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3 Social Media Rules Most Entrepreneurs Don't Follow With a little effort, you can build a reputation through social media as someone who values customer service and works hard to answer consumer questions.

By Jacqueline Whitmore

entrepreneur daily

Opinions expressed by Entrepreneur contributors are their own.

For all the talk about the drawbacks of using social media, it's hard to imagine a better all-in-one tool for business owners. If used correctly, social media can boost your search engine rankings, allow you to provide better customer service, build an effective online personality, connect with new business partners, foster relationships and educate consumers.

The basics of social media are simple: create great content, publish it and share it with your network. Most entrepreneurs leave it at that, but promoting content is only one part of the game.

Here are three ways to engage with customers and build your audience on any social media network.

1. Answer questions from customers and clients.

Twitter and Facebook have become customer service platforms. At first, it can feel intimidating to answer a question publicly; you may feel you should be as eloquent as you are informative.

The most effective and well-received responses are helpful and timely. Keep an eye on your Twitter and Facebook accounts for when someone mentions you directly in a message. Also pay attention to when someone mentions your company or industry in a Tweet via a hashtag — the # symbol.

Related: Top 10 Ways to Get People to Read and Respond to Your Emails

Many customers won't take the time to message you directly, but they will tag you in a complaint. Anyone on Twitter can search for topics mentioned by a hashtag. If you choose not to respond, you could lose an opportunity to correct a complaint.

Savvy entrepreneurs truly excel at customer service through social media. With a little effort, you can build a reputation as someone who values customer service and works hard to answer consumer questions.

2. Use the "Like" feature on your Facebook wall.

When a customer takes the time to mention you, a simple response acts as a virtual thank you.

Most social media platforms have a share option as well as a "like" equivalent — a way to acknowledge you saw and appreciated the message.

On Facebook, you can choose to "Like" the post or share it. If someone praises your brand on Twitter, click "Favorite" or "Retweet." Google+ allows you to "+1" posts and every update on LinkedIn features a "Like" button.

Related: 6 Secret Weapons of Shy Entrepreneurs

As an alternative, you could comment on the post or tweet. Say something like, "Thanks for mentioning us!" or, "Thank you! We appreciate your feedback." When you acknowledge someone's mention, you show that you value their business and their opinion.

Engagement on social media isn't all that different from in-person interactions with friends and acquaintances. If someone invites you to have dinner or coffee and you never respond, they will eventually stop asking.

You work hard to build a community around your business. The last thing you want to do is ignore someone who finds your information valuable or interesting. Try to engage with every customer.

3. Show gratitude when someone shares your content.

Social media is much less personal than when a customer visits a brick-and-mortar store. Still, the entire point of networking through Facebook or Twitter is to build relationships.

Whenever someone retweets one of your posts or shares your latest blog, send a quick message to thank them.

Etiquette applies to social media relationships as much as it does to your real-life friends and family. If an acquaintance makes an introduction and helps you land a sale, you'd thank him. The same applies when a customer does a favor for you on Facebook or Twitter.

For example, if someone on Twitter shares your recent blog post with his followers, tweet him to say thank you. If he regularly posts content relevant to your audience, retweet or share his posts with your followers.

Social sharing is a powerful tool when used well. When you form relationships via social media, you build brand advocates for your business.

Related: How to Write an Unforgettable Thank-You Note

Jacqueline Whitmore

Author, Business Etiquette Expert and Founder of The Protocol School of Palm Beach

Jacqueline Whitmore is an etiquette expert and founder of the Protocol School of Palm Beach in Palm Beach, Fla. She is the author of Poised for Success: Mastering the Four Qualities That Distinguish Outstanding Professionals (St. Martin's Press, 2011) and Business Class: Etiquette Essentials for Success at Work (St. Martin's Press, 2005).

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