As we head into 2017, one of the biggest challenges facing small and medium-sized businesses is how to best utilize social media for marketing purposes. Maybe it’s because many of us use social media in our personal lives and garner likes effectively when we post honestly about ourselves and our passions (cat photos, anyone?); yet when it comes to building a business following or brand awareness, many of us feel lost at sea.

Social media marketing and digital marketing in general are tough tools to use effectively if you aren’t a professional, which is why some companies outsource these jobs to third parties, or hire full-time experts in the field to oversee their efforts. Obviously, this is a lot easier to do if you’re a big company and you have resources to allocate to a big marketing investment. But not every business is in such a position.

The release of the Wasp Barcode 2017 State of Small Business Report has given us an in-depth look into the practices of leading small businesses across the country, and the responses concerning the use of employees in marketing and social media efforts are particularly illuminating.

Here’s a rundown of what we’ve learned from the report, including best practices, best tools and most popular social media channels.

Using a mix of designated business accounts and personal accounts is on the rise

Of the 1,127 business owners and executive leaders surveyed in the report, 34% said that their company exclusively used designated business social media accounts for their marketing efforts. This option easily beat out the three other responses: A mix of business and personal accounts (27%), just personal accounts (16%), and no accounts at all (23%).

While it’s surprising that essentially a quarter of respondents said they don’t use social media, the most interesting takeaway here is the rise of the mix of business and personal accounts, which was at 22% the year prior.

Personal accounts appear to be better at generating social buzz

It appears that many companies are asking their employees to use their personal Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and other channels to share and comment on content: 30% of respondents said they asked employees to do this, making it the second most-used tactic outside of hiring designated sales and marketing people.

Why do this? People tend to trust other people, such as online influencers, more than brands themselves when it comes to marketing and advertising. A company logo telling you a product is good is one thing; a fellow human telling you a product is good goes further (hence the success of review sites like Yelp and TripAdvisor).

The numbers bear this out. According to a roundup by FastCompany, content shared by employees gets 8x more engagement than what’s shared by brand channels, is reshared 25x more frequently, and converts leads 7x more frequently. So not only do personal channels increase the total audience for your content (assuming that an employee’s followers are different from those of the brand), but they get more buzz.

Facebook is by far the most-used channel, but others are in play

Facebook is by far the biggest social media channel, and that carries into the professional world as well: 68% of respondents say they use it as part of their marketing strategy.

Of course, multiple channels are your best bet for an effective marketing strategy (the concentration risk of just using one or two is high), and other oft-used channels include LinkedIn (39%), Twitter (34%), Instagram (27%), or a video platform like YouTube or Vimeo (25%). Company blogs, Yelp and Pinterest are also popular options.

The ways social media is used to grow business

When it comes to how to actually use social media to spur growth, the answers were varied. The number one response was to promote a specific product or service (42%). The following responses also garnered at least 20%: share information about discounts and promotions, gain likes and fans, solicit or respond to customer feedback, provide videos showcasing business services, share a company blog post, show recognition for employees and establish expertise.

How to best utilize your employees in social media marketing efforts

So how do businesses best accomplish these goals? Good social media marketing is a combination of science and art, and employees can hardly be expected to master a concept if you just give general directives like “Go out there and use social media to boost the brand!”

It requires some key actions, which include:

  • Provide some kind of formal training: Make room in your budget and your calendar for some social media training to give your employees some best practices, including best times of day to post and what to include (or not include) in their posts. “Priming the pump” with some suggested post outlines are a good way to get started.
  • Establish a company-wide social media policy: During training, consider instituting a general policy for social media, which might include acceptable use of the platforms during work hours and how to handle a controversial topic that arises—which is sure to happen at some point for another.
  • Create a culture where employees want to share their work: This is a bit more nebulous, but posts about the business—the workplace itself, upcoming projects, interactions between employees—are most effective when they are genuine and positive. Create a culture where people will want to voluntarily share their work and they’ll do so happily, with great results.
  • Help employees align with the right audience: Blasting out sales numbers to personal Facebook friends isn’t going to get a post very good traction. Help employees identify people they can follow (and get followed back by them in return), hashtags to use, topics to comment on, etc., to help garner the proper audience for their posts.
  • Don’t overuse the system: The right post at the right time is worth much more than lots of posts about everything and anything. Over-posting will turn your trusted employee advocates into company mouthpieces and erase the goodwill you’ve earned.
  • Make sharing easy on the front and backend: Make sure all your content has easily accessible share buttons to all the major platforms—which is a good policy for helping your employees share as well as your readers. And if you have suggested messages, topics or themes you want employees to share, provide them in a Dropbox, Google Doc or other cloud-accessible program, so employees can copy/paste or integrate into their post without delay.

Social media is a vital tool for marketing, and as the State of Small Business Report demonstrates, marketing is as important to most businesses as their accounting, sales and human resources wings. Make social media sharing a part of your employees’ workflow—or better yet, make employees want to share your business and their work on social media—and see how much bigger your marketing impact can be.