Is your social media creating a community?

Incorporating your current marketing campaign or brand voice through social media channels isn’t “social.” It’s marketing. Nothing has really changed to your customers.

You might be paying for “social,” but that isn’t what you are getting for your money. What is really happening is you are buying the same digital marketing campaigns you were buying the last couple of years, except now, they also include Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. You can call it “social” all you want, but it isn’t a matter of how many people click “follow” or “like” on your stuff. People clicking on buttons on the Internet is about as valuable to your business as counting how many cars drive by your office every day.

Social media must be used for more than just campaigns. Your business should be using social media not only to acquire new customers or trigger a spike in business, but to retain customers as well, to develop them into active community participants, loyal repeat customers, thereby increasing their buy rate, transaction yield, and their reach into lateral networks through organic word-of-mouth.

Social media activity, through community management, online customer service, customer engagement and other truly social modes of social communications help maintain (even stabilize) customer participation not only in dialog, but in transactions as well. Social communications become the answer to the “now what?”

Use each campaign to get to the next level of attention and activity, and instead of letting it all die back down once the campaign is over, maintain it through engagement. Once things settle at that level, get to the next plateau using another campaign.

Here are the 7 ways that top performers are maximizing the value of their investments in social media marketing initiatives:

1. Give your customers a good reason to want to share brand-related content.

Good community managers have learned over time that one of the keys to a successful engagement campaign is to provide quality content that is relevant to the brand but that does not necessarily promote use of the brand.

Marketers who run social media efforts for companies large and small need to remember that customers want to take the lead in advocating for the brand. Brands might point them in the right direction, but your customers will be most inclined to interact with the content if it provides value, solves a problem, or is just plain interesting.

2. Identify and engage top influencers.

The influencers and brand advocates that gravitate to a company’s online communities and social media sites are the Holy Grail for marketers. These are the people who will tell the brand story, rally others to the brand’s side, and speak up when the need occurs.

With the right social media monitoring tools, brands can identify these people without engaging in social media marketing themselves, but they’ll generally be at a loss to do anything about it without joining the social media universe, even on a small scale.

Brands should foster a positive relationship with top influencers, but should be careful not to “buy” their influence. Just showing them respect and attention, and giving them early information, should be enough to keep them involved.

3. Leverage the reach and multiplier effect of social networks.

Social media platforms work by allowing people to connect and communicate with circles of friends or colleagues — each with their own circle of friends or colleagues.

These overlapping and interconnected circles allow users to broadcast their stories to their networks, and also allow the information to creep into the larger networks.

Marketers who create interesting offers, content or apps for these networks can find that the social capital pays off by sparking a “me too” connection to the brand.

4. Adjust promotional tactics as needed, based on campaign performance.

Top Performers are outdistancing others by paying closer attention to the effectiveness of their social media marketing — and changing course when necessary.

Done right, social media campaigns can be pretty flexible in scope and design, allowing marketers to shift gears to reflect facts on the ground. In fact, because of the two-way nature of most social media, brands can win laurels for adjusting their efforts in the face of criticism or lack of response.

Either way, the ability to modify a campaign to make it more effective or to draw a larger response has clear benefits that are not as readily available in more traditional marketing campaigns.

5. Generate new content and conversation on campaign landing pages.

Content costs money, and marketing content can sometimes come across as, well, marketing content. User-generated content, on the other hand, is generally authentic and is perceived by the audience as trustworthy.

This user content can also make static pages seem alive, offering a constant stream of changes. Brands need to be willing to take their lumps, though, because these unvarnished and sometimes impolitic comments can be off-putting.

6. Host one or more branded online customer communities.

Branded customer communities can be an effective way to gain customer insights, marshal enthusiasm and develop advocates.

Communities generally have strong value in natural search. But they are no guaranteed successes. They require a lot of TLC, and are something of a slow build.

The challenge, frequently, is in keeping the focus on building the communities long enough to actually build the community. Done correctly, branded communities can pay off in spades.

7. Integrate social media with other media buys and campaigns.

Social media marketing is seductive, because there’s the perception that you can do it on the fly — that you don’t need the kind of planning and back-end support as you do for email marketing campaigns or traditional marketing efforts.

More and more marketers are adding Facebook and Twitter mentions to their ads and marketing collateral. The callouts frequently are mere invitations to join or follow the brand on those sites. However, aggressive marketers are finding ways to bring value to the fan for taking the action.

They are offering exclusive content, special deals or early information. The comingling of social media marketing with other campaigns can have the effect of making the entire brand seem more in line with the sensibilities of today’s consumer.

The use of social media is an ongoing responsibility and should not be taken lightly if you are not prepared to maintain the rigors of constant conversation with your customers and community.

Start by reading “Engage or Die” by Brian Solis and never stop learning about the evolution and best practices of one-to-one marketing.

* The research findings are based on the experiences of 284 companies that participated in the Gleanster research project.