Social media marketing collage courtesy of Rocky John Tayaban / Flickr

It’s as elusive as it is appealing: Social media offers access to millions of potential customers, and yet figuring out how to get their attention can feel like an impossible puzzle.

What to post? When to post? How to work with Facebook’s ever-changing algorithm for serving up content? Type ‘how to get followers on Instagram’ and Google will reward you with 53 million answers. But mastering the art and science of social media isn’t as easy as following one set of rules.

Pittsburgh businesses will have a chance to discuss their social media wins and losses next month at The Yearly Carnage, a strategy-driven marketing conference taking place on April 13 at the Ace Hotel. The event aims to dial down the talk and offer tactics from a lineup that includes Victoria Ekwenuke, global brand manager at eBay, as well as locals Seth Hunter, founder of Toll Gate Revival.

Nicholas Comanici, CMO of Carney, the Pittsburgh-based marketing agency organizing the event, says sessions will explore topics like how to effectively run Facebook ads and how best to build e-mail lists. The goal? Leaving attendees with advice that they “can implement in their business come Monday morning.”

One key takeaway: Focus on quality.

“People get obsessed with frequency,” Comanici says. “But they end up putting out low-quality content just because they hear, ‘I should be putting out as much content as possible, as frequently as possible.’”

A better use of your time as a small business owner, he says, is to funnel your energies into one really great post a week. Putting thought into the image, copy, hashtags and what time you post (Facebook traffic is often highest in the mornings and late at night) can have a tremendous impact.

“You’d be better off doing that than putting out five meager posts,” he says, “because at the end of the day, you’re not going to compete with people pumping out really good content at a rapid pace. Figure out what you can do consistently and very well.”

Another key: Don’t get discouraged. It’s unavoidable that every post won’t be a hit with every fan, as Three Rivers Outdoor Co. co-founder Christine Iksic discovered. One of their fans got so annoyed he posted a comment threatening to unlike their page.

“That was from someone I actually know, not a stranger,” says Iksic, who plans to attend the Yearly Carnage event. “And we were posting around twice a day, but not more than that. I’m sure this is just touching the surface of what we’re going to come across. You don’t realize until you start a company that people have a lot of expectations for you and you take that for granted. And that’s one of my biggest fears: everybody wants something different from us, so how do I handle that?”

For Comanici, the answer is simple: seek out a small but loyal following. Your tribe. “It’s tempting to cast a wide net, but in the end you’ll appeal to no one,” he says.

Social media offers the chance for two-way communication, so get to know that small but loyal tribe of fans as you cultivate them.

Another tip: Roll with the randomness and don’t assume it means you should change your strategy. Occasionally, an irreverent post written offhandedly will do tremendously well in terms of likes, shares and comments, and a particularly well-strategized one will flop. Learn what you can from that experience, but don’t assume one hot post — or one flop — holds the key to your perfect social media recipe.

“It’s really frustrating, putting a lot of time, money and energy into some of these campaigns and seeing them fall flat,” says Paul Guarino, owner of ASCEND Pittsburgh. Even with his very visually appealing content of indoor rock climbing and various yoga classes, Guarino is another local business owner who has found that social media has a sometimes steep learning curve.

His advice, in the end, may be the most valuable: “Generally,” Guarino says, “we just try to have fun.”

Tickets for the Yearly Carnage are currently available for $99, but the price rises to $175 and then $225 as the event date approaches.