Gone are the days when a firm handshake, a poised demeanor, and a confident pitch alone would sell a product. The world of brand exposure and consumer connection is a living-breathing thing, constantly roving from strategy to strategy.

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Perhaps the most significant marketing niche to evolve in the past decade has been the use of social media in generating sales. Where the introduction of smartphones and high speed Internet has given the consumer the ability to outsmart sales reps using comparative shopping, companies themselves are now trying to get ahead of the curve. By offering up advertisements, customer reviews, and of course exclusive offers for their social media networks, today’s companies are making sure they corner the market when it comes to the technologically inclined, which today accounts for the vast majority of American consumers.

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Social media is a mecca for attracting consumers. Just as when advertisements transitioned from being scene and not heard when ads went from radio to television, such is the magnitude of the evolution of marketing in social media. Products and their respective advertising can now become part of a daily routine, and having your product front and center is vital to success. It’s not all the in the banner ads however, as only about 14% of people trust ads. In fact according to a report by GoldSpot Media, up to 50% of banner ad clicks may be simply a “fat finger” accident. The real bread and butter of a social media strategy, is pushing your companies customer commentary. 77% of online shoppers consult ratings and reviews before making their final purchasing decision and an almost equal amount, 78%, agree that what they read does ultimately affect their study conducted by market research firm Ipsos in 2011.

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With the ready availability for total 3rd excuse in today’s world for not having an online presence, in fact 80% of customers fully expect a business to be active in social media in some form. So what exactly are we talking about? Well let’s take a look.

The basic social media strategy is built a bit like the scientific formula. It has its steps, which without each other fail, but together form a formidable game plan. While it may vary a bit here and there depending on whom you ask, the basic idea remains the same. The first thing any company should do is outlining their business’ social media goals. What are you trying to sell? What are you trying to say? After you’ve ironed out what you’re putting out here, start doing just that.

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Building awareness is imperative to staying power in advertising, don’t expect to throw something on your Facebook or Twitter and have it take off like wildfire. Repeat visibility and engagement through compelling social content and targeted social ads will provide the groundwork for the rest of the process.

You’ll want to create interest using this engagement; you’ll need to build a community around your product. There is arguably nothing stronger than word of mouth, more people trust the word of a friend than the word of an ad, and that may never change.

Keep track of your progress with analytics; know where you stand and where you’re headed, this will allow pivoting as necessary.

Once you’ve created a follower base, the final and perhaps trickiest part is at hand. You have to get them where you want them to go. Give your potential customers incentive to click through to a landing page, or skip the landing page all together and give them an incentive to come into your store. Hopefully with a little determination, your leads will turn into sales.

Congratulations, you’ve made a sale, but never forget perhaps the most important and revolutionary aspect of social media in generating sales. You have the power and the responsibility to efficiently keep in touch with your customer base and build loyalty for your brand. The relationship doesn’t end when they walk out that door or checkout their cart. Use social media to keep them apprised of new sales, deals, and benefits of being a loyal customer. Be engaging, be consistent, and your social media will have the potential to boost your sales significantly.

The use of social media has forever changed the marketing landscape. Combined with today’s devices you can now build a relationship with your customers wherever they go. Make sure you are taking advantage of the full range of opportunity that social media has to offer.

About Author – Nick Rojas is a journalist and business consultant based in Los Angeles, CA. You can follow him on Twitter @NickARojas.