Today’s guest post is by Alan Grainger, based in England, his spelling may be a little different then ours, but his suggestions on social media are right on track.

Barely a day goes by without talk in the news or on the small business forums about the latest company to embrace social media. It can have the effect of leaving those on the outside scratching their heads and wondering what exactly it is they are missing. 5000 followers, re-tweets, viral marketing and Facebook pages are all well and good but when analysing the possibilities that social media can bring for a company you only need to ask yourself one question, how can it benefit my business?

In opposition to the many hyped up articles that preach why every business needs social media, it is important to sit back into your chair and mull over exactly what it is that using social networks like Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn can bring to your business and evaluate how you might be able to use them to develop specific aspects of your company.  The dirty secret to social media for business is this; social media is not a one size fits all solution to helping your business to reach new heights; it is a toolbox from which it is possible to hand-pick specific tools that can help different parts of your business to achieve specific goals.

Social Toolbox
So how do you go about finding the right tool for the job? (Yes, I will be milking the toolbox analogy for at least the next few paragraphs!) Well first you need to figure out exactly which tool does what. There are four major social networks that you will need to become acquainted with, Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google+. Each of these has their own unique quirks that you will need to become familiar with so some initial playing around is called for to see all of the features that they have to offer. Once you’re fully acquainted with your tools then you need to know where to use them. Here’s how.

Follow the Right People
This first tip can sound a bit basic but it takes a little more thinking about than you might realize. The temptation when venturing into social media can be to search for those that occupy the same niche as you, but all that will do is mean that you are connecting with your competitors, not your customers. While this can be useful, the trick is finding the places where your customers hang out if you really want social media to have an effect on your business. Search for specific companies and individuals so that you can connect with the people who will really make a difference to your company.

To Sell or Not to Sell?
One of the main reasons why business owners, especially of small companies, can be turned off by social media is that they cannot see an immediate way of selling to people and making a profit. In many cases this is true as your average social media user is not in a mind set to buy when using the networks but the key piece of advice is as above, go where your audience is. This time we are talking about customers so find out where they hang out online and build a presence in that arena.

If you’re a B2B company, see which groups your clients are hanging out in on Linked In. Search for the names of companies and individuals you want to target and see which of your contacts are linked to them, you might be surprised by the results. You can then use your contact to introduce you to your target and bingo, a potential client.

Your PR efforts can also benefit from social media. Looking to get your story seen by the media? Reach out to journalists on Twitter and get their details from Linked In. Most journalists are active on Twitter and it can be a great way to reach out and make contact with a reporter when your calls and emails may get ignored.

The key to using social media for business is to not see it as a pure sales tool. Instead, look at it as a toolbox with which to get the right results for a particular task, helping you to develop each part of your business accordingly. Learn what each social network does, see how it works and then consider how you might be able to use it in specific areas of your business whether it’s marketing, PR or sales.

Alan Grainger is an in-house B2B web marketer in the promotional gifts sector and manages SEO for The Promotional Gifts Company. He writes articles exploring the issues faced by the B2B web marketer, giving an “in the trenches” view from an in-house SEO department. Follow him @alanjgrainger.