It's nice when companies see fans and customers responding positively to their products and messaging over social media. But figuring out how to convert all that positive energy into an effective sales and marketing strategy can be tough to figure out.

With just a little bit of focus and strategizing, businesses of any size can turn one-time customers or casual fans into influential advocates and repeat customers, says Danny Maloney, co-founder and chief executive of Tailwind, a social-media marketing intelligence firm company that builds tools to harness the power of social data.

Here, Maloney offers four ways companies can better leverage their social-media presence into an effective marketing tool:

1. Use a targeted approach.
Fostering wide scale awareness on social media in the same manner as huge brands isn't economically feasible for small- to medium-sized companies. Instead, Maloney says companies with more modest budgets should spend their time and resources on the customers they're most likely to convert.

"With the right tools you can monitor keywords and phrases related to your business" and respond to what customers, fans and even detractors are saying in real time, Maloney says.

Mention, for example, is a simple program that lets users track mentions of their brands across Facebook, Twitter, RSS and the web at large. Tagboard is a similar program used to monitor hashtags on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Vine and Google+. Based on the query, the software puts together a curated display of content from various social platforms.

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2. Let your fans know you're listening.
Unlike other mediums -- like print and broadcast -- social media isn't a one-way channel, it's a conversation and brands have an obligation to be responsive.

"Brand advocates want to know that you're there and that they're heard," Maloney says. "If they took the time to share a blog post you wrote or to give you a positive review, be listening for it and thank them."

Some companies take it a step further by using their strongest brand advocates as a source of ongoing marketing content by asking fans to write testimonials or guest blog posts. "[Customers think] 'this company actually cares, they're listening, I'm going to go tell more people about them,'" Maloney says.

3. Target your special offers.
The customers who already sing your praises on Twitter and Facebook sometimes need a just little nudge to keep them coming back. So as you thank them, consider offering them an incentive, such as a discount, to visit your business one more time.

It lets customers know you're listening and that they're valued, turning them into an even stronger advocate and a repeat customer.

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4. Curate compelling content.
One way brands can develop meaningful relationships with their fans and customers on social media is by finding and sharing interesting content around a specific set of topics. Larger brands are expected to publish content on par with quality magazines, but Maloney says companies of any size can develop an effective content-marketing strategy.

"You have to build relationships with people, engaging them based on an interest and not just going into a sale right away," Maloney says. "If you're a consumer-facing company, it's more important to share something that's interesting and sharable so your audience will propagate the message."

Maloney says it's also important to tailor content for various social networks -- a 140-character tweet won't work so well on image-based Pinterest, for instance -- and to speak to fans in that network's language. This can have your fans returning to your social-media channels again and again not only for the content you share but your marketing messages and special offers, too.

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