Everybody and their dog is on social media nowadays. According to a 2014 analysis from We Are Social, there are now 2.03 billion people worldwide who sign into Facebook, Twitter, Weibo or some other service on a monthly basis – not bad going at all for seven million!

And yet a lot of companies still aren’t that great at building relationships and reaching out to customers on social media. Sure, some might have a bare-bones presence, but that’s not to say they fully understand how this can help them grow their business. Others are sceptics, plain and simple – they don’t see the ROI of updating their pages and engaging with their followers.

A smart and joined-up social media strategy can contribute to success in every stage of the customer journey, making it an invaluable weapon in the modern marketer’s arsenal. Here’s how:

1. You learn more about your customers.

Back in the day, market research meant doing things like sending out questionnaires and running focus groups – basically, hard graft that didn’t necessarily yield trustworthy insights. Social media, on the other hand, can tell you exactly what your audience thinks, how they act, and what they like and dislike.When it comes to creating personalised marketing messages and pitching customer support at the right level, few sources of data are so useful – not to mention accessible.

2.You create a real dialogue.

Establishing an effective social media presence for your business means breaking down the barriers between you and your customers. They get the chance to share their feedback directly and instantly, and you get corresponding insight into their wants and needs.Plus, you can resolve problems in a way that makes every individual feel like you’re putting them first.

3. It’s the perfect platform to share your content.

Releasing original research? Publishing a new blog? Running a competition? If you want more than a handful of people to be exposed to your web marketing messages and promotional campaigns, spreading the word on social media is the way to go.Provided you’ve done your homework and produced content that aligns with their interests, you should find that your followers are willing to lend a hand when it comes to sharing your posts, starting conversations and keeping your business on the radar.

4. You drive traffic to your website.

Having your content shared far and wide on social media is a sure-fire way to see your website climb the search engine rankings, and to get your customers and prospects spending more time there in general. Complement this with the right analytics tools, and you’ll be able to track the customer journey from first share to final conversion.

5. Social media helps you generate leads.

A well-maintained presence on Facebook and Twitter won’t just help you create buzz around your brand, but also feed your sales pipeline with promising new business.So, tailor your marketing messages to focus on solving your followers’ problems, create engaging and personalised ads, and share gated content like whitepapers and ebooks to gain new mailing list subscribers. You’ll soon find your number of opportunities to turn prospects into leads rises exponentially.

Read about running effective social media campaigns with Microsoft Dynamics Marketing.