Social media has quickly emerged as a primary platform for engaging your customers and generating awareness about your company, products and promotions. But social media marketing is still so new that best practices quickly turn into ineffective gimmicks. The key is to start with a good community so you have a built-in audience for your products and services, regardless of the latest trend. So let’s look at five ways to build better social media communities for your small business.

The first step to any marketing channel plan is understanding its capabilities. Social media, for example, is used to build awareness, engage with a specific, targeted community and generate leads. So be sure you use this channel to promote these goals and then measure against them.

5 Ways to Build Better Social Media Communities

Now that you’re clear when to use social media marketing, you’ll want to build your community so you have an audience before you need it. While you should test your own theories that make the most sense to your business, these are a few best practices to get you started.

Share and Generate Good Content

Content is king in marketing and it’s an effective way to quickly build better social media communities that will be responsive to your company offering down the line. Use your company blog to create viral content like “how tos” and “surprising facts” and share them across your social media channels. Just remember that when it comes to content, quality is more important than quantity.

Make Sharing Easy

If you go to the trouble of creating interesting and viral content be sure you make it easy to share. Sharing allows others to become aware of your company and encourages them to follow you for similar pieces of content. So add share buttons to every blog post and email marketing message. Add a “pin” button to every image on your website and include a social sharing widget. While you’re at it, add your social media accounts to your Contact Us and About Us page.

Follow and Share Influencers

You know your market and industry and you probably get a lot of this information from key influencers in your industry. Follow them, share their content and engage with them across social platforms. Over time, this relationship can result in others following your comments, finding you when they search for the original influencer, and even generate a conversation and repost from the influencer himself.

Use Hashtags

Hashtags on Twitter and Instagram are effective ways to join larger conversations. People search hashtags to see what people are saying so it can be a great way to engage and get more followers. If you’re unsure how to use them, check out Jimmy Fallon’s weekly hashtags and join in if you have something fun to share.

Host a Contest

As I wrote a few months ago, social sweepstakes can quickly build your social followers. But to ensure a long term relationship with those who value what you say and the products and services you deliver, consider giving away something that only your audience would want. And encourage entries by giving every participant something free, like a white paper.

With consistent efforts to create valuable content that your audience loves, you can focus on turning social followers into paying customers.

Editor’s Note: This was originally written for BizLaunch.