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Social media marketing may simply be a new technology attached to an old marketing method (word of mouth), but using it effectively can improve relations with existing customers and – over time – generate net new business for VARs. Social media experts offer some tips as to how to do just that.

As an extension of word-of-mouth advertising, social media marketing offers VARs the opportunity to connect and interact with existing customers while also opening up the possibility to gain net new business from their efforts. However, increasing business from social media efforts only works if they’re done right.

According to Sue Sutcliffe, a web consultant and founder of aWEBthatWORKS, the reason to use social media for marketing purposes is obvious. The only thing it costs is time, and the exposure that businesses can get from being active in online social communities will have a long-term benefit in terms of increased sales and better communication between customers.

Marketers need to go where their potential customers are, and that could mean Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn (or any number of other social media websites). The demographics are different for each site, and understanding which is best is one of the first things VARs need to do when forming their social media marketing strategy, said Laura Lake, founder of Laura Lake Consulting and author of Consumer Behavior For Dummies.

“I think the biggest thing when you’re looking at social media marketing is finding which platform works best for your market, because not all platforms serve the same audiences. They serve very different audiences,” Lake said.

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Once VARs have identified their goals, they need to decide on the platform of choice. Facebook is more about relationships and attracts a younger crowd, but the largest user base at 400 million active users. Twitter’s largest growing demographic is the 35 to 45 year old age category, but it can be a noisy place, Lake said. LinkedIn is the most professional of the three and is best for business-to-business transactions.

The key to using social media in an overall marketing strategy (because it should never be the only part of a strategy) is the interaction and community nature of the platform. Sutcliffe noted that no matter what a business is selling, the person has to be sold before the product or service within social media.