By Hannah  Whittenly

With hundreds of platforms and billions of users, social media has become a force to be reckoned with in the business world. Its sheer scale might make it difficult to wrap your head around if you’ve just started your own company and are wondering how to integrate it with sites like Facebook and Instagram. The good news is that it’s easier than you might think to teach yourself about social media, so here are just a few of the basics to get you started.

Figure Out Your Demographic

Even if you offer goods or services for everyone, there’s probably a particular subset of consumers who buy from you more than others. They might be middle-aged soccer moms, or they might be young male business professionals. The trick is to figure out their exact age, gender, nationality and income level so that you can make inferences about their shopping habits and social media preferences. The easiest way to do this is with Google Analytics, a popular tool that will track your most popular locations and keywords, but there are other analytics programs out there as well. Once you know where your traffic is coming from and who’s responsible for creating it, you can start researching your SEO strategy and using a variety of resources, including slideshows, such as the one that Stevens Henager College has on Slideshare.

Know Your Platforms

Facebook is the king of social media with more than 1.9 billion users. That’s twice the amount of its nearest competitor, YouTube, and almost three times the amount of the third-place finisher Instagram. However, the demographics of Facebook are all over the place in terms of age and nationality, so it can be difficult to launch a successful ad campaign with targeted content. You might want to try something different like LinkedIn for business professionals or Tumblr for millennials. If you’re looking to optimize your social media efforts by only putting resources into the sites that will recoup your costs, make sure that you research their demographics first.

Take Advantage of the Platform’s Features

Social media networks understand their power in the business world, so just about every site offers some kind of promotional tool for companies to advertise through them. Instagram allows you to “promote a post” through their app, and LinkedIn has a step-by-step guide for creating “sponsored content” that shows up to relevant users. Facebook has a “promoted posts” feature that allows you to increase the visibility of your posts on other people’s news feeds. Many of these advertising services will even let you tag and target specific demographic groups based on age, gender, location and interests, so don’t be shy about utilizing them when you can. You’ll pay a small fee today and rake in the profits of your advertisements tomorrow.

Integrate Social Media into Your Business

Connecting with users on social media is only the first step. You’ll also want to draw them back to your own website and encourage them to incorporate your brand into their social media habits. For example, you might place “social media buttons” on your overhead menu bar so that your customers can add things to their Pinterest boards without having to leave your site. You can also add links to your product descriptions that say “tweet this!” or “reblog this!” for networks like Twitter and Tumblr. If the platform uses hashtags, be sure to offer suggestions for your customers like #ThrowbackThursday or #HowCuteIsThis. You can even create contests and host giveaways through your social media account to generate more clicks.

Social media is more than just a passing trend, so don’t write it off as something unimportant to your business. It’s the 21st century, and your brand will need social media to establish itself in an increasingly digital world.

Hannah Whittenly is a freelance writer and mother of two from Sacramento, CA. She enjoys kayaking and reading books by the lake.