Social Media Marketing

The Definitive Guide to Social Media Marketing (2021)

We all use social media to connect with friends and family, but social media also offers an affordable marketing strategy.

You can build your brand or promote your products with minimal investment using a variety of social media platforms.

Here’s what we’ll cover:

Let’s get started.

What is Social Media Marketing?

Social media marketing is the promotion of your brand using social media platforms.

It’s an affordable way to reach an audience with your message, build your email list, drive targeted traffic to your website, and increase your sales, just to name a few things.

While traditional marketing and advertising focus mostly on grabbing attention and increasing brand awareness, today’s social media marketing (and much of digital marketing in general) focuses on building relationships with customers.

In addition to being a cost-effective marketing tool, social media is a great way to connect with your audience and show them the “human” side of your brand. 46% of US-based shoppers support businesses with shared values, so it’s increasingly important to show your audience that you’re more than just another name.

So what exactly are the keys to effective social media marketing?

5 Core Pillars of Social Media Marketing

5 core pillars of social media marketing

Technology is fast-paced, and social media is no exception.

However, there are five core pillars of social media marketing that all successful marketers should have in place before they get started:

1. Strategy

Social media marketing is different from other marketing channels. Successful social media marketing, like digital marketing in general, requires a strategic approach.

It’s not enough to simply create an account and start posting about your brand—you need to have a plan of action before you get started. You’ll attract more followers if you focus on building relationships with your customers rather than on pushing your products or services.

Social media works best when it’s part of a holistic marketing plan. So, you might consider questions like:

What are your biggest marketing goals? Is it getting a certain number of people on a call with your sales department each month? Increasing brand awareness? Is it creating a community where your customers can get additional resources and get some extra support?

You’ll want to create content that helps support your biggest marketing goals. Your organic content should help offset things like advertising on social media and other customer acquisition costs.

Which goals have the biggest impact and require the least amount of work? If you’re not quite ready to go all-in, it’s important to focus on areas that will have the most impact, without taking up too many hours and resources.

What are your key performance indicators? It’s good to keep an eye on your social media impact, but it’s even more important to know if your efforts are truly helping you reach your goals. You might want to know things like:

  • Average number of new email subscribers each month from social
  • Average sales per day from referral traffic
  • Reach of each social media channel

This will help you improve the ones that aren’t getting as much traction or make a decision to focus more on other platforms.

Which platforms does your audience use the most? It’s important to know what social media platforms your target audience uses the most. It will help you focus your efforts on the platforms that can get you the best results.

For example, if your target market is mostly Facebook users, it makes more sense to invest more time and resources there than in a platform that only has 5% of your market using it.

What type of content resonates with your audience? Each social media platform has its own unique audience. That’s why it’s important to test different types of content.

You probably won’t be able to get away with posting the same type of information on all platforms, so be sure to segment your target audience and find out what type of content resonates with them.

Here are some ideas to help you get started:

  • Take a look at your competitors’ social media marketing efforts and what content performs the best with their audience.
  • Look at your target audience’s blogs and other online activities to see what types of content they’re sharing and interacting with the most.
  • Use social media management tools like Hootsuite or Sprout Social can help you track which content performs best and which social platforms your audience uses the most.
  • Lastly, tools like BuzzSumo can help you find top-performing content and see what gets shared the most.

2. Planning

Part of a successful social media marketing strategy involves planning out your content in advance. You’ll want to plan around other parts of your marketing—advertising campaigns, contests, product launches, workshops, and other events that involve your company.

It doesn’t take long to plan out your social media content if you already have other marketing plans in place. (And if you already have a blog or email list going, you can break a lot of that content down into individual social media posts.)

Once you have an idea of what you want to post about, you can get a scheduler like CoSchedule, Hootsuite, or Buffer to help you create a consistent content schedule. If you’re on Instagram and Pinterest a lot, Tailwind is also a great option for a scheduler.

This will allow you or your support team to focus more on engaging with your social media followers and diving into social media analytics to see what’s working and what you need to change.

3. Social Listening

Social media management goes beyond just what happens on your own channel. You’ll want to check out who’s talking about your brand and products/services off your channel as well.

With social media listening tools like Sprout Social and BuzzSumo, you’ll have an easier time collecting data on brand mentions and seeing what comes up in conversations about your company.

People won’t always come directly to you with their problems or feedback. Sometimes it comes in the form of praise (or complaints) to friends on their own social media channels.

It’s important to see what kind of genuine feedback people have about your products and services, as well as get a handle on any problems that might crop up. (And with the right listening tools, you can expand this not to just social, but blog posts and other mentions around the web.)

If it seems appropriate, you’ll also want to engage with these customers. Especially if they’ve written a great blog post about you, they’ll be thrilled that you’re paying attention. You might take the time to share these types of content and give them a shoutout on your social channels.

4. Analytics and Reporting

Analytics and reporting are the keys to any effective social media marketing strategy. However, native analytics don’t always cut it.

If you’re using a social media scheduler or listening tool, you’ll have access to more in-depth analytics. Native social media analytics tend to either lack data or don’t present it in the most helpful way, especially if you’re focusing mostly on organic traffic.

On top of that, with the recent changes to tracking data on Facebook and Instagram, you might struggle to properly track conversions on your website (especially if you’re an e-commerce store).

Combining the native social media analytics with data from your scheduler and Google Analytics (to see what the referral traffic is doing after they’ve been referred to your website) gives you the rest of the picture.

5. Advertising

Social media advertising has gone through some massive changes in 2021, but it’s still a critical piece of your social media marketing strategy.

While I would love to say you can 100% rely on organic traffic, that can only get you so far. Once you have the funds to start advertising, you’ll want to utilize ads on social media to reach new customers.

Social media ads allow you to target who you want to show your ads to based on demographics. If you’ve already been monitoring your website traffic for a while, you’ll already have plenty of data to create a profile of your target audience.

Social media ads should absolutely be a part of your strategy, alongside search and display ads. While they are currently a bit on the higher side due to recent changes, they’re still a very affordable way to reach new audiences.

Choosing the Best Social Media Marketing Platform for Your Business

For many small businesses, deciding which social media platform to start with can be a little overwhelming.

That’s because there are so many platforms to work with and they all require slightly different content strategies. It can feel impossible to know where to start. Social media marketing has become such a big part of any small business’s marketing strategy.

However, you don’t want to just use what you know or what your competitors are using.

You’ll want to do some research yourself and find out what platforms your target audience uses the most, and which platforms you’ll reliably be able to create content for. (For instance, you won’t want to be on YouTube unless you have the resources to consistently create great video content.)

Here are some platforms to consider:

Facebook for Social Media Marketing

Facebook still reigns supreme as the largest social media platform, with widely varied demographics. While it’s true that Facebook has a massive middle-aged audience, it still reaches the largest number of teens (age 13-17) compared to other platforms.

In addition, Facebook has a great platform for groups. If you’re planning on building a community, Facebook might be a contender for where to build that community.

If you’re not sure which platform to start with, Facebook is a great place to start due to its broad demographics.

Facebook’s ad platform also allows you to place ads in the Instagram feed or create Instagram Stories ads. So if you’re planning to add the Facebook/Instagram duo to your overall content strategy, this will help make advertising a bit more manageable in the beginning.

Instagram for Social Media Marketing

At just over 1.2 billion users, Instagram makes it into the top 5 most popular social platforms. Instagram is a visual platform with a huge middle-aged audience but is still fairly well-rounded in terms of demographics.

Food, travel, photography, fashion…if you’re in an industry that revolves around making things look visually appealing, chances are you’ll find your home (or at least your second home) on a platform like Instagram or Pinterest.

Written/long-form content tends to be a little tricky on Instagram, but it’s easy to generate interest in what you have to share and link back to longer content (like a blog or an email) with a link in your profile.

Just be prepared to lean more on visuals like photography and graphics as opposed to written content on this platform.

Twitter for Social Media Marketing

Twitter: home of big media, tech, and restaurant chain battles.

Twitter is a unique platform, especially when it comes to posting frequency. Unlike other platforms where you might be wary of bothering people with more than a couple of posts per day, it’s not uncommon to post around 20 times a day.

Posts are short, snappy, and you see a lot more “noise” than you might on other platforms.

While tweets don’t really allow for long-form content, users often chain together entire threads of posts when going into an in-depth topic.

Due to how much content you get in your feed, replying to or retweeting other people’s tweets tends to be more beneficial to growing your following than focusing most of your attention on creating your own content, especially in the beginning.

YouTube for Social Media Marketing

YouTube can be a bit intimidating if you’re new to the world of video content, but it’s well worth the effort.

YouTube ties in practices from both social media and search engines. On top of that, you can use YouTube to jump to the top of Google’s search results, since they feature videos above most search results for certain types of searches.

So if you’re planning to focus on getting traffic from search engines, double down and invest in YouTube if video content seems like a good fit for your brand and niche.

LinkedIn for Social Media Marketing

LinkedIn has a reputation for being pretty stuffy, but contrary to popular belief, that’s starting to change.

When I first started using LinkedIn, it did really feel like everyone was just keeping up appearances.

But lately, it’s starting to feel like people have started to open up a bit more and voice their opinions. (Which also aligns well with a world where businesses are also encouraged to share their values.) I’ve seen a lot of freelancers take to LinkedIn to share what’s important to them, which in turn seems to attract companies that are looking to hire workers with similar values.

LinkedIn shines in the B2B world and when you’re looking for other companies to partner with. It has a lot of value when it comes to lead generation and finding freelance work.

I think LinkedIn also might have some potential in terms of a community-building platform, but in their current state, groups leave a lot to be desired.

Pinterest for Social Media Marketing

Pinterest is a search-engine-meets-social hybrid platform, with extra emphasis on “search.” Historically, Pinterest has lacked decent social features. While they have comments, “likes” or favorites, chat, and group boards, there hasn’t been much attention to social features in general.

First and foremost, Pinterest is a visual search engine. Like with Instagram, you’ll need to step up your design game, relying on attention-grabbing graphics and stunning photos to attract your audience.

Luckily, tools like Canva and stock element sites like Envato Elements have made this approachable, even for those of us that aren’t very design-oriented.

Pinterest is a wonderful platform for anything that benefits from visuals—food, travel, photography, fashion, crafts, design, and more. Even if your niche isn’t necessarily “visual,” many info bloggers have carved out space on Pinterest with a few well-placed photos and a steady stream of graphics.

Reddit for Social Media Marketing

Last, but certainly not least: Reddit.

Reddit is one of those platforms that a lot of marketers tend to avoid (or worse, they try to get into it with no knowledge of that type of community).

This platform has long been about the community, focusing primarily on discussions. When people jump in with lots of promotional content right out of the gate, it usually doesn’t go well. At best, it gets ignored. At worst, you might attract a lot of unwanted attention.

However, if you’ve found a home in any of the communities on Reddit, you’ll know that this is possibly one of the best places to have genuine conversations and get meaningful feedback from people while finding the occasional opportunity to promote your work or brand.

In general, as long as you respect each community’s rules and give back more than you ask for, it’s hard to go wrong with a platform like this.

Creating Your Social Media Marketing Strategy

Social Media Marketing Strategy

Creating a social media marketing strategy is a post on its own, but here, we’ll at least give you an overview of what goes into a strategy:

1. Start with a Goal

As we mentioned earlier, aligning your social media strategy with your current business goals is one of the most important things you can do.

Choose goals that will help you reach your most important goals. Those might include things like driving traffic to your website, building your email list, making sales, booking appointments, or building brand awareness.

Your goals will change over time, so you’ll want to evaluate your plan throughout the year and make sure your approach to social is supporting your overall goals.

2. Research Your Audience

Always research your audience before you dive into a new social media platform. You don’t want to put all of this time and effort into a platform only to find that your audience isn’t really there.

Each platform has its own demographics data and you can find tons of third-party resources that give an outside look at a platform’s audience. Take the time to dive into this data and make sure it makes sense for you to be there.

You’ll also want to research want kind of content in your industry that gets the most engagement. What types of content does your audience eat up? What do they hate? What do they want to see more of? Are there any gaps you can fill?

Tools like BuzzSumo and Sprout Social can help you research these areas and, if you already have a presence on social media, evaluate your top-performing content so you can do more of what’s working.

3. Learn About Your Competitors

Another thing that can help you choose a platform is to look at where your competitors are spending their time.

And don’t get into the trap of looking at big companies that are on every platform. Look at local competition and other businesses that are where you’re at right now, or where you’re projected to be in the near future.

If your competitors aren’t on a platform, maybe there’s an opportunity there. But it’s also more likely that they’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not worth it to be on that platform for some reason.

For instance, we’ve found that a lot of small restaurants don’t bother with Twitter.

In general, Twitter doesn’t have a platform that has the tools to support local businesses. It tends to be focused on the larger online community. You’ll see big chain restaurants that get a lot of attention on the platform, but not so much in the way of locally-owned ones.

There are, of course, some exceptions. If you’re a local business that knows the customers that walk in your doors every day are on Twitter, it might make sense for you to make that one of your chosen platforms.

But for the most part, local businesses (especially ones that rely on visually appealing photos for their marketing efforts) will do better on Facebook and Instagram. If you’re a destination spot, you might also add Pinterest to the list since people frequently pin travel ideas and save places they want to visit along the way.

Just be wary if you can’t find any competitors on a social media platform, and know that your efforts may likely end in disappointment.

4. Set Up Accounts

Once you know what type of content your audience likes to see and where they spend most of their time, it’s time to set up your accounts.

You’ve probably already gone through the process of creating your account and reserving your social media handles, but you want to spend a little more time optimizing your profile on each platform.

For instance, Facebook and Twitter give you some extra real estate with profile headers. You’ll want to utilize these. Include a nice image, maybe even add some text advertising your latest product release or discounts.

Instagram gives you space in your profile to tell your audience a bit about your business and to link to your website. When you start out on Instagram, you want to make sure you have a complete profile, along with a grid of appealing images or graphics (about 9 images to start with).

Pinterest takes a bit more time to set up. I like to start by optimizing the profile description with my most important keywords and a nice profile picture.

I also create boards for each of my major keywords (or pillars, if you have a blog and have planned out your content pillars), then add about 20 pins to each board. Each board should also have a title and description consistent with your keyword strategy.

5. Integrate Your Content Strategy

If you have a blog, you probably already have a content strategy.

The great part about social media is that if you’re already doing larger pieces of content like videos, podcasts, or blog posts, you can easily break these down into smaller posts for social media. One blog post could easily give you days worth of content.

Some of your social media posts can also come from quotes from your videos, podcasts, and blog posts. Especially if you have any interviews, these can be a gold mine for good social media posts. (And you can tag whoever you quoted, who may share it with their audience as well.)

Summary & Takeaway

While social media certainly isn’t a replacement for your existing marketing efforts, it can certainly help broaden your reach, raise brand awareness, and help you meet your overall business goals.

Combined with more traditional marketing efforts and as part of a holistic marketing strategy, social media marketing is a powerful tool for growing your business.

By Lauren Connally

Lauren is a copywriter, blogger, and social media manager based in the Texas Hill Country. She works with bloggers and small businesses to help build their online presence.

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