It was the best of times, it was the worst of times—when it comes to online marketing in 2014. While social media presents major opportunities for businesses that know how to properly use it, many companies are still mistaking Facebook and Twitter as advertising portholes instead of a friendly form of public relations.

To maximize the medium, marketers must put the social in social media by considering their audience as much as their sales objectives. In other words…

be transparent. Don’t hide your true identity. Be up front about your company, your brand, and your intentions. You wouldn’t want to be friends with a phony off line so the same holds true for your target market online.

loosen the reigns. Although traditional advertising lets companies control brand messaging, the same is not true when it comes to social media since it is built on a community dialogue, not a singular monologue. Allowing your follower’s unedited input helps to develop relationships, creates crowdsourcing opportunities, and lends credibility to your brand. And if a message ever becomes too damaging, there’s always a delete option.

take the high road. Instead of viewing social media as a way to make money for your brand, think of it as a way to make friends—even ambassadors—of your brand. That means listening to what your friends and followers are saying and offering them perks without expecting any monetary gains in return.

allow for the long haul. It takes a village to build trust on social media, and it doesn’t happen overnight. In order to develop friends and followers of the future, be prepared to invest time and money now on designated community managers who possess the skills and dedication to effectively engage your target market.

use metrics to create sound strategies. Just because social media is about being social on the front-end, doesn’t mean companies should ignore back-end operations and analytics. To boost your ROI in the new year, social media strategies must measure and analyze past results to see what’s working, and what’s not.

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