Businesses today know they need to integrate social media into their marketing mix but most aren’t sure where to begin, how to manage it or how to develop a plan. Social media is useful for many types of businesses – both big brands and small businesses.

The correct use of social media helps companies engage audiences on a 1 to 1 level, be more open and transparent, develop new connections, and more effectively maintain the relationships they have. Social media has taken the outbound role of marketing, and turned it inbound by putting it in the hands of the end user and communities that support them.

Traditional approaches to marketing don’t necessarily work online anymore.  Rather, now businesses need to learn the steps to social media success, get out there and talk with their markets and customers, getting involved with the conversations that are happening online.

Here are 6 steps to social media success, for getting involved in the conversation and developing a plan to manage it.

We know it’s a lot, so we can take care of the process for you.

Step 1: Listen

Determine your audience and where they’re active online. Highly trafficked sites such as Technorati and Twitter are great place to jump in, listen and gain insight to the conversations that are happening in your market.  Many tools can be used to monitor and listen to conversations as well as management tools such as Hootsuite that allow you to monitor branded keywords and mentions as well as to listen to trends and hot topics affecting your brand.

Once that steps complete, find the conversation agents or the influences surrounding your market. Who, where, why and what drives the topics covering your market and brand. What’ s being said, what’s missing, who and what has the strongest influence.

Step 2: Identify Goals

What are you business goals and what are you market/audiences goals? You won’t know how you fit into the conversation or how to track your success until you know what your goals are for being there. Remember, online is open, transparent and real. If any of your goals are self serving, it will show. Be prepared to give back, contribute to the community in which you’ll be getting involved and share your ideas and content widely.

Step 3: Create the Plan

How will you reach your goals laid out in the prior steps and manage your online presence consistently. How will you retain, convert and track the leads you capture. How will you keep up with the communication and give back. How will you ensure your message is delivered consistently at all times?

Will you develop a moderation policy, an online communication policy.. There are many ways to interact, be creative and be open to new ideas.

Step 4: The Tools

There are many tools that can help you reach and easily manage your social media communications. Will you use the top three: Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn? Will you add in YouTube, blogging, social wayfinding solutions such as Foursquare?

Make sure you’ve planned your tools well for easy integration and growth and that you’ve prepared your splash pages such as your website and printed collateral to match the brand you’re developing online. Ensure you’re ready to continue the conversation once it begins.

Step 5: Measure

Once you’ve laid out the steps prior, it’s time to defining your benchmarks of what you’ll be measuring and how often. There are several free research and tracking tools out there including Google Analytics, Social Mention, and Tweet Reach.  You can measure your success onsite by web traffic increases, leads and sales.

Step 6: Monitor and Maintain

Ensure you’ve setup the tools to know what is and isn’t working. You might have to try a few different strategies before you find one that works for your business and markets.

Ensure you keep on the lookout for better and more efficient technologies as new tools are coming out every day that might be more efficient at getting the job done.