The Internet is the hot ticket. Entrepreneurs everywhere want to exploit it to drive sales and grow their businesses.

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Used properly, it can be an important part of your marketing mix. Used improperly, it can be a black hole -- one in which you dump tens of thousands of dollars without results. To maximize the return on your Internet-marketing dollars, follow these four tips:

1. Real-world basics still matter, so get them right. To get the basics right, we suggest answering three questions:

  • Why would a prospective customer buy my product or service rather than the offerings of a competitor?
  • Is there a segment of the market that would value the things that differentiate my product or service and is it large enough to support my business?
  • What is the most cost-effective way to reach this segment with the message that my product or service is different?

You should only launch an Internet-marketing campaign if it is the most cost effective way to reach your specific target segment with your message.

2. Choose the right social media. Not all social media is equal. For example, Pinterest, which is image based, may be great for a jewelry designer to showcase his works. It would probably be less useful for a criminal-defense attorney.

In fact, depending on the target market segment, social media may not be appropriate at all. Launching a Twitter campaign to reach septuagenarians may not be the best use of marketing funds.

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Choose the right platform for reaching your target market segment. Spend some time on Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, Instagram and LinkedIn. Do your research before choosing where to spend your time and efforts.  

3. Offer content. Going out on Twitter, Facebook or LinkedIn with a message that says, “Buy our product” will be ineffective at best. We have found it far more useful to offer something of value to prospective customers. Your posts can feature a link to an article, an assessment, a blog post or a video. You can use other people’s materials with permission and proper attribution. However, if you author the material, it positions you as an expert.

Once you have provided something of value and positioned yourself as an expert, you are much more likely to build the trust necessary to sell something. You can feature your products or services with a banner ad on your blog or by inviting the prospect to click through to the ecommerce portion of your website.

4. Focus on sales, not clicks. One huge problem with many Internet marketers is misalignment of objectives. You want to sell your product or service. They measure success in clicks, friends, followers or some other metric that does not equate to sales. Our advice: If your goals are not aligned with the company you are paying for marketing services, run fast.

Interim goals are fine. Gaining a certain number of followers or obtaining a target click through rate can be wonderful short-term objectives. However, the final objective of Internet marketing is sales, full stop. Don’t lose sight of this.

The Internet in general and social media specifically can be wonderful tools for generating sales. But, like all tools, they have to be used properly to produce the desired results. The four tips above will help you choose the right path.

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