FARMINGTON — Social media is easy and user friendly for many people, and even provides a simple and cost-effective way for small businesses to get their message to a targeted audience.

However, in this area, fewer than half of small businesses are using social media, which in many cases is free of charge, says one local business leader.

Carmen Martinez, director of the San Juan College Small Business Center, has been working with and talking with local business owners and she estimates only about 40 percent of small businesses in the area use social media.

Most business consultants strongly suggest businesses create an online presence, which can include social media, said Judy Castleberry, director for San Juan College's Enterprise Center. She added small business owners are asking for training.

"It comes up all the time," she said.

But mistakes can be made if a company doesn't take time to understand the different types of social media.

Amy Lahti, social media trainer at WESST, said a common mistake made by small businesses is creating an online presence that focuses on establishing multiple profiles on different social media sites. And some of the sites don't target likely customers.

WESST is a nonprofit organization that helps small businesses with development and training.

Social media has several options for businesses nowadays, from Google+, Facebook and Twitter to lesser known sites like Quora, a site where people can ask questions and get answers.

"Not every business needs social media," Lahti said, adding that some large companies with smaller customer bases might not need a social media site.

But for businesses that decide they want to have a site, they do have benefits, Lang said. For example, having a Google+ business profile makes that businesses more likely to pop up in Google searches.

Lahti said more than 70 percent of online searches use Google as the search engine. However, the business profiles on Google+ aren't as interactive as some other sites.

"It's really important for a business to know their story," said Chris Land, founder and CEO of LNG Company from Las Cruces. LNG is a marketing company that specializes in social media marketing.

"Everyone needs an online presence, and social media does work better for some businesses than others," Land said, adding that telling a business' story helps it connect with customers. And connecting with customers can start a dialogue, Lahti.

"You really have to understand your (potential) customer. Go through an exercise (to define) their persona. Then you can decide whether or not social media is a place that you're going to find that customer," Lahti said.

If the business decides to establish an online social media profile, Martinez said, the site should have a quality appearance.

Lahti adds that when businesses are looking at using social media, they need to consider how people interact with each other on different social media sites.

Different social media sites are like different channels on a television, said Chris Hunter, WESST regional manager, adding that people who might watch public television might not want to watch sports channels.

"It's like walking into a room and starting a conversation with people," Lahti said. " At the end of the day social media is about content and what kind of content is out there that's going to engage them."

However, she said Facebook has been making it more difficult for businesses to have their pages viewed in a person's newsfeed, even if the person "liked" the page. About 3 to 6 percent of posts from business pages on Facebook are seen and she foresees a time when businesses might have to pay for posts to be seen.

"If you want anybody to see what you're posting, you're going to have pay for an ad," she said.

Crash Music is an Aztec-based business that offers music lessons, rents the downtown theater and brings music acts to Aztec. Crash Music has used social media to create and establish a community of music lovers.

"A lot of small businesses just don't know how to use social media and we didn't either," owner George Rowe said.

Rowe said he and his assistant, Sue Rys, received training to help increase business. Rys now runs the company's Facebook page.

"We've taken surveys and often they say Facebook is how they heard of us," Rys said.

She said they try to post at least three times a day on their Facebook profile, and often the posts will be about something other than the business, including related posts to past or upcoming performers.

"We also share posts from other bands so people can see what their doing now," she said. "You don't want to always be advertising for yourself."

Lahti said Crash Music's approach to social media is a good one.

"It gets boring talking about yourself all the time ... it's really supposed to be a conversation," she said.

A positive aspect of actually buying an ad on social media, Lang said, is the tools that are available for business owners to track how effectively they're engaging customers.

Businesses that have a Facebook page can monitor how many a post has reached, how many people have "liked" it and also how many people have clicked on a post.

"You can target your demographic," Lang said.

Rys said Crash Music will continue posting as they have been without buying ads. She said the information is good to have, but that doesn't prevent them from tailoring posts to reach certain audiences. And the statistics don't always tell the whole story, she said.

"I just leave it alone. I have (Facebook) up all day, there's plenty of things I read. I might like it but not click the 'like' button," she said, "I'm sure there's plenty of people who do that."

Erny Zah is the business editor at The Daily Times. He can be reached at 505-564-4638 and ezah@daily-times.com. Follow him @ernyzah on Twitter.