The social media world has changed significantly over just the past few years —and it will keep changing in the years to come. Today, social media is part of your small business simply because you transact — any customer can post a review or tweet.

And, if your business is active on social media — or wants to be — you’re going to need to learn the new rules if you want to succeed.

Rule #1. Pick one platform and be excellent at it.

The big three social media platforms are Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn. But there are dozens of others like Yelp, Instagram, Foursquare, and Pinterest. Each of these platforms has its own unique communities, rules, quirks, and secrets. It’s possible that you can succeed on more than one. But try not to spread yourself too thin.

Pick just one of these platforms — the one where you think most of your audience would be — and be excellent at it. Facebook, for example, has 70 million small business pages. Twitter, however, is very popular with younger audiences and the media. LinkedIn is great for professionals. Pinterest is extremely visual.

Read about your chosen site. Spend a significant amount of time on it. Understand how it works. You won’t be able to really know how to maximize its benefit until you do this.

Rule #2. Have a specific objective.

I’ve learned that to succeed on social media, you need to define success. Some people just want more followers and likes, which is great if you’re a celebrity. But if you’re running a business, then let’s just admit that you’re in it for one reason and one reason only: leads.

Sure, social media is a great way to stay engaged with your community. But you’re looking for business out of this and the only way to know if all this effort is worth it is to get confirmation that it’s generating sales.

If you’re on Facebook, you can track posts that turn into sales in your online store. Same with Twitter and other sites. Or maybe you’re promoting an event, a book, a whitepaper, or a special relationship that requires submission of contact info. (This is called “gated” content.) These are all lead-generating activities that you can do on social media that will prove your platform’s value.

Rule #3. Open up your wallet.

The days of “organic” engagement are over. Today’s social media sites are little more than advertising platforms. If you want your message, tweet, post, video, or whatever to be seen, you’re going to have to promote it. Otherwise it will be buried amidst everything else.

This means having an advertising budget. The good news is that the cost isn’t anywhere near what you’d pay for traditional advertising — but it’s still a cost. Maybe hundreds or even thousands a month, depending on your objective. Do not go into this without a budget or you will fail.

Rule #4. Hire an expert.

Advertising won’t be your only cost. I strongly recommend that you also hire a social media expert to help you. I’ve worked with a handful of people that I’ve found on Upwork, Fiverr, and Craigslist. These are people who know the ins and outs of Facebook and Twitter. I pay them by the hour. They run campaigns, measure success, target audiences, and otherwise spend my advertising dollars. A few of them I even allow to engage with others online on my behalf (with my supervision).

I’m a small business owner and sell certain technologies. I am not a social media expert and don’t have the time to become one. You’re probably the same. If you think you’re going to save money by doing it yourself, you’re wrong — you’ll waste time that could otherwise be spent doing what you do best and serving your customers.

Rule #5. Listen to Michael Jordan.

Ever hear the basketball great’s most famous quote? After pointing out that he’s missed more than 9,000 shots over the course of his career, he said, “I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” OK, the guy’s a legend — and your and my success probably won’t be anything like his. But his message is clear and directly relevant to social media.

The experts that are helping me with social media are running multiple campaigns at one time. Most of them are failing, failing, failing. This is not their fault. They’re trying lots of different tactics. What I’ve learned is that there’s no silver bullet for succeeding on any of these. You have to spend and fail and spend and fail until you stumble on a methodology that’s providing the best results. This may take days, weeks, or months, so hunker down!

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Yes, you can succeed on social media. But, to do so, you’ve got to follow the above rules. I should know. I’ve broken every one of them — and paid the price.

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