Discover the principles and strategies for effective social media marketing in this comprehensive guide.
Perhaps one of the biggest human flaws is that we tend to be a bit impatient.
We speed date, eat fast food, use emojis instead of words, pay for overnight shipping, and get started with social media without knowing why or what to expect.
I get it.
The world is moving faster than ever before. New trends and technology seem to appear overnight, and it’s becoming increasingly difficult to keep pace. So, you get the temptation to jump on the social media bandwagon without a clear picture in mind of what you want to achieve.
But, diving in without a sense of what it encompasses and how it can benefit your business can do more harm than good.
This comprehensive guide will teach you everything you need to know about how to build a social media marketing strategy that delivers value to your audience and helps your business grow.
Table of contents
- Social Media Research
- Paid vs. Organic Social Media
- Picking the Right Social Media Platforms
- How Often You Should Post on Social Media
- The Best Time to Post on Social Media
- Using Social Media to Influence SEO
- Growing a Social Media Audience
- Social Listening
- Social Media Community Management
- Social Media Advertising
- Social Media Management Tools
- Social Media Reporting and ROI
The importance of social media for business
Not too long ago, businesses considered social media as just a passing trend, a distraction for kids with nothing better to do with their time than to scroll through endless news feeds.
Nowadays, it’s becoming clearer every day that social media is one of the most powerful marketing tools businesses have ever seen.
Get this: there are 3.77 billion global internet users, and over 2.8 billion active social media users (related: marketing statistics). If social media were a country, it would be the biggest nation in the world.
Image Source: We Are Social
Don’t forget that due to its gargantuan size, social media can provide you with more exposure and brand awareness than any other traditional marketing tool out there. Some of the most popular platforms have become such an integral part of our lives that we are willingly telling the world about our needs, preferences, problems, and burning desires.
Savvy businesses know how to benefit from the huge amount of data that users generate in real time. Sure, the numbers are overwhelming – every day, people send over 500 million Tweets, upload 95 million photos and videos on Instagram, and like 4.5 billion posts on Facebook. But, behind this mammoth amount of information, there are valuable insights about your customers: who they are, what they like, and what they are willing to pay for.
Social media has made it easier for brands to eavesdrop on the conversations their customers are having and take part in the discussion. Social networks can also help you gather information about your audience and create better marketing messages that fit their profile.
So, there’s no question that social media can benefit your business greatly.
But what is Social Media Marketing?
Imagine you are taking your first scuba diving lesson. You are given the equipment without being told what each item is, how it works, and why you need it. You wouldn’t feel too comfortable diving into the deep dark depths of the ocean without knowing how to differentiate between your submersible pressure gauge and your dive computer.
The same stays true for getting started with social media marketing without understanding what it is or how it works.
According to Wikipedia, social media marketing refers to the use of social networks to promote a product or service.
That’s a rather broad and superficial definition, don’t you think?
Let me take a swing at it.
For me, social media marketing refers to the use of social media platforms to identify and connect with key audiences in a meaningful way.
Sure, your goal is to increase brand awareness, generate leads, and promote your products or services. But, you can’t do that without building meaningful relationships with your network first.
Unlike traditional marketing, where you bombard prospects with sales messages – social media is a two-way process. You need to listen, engage, show empathy, become involved, and provide value if you want to create a seamless relationship with your prospects that can eventually lead to sales.
If you can’t do that, your social media marketing is likely to fail.
What are the benefits of Social Media Marketing?
Social media has become such an integral part of a brand’s marketing efforts, that over 97% of marketers are using it.
Unfortunately, not all businesses seem to understand the benefits social media can bring. Recent studies show that about 50% of small businesses aren’t using social media marketing to promote their products/services.
More than that, 25% of those businesses say that they don’t even plan to use social media in the future.
Apparently, there is a big gap between those who understand the value social media can bring and those who still see it as a passing trend.
If you’re one of the few businesses that struggle to see the value of social media marketing, here are some benefits to consider:
Consumers tend to buy from the brands that they recognize. Social media can get your business in front of the right people and entice them to engage with your brand even when they aren’t ready to make a purchase.
Humanizing Your Brand
Social media makes it easier to show your customers that you aren’t just a faceless corporation that is only after their dollars. It allows you to build a voice and showcase your personality, or the personality of your team. For example, the team at Buffer do a great job of empowering their employees to be the face of their brand on Twitter by adding a personalized sign off to all their responses:
Establishing Yourself as an Authority
Social media is an excellent platform to share helpful content that proves your expertise. Respond to industry-related questions, participate in discussions, and share valuable resources with your network to become an authority in your niche.
Improving Your Customer Service
You may think that social media is a waste of time, but your audience expects you to be there. 67% of consumers go to social media for customer service. And, this statistic is four years old; you can only imagine that the numbers have increased since then. But that’s not all: consumers expect brands to respond to their request within 24 hours or even sooner. So, while you’re ignoring social media, prospects are talking about your business online.
This list could go on forever. Social media can also help drive traffic to your site, assist with link building for SEO, keep an eye on your competitors, and so on.
But the real question is how can you build and implement a winning social media marketing plan that will reap all of these rewards.
How do you create a Social Media Marketing Plan for your business?
“If you fail to plan, you are planning to fail.” – Benjamin Franklin
This quote has withstood the test of time, and it’s never been more relevant than in the world of digital marketing and social media.
Unfortunately, many business owners and digital marketers approach social media haphazardly with no clear direction. They “need to have a presence”, so they set up pages on every social platform out there, and start publishing inconsistent content.
If you want to make the most of the social media for your business, first you need to understand what you are trying to achieve. Then you need to create a structured and specific approach for moving towards that goal.
Here are the key areas you should consider when putting together a social media marketing plan for your business.
Social Media Research
You know that understanding your audience’s needs and expectations are vital to social media marketing success. So it’s important that social media research becomes a key part of your ongoing social media strategy.
And, it makes perfect sense if you think about it: the more you know about your customers, the easier it becomes to create content that caters to their specific needs.
There’s just one problem: the volume of conversation on social media is so big that it can feel like an insurmountable task to look for potentially valuable insights.
Don’t panic yet. With the right approach, social media research is doable.
First, start by asking the right questions.
Imagine that you are a web design company and want to know what people are talking about when it comes to photography sites. Some of the possible questions you may ask are: How are people responding to this topic? What themes are the most popular? What are the other web design companies mentioned when it comes to photography site themes?
Now that you have your questions and topics, create a list of the possible words and phrases your audience might be using to discuss this area of interest. Keep in mind that people often use slang on the internet or misspell words, so try to include some fringe key terms in your list too.
Jump on social media, starting with the most relevant platform for your audience, and use the search feature to see what people are saying about your list of topics.
Here is an example search using Twitter, where you can quickly filter the information by people, geography, language and so on:
Look at your results and refine the list. Exclude anything that isn’t relevant to what you’re looking for or doesn’t provide any useful information.
With your data at hand, try to answer some basic questions, such as what is the overall sentiment for websites in this space, what audience categories are the most vocal about it, and so on.
Don’t be afraid to take your research a step further and explore what’s beneath the surface.
This information can frame your approach to marketing your product or service offerings to this group of people.
Paid vs. Organic Social Media
If done right, social media marketing can help you grow your business without burning a hole in your budget. Of course, that takes time, patience, and a lot of hard work.
Perhaps paid social media advertising is a better option when it comes to increasing brand awareness, traffic generation, and customer acquisition.
Well, let’s find out, shall we?
Organic social media marketing can help you put your business in front of the right audience for free (apart from your time of course). That is if you learn the rules of the game and play by them.
Here’s the thing: just as with search engine optimization, the algorithm for each social network changes regularly. Facebook, for instance, has significantly dropped the average organic reach for businesses in recent years and it plans to lower it even more in the future. The social network has made it clear that it will only show content that is useful, relevant, and valuable.
Here is an interesting graphic from AgoraPulse that gives you an idea of the organic reach on Facebook broken down by industry:
It’s no surprise that retail is sitting smack bang at the bottom of that list, given the direct response nature of buying products online and how it can be directly attributed to Facebook advertising spend.
Yes, cracking the algorithm and getting your content in front of your audience is becoming increasingly difficult, but there are a few advantages to relying on organic social media rather than paying attention straight away:
- Being consistent can benefit your business long-term by developing authority;
- If you have a tight marketing budget, it’s much more affordable;
- Your audience likely trust “organic” engagement and messaging, more than they do paid advertisements;
On the flip side, paid social media advertising can help you achieve your goals faster, but its longevity is limited. A paid campaign will stop driving traffic and leads the moment you switch it off, but evergreen social media content can generate ROI indefinitely.
In the end, there’s no absolute winner. You need to look at your metrics and budget to decide which option fits your business best. The reality is that each of the social networks is businesses themselves, and they need to monetize their audience to stay in existence. As this industry continues to mature, the ease of organic reach will continue to decrease. So if you think that social media is a “free” way to market your business, you will end up being disappointed.
Picking the Right Social Media Platforms
One of the biggest mistakes small business owners make is that they see “social media” as a homogenous entity. Sure, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram are all social networks, but they are so different that everything from the audience to the style is unique.
So, how can you ensure that you’re focusing on the social networks that benefit your business’ goals?
Here are some things to keep in mind:
- Consider User Demographics: Size isn’t always important. Instagram may be one of the fastest growing networks, but if you are a B2B company selling SaaS services to logistics companies, then it would make more sense to focus your resources on LinkedIn and Twitter.
- Resources: Do you have the skills or personnel to create the right content for the networks you’ve chosen? Instagram and Pinterest, for example, require creative images and videos while Twitter emphasizes quality articles.
- Time: Unless you have a dedicated social media marketing department, you won’t be able to post on every social media channel. Keep in mind that you should aim to post daily on each network.
In the beginning, focus your effort on the social network(s) that are MOST relevant to your customer group, and give them your best shot. As a rule, I’d recommend picking your customer’s top 3 most frequented networks and sticking to them to start.
How Often You Should Post on Social Media
CoSchedule looked at 14 different studies and found the ideal social media frequency that allows you to engage with your network, drive engagement and traffic, and keep your business top of mind, without annoying your audience.
Here’s what that came up with:
- Facebook: Studies suggest that you should post just once or at most twice a day to Facebook. Anything more than that can come off as spam;
- Twitter: Neil Patel found that 15 Tweets per day is the sweet spot that gets you all the benefits of social media marketing;
- Pinterest: Between 15 and 30 posts per day will bring you the best results on this network;
- Google+: No, Google+ is not dead. In fact, it can benefit your SEO greatly. Just make sure to post relevant content at least twice per day;
- LinkedIn: One post per day is more than enough for LinkedIn;
- Instagram: Major brands post just 1-2 images per day on Instagram. If you have more content that you want to share with your audience, use the Instagram Stories feature;
That all seems like a lot of work, right? Posting consistently on social media is made far easier with social media scheduling tools such as AgoraPulse:
The Best Time to Post on Social Media
Just like everything else in life, timing is crucial to social media marketing success.
Picture this: you’ve spent hours working on an article that is insightful and packed with helpful information. Excited about the result, you share it with your network. But, to your surprise and disappointment, almost no one notices it.
That’s how important timing is.
So, what’s the best time to post on social media?
Here are some numbers:
- Facebook: The best time to post on Facebook is on Thursday, Friday, Saturday, and Sunday. The best hours are 9 AM, 1 PM and 3 PM.
- Twitter: The best time to post on Twitter is Wednesday between 5 and 6 PM;
- Pinterest: Saturdays are your best days for connecting with your Pinterest audience. The best hours are 2 PM, 9 PM, and even late at night (2 AM;)
- LinkedIn: Midweek posting (Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday) early in the morning (between 7 and 8 AM) or in the afternoon (5-6PM) is your ideal time;
- Instagram: One of the things that make Instagram so great is that users are active throughout the week. But, for maximum engagement, make sure not to skip Mondays and Thursdays at any time except for 3-4PM;
- Google+: The best time to post on Google+ is on Wednesdays, between 9 and 11 AM.
Again, you can pre-schedule content to be posted at these times rather than needing to be active all day every day yourself!
Using Social Media to Influence SEO
Google uses over 200 ranking factors to decide which content to show high in search engine results. Social media signals are among the less significant factors, but none the less can still impact your rankings.
According to Matt Cutts, the correlation between social signals and ranking position is extremely high. Sites that have numerous social signals perform better than those with fewer signals.
Sure, correlation is not causation, but the role social signals play in SEO is becoming more and more evident. If you create and share high-quality content on social media, people are more likely to like it, share it, and link to it. That builds your traffic, your credibility, and your reputation. All that can, in turn, lead to a higher ranking.
The other thing to consider is that your social media pages will most likely show up on page one of a search result when someone is looking for your brand. This is extremely important for authority and brand recognition.
Growing a Social Media Audience
By now, you probably understand that social media is a fantastic way to promote and grow your business.
But, how do you attract those first fans and followers? How do you get started when you have no audience?
- Getting Likes, Followers, and Shares: You can do a lot of different things to increase your visibility. You can (and should) add links to your social media profiles to your site, engage with other people, leverage hashtags, add links to your social media accounts in your email signature, and so on. But, all your efforts will fail if the content you share with your network provides no value. Before anything else, ensure you create quality content on a regular basis.
- Facebook: At the moment, Facebook is all about video. Reports have shown that live videos get 29% times more views than traditional content. That can translate into a broad audience reach that will kick start your social media strategy. But just be aware that these trends come and go, and you will need to adapt with the changing times.
- Facebook Messenger: Messenger is trending at the moment, and a lot of marketers believe this is the future – a channel that could compete directly with email marketing. With Facebook Messenger you can use Chatbots to engage with prospects, and also expand your reach with Messenger Ads. It’s still evolving as a social media marketing tactic, but something you should keep an eye one.
- Facebook Pages vs. Facebook Groups: Both Facebook Pages and Facebook Groups have their advantages and disadvantages. However, unlike a Facebook Page, where some of your audience might be there just to benefit from discounts and coupons, in a Facebook Group people are interested and engaged in a particular topic. By joining one, you can take part in the discussion and prove yourself as an industry expert. Facebook Groups also get much better organic reach, compared to Business Pages, so it makes a lot of sense to combine the two in your strategy.
- Twitter: Twitter is a very interactive medium. Retweet, Like, Reply, and engage with followers and other users as often as possible to grow your audience. If you want to spark quick growth and sustain it over time, consider using a service such as Social Quant.
- LinkedIn: LinkedIn has evolved from a recruiting tool to a powerful publishing platform. Use this to your advantage and publish content that is likely to put your business in front of an interested and growing audience.
- Pinterest: “Collaboration” is the key term to Pinterest success. Invite bloggers and influencers in your niche to contribute to your boards. That way, you can increase your exposure and network.
- Snapchat: If you want to build an audience on Snapchat, then you should come up with a storyline. Don’t just post random photos or videos. Build a narrative that will keep users engaged.
Do you know what the most underestimated (and under-utilized) element of social media marketing is?
Here’s why: to be able to deliver high-quality content to your audience, you need to learn about their perspective. The only way to reach that level of understanding is to become a very good listener.
Everything from brand mentions, likes, comments, forum discussions, and even your competition can reveal something valuable about your prospects. This information can help you improve customer engagement, understand how your audience perceives you in comparison to your competitors, uncover pain points that no one is addressing, or identify industry influencers.
Make sure to monitor keywords, such as your brand name and handles, your competitors’ names, your product names, your campaign’s keywords, your hashtags, and the names of key people in your company.
Tools like Mention make this much easier than it was when social media first came about.
Social Media Community Management
You can’t build a successful social media marketing plan if you’re ignoring your fans and followers. Yes, answering comments, sending welcome/thank you direct messages, and linking and sharing posts is time-consuming, but it’s what social media is all about.
One great example of this is Hilton Hotels who have a dedicated Twitter profile for customer support:
Carve out at least one hour per day to dedicate to social media community management. Make an effort to respond to those mentioning your brand – it will benefit you in the long run. Use tools such as AgoraPulse, or Mention to make it easier to schedule posts and to listen to conversations.
Social Media Advertising
I spoke briefly about the battle between paid and organic social media earlier, and it’s not a black and white outcome.
In fact, whilst most of my energy is put towards growing a social media presence organically, with the limitations of organic reach it is becoming more important to invest in social media advertising as part of your plan.
In reality, the customer journey is never a straight line. Prospects go through different stages before they decide whether they are interested in your products or not. If they encounter just one touch point, the chances they’ll convert are extremely low.
To get consistent outcomes from social media marketing, you need to create as many touch points as possible, and advertising provides the most controlled and measurable way of doing so.
Here’s an approach to social media advertising that makes sense in combination with quality content and an organic growth strategy:
- Create high-quality content and publish it on your website;
- Promote it organically to ensure it reaches the widest audience possible;
- Add a cookie (Facebook or Twitter pixel) to your website that captures the information of people who visit and engage with your content;
- Remarket your future content (and offers) to the audience that has shown interest in your brand;
- Generate qualified leads that already trust you;
- Rinse and repeat;
Social Media Management Tools
Social media can get pretty overwhelming. You need to create content, schedule it, engage with your network, promote posts, share other people’s content, manage your community, and so on.
For a more comprehensive look at the best social media management tools available, read this post.
Social Media Reporting and ROI
The final piece of the puzzle to consider when constructing your social media marketing strategy, is to decide how you will track results.
A study from Convince & Convert found that 41% of companies had no idea whether or not their social media efforts were successful.
That’s unacceptable… Are you really going to invest all of that time and money into something that “might” be working?
Here’s a quick 3-step process for tracking the ROI of your social media marketing:
Step 1 – Set SMART goals
SMART goals are – specific, measurable, achievable, realistic and timely goals.
Eg. Increase customer conversions from social media by 10% this quarter
Step 2 – Understand the metrics that contribute to those goals
What metrics will tell you whether or not your goal has been achieved?
For this to work, you need to set up a baseline set of metrics that tell you where you are currently sitting.
In the example above, you could set up a “Goal” in Google Analytics that tells you when someone converts into a customer, based on an event they trigger or page they visit. Then, if you use the appropriate URL parameters in your social media sharing, you will be able to determine how many people have converted into customers directly from social media.
Read this post for an in-depth look at setting up Google Analytics goals.
Step 3 – Track those metrics
Use Google Analytics, or any number of 3rd party social media monitoring and reporting tools, to track these metrics and improve your strategy over time.
For example, AgoraPulse has some amazing reporting on your social media activity – such as post engagement, follower counts, interactions, impressions and clicks.
Should you outsource or keep it in-house?
Choosing to outsource or hire in-house talent, to plan and execute your social media marketing strategy, can be a challenging decision.
There are a number of pros and cons to consider…
The pros of hiring in-house social media talent
- They understand your business more intimately
- They can take action (typically) more quickly when required
- They are immersed in your culture
- You have control of your marketing
The cons of hiring in-house social media talent
- They may not have the expertise, specialization or experience that an outsourced solution has
- The cost is more, and the risk is higher if you need to replace them
- It prevents you from being able to scale quickly
- It’s hard to find great talent
If you’re looking to hire someone in-house, here is a post about the essential skills of a social media manager.
Or, if you’re looking to outsource your social media marketing, PromoRepublic offer a done-for-you service that starts at $97 a month.
Creating a social media marketing plan from scratch can feel both exciting and overwhelming at the same time.
You know it will benefit your business, but there are so many factors you need to consider that it seems almost impossible to get started.
Hopefully, this guide will make it a little easier to see the light at the end of the tunnel.
In the end, what choice do you have?
Your customers are online, they are engaging on social networks and expecting you to do the same. So you can ignore that fact, or you can embrace it.
Now it’s your turn…
What questions do you have on your mind about social media marketing? Leave them in the comments below.