The analogy around our office at the moment is that social media is like a garden: If you start out with a plan, tend to it, use the right tools, and periodically clear out the junk, your business will have a thriving social media presence; if you don't, your social media efforts will wither and die—just like an untended garden.

Studies back up the notion that a well-tended social media program yields great rewards, and that there's a direct correlation between the amount of time spent on social media marketing and the benefits reaped.

Here are a few stats from Social Media Examiner's annual Social Media Marketing Industry survey (PDF) of some 3,000 marketers:

  • At least half of marketers who have been using social media for more than three years said it has helped them improve sales.
  • 75% of participants found that website traffic increased as a result of as little as six hours per week invested in social media marketing.
  • Even with minimal time investment, the vast majority of marketers (a whopping 89%) said their social media efforts increased exposure for their business.
  • Half of marketers who have invested 1-2 years in social media marketing also reported that they gained new partnerships.

To cultivate a flourishing social media presence, do the following five things.

1. Start with a plan

When business owners or marketers sign up for a Facebook Page and a Twitter account (or commits to any other social platform), typically they just start posting without rhyme or reason... and then wonder why people aren't flocking to the Page or account. Yes, a lucky few (mostly celebrities and major brands) have jumped onto various platforms and immediately found an audience. They are the exceptions. Most businesses, even well-known ones, have to put in time and effort to acquire a large online audience.

To ensure your time and effort spent on social media are worthwhile, make a plan. To determine your content strategy, start by defining your audience and the type of content you think they would be most interested in. Next, decide which social platforms you want your business to be on, along with what content should be shared via each. Finally, make a schedule. You can use a simple Excel document for a schedule of posts and status updates. (Also, the inbound marketing team at HubSpot has a social media publishing template that you can download.)

2. Use the right tools

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image of Jim Belosic

Jim Belosic is a co-founder and the CEO of software company Pancake Laboratories, best known for its flagship product, ShortStack, a self-service custom app design tool.

LinkedIn: Jim Belosic