Social media and the internet have forever changed the way that companies market their products and connect with their customers. Invasive commercials and hard sales pitches still have their place in advertising and marketing, but today’s customers want to interact with brands in a more genuine, meaningful way.

This is where a lot of businesses get stuck. They get the idea of social media, but they’re not quite sure how to use it effectively to grow their business. Or they’ve got a feel for how to use some platforms like Facebook and Twitter, but they need a few tips on how to put together a marketing plan for them. Is that where you’re at today? If so, then follow the steps below.

1. Perform an Audit of Your Social Media Accounts

Before you can formulate a solid strategy for your next social media campaign, you first need to assess your starting point by conducting an audit of all your social media accounts. Now is the time to figure out where you stand on each of these platforms and to identify any problems — such as inconsistent branding and contact info — that need to be resolved before moving forward.

If you are using social media tracking software to monitor your accounts, then you might already have auditing tools in place for assessing your accounts. But if not, a simple spreadsheet can be set up with key fields to track the number of followers, likes, shares or retweets, comments and other features distinct to each social channel.

You’ll want to update these figures at least monthly, if not weekly, as you go forward. Once you get your spreadsheet all set up, it won’t take too much effort to plug in the numbers and monitor your key metrics.

You’ll also need to track referral traffic from each channel to your company website. This is one of the most crucial pieces of data for you to watch, as it is the basic measure of how well your social channels convert and push leads to your site.

2. Set Your SMM Goals

Once you have some numbers to work with, you can then begin setting specific, measurable goals for improving those numbers.

A lot of businesses will focus primarily on the number of followers and likes that they get. But this can be a bit misleading, as likes and followers are a dime a dozen. Some will even make the mistake of buying likes and followers to try to boost their social proof. But this is really a mistake and it actually hurt you in the long run.

The best thing to focus on is your posting frequency, engagement with your customer base through comments and shares and the amount of traffic that you are pushing through to your website. These are the factors that are more closely aligned with your goals of capturing leads and making sales, and they will give you a better picture of how effective your social media marketing campaigns are at growing your profits.

3. Focus on Your Target Audience

With social media marketing, it can be very easy to focus on the wrong things and to lose sight of the true goal: engaging your true customer base and growing your business. It’s not just about gaining followers and driving traffic. It’s about conversion.

So the key to getting real results from the start is to know your target customers, understand their needs and engage with them in the online spaces in which they can be found.

If your target audience is senior citizens, then you’ll need to make sure that you are focusing on social media platforms where seniors can be found, such as Facebook. If your target audience young teens and preteens, then you’ll need to focus on platforms where they can be found, such as YouTube, Instagram, and SnapChat.

4. Create Content and Publishing Calendar

The type of content that you are putting out there on social media is incredibly important. The worst mistake you can make in this area — other than publishing content that is offensive — is to focus too much on hard selling. This is not going to work on social media, especially with today’s younger audiences. Commercials belong on television and radio, but they are not all that effective on social media.

Instead, focus on creating content with a more personal touch. You can still create content that has sales in mind, but the message needs to focus a lot more on the customer than on pure selling.

Also, the very concept of social media is that it is social — there is interaction here. Don’t just post and run, post and run. Make sure that you are responding to comments that readers leave on your posts. Ask questions and invite feedback.

Many of your readers will want to know more about the people behind the products, so having some videos that give a glimpse into the lives of your employees can also be very effective. Remember, you’re not just pushing for an immediate sale. Instead, you’re trying to build relationships, build trust and create lifelong fans. That takes more than commercials and clearance sale announcements.

Publishing consistency is also very important for keeping your readers engaged, so setting up a publishing calendar can be useful here. You can even use social media tools like Hootsuite to preschedule your content to go out on a specific day at specific times. Working in batches and using prescheduling tools will streamline your workflow and save you a lot of time.

5. Track Results and Adjust as Needed

Once you have audited your social media accounts, set new metrics goals, zeroed in on your target customer base and set up your publishing schedule with high-quality content that will appeal to your target customer, it is then time to set it all in motion and start analyzing your results. Otherwise, you’re just shooting in the dark and hoping for the best.

Keep in mind that short-term increases or decreases in some of your numbers might be related to seasonal shopping patterns more than the efforts you are making with your social marketing campaigns. So it is a good idea to not only compare your numbers weekly and monthly but to compare each month with the same time period from last year. This obviously means that you will need to track your social media results on an ongoing basis to know how effective your strategies are, but that’s what it takes to make this work.

Social media marketing is a long-term game. It’s not about pushing out a bunch of activity for a few weeks or months and expecting a miracle. This needs to become a part of your ongoing marketing strategy. And more than that, it needs to become a part of your company culture.

Social media is here to stay. Specific platforms and techniques may come and go, but social media itself is not just a trend or a magic bullet. This is something that your business needs to commit to for the foreseeable future. Embracing new technology, mobile devices and internet culture is the future of marketing, and if you want to reap the benefits and avoid being left in the dust, then you need to get on board and master this new game.