The rise of the Internet and social media platforms have changed the way businesses can market themselves to today's consumers. Savvy entrepreneurs are already aware that they need to have a social media presence to stay competitive, but far fewer know how to do so effectively. Small businesses often don't have the resources to allocate as much time to their social media efforts as they'd like to. This can result in stymied, outdated profiles that don't offer consumers what they are looking for.

A common mistake that can trip up shop owners is trying to save time by spreading the same content across multiple social media channels, or focusing on select platforms but choosing ones that don't best highlight their products and reach their target audiences. To make social media work for small businesses, owners need to know how to customize their image on the right platforms.

"Owners need to know how to customize their image."

Which channel are customers using?
One of the first things that a business owner needs to figure out is which channel his or her customers are most likely to be on. Seventy-nine percent of Internet-using adults between 30 and 49 are active on Facebook, while only 36 percent of that same age group use Pinterest, according to the Pew Research Center. Businesses that focus on products more widely used by consumers in this age bracket would make better use of their time with Facebook campaigns than ones on Pinterest. 

Likewise, it could be beneficial to know that this study found Instagram users to be more active in suburban areas, while Twitter users tend to be more urban. Knowing who the business is trying to reach and which platform to do that on is essential in generating a campaign that can reach the right consumer demographic. 

Once that determination has been made, it's important to know how to actually tailor their message to that platform. There's a reason why different users are drawn to some sites more than others – each offers its own take on social sharing and content presentation. Using a one-size-fits-all strategy won't get the right attention and may end up being a bigger waste of time. 

For Facebook
The most popular social media site will likely be useful for most any business, when the account is run correctly. Owners can create pages for their businesses that prompt for key information, like a web address, contact information and store hours. It allows them to communicate with consumers directly, and posts are built to be easily shared so the best messages can be spread across the site for more publicity. 

The challenge that Facebook presents for businesses is an algorithm that gives higher priority to individuals' posts than companies'. According to Entrepreneur, simply sending a message out on a Facebook page about a new product won't be enough to bolster business. Using Facebook to help personalize the business will be more effective. Interacting with customers and creating engaging posts that they want to interact with will do better than churning out post after post of advertising. 

Business owners should research some of the top social media platforms to find one that works for them. Business owners should research some of the top social media platforms to find one that works for them.

For Pinterest and Instagram
Owners who offer products or services that are better seen and not explained could find their niche on Pinterest. This site is all about images, and not just any photo will do. Pinterest is a highly aesthetic platform. Business News Daily reported that it's most popular uses are for fashion, food, photography and beauty. A bakery that posts elegantly staged snapshots of finely decorated cupcakes or a makeup company that shows how its products look on a model will make better impressions on this website. Photos can link back to websites, so it's important for small business owners to give users an easy way to follow a product's picture back to the webstore where it can be purchased.

Instagram works much in the same way. Though the site organization is different, Instagram is a photo-sharing program that requires inviting, eye-catching images to make the right impression and get customers interested.

For Twitter
Social Media Today explained that the benefits of Twitter can also be drawbacks if they aren't handled correctly. At only 140 words a post, Tweets allow business owners to make quick updates that don't require a lot of bells and whistles. They're instantly posted to all the account's followers and make it easy for users to share them on their own pages.

Because of this, however, it's easy for tweets to get lost in a sea of posts. Businesses who have few real-time updates won't get the traction they need from this platform. 

Equipment and business industry piece brought to you by Marlin Equipment Finance, a nationwide provider of commercial lending solutions for small and mid-size businesses. Marlin's equipment financing and loan products are offered directly to businesses, and through third party vendor programs, which include manufacturers, distributors, independent dealers and brokers in the security, food services, healthcare, information technology, office technology and telecommunications sectors.