The emergence of social media as an effective branding and sales tool is a relatively new one compared with mainstays in traditional advertising, such as print ads and billboards. Moreover, the landscape of digital is constantly changing. As a result, older brands that have been deeply entrenched in conventional marketing plans for years, sometimes decades, often have difficulty wrapping their heads around how to begin crafting a powerful online strategy.

Here are a few valuable steps that will make diving into digital more fluid.

Develop a social media platform strategy

Just because a new social media platform pops up in the news doesn't mean a brand immediately needs to jump on the bandwagon. Instead, brands should identify which platforms their target audiences frequent most. For example, Pinterest has a predominantly female user base; if a brand is trying to attract male consumers, then a different platform should probably be its priority.

Perform due diligence and carefully research each social platform you are interested in so you can clearly see which are priorities for your brand and why. Then lay out a game plan for how you are going to populate each with content, including frequency of posts and content topics, and how you will handle community management (e.g., customer service questions, and complaints).

Figure out how much of your budget is going toward paid media, how much is going toward influencer campaigns, and whether you need to hire an agency or use an in-house person to focus on managing all of your platforms and continuing to evolve the strategy. In social, a good strategy is an ever-evolving one.

Create captivating content with high share value

With so much competition out there, it's important that brands create attention-grabbing content that users will be excited to share. Content with high share value is more likely to create a viral effect, exposing brands to wider audiences.

Users tend to share content that is less promotional and more personal. Therefore, brands need to look for content inspiration beyond the products they're selling, and should create or curate content that is inspiring, beautiful, and useful.

Sharing photos on platforms is one of the most common ways for users to communicate their interests and ideas, making it crucial for brands to participate in an effective way that portrays their brand identity. Users are more likely to engage with posts that showcase striking imagery. As an example, Twitter recently incorporated images into users' timelines, and as a result Tweets that include images now receive 18% more clicks.

Also, YouTube has one of the fastest growing user bases and reaches more US based adults age 18-34 than any cable network. It's a great story-telling platform for brands, and it can be used to reach large audiences. Instagram is another rapidly growing platform that has embraced video content by allowing users to create 15-second videos.

Keep up-to-date on trends and stay relevant

Brands must remain current on emerging digital trends. There is no better way to gain inspiration for an innovative initiative or strategy than combing through trade sites for exciting developments and constantly remaining aware of what brands in your competitive sphere are doing.

In addition, a brand should research which cultural topics and influences its target audience is talking about. An easy way to discover these conversations is to search popular hashtags on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Brands should pinpoint the overlap between their values and their audience's areas of interest, and then infuse these buzzworthy topics into their content strategy to excite and engage users.

Optimize for mobile

These days, people are glued to their mobile devices, making it extremely important for brands to optimize their social efforts for mobile. Accordingly, all content must look great and must be easy to share on small-screen devices, such as iPads and smartphones.

The number of people accessing social platforms via mobile devices continues to increase rapidly. In the three years since early 2011, the number of people who access the Internet via a mobile phone has increased 60.3%, to 818.4 million, across the 31 markets tracked by the Global Web Index.

Get influencers and users involved
Influencers and bloggers tend to have a lot of social clout. Brands should partner with the ones who are on-brand for them, and create interesting content and initiatives, harnessing the influencers' large audiences to create buzz, virality, and awareness. For example, an influencer's involvement can be extremely helpful if a brand is hosting a contest or giveaway around a key sales period.

Hosting contests and giveaways (possibly promoted by a key influencer) is a great way for brands to increase exposure by giving users incentive to "like," follow, or share information about the brand for a chance to win a prize. Choose a reward that will resonate with your target audience to ensure optimal engagement.

* * *

Perhaps most important of all is the willingness to take the time to explore the world of digital and all that it has to offer. Keep up with new and exciting platforms that are constantly being released, along with the new features that established platforms keep rolling out. Be open to taking risks and chances on innovative initiatives. Think of innovative approaches while always remaining true to your brand story.

The digital space has a lot to offer your brand if you take the time to get to know it.

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image of Carol Han

Carol Han is a partner at digital media agency CA Creative. A digital strategist, brand consultant, and writer, she was a fashion editor at Lucky magazine, ELLE, and, then executive fashion director at StyleCaster, where she created the content strategy from the ground up.

Twitter: @carolhan

LinkedIn: Carol Han