We know that social media is great for networking.

It also can help us expand our online reach and find new potential customers. But are you truly getting the most out of those social contacts when it comes to marketing?

I’m willing to bet your answer is “no.”

For most of us, time is an issue.  The reason you might not be doing more to monitor your social streams and pay more attention to what your leads are doing and saying might be because you don’t have the time. That’s understandable.

Knowledge is another issue.  Maybe you or your team are not clear on positive techniques to leverage your Twitter contacts, without coming across as too commercial.

Fortunately, there are tools out there that can help. Those resources, combined with a bit of advice, can help you benefit from your social contacts in ways you never imagined.

1. Start with Smart Tools

We’re seeing more tools enter the marketplace that integrates lead gathering and monitoring with social media. Nimble is a great example. It’s straight-forward Customer Relationship Management (CRM) software with social listening added in.

Now, instead of simply recording notes for a contact, you can better keep track of what they’re saying on Twitter, follow their career moves on LinkedIn, and share their content on Google +.  So in other words, you can listen, connect and learn from them.  You can also help them become more successful.

You can also set up alerts in platforms like Hootsuite so you know when any of your customers Tweet something you can share or respond to.

2. Build Stronger Relationships

While it can seem difficult to stay in contact with all of your social connections, a little effort can go a long way.

Jon Ferrara, CEO of Nimble, offers his “5 E’s of relationship building,” which, if kept at the forefront of all you do, will help you build trust with your contacts.

  1. Educate: Participate on social sites and discussions relevant to your business. Establish your brand as a helpful expert.

  2. Enchant: Share in an authentic, relevant, and transparent way. Creating an online presence is a big part of brand identity, so build one that will attract — and speak to — the audience you want.

  3. Engage: Like. Comment. Chat. Get involved.

  4. Embrace: Ask questions, get to know people, and develop ideas, trust, and confidence.

  5. Empower: Give people the tools they need to be successful. When you have access to the best ways to engage and educate your prospects, clients, and peers, you can become a trusted advisor and increase selling opportunities.

3. Be Diligent and Be Present

Social media is a waterfall; what appears in a feed one moment is gone the next.

That’s why it takes persistence and regular posts to make a splash.

But if you’re paying attention to what your leads and customers are doing on social sites and interacting with them on a regular basis, you’ll build out that relationship and encourage new ones to blossom.