Ultimate Social Media Marketing Guide

An illustrated version of a smartphone with confetti and social media iconography, like a heart and a Facebook like button, floating around the phone. These celebratory symbols and icons represent the engagement notifications a community manager would hope to see after implementing a new social media marketing strategy.
An illustrated version of a smartphone with confetti and social media iconography, like a heart and a Facebook like button, floating around the phone. These celebratory symbols and icons represent the engagement notifications a community manager would hope to see after implementing a new social media marketing strategy.

No matter what business you’re in, it is safe to assume that a majority of your customers are using social media. Most companies now have some kind of social media presence, whether it’s a basic LinkedIn profile or a huge footprint with multiple brand accounts across different platforms. Social media marketing is the process through which you can promote your products and content, reaching new and existing customers, encouraging stronger retention, and surging ahead of your competitors.

Building a following and using social media platforms to reach a wider audience requires a well-planned social media marketing strategy. In this guide, we’ll be looking at why social media marketing is so essential and how you can make it work for your business.

Table of Contents

Why is Social Media Good for Marketing?

Here are some of the main benefits for businesses implementing an effective social media marketing strategy.

  • Build stronger relationships with your customers. For both new and long-time customers, your social network provides a way to stay in touch, offer customer service, and answer questions. Many customers today would rather interact on Facebook or Twitter than by phone or email.
  • Acquire new leads and customers. By posting regularly on social media, you can build your following. Not all of your followers will become customers, of course. But you can provide links to your website and opt-in pages to build out your base. Also, don’t discount the power of others sharing your content, putting it in front of more prospects.
  • Keep up with competitors. Social media has become the town square of the internet. You can find out what people are saying about your industry, the products they’re using, and what features they prefer. You can also follow your competitors’ pages for ideas.
  • Build brand awareness. One of the best reasons to post on social media is simply to get your message out to the world. People are always more comfortable dealing with businesses that they’ve heard of, via word of mouth or a positive review. Even when someone doesn’t become your customer right away, they’re more likely to buy something from you or recommend you later on if they’ve seen your content.’

What is Social Media Marketing?

Smart phone showing top social media channel icons lit up: Instagram, Facebook, Twitter

A broad social media marketing definition is: the practice of utilizing social media platforms for customer acquisition, sales, and promote brand awareness. Brands can post content in a number of different ways, and with a number of different goals in mind for each type of social media post.

Social media marketing also involves paid opportunities, advertising, and partnerships — all with the intention of getting your brand out there, improving the quality of your leads, and encouraging strong customer loyalty and retention. 

Top social media platforms for businesses include: Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Facebook, and there are many, many ways to use these and other channels to build a robust and fruitful social media presence for your company. We’ll go into this in more detail below.

How to do Social Media Marketing

So the next question, of course, is how do you actually ‘do’ social media marketing and reap the benefits of this valuable marketing channel?

Well, there is really no “one way” to do social media marketing but there are some best practices that will help you get on the right track toward success. When you’re thinking about developing a social media marketing plan it’s important to be clear about your goals, your bandwidth, and the platforms you’ll be using.

Effective social media marketing comes from consistency, willingness to try new things, and using social analytics to gain learnings about what content is resonating with your followers. 

Social marketing involves more than just posting pics on Instagram, Tweeting, and sharing product links to your social networks. You need to strike a balance between heavy promotional content — driving clicks to your site, and engagement content that may isolate the conversation on the platform in the immediate term, but keeps people interested in what you have to say and coming back for more.

Further reading on Facebook marketing

If you want to specifically improve your overall Facebook marketing strategy read our dedicated blog.

Further reading on Instagram Marketing

Of course, your social media marketing strategy should also be focusing on Instagram marketing.

What Should be Included in a Social Media Strategy?

Calendar with new month open and yellow highlighter

Your social media marketing strategy is what informs the “how”. The strategy is the “why” and the “how” is the day-to-day work to make it happen. Your plan should include everything from which social platforms to use, what to say on each platform, and most importantly the results you’re trying to achieve.

1. Know your target audience

Most people are on social media today — in every age group, and around the world. But that doesn’t mean they’re all using the same channels, are seeing the same trending topics, or are using it the same way as everybody else. 

Before you even start defining your goals and drafting posts, you need to know your buyer personas inside and out. Where do they hang out on social, who they are, their values, and common interests? This kind of information can be obtained using social listening tools and will make your job as a social media marketer so much easier.  

2. Establish goals 

When you’re making a marketing plan, for social media or any other medium, you should always start out by setting clear social media goals. Marketing without set goals is highly unlikely to drive any results.

You could have one single goal, like brand awareness, or set multiple goals, like lead generation and increasing your brand’s reach. Setting goals also helps streamline your thought process, making it easier to create content for your social profiles.

3. Create a content calendar

Come up with a posting schedule that can be accessed by all key team members so everyone can see what content is planned and on what channels. A social content calendar ensures everything runs smoothly, with no unnecessary gaps in the schedule.

Create a weekly, or monthly calendar to avoid any last-minute chaos. A good strategy is to keep track of various holidays throughout the year, so you don’t miss important celebrations like National Chocolate Day and World Ocean Day.

Beating the algorithms is difficult but one of the surest ways to be treated positively by them is to post often and regularly and a calendar will help with that. Here are all the best times to post on social media (bear in mind these are not set in stone — depending on your location and your audience's age range, there might be more optimal times for you).

4. Use a social management tool

Keeping up with your calendar will be infinitely easier with a third-party social scheduling and management tool. This allows you to post to multiple social platforms from one place and pull high-level analytics from one place.

You can also use social media tools to automate your social media activities. These tools help you accurately measure, and analyze your campaigns all in one single dashboard.

Group of friends in an office enjoying the same website

5. Follow the analytics 

Make sure you’re regularly pulling metrics so you can track the performance of your social media posts and hone in on what’s most successful in helping you achieve your goals. Some common metrics you should be looking at include: impressions, clicks, video views, comments, likes, and shares.

6. Focus on video & visual marketing

Most people today browse through social media on-the-go. Using impactful visuals that have the power to catch one’s attention can significantly improve your social media interactions. People are more likely to notice a powerful image than read a caption.

Once you capture the attention through a relevant visual, you can hold their attention with text. Beyond still images, video content is highly regarded as the most engaging type of social post (74% of marketers say video has a better return on investment than static imagery, according to biteable). 

Check out our 5 Quick Tips for Social Video Content and learn about The Secrets of Successful Video Marketing.

7. Invest in paid social media ads

Set aside a small budget to invest in paid social media ads. Social media platforms favor brands that pay, giving them more visibility. Reaching a large audience of potential followers purely using organic methods will be next to impossible for most brands. Boosting or promoting your posts is comparatively less expensive than Google AdWords, making it an effective strategy for small businesses.

8. Build and join social communities

Communities on social media are havens — places to find like-minded people, ask questions, share feedback, debate, and offer ideas. They can be small or large (micro-communities are where the power is for marketers!) and cover literally countless subjects, industries, activities, and interests.

Join communities relevant to your business and target audience to know what people are talking about, share your own opinions, and even link to relevant articles or products on your website. If there aren’t many such communities for your industry, or they’re inactive, start building a social community yourself.

Woman in bed on her phone

9. Interact and engage

Social media marketing not only creates brand awareness but also creates a communication channel between your brand and your customers. Interact with your existing customers, or potential ones, and keep a close eye on every comment, like, follow, and share to take advantage of real-time opportunities. This engagement builds a sense of trust with your customers and is a great avenue for customer service.

10. Collaborate with brands and influencers

Influencer marketing is a great way to give your social media marketing efforts a significant boost. Collaborating with the right influencer(s) gives your brand greater visibility to a relevant audience and provides you with incredible user-generated content to use across other digital marketing channels.

Additionally, you could also collaborate with other brands that already enjoy a good social following, to the mutual benefit of both businesses.

What Are the Types of Social Media?

There are many different types of social media, many opportunities to join communities and market to them online. Image showing open computer with welcome message "Join us Online"online

It’s important to think beyond the “big 3” in social networks, namely Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram, for your social media strategy. 

Social media in fact permeates far beyond these types of sites to include the following: 

1. Reviews sites (think Yelp, Trip Advisor)

Reviews are essential to your business — they are a huge deciding factor for consumers. One of the quickest and easiest ways to set yourself apart is by responding to reviews, both positive and negative. 

This shows you actually care about what people are saying and take the time out of your day to address issues and concerns. Negative reviews are hard to swallow but depending on the context, they can sometimes turn into a full-blown crisis if not handled early.

2. Forums (think Reddit, Quora)

One of the oldest tricks in the social marketing book is to participate in online discussions where there is a clear link between your product or service and the conversation. This practice tends to get cracked down on pretty hard by moderators so it’s important to weigh the pros and cons. Make sure you contribute some value back to the discussion and don’t just drop in for self-promotion. 

Marketing through forums takes patience and dedication, but it can be worth it. There are thousands of micro-communities on Reddit, find the right one and get started! Read our Ultimate Guide to Reddit Marketing for more insights.

3. Multimedia sharing (think Pinterest, YouTube)

Multi-media is becoming more and more popular across social media, upping the ante for well-edited video, crisp graphics, and all kinds of digital effects. If you want to market using multimedia, don’t do it as an afterthought. 

For marketing on YouTube, for example, you should make sure you have the time to invest in polished videos — even simple ones take time. Instagram marketing is a little easier to incorporate, and you have a lot of options like Reels, IGTV, and Stories.

Pinterest is super popular for apparel and lifestyle brands, offering a great way to demonstrate different products that go well together.

Young woman holding a small video camera

4. Community Blogging (think Medium, Tumblr)

Surge ahead in establishing yourself as a thought leader for your industry by writing articles and engaging with other content on a community blog site. This is an easier and quicker way to get in front of more eyes than posting on your own blog (which you should absolutely still do). 

Sites like Medium offer a unique opportunity to create content on any topic you want, neatly categorized and easy to read. Posting on Medium is a great way to flex your SEO muscles too.  

5. Sharing Economy (think AirBnB, Patreon)

The sharing economy has truly skyrocketed over the past decade, with trendsetting AirBnB leading the charge. There are more and more possibilities for people to make money from their homes, artwork, and other creative pursuits through sites that leverage both the social media side and the business side. 

Unless you are a part of these industries, it might be difficult to tap into these audiences, but there’s plenty of room for creative partnerships. For example, maybe you could support a videographer on Patreon. Through building a relationship with them and their followers — you could find a great promotional opportunity, for them and for you! 

6. Connecting with friends, family, and colleagues (think Facebook, LinkedIn)

The OG of social media of course is sites like Facebook, which facilitated ways to stay connected with friends and family, post pictures, leave comments, and enjoy a sense of community. Brands getting in on the Facebook game can create pages or groups, which is a great way to build out your social media presence. LinkedIn is another connection app, designed specifically for professional networking.

If you want to be successful in your LinkedIn marketing strategy, read our dedicated blog.

Types of Social Media Marketing

Staircase going up and to the right. Social media marketing helps increase engagement and drives sales.

So the next question you need to answer as a social media manager is: which of the above 6 types of social media do you need to focus on? If you try to do everything at once, your strategy will be all over the place. If you want to touch all of them that’s fine, but make sure you have a heavily prioritized plan of attack. 

There are a few key types of social media marketing you can consider:

1. Content marketing

  • Drive traffic
  • Promote different kinds of content

The umbrella term “content marketing” can feel a bit like a catch-all at times, but essentially it means promoting content published on your website or on another social network. (Such as sharing a YouTube video on your Facebook page). 

When you promote content, generally your top marketing goal will be link clicks — driving traffic to your website. You can expand the reach of your content by participating in online chats and forums and using specific hashtags to make it more discoverable. 

It’s important to remember that content does not just refer to written articles. Content marketing includes the creation of videos, Gifs, and images as well.

2. Advertising

  • Expand reach
  • Find new customers

The paid ads side is a subcomponent of social media marketing that can be very useful if you have the budget available. Social advertising involves either promoting within the platform (such as boosting a Facebook post) or the more sophisticated route is going through Google Adwords. 

Social ads can target specific audiences depending on the type of content and value prop you want to promote with the ad. This is a great strategy for expanding your reach — attracting more followers to your social media profiles and finding new customers.

3. Community management

  • Build trust
  • Interact with fans and followers

This is arguably the most natural use for social media as a business, in that you’re not “fighting the system” so to speak — you’re using social media in the way it was intended. Community management should be an essential component of any social media marketing plan. As you gather analytics on your engagement posts, you’ll gain invaluable insights into your target audience — understanding which content they react most favorably to. 

Managing your community effectively on social media depends on knowing and participating in current trends as well as establishing your own brand voice.

Examples of Social Marketing Campaigns

Social media marketing involves way more than posting pics, captions, and hashtags. It’s also about giving your followers a reason to interact with you, and a reason to share your company with their friends. The best way to do this is through a campaign!

If you're looking for specific inspiration check out our blog about 7 of the Best Social Media Marketing Examples in 2021.

1. Contests

Social media contests are often huge successes for brands, if executed well.

The biggest upside of contests is that they draw a lot of attention and potential leads. The downside is that the leads generated aren’t always the highest quality. Regardless, contests are a surefire way to increase brand awareness and gather the email addresses of potential customers.

One of the most successful social media contests to date is Shopify’s Build a Business.

Since the launch of the program in 2010, Shopify has helped thousands of companies start and grow successful businesses using good old-fashioned competition.

Winners of the contest each receive a $50,000 investment and mentoring from seasoned entrepreneurs. Now in its seventh year, the competition has generated more than 100M impressions, 1.5M engagements, 1M shares, and most importantly, more than $500M in GMV for the businesses that participated. 

Need some creative inspiration for what to give away? Here are a few examples to get you started:

  • A limited-edition product
  • An entire product collection
  • Product(s) from influencers in your market
  • Gift cards
  • Travel

The key is to make your social media contest a win-win for everyone. The prize should be compelling enough for participants to share with their friends and family (don’t go cheap!).

2. Challenges

Heard of the #IceBucketChallenge? What about #FliptheSwitch? There’s a reason these sound familiar. They are among the most viral social media challenges to come along in the past few years. One raising awareness for ALS, one a fun dance challenge in which couples switch clothes halfway through.

These kinds of viral events happen with precision planning, a simple concept, lots and lots of sharing, good timing, and a teeny tiny bit of luck. But if you can catch the wave, it's an excellent way to introduce your brand and get people excited about participating and engaging with you.

3. Influencer and brand ambassador partnerships 

By this point, working with influencers is a tried and true tactic for social media marketing. It can be an excellent way to generate super relevant leads and increase sales. And if you work with the same influencer on multiple campaigns, you increase your chances of forging strong customer retention rates as well.

It's important to make sure you match with the right influencer for your brand, and that you craft clear guidelines for them to follow, but trust their creative process. Their followers follow them for a reason, so if they're forced to change their content style too much, they lose followers and you lose both sales and a potential long-term partner. 

Building a Social Media Marketing Strategy in 2021

Building a social media strategy for 2021. Image of large pile of multi-colored lego bricks

The landscape of social media in 2021 is larger, fuller, and richer than ever before with ample creative ways to reach your target audience. Here are some things to consider to help you get ahead, and be sure to stay tuned to our blog every week for the biggest stories in social media.

1. Recent updates and changes 

Some of the most significant updates to come to the most popular social channels recently involve new features and new opportunities for businesses to leverage the platforms. Have you for example ever thought about utilizing WhatsApp for messenger marketing? You could start with using WhatsApp for Business, creating WhatsApp Ads, and with setting up WhatsApp Broadcast.

On Twitter in particular the biggest news is that they’re considering a special business profile. Up till now, Twitter profiles for businesses have been the same as profiles for individuals. The same setup process, and no charge. Now Twitter is beta testing a business account that would give businesses more features like an expanded about me section and a contact button. Snapchat has also recently introduced business profiles. We have written a dedicated blog about how to create a Twitter marketing strategy.

Instagram and LinkedIn now provide ways to list your pro-nouns publicly, an increasingly popular habit. (LinkedIn users had been hacking this by adding the pro-nouns in the Last Name field, but they now have their own separate section).

2. What do people care about from brands in 2021

  • Authenticity
  • Social activism

More and more, users of social media are demanding authenticity from brands. People are seeing through lackluster attempts at realness and old-fashioned marketing lingo, just doesn't cut it anymore (unless used ironically). This also applies when it comes to social accountability and activism. 

For example, while at one time it was a respected, even daring, move to show solidarity during Pride by incorporating a rainbow flag into your logo, today this has been termed "rainbow-washing" — essentially hijacking the celebration to make sales. People are now asking for more — insisting that companies walk the walk not just talk the talk.

3. Be an early adopter on new platforms

  • TikTok
  • Clubhouse

If there’s one constant in the world of social media, it’s that there will always be a shiny new platform or a shiny new tool. A great way to stay ahead of your competition is to be an early brand adopter of these apps and sites. Beware, however, usually the new users on these sites are of the younger generation (Gen Z as of this writing). So avoid the temptation of entering into that space for the sake of it. Make sure your target audience is participating there first.

4. Ephemeral content is still relevant

  • Fleets
  • LinkedIn Stories
  • Instagram Live & Stories

With the adoption of “Fleets” on Twitter, LinkedIn Stories, and Instagram Live, there is no shortage of “catch it or you’ll miss it” content out there. Content that disappears 24 hours after it’s been posted. What use could that be, you ask? Turns out a lot.

More short-form video content was one of our top marketing trend predictions for 2021 and it certainly shows no signs of slowing down. There’s a certain allure to knowing something is only going to be available once. Brands can take advantage of this by creating exclusive deals and sales, encouraging people to tune in to their live events and stories.

Using Social Media for Lead Generation

Graph showing up and to the right growth

Whether direct, indirect, marketing-qualified, or sales-qualified, the leads generated by marketing teams are rarely attributed to social media. Social media continues to be referred to as a brand awareness tool, and marketers often take for granted just how effective it can be for lead generation - no matter if companies are operating in the B2C or B2B social media marketing space.

1. Active Listening

Selling your product is probably at the top of the list when it comes to the goals of your social media strategy. Social listening can be an extremely effective way to discover and connect with potential buyers.

Meltwater’s Boolean search allows users to create very specific searches around any topic imaginable. You can use it to find PR opportunities or identify potential customers. For example:

(“Window cleaner” AND (“Recommendations” or “looking for”)

This will bring up anyone who is looking for a window cleaner. You could even include an area, for example (“Window cleaner” AND “London”) AND (“recommendations” OR “looking for”). Here’s a quick overview of effective Boolean searches:

Image showing boolean search parameter examples

Another way brands use social listening for lead generation is by setting up automatic searches for people who are discussing competitors in a neutral or negative light. This can provide an opportunity for your brand to provide a better alternative.

2. Social Media Advertising

What we’ve been talking about mostly entails organic tactics for your social media marketing strategy. But on the other end of the spectrum is advertising — paid social media efforts like ads and promotions. For many marketers, advertising on social media has become a mainstay of their marketing programs. Apart from generating brand awareness, ads can be one of your brand’s top lead generation channels.

Success in converting those leads comes down to three critical components:

  1. The quality of your targeting
  2. The quality of your ads
  3. The ability to track results

Great conversion-focused ads almost always contain an irresistible offer. This might be a discount on a product, a free trial, a coupon, or a buy-one-get-one-free offer.

Tracking results through tools like the Facebook Pixel, Google Analytics, or even your brand’s CRM is critical. Understanding which campaigns are driving conversions, which campaigns are resulting in higher lifetime value customers, and which campaigns are losing money helps you double down on what’s working and drop or iterate on what’s not. 

What is paid social media advertising?

Paid social media advertising is a method of using ads to get your content and brand name in front of a wider audience. Most major social media channels offer advertising opportunities using a PPC model (pay per click). There are other models as well like paying per impression and video views. 

The type of exposure you get as a brand depends on how much you pay but also the effectiveness of your ad. For example, if you’re paying for a skippable ad spot on YouTube, follow YouTube advertising best practices to make your ad so enticing that viewers don’t want to skip. 

Why is social media advertising important?

You boost your reach and get in front of new audiences who might not otherwise see your posts in the sea of algorithm-selected content from people they already follow.

This year alone, "advertising spend on social is expected to peak at 47 billion" (statista), and continue growing exponentially into 2022, rebounding from the hit taken during Covid in 2020. So the moral of the story is: your competitors are throwing money behind their social media strategy, investing in advertising to pull ahead. And so should you.

Does social media advertising really work?

This depends on how you interpret the return on investment for your ads, but on the whole — yes. Social media advertising does work. 

Here are some compelling stats to illustrate:

  • 2.14 billion people can be reached through adverts on Facebook.
  • 50% of Instagram users are more interested in a brand when they see ads for it on Instagram.
  • 78% of users say content from brands [on Pinterest] is useful, including ads.
  • Twitter users spend 26% more time viewing ads when compared to other platforms.
  • 65% of B2B companies have generated a customer through LinkedIn paid ads

(SocialPilot)

But wait, there's more! See these 70+ Social Media Marketing Statistics for 2020.

3. Social Selling

Slightly different than using social ads, social selling is actually using social media as another channel for your sales team to do direct outreach with clients and prospects. It’s an effective strategy — in fact: “leaders in social sales attract 45% more sales than their peers and are 51% more likely to reach their quotas” (smallbizgenius.net).

This should be a natural component of your social media strategy, the primary channel used for social selling is LinkedIn, through the use of DMs.   

How to Improve a Social Media Strategy

Is your social media strategy floundering and not delivering the results you expected? You’re certainly not alone. Social media is a finicky and tricky beast. It takes a lot of testing, a ton of iteration, and constant attention to even move the needle. 

One of the first places to start if your strategy needs improvement is to do a social media audit. This will help you narrow down your problem areas and determine where you need to double your efforts. 

Next, rethink your goals. It might be worth establishing less aggressive targets, or different priorities for what you want to get out of your social channels. 

Another solution would be to find a better software tool! Meltwater’s social marketing solutions can help you get better results. Fill out the form below to learn more.

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