Before you walk through the door, check behind you to see if you should be holding it open for the next person. When you haven’t received a response to your email message, your followup should begin with a gentle “just following up.” If you need to reach out to a brand new customer or prospect, start the phone call by making it clear who you are and why you’re phoning.

These are all ways of communicating in which the etiquette or norms for demonstrating professionalism are already well established. On social media, however, things seem to be constantly changing, to the point it’s not always easy for small and medium-sized businesses (SMBs) to know how they’re supposed to behave. 

Even though it’s just one marketing channel among many, the stakes for getting social media best practices wrong are high. The way you interact with customers and prospects on social media could have a bearing on how they perceive your brand — in good ways or bad. That, in turn, might influence how they respond to various attempts to capture them as leads for the sales team

The other factor to keep in mind is that social media is not just a marketing channel. Services like Facebook and Twitter are also increasingly seen as a place where customer service issues can first come to light, and where certain segments of your customer base expect to see their questions answered and their problems resolved. If you’re not up on the latest social media best practices, retention rates may suffer and churn may increase. 

Although it would be great if every SMB could hire its own dedicated full-time social media manager, the reality is that these duties can be just one facet of several people’s jobs. That means it’s not just a matter of continuing to study social media and understand the most appropriate ways to use these tools. You also need to make sure other members of the team are kept up to date and trained as well. 

Thankfully, the information you need is often right in front of you: 

1. Become a subscriber, not just a customer

Whether you’re spending hard cash on a social media service or not, you can still act like a paying customer by taking advantage of the many resources platforms often offer to encourage best practices adoption. As soon as you finish reading this post, for example, you should: 

  • Sign up for any relevant newsletters that social platforms publish about changes to their usage policies, feature updates or thought leadership-style advice
  • Register for a webinar that delves more deeply into how the platform works and what the smartest businesses do differently
  • Download guides, which are often free of charge, which can be passed around to others on your team and used as a basis for discussion and policy development

2. Don’t just be a follower—be a student

Part of your social strategy probably involves figuring out who’s popular or influential among the kind of people you want as your customers and prospects. Following those accounts, commenting on and reshaping their posts is a good way to get their attention and to show your community you’re interested in being part of it. The benefits don’t end there, however. You can also turn to them as role models.

Here’s an easy and low-effort idea: on a monthly or even quarterly basis, conduct an audit on a social media influencer who you believe your audience deeply respects or admires. What can you identify in terms of the way they create posts? How do they tend to respond to their followers? What’s the typical cadence of their activity on those platforms? Look for as much detail as you can. 

Even if they’re not an influencer with a huge follower count, do the same thing with your best or smartest customers who are active on social media. Much in the way a sales pro tends to mirror the behaviour of those they’re pitching, imitation in this case is far more than flattery. It can also be a powerful way to learn.

3. Look for offline opportunities to ask questions

One of the great things about using social media is that you’re often acting in real time. With that, though, comes some uncertainty and chances you’ll make a misstep. In the rush to get things done and move onto the next marketing or customer service task, you may occasionally post, respond to or share content in a way you’ll regret.

Not all social media best practices are shared online, however, and it’s worth occasionally taking the time out to go and attend conferences or events that delve into this more deeply. 

Of course, SMBs are often torn between going to many different kinds of events, but what you learn about social media can often be applied elsewhere in the business. The way you create, distribute and amplify content is important whether you’re marketing, selling or doing other things that contribute to a better customer experience. Come armed with honest questions and maybe even some previous examples or scenarios of situations you’ve come up against. The experts — whether they are people who work for the platforms, influencers and other third parties — are often eager to help. 

Much like learning a new skill or trying to get physically fit, social media best practices are something you have to continue to work at, rather than strive towards and accomplish completely. The better you get at it, though, the more you’ll be able to become the kind of expert others look to — maybe even by some of your customers.