Q: I am trying to get a handle on how much time and effort I should spent in social media initiatives and what kind of return on investment I could expect. Frankly, it’s hard to know where to start. Any suggestions?

A: Social media is obviously is a hot topic today for retailers. There has never been a time in history where a retailer, without much capital, can fully engage with customers and potential customers at this level. When you think about it, fashion is inherently “social” so what a wonderful medium to play within to connect with customers.

These technologies are developing at such speed that it can be a bit daunting to determine how to best integrate social media into your marketing and branding efforts. There also seems to be a lot of debate on what to expect in terms of sales conversion from social media efforts and how to monetize the social media space.

First off, you want to ensure that you are properly harnessing the power of social media if you wish to benefit and control the way your business is perceived. All too often when social media is used, retailers think it is enough to simply sign up to a few social networks and then put them on autopilot. This is not an effective strategy. You will only get an ROI out of social media if you make the proper time investment, and put together a strategic plan on how to incorporate social media into your overall business plan.

As far as ROI and sales conversions, retailers should first step into the social media space to connect with their customers, and allow them to engage your brand, rather than focus solely on sales as a starting point. By doing so, social media can create a strong relationship with your customer and deeper brand loyalty, and that in turn will have an impact on sales.

Facebook and Twitter are the best social media platforms to build a social media strategy, Facebook being the 800 lb. gorilla. According to a research study published by ForSee, more than half of everyone that shops online uses Facebook, and of those online shoppers who engage in social media, more than 80% use Facebook.

Start with Facebook. Make sure you have someone to monitor it and post good, timely information. Promote it to your most loyal customers through your regular communications venues (emails, ads, stores, etc.) Use your Facebook page to post promotions and product information.

Think about what kind of content you can share to provide value and “buzz” to your audience. How can you create excitement around your business? The buzz phrase in social media is “content is king.” You need to develop content, even bite sized content that people like and see value in.

And remember, Facebook are Twitter require time commitments. Keep it fresh and answer your customers consistently and constantly. Before too long you will begin to harvest the revenue generation that comes from a well thought out, long term, social media strategy.