Lauren Shirreffs is ½ of 2Social Inc.; founder and partner of Toronto-based Social Media Agency. Lauren began 2Social with the initial desire to work with local businesses in helping them brand themselves online with unique content, and develop relationships with their customers. Within 3 years, 2Social Inc. has grown to a team of 13 people, and has provided social media strategy and management for 60+ local and national brands.

With what started as a question of “why” a brand should be on social media, has evolved to a conversation of “how”. Developing a strong social media presence is essential for entrepreneurs, small businesses, and large brands as a means to develop rapport with new and existing customers. Creating a captivating visual story will encourage people to join the culture and community of your brand. It is an ecosystem of ethos, and 2Social works to develop a brand’s online social city through strategy, content, conversation, and analytics.

Here are five tips & tricks to creating a unique online presence reflective of your personal or professional brand.

1. Think. Plan. Understand.

Take time to understand your goals, develop a strategy and plan.

Social media is not an after-thought or a recreational activity. It is a collection of powerful tools that, when used effectively, can represent a brand or individual’s story, brand principles, and key messages. This allows for meaningful opportunities to connect with customers, ambassadors, and influencers online.

Every post, word, and visual should be reflective of the overall general principles that a company or person wishes to be communicated to the public. Therefore, everything should be carefully thought our ahead of time.

Who: Understand who are you trying to attract or communicate with, and develop a relationship online.

What: Determine the key messages or take-aways you want your audience to know and understand.

Where: Based on who your target audience is, find out which social media platform they are currently engaging on. It is less important to dominate every social media platform, and more effective to pick the ones that makes sense for your brand.

When: All social platforms have an analytics backend, or about 100 white papers that can give you great insight into when your customer is online and most active on social media. Plan your key messages around these times to develop the conversations and gain the most engagement within your industry or market.

Why: Why is social media important for you or your business? Understanding this, and determining short-term and long-term goals, can help you shape up a strategy that is unique to you or your brand. The “WHY” is everything. Being present online because your competitor is, is not a good enough reason anymore. How you can stand out in an already crowded marketplace – while maintaining your vision and staying true to your values – is everything.

2. Create visuals that work.

Specifically, visuals that work, for you or your brand; how you want to represent yourself should be conveyed in the visual representation of your brand, as well as copy, tone, and text.

By testing out various images and media, you gain insight into the overall performance amongst your online community (shares, engagements, reach, etc.). More importantly than performance, is just how these visuals will convey the story of your brand and its overall values.

3. Be real.

At the end of the day, social media is, very simply, “social”. Finding the conversations to have and engaging with your community, is tremendously important for you or your brand. By developing a flow of two-way conversation, you will build trusted relationships and make your fans or followers feel like they are connecting with something tangible, and genuine.

Avoid jargon and sounding too overly corporate. You should determine your brands’ overall tone and utilize that in a conversational way on your social platforms.

Maintain your overall tone, but treat each platform, as its own machine. Engaging and showcasing your brand on Instagram could look differently than the social listening and outreach you provide on Twitter. Each platform has an audience that acts and reacts differently, and you can find your groove through testing, and maintaining conversations that allow for appreciation, insightfulness, and offerings.

4. Never be afraid to try.

Social media doesn’t have to be daunting, it just has to be thought out, tried, and tested. Once you understand the principles of what you want to say, how you wish to be perceived, and what are the important things you want to be communicated, go on a platform and give it a try!

5. Reassess your goals

With short-term and long-term goals set out, spend time at the start of each month reviewing the online analytics provided by each platform, or invest in an external tool that will highlight your top performing content, most engaged users, and overall sentiment, this will help you to understand where to tweak your strategy to continually succeed in surpassing the important key performance indicators for you or your brand.

Learn more about 2Social Inc. here, and follow them on Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter for updates.