Let's get one thing clear: social media matters. Unfortunately, like many perfectly valid pursuits undermined by the high ratio of teenagers doing them (okay, not many), social media is often an afterthought--if it isn't shrugged off entirely. From a business perspective, it deserves to be taken seriously. And by "seriously," we mean that it is worthy of effort and intention, not that it has to be (or should be, in any manner) approached with the same dry ploys of direct mail marketing or the stale sincerity of the decade-old spam collecting cyberdust in unread email folders.

But even those who embrace social media often overlook one very important element--the user experience. Social media is an organic, interaction-based organism. Without an effort to intentionally include social media into a comprehensive web initiative from the ground up, it will suffer. So how exactly does user experience fit in with social media?

Design for it, plan for it

In this industry, user experience is a term that is commonly confined to the realm of program and website development. But when anything can be readily combined with "marketing," user experience becomes a key element to consider.

When creating a social media initiative for a business, regardless of size, all content needs to be developed for your users. If you get this down from the beginning, everything will fall into place much easier. Content that is developed for your users is developed for interactions. It's engaging, and it encourages users to take a specific action: interact via comment, share, tweet. Put thought into which topics you would like to tackle, and join discussions on the social media platforms you've included. The trickier part is, of course, ensuring that this is reflected in your website. After all, your website is an extension of your business, and your social media initiatives an extension of your online presence.

If you've determined that your presence will be heavier on Twitter, for instance, consider having your website developed so that specific sections--particularly eye-catching quotes, facts, or other easily-shareable tidbits--can be tweeted out by your users with minimal effort. Or, if you know that you'll focus on Facebook or G+, you'll have design your website to be a central engagement point for longer interactions.

Most importantly, when you're in the designing and planning stage of user experience development for social media, develop a straightforward path for your users to follow and build your architecture accordingly. Make it as easy as possible for your site and its many elements to be shared and interacted with, and build your site to encourage that behaviour. Unlike bolted-on social media, architecture that is created to be social will withstand the test of time much better and create a better environment for your users.

Offer and validate

Simply: give people a reason to follow/tweet/share you. Social media has such a unique potential for increasing your audience and social validation, that you have to offer your users something in return. Let them know why they need to take this action. Announcing what your team had for breakfast is not offering something for your users. Instead, invite your users to follow you for more industry news, or the latest in your city's specific industry sector.

After you've given people a reason to be social with you, follow up on that reason. After all, if one of your key goals is to increase your brand recognition, you must know: your brand isn't what you say it is, it's what they say it is (Marty Neumeier). Solve problems, answer questions, confront injustices, research something useful or entertaining.

User experience is more an art than a science, but social media is no exception from its principles. Plan for it, incorporate it, and count on following through with it. When done properly, it'll be worth it.