Now more than ever, there’s one question clients are asking us here at Altitude: “What should we do about social media?” Like almost every query we field, there’s no one right answer. But there is a wrong one. Ignoring it.

Some business people still think of social media marketing as child’s play rather than a serious tool. They’re wrong. Your competition is cranking out thought leadership blog posts—and they’re aggressively using LinkedIn and Facebook to reach your customers. Search engines are giving weight to “likes” and “+1’s.” And YouTube has become massive when it comes to generating B2C and B2B leads.

It’s 2018: Social media is here, and it’s here to stay. It’s about as unstoppable as the tides. Try to stand in its way, and you’ll get knocked over. Instead, embrace it. Ride the wave.

Whether you’re just taking the plunge or have been active in social media marketing for years, now’s the time to take a hard look at what you’re doing, why you’re doing it and how you’re doing it.

Set goals.

I often see companies jump into social media marketing by creating a LinkedIn profile, a Facebook page, a YouTube channel and a Twitter account … and then they forget about them. Bad idea. If your company’s name is on it, it reflects you. You wouldn’t go to a trade show or engage in a print ad campaign without first thinking about how the effort aligns with corporate goals. And you wouldn’t put an intern in charge of your corporate identity.

Social media deserves respect. Before you take a dip, define what you want to accomplish. Insist on brand consistency. And ensure the content and conversation fits the company persona.

One size doesn’t fit all.

There’s no magic, one-size-fits-all solution to social media marketing. You can use every Twitter best practice, but if your customer base and prospects aren’t tuned into tweets, you’re talking to yourself. Facebook can connect you with plenty of professionals, but probably not with 65-year-old C-level executives. You need to pick your spots, set goals, make a plan and stick to it. Figure out what works for your company and your industry. Then spend your time doing what makes sense and creates conversions, rather than doing for the sake of doing.

Develop a content strategy.

Content doesn’t just happen. Develop an editorial plan and assign responsibility (and accountability).

Even after you’ve picked your spots, developed a strategy and branded your social media pages, you’re still missing the biggest piece of the puzzle: Content. Without relevant content, your Twitter and Facebook accounts are like a new Mercedes without an engine – looks great, doesn’t go anywhere.

A steady stream of creative, original content is essential for both organic search optimization and  social media marketing. But content doesn’t just happen. You need to develop an editorial plan to determine who is going to produce what, when. Someone needs to be in charge of monitoring the conversation, and thoughtfully responding when it makes sense.

Accountability is key. Make sure you know who’s in charge of your social media presence – and make sure they know it, too.

Get cranking on content.

Once you’ve determined the content strategy and assigned accountability, stick with it. And stick to deadlines, too: You wouldn’t miss a print ad creative due date, would you?

A client in the aquarium equipment industry has a corporate goal of creating brand loyalists by keeping social media followers engaged. So the company developed a content strategy in which they make daily posts on fish and coral, provide fast facts and quizzes, and ask customers to provide tips and techniques.

They don’t leave anything to chance. The company shares the social media tasks among several employees, and meets weekly to discuss what resonated and why. Now, when they have product news, they have a ready audience of hardcore enthusiasts ready to spread the word on their behalf.

Be quiet and listen.

Social media is a dialogue, not a monologue.

Social media is a dialogue, not a monologue. Remember to take a step back to review what your industry is doing with it, and listen to what prospects and customers are saying. Then you can tweak your tactics accordingly.

Another client was lambasted early in its evolution as being non-responsive. So they dedicated personnel to respond to questions, comments and criticisms on popular industry forums and Twitter. When an issue popped up, it was dealt with quickly – almost in real time. The company’s image changed. They gained respect. And more importantly, they gained market share and sales.

Pull it all together.

Social media marketing isn’t the be-all/end-all. Like any other marketing tool, it’s part of a greater whole. What you do in social circles and blogs must tie back to overarching marketing goals. It should promote and enhance your trade show presence. It should provide prospects with an avenue to react to your latest print campaign. And it should drive leads to your website.

Whatever you used to think about social media marketing, it has become a giant in the business world. Use it. Work with it. Master it. Just don’t try to ignore it. You can ride the wave or you can get knocked over. It’s your choice.