It’s great to be a listener on social media. You can find out what your customers are saying and learn more about their interests. Listening is also a great way to test the viability of a social media channel for your marketing efforts. But at some point, to use social media effectively, you have to participate as well as listen. Participating means posting, and posting means you need content.

Content is the fuel that you must feed social media channels. Without content, your social media program will wither. Have you ever visited a company’s social media account and discovered it hasn’t been updated with fresh posts in months? No doubt you came away with a negative impression: This company can’t keep up or doesn’t care. It’s better not to have a social media presence at all than to have one you let die on the vine.

The way to use social media effectively and maintain a fresh, lively and relevant presence on your social media channels is to keep the content flowing to your followers. Here’s how:

Make a list of key topics you want to address in your content marketing. Then determine the various types of content you will need to create on your own or curate from other sources to support your marketing objectives. It could be original white papers, webinars, videos, articles, and blog posts. You could also work with third parties and partners to distribute their content. Another option is to follow industry news and trends and point your subscribers and followers to this content.

There are other types of content to consider. Infographics combining text and visuals have become increasingly popular as a way to explain complex ideas or processes. You can create online polls and share results, or quick surveys. Stage a contest. Create a game. What about contracting with a partner to produce a mobile app? There are apps that calculate pressure drop, estimate pipe size, calculate volumetric flow, connect with other engineers, and many more.

While you should know what themes and messages are important to get across as part of your strategy, you don’t have to plan every piece of content you’ll post. For instance, you can have a monthly content slot allotted to a topic of interest that is generated by comments or questions you get from your social media followers. Or you can have a content feature based on the most important industry or company news of that month.

At the beginning of every year or quarter, develop a calendar for publishing content to your social media channels. This way you won’t be scrambling trying to come up with ideas for social media updates.

Work your calendar from the general to the specific, starting with your broad themes (perhaps theme-of-the-month), and filling specific content into publishing slots. Be sure to account for any major milestones that may require intensive content publishing, such as promoting your presence at an event, a product launch, or a key announcement.

You might be using multiple social media channels as part of your program. LinkedIn, Facebook, and Google+ are the most popular among technical professionals and engineers. You might require a slightly different type of presence on each channel. For example, you might host a group or start a weekly discussion on LinkedIn. This might be a place to distribute more traditional content such as white papers and technical articles. Facebook might be your go-to channel for lighter fare, such as quirky news items, giveaways, polls, or contests.

You should have content lined up for each channel that you use. Some content may work across all social media channels, but other content might be specific to a specific channel, or needs to be re-purposed for other channels. For example, a customer interview on YouTube might be re-purposed to a written case study you post on LinkedIn and announced on Twitter. A webinar can be uploaded to SlideShare.

Even for organizations with a modest social media presence, and definitely for industrial companies with a robust social media strategy, using a social media management tool might make sense. There are many free or low-cost options to help schedule content publishing, coordinate across multiple social media accounts, and measure the effectiveness of your efforts. A few to consider include Hootsuite, HubSpot, and Sprout.

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