, they expect that same involvement from their brands. Most larger companies won’t engage with their followers due to a lack of time. A hashtag and mass “Thank you” is sufficient. But if you’re a smaller business, you can afford to. And if you’re just starting out, you may frequently find you need to. Customers like to feel appreciated. And potential customers will have questions. That doesn’t mean you have to engage with each and every single comment. In fact, there’s probably a few that you shouldn’t. But there’s no better way of putting a human face to your brand than customer engagement (particularly if there’s a concern or question).

8. Analyze Your Identity

Is your social media presence truly consistent with your brand? Is your social media strategy gaining traction?  How engaged are your followers with your brand? Has your increased presence actually driven sales? There’s no doubt that social media is integral to brand identity. As a marketing tool, it’s one of the fastest and most efficient tools imaginable. But building a presence takes time. It’s important not to lose sight of what truly constitutes your brand: your product. Don’t assume that you can do away with quality service through social media engagement. Your previous customers will notice the difference, as will future customers.