Social media is a two way communication channel which your company will either master or end up falling behind the pack.

Here are the top five best practice strategies you can apply today to engage your customers on the industry-standard Facebook or the new kid on the block Google+.

1. Gate your tabs & sapplets

Providing incentives through a persuasive call to action will motivate first time visitors to click that all important Like button. The preferred incentive in the social network universe is to open up a whole range of exclusive offers specifically designed for brand advocates. An example of this strategy is setting up a shadowed portion of your Page featuring exclusive gifts or discounts which are accessible only if the Fan Likes your Page, at which point the gate lifts and they can claim their reward.

If you lack the promotional budget to accommodate this formula by giving away valuable tangible prizes or deep discounts, an offer of an exclusive podcast, ebook, or sneak previews of hot products can certainly provide the necessary motivation.

2. Tie in to current events for freshness

With many users spending a disproportionate number of their waking hours engaged in social networking, you have to make sure that your content stays ever-fresh through constant posting of updates and news relevant to your brand. After all, some of your Fans may check your page several times a day!

To keep from letting your social media presence go stale, you have to get really creative and come up with fresh stories and images to posted to your Page with a corresponding News Feed post as many times a day as you can. If youre having trouble coming up with hourly updates on the state of antiperspirant or bananas, expand your horizons to include polls on any current events which can conceivably be tied in with your products: Will global warming require more effective antiperspirants? Will it also cause bananas to be grown in Canada?

3. Seed the conversation

One of the main reasons why your Fans Like your Page is not to be couch potatoes exposed to your marketing approaches, but to interact with your brand as part of a like-minded community. Providing ample fodder for a comments section will keep your Fans engaged and passionately discussing the real or imagined advantages of everything between breakfast cereal and running shoes.

You can help guide this conversation as well as stoking the fires by coming up with specific talking points relevant to your brand: Now that youve evolved to manufacturing only digital cameras. which of your previous 35mm film SLRs do your Fans remember most fondly? Has anyone really made full use of 46 megapixels?

4. Turn over control to your Fans

Social networking is centered around exercising individual power, so encouraging your Fans to have a real say in your companys presence can be a powerful draw to all the wannabe CEOs out there. Ask your Fans what theyd like to see on your brands Page and even extend that input to your other ad campaigns: Whats the ultimate foodie commercial concept to promote your extra virgin olive oil on the Food Network? Should your salad dressing ads in Food & Wine magazine feature your new Coconut Lemongrass, or stick to good ol Ranch?

5. Have their actions trigger charitable results

Fans cant help but Like brand Pages which support worthy causes, especially if the contribution is driven by some action which they take. Youll find that clearly informing your Fans of your charitable goals will have a direct effect in triggering actions to help you achieve them.

It can be something as simple as a contribution of a dime to wildlife funds for every new Like, or the provision of teddy bears to orphanages for in exchange for the sharing of specific content. Keep the offers modest and cap a maximum amount to keep some HaXoR from devising a bot which will turn over your entire 2011 gross to the Home For Retired Bitcoiners.

Keep the Social in Networking with these strategies in order to keep those Fans engaged!