As the year's most important shopping season approaches, small businesses have to consider where to spend their limited supply of marketing dollars. The good news is that social media can help small businesses compete with large retailers. Social media is not only cost-effective, it's very successful at reaching customers at places and times where they're primed to learn about holiday shopping. "Social media networks are where people discuss and share gift ideas, so it is a good place to start a conversation," says Jarrod Baker, PayPal's global head of social media marketing.

Personalized social posts reflect how and when your customers are likely to shop for your products and can drive traffic to your online store. Some tips to help you craft social media posts and grab gift shoppers' attention include:

Find the right time to post: When are your customers most likely to be active on social media? Answering that question can dramatically increase your social engagement. If your customer base is busy working parents, they're probably sharing social posts in the middle of the day or on the commute home before dinner with the family. If your customers are largely millennials, they're largely active on social networks at any given time.

As a general rule, most social media users are more active during weekday late afternoons and early evenings (when things may slow down at work, or people are heading home). Schedule your holiday posts for when customers are most likely to see them (and that's probably not 9:00 AM on a weekday).

Uncover customer wish lists: From phone calls, emails, and in-store visits, you probably know your customers' concerns and interests. Do they ask about product personalization, like adding monograms? Do they get excited about new color options? Do they want to be the first to buy your newest and coolest products? By addressing these concerns in your social posts - for example, highlighting the 'on sale' date for a brand-new product - you can get the attention of shoppers looking for this information.

Set the mood with images: To tap into your customers' festive moods, get creative with images within posts. "Images that look relatable work best, since people have become desensitized to highly commercial and polished images," Baker says. Consider using your phone to take pictures of products, and maybe choose real-life models, like customers or employees. Try to evoke a mood or feeling (like celebrating the holidays), instead of worrying about showing off the product precisely.

Follow the customer journey: Some products only require a quick decision on the buyer's part, while others demand several steps. Choosing a piece of jewelry or a tablet device is a longer process - especially the product is being given as a gift. Think about the first stop on the buying journey - for instance, the jewelry's materials, the tablet's size and screen quality - and promote that step in your social post. Don't address the entire buying journey in your post as that can be too complicated for shoppers - keep it simple and aim to attract shoppers to the product page on your site.

When you've figured out what and when to post, don't forget the clincher: a call to action. Remind shoppers to visit your website, take advantage of a sale, or download a guide to holiday gift buying. Give your call to action some urgency, such as "Sale ends in two hours" or "Get free shipping this week." Once shoppers take you up on that offer, your online storefront can help win the holiday sale.

For more holiday tips and ideas, visit our  holiday resources site.