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Most businesses today can benefit from having a presence on the internet. Building a website is a good start, but the actual job of promoting your products or services can be hard work. Many small businesses need to grow before they have enough cash available to invest in online marketing, but with social media, smaller players have a platform for reaching a big audience.

There are plenty of examples of big brands getting social media completely wrong, but there are also some imaginative small businesses making the most of the social web. Some people have even created businesses on the back of their social media success.

Consider this: An artist named Jim runs the popular Facebook page Jim’ll Paint It. Jim asks his followers to request scenarios that he then draws on Microsoft Paint. The finished drawings are low-fi, surreal and incredibly funny.

As a result, Jim now has a staggering 261,810 followers and his popularity has resulted in a site where he sells prints and T-shirts. Unlike many artists that struggle to sell their work, Jim is producing items that his customers have specifically requested.

Jim built an audience by understanding that great content is only great if someone actually wants to see it. By letting his fans dictate the content he produced, and delighting them with the results, he created an audience that was highly-engaged and bound to multiply.

There are two lessons here:

1. Social media is only really worthwhile if you’re sharing things that people care about.

Rather than trying to please everyone, start off with a really tightly-defined audience in mind, and share content that will matter to them. If you know exactly who you’re talking to, it will be a lot easier to develop a strategy that makes sense, and to gradually grow and diversify the pool of people you can communicate with online.

2. Social media is great for finding out what people think.

Whether you’re running polls on Facebook, asking people to suggest new features they’d like to see in a product you’re due to release, or just monitoring Tweets on a particular topic to better understand your market, social media is a great tool for simply listening.

Used well, social media enables you to create powerful connections, based on trust and loyalty. But for that to happen, it’s important to be consistent with your posts and maintain momentum. If you’re really doing it right, your customers will start doing your marketing for you by sharing your content with family and friends, effectively widening your network and customer base.

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