Social media marketing is the use of social media platforms to connect with your audience to build your brand, increase sales, and drive website traffic. This involves publishing great content on your social media profiles, listening to and engaging your followers, analyzing your results, and running social media advertisements.
The major social media platforms (at the moment) are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, and Snapchat. Social media platforms can be a great network to help your online business or website to drive organic traffic, promote products and services, or sell digital goods.
There are also a range of social media management tools that help businesses to get the most out of the social media platforms listed above. For example, Buffer is a platform of social media management tools, which can help you achieve success with your social media marketing. Whether you want to build a brand or grow your business, we want to help you succeed.
The Five Core Pillars of Social Media Marketing
Before you dive right in and publish something on social media, let’s take a step back and look at the bigger picture. The first step is to think about your social media strategy.
What are your goals? How can social media help you achieve your business goals? Some businesses use social media for increasing their brand awareness, others use it for driving website traffic and sales. Social media can also help you generate engagement around your brand, create a community, and serve as a customer support channel for your customers.
Which social media platforms do you want to focus on? The major social media platforms, mentioned above, are Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, YouTube, Snapchat, and TikTok. There are also smaller and up-and-coming platforms, such as Tumblr, Tik Tok, and Anchor, and social messaging platforms, such as Messenger, WhatsApp, and WeChat. When starting out, it’s better to pick a few platforms that you think your target audience is on than to be on all platforms.
What type of content do you want to share? What type of content will attract your target audience best? Is it images, videos, or links? Is it educational or entertaining content? A good place to start is to create a marketing persona, which will help you answer these questions. And this doesn’t have to be fixed forever; you can always change your strategy according to how your social media posts perform.
To help you create a great social media strategy, here are our long-form, step-by-step guides on creating a social media strategy and social media marketing plan.
2. Planning and Publishing
Social media marketing for small businesses usually starts with having a consistent presence on social media. Close to three billion people (3,000,000,000!) use social media. By being present on social media platforms, you give your brand an opportunity to be discovered by your future customers.
Publishing to social media is as simple as sharing a blog post, an image, or a video on a social media platform. It’s just like how you would share on your personal Facebook profile. But you will want to plan your content ahead of time instead of creating and publishing content spontaneously. Also, to ensure that you are maximizing your reach on social media, you need to publish great content that your audience likes, at the right timing and frequency.
There are now a variety of social media scheduling tools, such as Buffer Publish, that can help you publish your content automatically at your preferred time. This saves you time and allows you to reach your audience when they are most likely to engage with your content.
3. Listening and Engagement
As your business and social media following grow, conversations about your brand will also increase. People will comment on your social media posts, tag you in their social media posts, or message you directly.
People might even talk about your brand on social media without letting you know. So you will want to monitor social media conversations about your brand. If it’s a positive comment, you get a chance to surprise and delight them. Otherwise, you can offer support and correct a situation before it gets worse.
You can manually check all your notifications across all the social media platforms but this isn’t efficient and you won’t see posts that didn’t tag your business’s social media profile. You can instead use a social media listening and engagement tool that aggregates all your social media mentions and messages, including posts that didn’t tag your business’s social media profile.
Along the way, whether you are publishing content or engaging on social media, you will want to know how your social media marketing is performing. Are you reaching more people on social media than last month? How many positive mentions do you get a month? How many people used your brand’s hashtag on their social media posts?
The social media platforms themselves provide a basic level of such information. To get more in-depth analytics information or to easily compare across social media platforms, you can use the wide range of social media analytics tools available.
When you have more funds to grow your social media marketing, an area that you can consider is social media advertising. Social media ads allow you to reach a wider audience than those who are following you.
Social media advertising platforms are so powerful nowadays that you can specify exactly who to display your ads to. You can create target audiences based on their demographics, interests, behaviors, and more.
When you are running many social media advertising campaigns at once, you can consider using a social media advertising tool to make bulk changes, automate processes, and optimize your ads.
Create Your Social Media Marketing Strategy
Step 1. Set social media marketing goals that align to business objectives
Set S.M.A.R.T. Goals to Work Efficiently and Effectively
The first step to creating a winning strategy is to establish your objectives and goals. Without goals, you have no way to measure success or return on investment (ROI).
Each of your goals should be:
This is the S.M.A.R.T. goal framework. It will guide your actions and ensure they lead to real business results.
Track meaningful metrics
Vanity metrics like retweets and likes are easy to track, but it’s hard to prove their real value. Instead, focus instead on targets such as leads generated, web referrals, and conversion rate.
You may want to track different goals for different channels, or even different uses of each channel. For example, Benefit Cosmetics drives brand awareness with its paid social campaigns, but measures acquisition and engagement for organic social posts.
Make sure to align your social media goals with your overall marketing strategy. This will make it easier for you to show the value of your work and get executive buy-in and investment.
Step 2. Learn everything you can about your audience
Create audience personas
Knowing who your audience—and ideal customer—is and what they want to see on social is key to creating content that they will like, comment on, and share. It’s also critical if you want to turn social media followers into customers for your business.
Try creating audience/buyer personas. These allow you to think of your potential fans, followers, and customers as real people with real wants and needs. And that will allow you to think more clearly about what to offer them. This is important for personalization reasons, as customers and audiences are more comfortable buying products they trust.
Gather real-world data
Don’t make assumptions. Think Facebook is a better network for reaching Baby Boomers than Millennials? Well, the numbers show that Millennials still outnumber Boomers on the platform.
Step 3. Research the competition
Odds are, your competitors are already using social media—and that means you can learn from what they’re already doing.
Conduct a competitive analysis
A competitive analysis allows you to understand who the competition is and what they’re doing well (and not so well). You’ll get a good sense of what’s expected in your industry, which will help you set social media targets of your own.
This analysis will also help you spot opportunities. For example, maybe one of your competitors is dominant on Facebook, but has put little effort into Twitter or Instagram. You might want to focus on the networks where your audience is underserved, rather than trying to win fans away from a dominant player.
Engage in social listening
Social listening is another way to keep an eye on the competition. As you track competitor accounts and relevant industry keywords, you may notice shifts in the way these channels are used. Or, you might spot a specific post or campaign that really hits the mark—or totally bombs. Keep an eye on this information and use to it evaluate your own goals and plans.
Step 4. Conduct a social media audit
Examine your current efforts
If you’re already using social media tools, you need to take a step back and look at what you’ve already done and accomplished. Ask yourself the following questions:
- What’s working, and what’s not?
- Who is connecting with you on social?
- Which networks does your target audience use?
- How does your social media presence compare to that of your competitors?
Once you gather all this information in one place, you’ll have a good starting point for planning how to improve your results.
Your audit should give you a clear picture of what purpose each of your social accounts serves. If the purpose of an account isn’t clear, think about whether it’s worth keeping.
To help you decide, ask yourself the following questions:
- Is my audience here?
- If so, how are they using this platform?
- Can I use this account to help achieve meaningful business goals
Asking these tough questions will help keep your strategy on track and focused.
Look for impostor accounts
During the audit you may discover fraudulent accounts using your business name or the names of your products.
These imposters can be harmful to your brand, never mind capturing followers that should be yours. Report them. You may want to get your Facebook and Twitter accounts verified to ensure your fans and followers know they are dealing with the real you.
Step 5. Set up accounts and improve existing profiles
Determine which networks to use (and how to use them)
As you decide which social channels to use, you will also need to define your strategy for each network.
For example, Benefit Cosmetics’ social media manager, Angela Purcaro, told eMarketer: “For our makeup tutorials … we’re all about Snapchat and Instagram Stories. Twitter, on the other hand, is designated for customer service.”
For reference, here’s how other small and medium-sized businesses are using social tools to communicate with customers. Notice that Facebook and Instagram outrank even email for this purpose.
Set up (and optimize) your accounts
Once you’ve decided which networks to focus on, it’s time to create your profiles—or improve existing profiles so they align with your strategic plan.
- Make sure you fill out all profile fields
- Use keywords people will use to search for your business
- Use images that are correctly sized for each network
Step 6. Find inspiration
While it’s important that your brand be unique, you can still draw inspiration from other businesses that are great on social.
Social network success stories
You can usually find these on the business section of the social network’s website. (Here’s Facebook’s, for example.)
These case studies can offer valuable insights you can apply to your own goals for each social network.
Award-winning accounts and campaigns
Your favorite brands on social media.
Who do you enjoy following on social media? What do they do that compels people to engage and share their content?
Consistency is key to helping your followers understand what to expect from your brand. They’ll know why they should continue to follow you and what value they will get from doing so. It also helps keep your branding consistent even when you have multiple people working on your social team.
Step 7. Create a social media content calendar
Sharing great content is essential, of course, but it’s equally important to have a plan in place for when you’ll share content to get the maximum impact. Your social media content calendar also needs to account for the time you’ll spend interacting with the audience (although you need to allow for some spontaneous engagement as well).
Create a posting schedule
Your social media content calendar lists the dates and times at which you will publish types of content on each channel. It’s the perfect place to plan all of your social media activities—from images and link sharing to blog posts and videos. It includes both your day-to-day posting and content for social media campaigns. Your calendar ensures your posts are spaced out appropriately and published at the optimal times.
Plot your content mix
Make sure your calendar reflects the mission statement you’ve assigned to each social profile, so that everything you post is working to support your business goals. For example, you might decide that:
- 50 percent of content will drive traffic back to your blog
- 25 percent of content will be curated from other sources
- 20 percent of content will support enterprise goals (selling, lead generation, etc.)
- 5 percent of content will be about HR and company culture
Placing these different post types in your content calendar will help ensure you maintain the ratio you’ve planned. If you’re starting from scratch and you’re simply not sure what types of content to post, try the 80-20 rule:
- 80 percent of your posts should inform, educate, or entertain your audience
- 20 percent can directly promote your brand.
You could also try the social media rule of thirds:
- One-third of your social content promotes your business, converts readers, and generates profit.
- One-third of your social content shares ideas and stories from thought leaders in your industry or like-minded businesses.
- One-third of your social content involves personal interactions with your audience.
Once you have your calendar set, use scheduling tools or bulk scheduling to prepare your messaging in advance rather than updating constantly throughout the day. This allows you to craft the language and format of your posts rather than writing them on the fly whenever you have time.
Step 8. Test, evaluate, and adjust your strategy
Your social media strategy is a hugely important document for your business, and you can’t assume you’ll get it exactly right on the first try. As you start to implement your plan and track your results, you may find that some strategies don’t work as well as you’d anticipated, while others are working even better than expected.
Track your data
In addition to the analytics within each social network (see Step 2), you can use UTM parameters to track social visitors as they move through your website, so you can see exactly which social posts drive the most traffic to your website.
Re-evaluate, test, and do it all again
Once this data starts coming in, use it to re-evaluate your strategy regularly. You can also use this information to test different posts, campaigns, and strategies against one another. Constant testing allows you to understand what works and what doesn’t, so you can refine your strategy in real time.
Surveys can also be a great way to find out how well your strategy is working. Ask your followers, email list, and website visitors whether you’re meeting their needs and expectations, and what they’d like to see more of. Then make sure to deliver on what they tell you.
In the social sphere, things change fast. New networks emerge, while others go through significant demographic shifts. Your business will go through periods of change as well. All of this means that your social media strategy should be a living document that you look at regularly and adjust as needed. Refer to it often to keep you on track, but don’t be afraid to make changes so that it better reflects new goals, tools, or plans.
When you update your social strategy, make sure to let everyone on your team know. That way they can all work together to help your business make the most of your social media accounts.
Tried and Tested Social Media Marketing Tips
Ready to get started with marketing on social media? Here are a few social media marketing tips to kick off your social media campaigns.
- Social Media Content Planning — As discussed previously, building a social media marketing plan is essential. Consider keyword research and competitive research to help brainstorm content ideas that will interest your target audience. What are other businesses in your industry doing to drive engagement on social media?
- Great Social Content — Consistent with other areas of online marketing, content reigns supreme when it comes to social media marketing. Make sure you post regularly and offer truly valuable information that your ideal customers will find helpful and interesting. The content that you share on your social networks can include social media images, videos, infographics, how-to guides and more.
- A Consistent Brand Image — Using social media for marketing enables your business to project your brand image across a variety of different social media platforms. While each platform has its own unique environment and voice, your business’s core identity, whether it’s friendly, fun, or trustworthy, should stay consistent.
- Social Media for Content Promotion — Social media marketing is a perfect channel for sharing your best site and blog content with readers. Once you build a loyal following on social media, you’ll be able to post all your new content and make sure your readers can find new stuff right away. Plus, great blog content will help you build more followers. It’s a surprising way that content marketing and social media marketing benefit each other.
- Sharing Curated Links — While using social media for marketing is a great way to leverage your own unique, original content to gain followers, fans, and devotees, it’s also an opportunity to link to outside articles as well. If other sources provide great, valuable information you think your target audience will enjoy, don’t be shy about linking to them. Curating and linking to outside sources improves trust and reliability, and you may even get some links in return.
- Tracking Competitors — It’s always important to keep an eye on competitors—they can provide valuable data for keyword research and other social media marketing insight. If your competitors are using a certain social media marketing channel or technique that seems to be working for them, considering doing the same thing, but do it better!
- Measuring Success with Analytics — You can’t determine the success of your social media marketing strategies without tracking data. Google Analytics can be used as a great social media marketing tool that will help you measure your most triumphant social media marketing techniques, as well as determine which strategies are better off abandoned. Attach tracking tags to your social media marketing campaigns so that you can properly monitor them. And be sure to use the analytics within each social platform for even more insight into which of your social content is performing best with your audience.
- Social Media Crisis Management — Things don’t always go swimmingly for brands on social media. It’s best to have a playbook in place so your employees know how to handle a snafu. Check out our guide to social media crisis management to see examples of the worst social media disasters, plus tips on how they should have been handled.