When it comes to social media, having a presence and being present is not the same thing.

You may already have a Facebook Page; maybe you’ve even tried Twitter or LinkedIn.

But if you’re only logging onto Facebook, or sending out a tweet when you have something to promote, you’ve probably seen that engagement is tough to come by.

That’s because building an engaged social media audience takes time. Even more importantly, it takes a willingness to be part of the conversation on an ongoing basis, not just when it’s most convenient for you.

To do that, you need to first understand the needs of the people you’re trying to reach.

Early on, your focus will likely be on customers or potential customers. This should be the easiest audience to create content for because these are the people you’re interacting with everyday.

If you’re not sure what your customers are most interested in, don’t be afraid to ask. You may already have a handful of repeat customers you could reach out to, or pick their brains next time they are in your store.

Come up with a posting schedule that works for you.

For Facebook, your schedule might look something like this:

• Monday: Post a ‘behind the scenes’ photo of your staff starting the week.
• Wednesday: Post a link to an article or blog post with a short description for why you think it would be interesting to your fans.
• Thursday: Post something specific to your business.
• Friday: Post a question, fill in the black, or another type of post designed to spark a conversation.

If you’re having difficulty sticking to your schedule, look for tools to improve social media productivity.

And don’t forget to monitor these engagements so you never miss a chance to answer a question or respond to feedback.

But you should also look for opportunities to create content for people who aren’t necessarily customers as well.

This could include:

• Other business owners
• Industry experts
• Community leaders
• Reporters
• Bloggers

These are the people who will help you expand your reach, and get in front of the people who may not already know your business, and aren’t actively searching you out. Social media has made it easier to get in front of these people, but unless you’re participating you’ll never have a chance to do it.

Identify a list of people you think would be helpful to your business.

Take the time to find out where they’re hanging out online. Who are they engaging with? What type of content are they sharing?

Chances are these people will have a social media routine of their own.

If you see another business owner post a photo, and you’ve had a similar experience, post a comment and strike up a conversation.

If you see an expert from your industry is already sharing articles about a particular topic, consider coming up with some content on your own blog, and share your perspective.

If you see a reporter or a member of a local organization post a question about an upcoming community event, don’t be afraid to reach out.

Over time, you’ll start to forge new relationships, which in the process will open your business to new opportunities.

What does this all mean to you?

Participating on social media will allow you to build an audience of people who are interested in what you have to say, and who are eager to show their support.

When you do have something to promote, they’ll be there, eager to register for an event, act on an offer, or share your latest piece of content.

Ready to get started?

Don’t get overwhelmed by the volume of different social media sites that are out there. Instead, choose one or two networks that you believe has the best potential for your business and focus a majority of your effort there.

Below, you will find a list of the top social networks. Each link contains a list of additional resources you can use to build and grow a presence for your business.