Kerry Kennedy updates his Facebook fan page regularly and has 106 fans.

Social media marketing might be free, and it might look easy, but experts say it requires planning, time and a high level of interaction with other media users.

Of course, that hasn’t stopped many Northside businesses from expanding their web presence with social media services like Facebook and Twitter.

“Social media” includes online social networks like Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, LinkedIn and many others, although Facebook is the largest.

Kerry Kennedy of K.S. Kennedy Distinctive Floral allowed a friend to talk him in to getting a Facebook page for the store a few months ago. The page now has 106 fans.

“I have never seen anything like it,” Kennedy said. “Everyone comes in talking about Facebook, like ‘Oh, I heard the milk’s in.’”

Generally, within a half hour of Kennedy posting an update, people will come into the store to purchase the new product, such as specialty milk in glass bottles from Brunton Dairy.

Mandy’s Pizza in Observatory Hill hasn’t gotten quite the same response on its Facebook page and only has 45 fans.

“There are some great benefits to [Facebook],” owner Steve Negri said, “but it requires a lot of work.”

Negri recently developed a new kind of pizza for those with food allergies, and it’s taken precedence because “that’s actually making money, rather than Tweeting everything that happens in the pizzeria.”

Pittsburgh-based social media consultant Lea Charlton agreed with Negri on at least one point: “It is relatively time consuming. They could actually have a full-time employee [for social media].”

Even if businesses don’t have the time to join every single social network or post once a day or even once a week, Charlton said it’s still worth it to have an online presence.

She doesn’t recommend that business owners rush to their computers, though. In order to have even a partially successful Facebook page, owners need to carefully plan what image and information they want to project to the online community.

Charlton, who owns and runs Pittsburgh-based social media company @AlmcSolutions, said that while some businesses will want to use their business’s name as the title of their Facebook fan page, others might be more successful and attract a larger following if they use certain keywords, or include the name of their city in the title.

Priory Hotel owner John Graf said that his business uses three Facebook pages — one for the hotel, one for the bakery and one for the Grand Hall — as well as Twitter and a blog.

He works with a marketing consultant to “get the brand out” and let people know the businesses are there, although he develops much of the content.

The hotel fan page currently has 90 fans, but “We’re accumulating friends as we go along,” Graf said. “It’s growing.”

Since he began updating the Priory’s social networks regularly last January, he said the response has been good. “We try to give them value,” like a discount or a heads-up on a special event or product.

Constance Zotis, who runs the social media campaign for her parents’ Little Deli and Modern Café restaurants on Western Avenue, also tries to give their customers value by advertising drink specials on Facebook.

So far, the Modern, which recently re-opened, has attracted 106 fans, and the Little Deli has 36. Zotis has been advertising the pages’ existence with a sign in the Little Deli’s window and by word of mouth.

“It’s a lot of word of mouth, and then hopefully it will spread to their friends,” Zotis said.

According to Charlton, that’s the right way to do it. “[They should share] information that will attract the people they want to connect with.

“I can’t emphasize enough that it’s social media marketing,” she said, meaning that interacting with other users and commenting on their posts is essential to getting them to join fan pages and foster a sense of loyalty to the company.

Traditional marketing such as sales pitches or sales letter might come across as spam or too aggressive for most social network users, Charlton said.

“It’s you who sells your business,” she added.

That’s a concept Kennedy is well acquainted with. He often posts updates for his store on his personal Facebook profile, and those garner just as much of a response as the store page updates.

“The shop is me, right? So I don’t usually have a lot of personal stuff on there,” Kennedy said. “It’s all about the stuff.”