According to a recent report, 73% of all Americans have at least one social media profile – up from 48% just five years ago. How to plug in to this massive new movement is a genuine business concern. A lot of businesses still struggle with understanding how to use social media effectively.

As a business owner, it can be tempting to want to jump right in and establish profiles on sites like Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Snapchat. After all, social media can be a great way to attract and convert new customers.

But in order to be successful on social media, you have to do more than merely participate. You have to effectively engage your followers and create a relationship with them.  And like any relationship, you need to show them that you care about them and share their concerns. Only then will you be able to get any sort of ROI from the time, energy, and money that you put into social media.

Here are some ways to humanize your social media marketing efforts:

  1. Treat Your Followers like People, not Numbers

In the recent past, businesses relied on personal relationships to make sales and retain customers. They built genuine trust and established real relationships with their customers.

Try to create the same experience for your social media followers. Instead of relying on metrics or page views, pay attention to engagement. Engagement essentially refers to the number of authentic, real (as in not spam) comments and shares you receive from your online community.

  1. The 5-3-2 Rule

The people who follow you on social media may not be customers yet, but they are potential ones. Don’t overwhelm with them with promotional ads, discounts, pop-ups, etc. Savvy social media users ignore these and look for companies that treat them respectfully as individuals.

How can you tell if you’ve gone overboard with promotional messages? The 5-3-2 rule is a good way to keep things in check. Developed by TA McCann of Gist, it involves posting in a ratio of:

  • Fivesocial media posts based on information from others that’s relevant to your audience.
  • Threenon-sales related posts based on your information that’s relevant to your audience.
  • Twopersonal posts that aren’t business-related and help humanize you and your brand.
  1. Take Your Time

Social media is all about the long sell. Your goal isn’t necessarily to generate sales with every promotional tweet or status update you run (although it’s great when that happens from time to time). Instead, look at every new interaction as an opportunity to build engagement with your followers. With each message, their understanding, trust and appreciation of your brand grows, as does their willingness to buy from you in the future.

  1. Be a Good Listener

One of the best things you can do to boost ROI is simply to be a good listener. Encourage your followers to give you feedback on your products, services and brand. Let them know that you’re listening and that you value their feedback.

Learn when your followers are active and how they prefer to be engaged, and what types of content or information they value most. From there, you can make changes that are intended to strengthen the relationship you have with the people you’re ultimately trying to convert.

There’s nothing wrong with wanting your social media marketing efforts to result in a positive ROI for your investment of time and money, but you can’t force it. To be successful with social media, focus less on sales and more on people, taking the time needed to develop solid, long-term relationships.