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A few years ago, you might have been really proud of your small business for being on the forefront of social media. Kudos to you if you were the first retailer in your community to have a Facebook page! Congratulations for figuring out Twitter before everyone else in your industry!

But now what? With nearly every small business engaged in digital marketing, how much does it matter that you were one of the pioneers?

The fact is it doesn't. Social media may be as important as ever, but the next frontier in marketing your business online is out there waiting for you.  Your business has to evolve and defend your title as a leader. Luckily, these new frontiers don’t require abandoning the online networks you’ve worked so hard to build. A small business can truly make waves by simply moving beyond the traditional way others use those networks and stand out in the crowd.

How Can Your Business Stand Out?

'Amassing hundreds of thousands of social media fans and followers is about more than erecting a symbol of brand strength,' writes Richard Levick, Esq., President and CEO of Levick Strategic Communications in Fast Company, 'it’s about strengthening consumer and stakeholder relationships.'

How so? Levick uses American Express as an example. The credit card company rewards cardholders who tweet American Express hashtags with special discounts and savings.

amex example

Target is also deepening social relationships with a mobile app that organizes and highlights certain products based on the recipient’s demographic information.

'These strategies,' writes Levick, 'leverage social media connections to not just create awareness, but engagement opportunities that strengthen the audience’s ties to the brand.'

Not only can your business communicate to customers in deeper ways, but your customers can also communicate more deeply with you. In fact, they already are. Learning how to find what they're saying takes some extra effort.

Using Data to Take Your Digital Marketing to the Next Level

Monitoring Social Media

According to Chris Boorman, chief marketing officer and senior vice president of education & enablement at Informatica, 'There is another use of social media which may prove to be more powerful over the long term: listening to the voice of the customer by data mining social networks.'

This means finding out more about your customers through a customer relationship management system, which creates customer profiles that use a combination of demographics and prior behavior such as buying patterns to help with marketing decisions.

'The disciplined use of demographic and historical customer data has enabled large numbers of companies to substantially increase the effectiveness of their marketing campaigns,' says Boorman. 'Social media data will enable marketers to take targeting to the next level.'

What's Next?

Small Team

Now that so many businesses consider social media to be an essential part of their business plan, the practice has become rather, well, business-y. Isra Garcia explains on Social Media Today how looking back at the roots of social media - human interaction - can help businesses break new ground.

'Sometimes we forget the word social' and [we] just focus on the word 'media' or 'marketing,'' he writes. 'Businesses lose their authenticity and brands turn themselves into robots.'

Garcia says that this can be avoided by focusing social media efforts on 'content that matters to your audience, offer different ways for them to connect with you, allow them to have a voice in your framework, allow freedom of interaction and relationship inside your business [and] answers clearly and quickly and in the most human way possible.'

There's still time to be a digital marketing pioneer. Avoid complacency and make a name for your business online by being among the first to uncover what's next for social media.

Food for thought: What's one way you could start connecting with your social media audience in a deeper way today?  What are some ways you could make your business stand out in the crowd?