<div>Social media marketing is outreach to customers and potential customers through social media networks like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram.</div>
Before we get started, I want to tell you a little bit about this blog post. First and foremost, this post has become a definitive, 100% complete guide to getting to know social media marketing for business - written for 2018. I've outlined everything from the basics to advanced strategies so this post is good for everybody, no matter how much (or how little) you know about social media marketing.
As a small business owner, you already know your customers are all over social media — Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and all the other platforms. So why not go where they are? When you harness the power of social media to get attention and generate traffic and sales, you open new avenues for your business to grow.
It all really began with Facebook, which launched its first ad in 2005, only a year after the platform itself got going. Within just five years, Facebook was providing an online home to half a billion users worldwide.
Social media marketing kept exploding logarithmically. Also in 2010, Twitter launched promoted tweets and accounts, and Facebook generated $1 billion in ad revenue. Over the next couple of years, that number rocketed to $5 billion, and by now everyone was getting on the bandwagon.
Are you still wondering if you should be using social media marketing? Keep reading.
Social Media Marketing Statistics
By the end of 2016, Instagram was generating $1 billion in ad revenue, Snapchat (with 10 billion daily views) launched its Ad Partner program, and Facebook? It was up to $25 billion in ads for the year.
And the raw numbers don't tell the whole story. Did you know 95 percent of consumers between the ages of 18 and 34 follow their favorite brands online? Are you trying to reach millennials? They're waiting for you on Instagram, where 90 percent of the users are under 35. As of 2015, 52 percent of consumers said their purchasing decisions were influenced by Facebook.
The bottom line: 1.65 billion people are on social media (and that number's from March 2017, so it's already out of date!). Your customers are on social media. So your marketing should be, too.
Benefits of Social Media Marketing
Major corporations have caught on to the benefits of social media marketing in a big way. Here are the benefits they're aware of (and you should be too):
1. Increased Brand Awareness. Inc. points out that fully 75 percent of consumers say their shopping choices are influenced by social media, and brand loyalty reaps the benefits of that awareness.
2. Connection with Customers. Large corporations also get a direct connection with their customers that's hard to obtain otherwise. By tracking consumer interactions, they can find out what their customers really think.
3. Increased Traffic. It's so easy for customers to click through from a Facebook page to your website. In fact, Hubspot shows increased traffic of 80 percent from social media connections. No wonder big corporations are pleased.
4. Brand Legitimacy. When a customer checks out a major corporation's Facebook page or Twitter feed and sees positive interactions with customers, they're more likely to want to engage with that company. In early 2017, Wendy's earned 350,000 new followers on its Twitter feed thanks to a string of sassy tweets. And those tweets were worth more than followers: Wendy's in-store sales took a big leap over two months during that time frame, and their follower growth rate was at 140%.
And, just as a side note, if you want a little (or big, depending on your mood) laugh, check out this article which outlines one of these super amusing Wendy interactions.
Social Media Marketing for Small Business
So social media marketing is good news for major corporations. That's great for them. What about your small business? As it turns out, social media marketing can make a big difference even for businesses with only 10 to 50 employees. Take a look.
1. Reduced Marketing Costs. As a small business, you don't have the seemingly endless marketing budgets of the big boys. Make every dollar count by leveraging social media connections.
2. Increased Brand Awareness. For the first time, you can complete with major corporations on a (nearly) level playing field when it comes to brand awareness.
3. 24/7 Accessibility. As a small business, you can't afford to have employees on-call around the clock. But your social media presence lets you stay open 24/7, at least where contact with customers is concerned. (Make sure to check your social media several times a day to keep up.)
4. Better Search Results. You want to show up high on any Google search for your products and services, don't you? Social media marketing using your optimized content gives you a nice boost here.
5. The Power of Digital Word-of-Mouth. Customer word-of-mouth has taken on a whole new level of importance in the era of social media. A review on Yelp can now reach thousands instantly.
6. Better Customer Service. One of the strongest advantages a small business has is its personalized touch. With social media marketing, you can now reach out personally to customers to provide top-notch customer service, and your positive interactions can be broadcasted to other prospective customers.
Social Media Marketing Strategy
Your social media marketing strategy should vary depending on the platform you're using. The platforms you choose depend on your industry, on what you're trying to accomplish and who you're trying to reach. Sound complicated? It doesn't have to be. Take a look at some up-to-date social media marketing strategies by platform:
Facebook. If you're trying to reach out to consumers, this is where to build a community and launch word-of-mouth marketing campaigns. Link your website's blog to your Facebook page to help drive customers to your site. For that matter, all your social media platforms should link to your Facebook page.
Twitter. Twitter pushes your business out into the world like no other social media platform. Connect with experts in your industry and members of the media relevant to your business here. All of these people can retweet you, lending the power of their status as influencers. As Wendy's has shown, you can increase your following exponentially if your tweets are witty and worth sharing.
Instagram. Instagram flows automatically to your website and eCommerce pages. Combine original, eye-catching images with a call to action to drive traffic. Almost any consumer product can find a home on Instagram, whether you're selling pet products or automobile accessories. Even the entrepreneurial resource Foundr, seemingly a non-visual enterprise, is killing it on Instagram.
Pinterest. If you're selling a product, especially one that conveys its nature well in a photo, Pinterest is a must-have social media platform. As part of your social media marketing strategy, use Rich Pins that provide extra information about your product. Look for group boards to accelerate growth, and make sure your photos are excellent before posting.
LinkedIn. Think of LinkedIn as your B2B social media platform. Use it to announce your new product or service offerings. It's also a handy way to keep an eye on what your competitors are doing and to position yourself to potential B2B clients and future employees as offering something different.
iTunes / YouTube. If your business produces media of any kind, these two channels are vital. (If you produce, say, felted tea cozies, not so much — unless you can make a killer video on how to use a tea cozy.) Make sure that every time you drop new media on these platforms, you simultaneously promote them on every other social media platform.
Create a Social Media Marketing Plan
So how do you create your social media marketing plan? Here's a basic guideline to get you started.
1. Set Your Goals. Decide what you want to accomplish from your social media marketing. Do you want to increase sales? Drive traffic to your website? Increase customer retention and engagement? Raise awareness of your brand or business? Your goals drive every other decision when creating a social media marketing plan.
2. Establish Objectives. Yes, you want measurable objectives, but don't content yourself with hitting a certain number of likes or retweets. Make sure your objectives are S.M.A.R.T. (Smart, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Time-bound), and tie them to your goal. For example, if you're trying to raise brand awareness, track how often your business is mentioned across your social media platforms.
3. Take a Look at the Competition. What social media platforms are your competitors using? What type of content are they posting? What kind of engagement are they getting on each platform? You can learn a lot from your competitors' successful social media marketing strategies — and even more from their mistakes.
4. Choose Your Platforms. Your analysis of your competitors should reveal the social media marketing platforms you must be active on, as well as the ones your competitors may be overlooking. Each platform requires a somewhat different social media marketing strategy. While you do want to cross-promote your products and services across channels, you don't want to bore your users by posting the exact same content on every platform all the time.
5. Create Content. Start with the message you're trying to send. Are you positioning your business as fun? Reliable? Cool? Make sure the content you create sends a consistent message, and don't feel you have to create all your content yourself if you don't have the skills. Whether you're uploading videos to YouTube, witty remarks to Twitter, or how-to visuals to Pinterest, make sure your content is original and engaging.
10 Helpful Social Media Marketing Ideas
As you're in process on your social media marketing strategy and plan, here are some marketing ideas you may find helpful.
1. Run a contest. It could be a naming contest, a photo contest, anything that gets consumers engaged with your product. Offer prizes, of course, and don't forget to let participants know that you may use their content in future marketing campaigns. (Look at the millions of participants voting in the Doritos' Crash-the-Super-Bowl campaigns over the years to see how successful contests can be!)
2. Keep a Running List of Quotations. Inspiration or funny quotations keep your Facebook page or Twitter feed filled, and they're easy for your fans to share. Keep your list updated as a go-to for those occasions when your content well is running dry.
3. Go Live. Create a Facebook Live event to introduce new products, then repost the videos for those who missed it. Host a Twitter round table or Periscope chat to showcase live interviews with new members of your team or with your contest winners.
4. Run a Poll. Polls can be positively addictive on social media platforms, and they provide a great opportunity for you not only to gather data but to watch what your prospective customers are responding to. Use Twitter Polls to get immediate responses.
5. Post Coupons. Everyone loves a discount. Post coupons for your products or services across most of the major social media platforms. Pay attention to which platforms generate the greatest response to know how to tweak your social media marketing strategy.
6. Go Behind the Curtain. Behind-the-scenes shots of your business in action can be fascinating. Sure, this may be of limited value if you run an accounting firm, but if you're baking pies, building robots, shooting videos, or creating any kind of visually interesting product, post videos and still photos that let your customers into your process.
7. Create Infographics. Easy-to-follow infographics make compelling content, especially on Facebook and Instagram. They're highly visual, intellectually stimulating, and easy to share.
8. Ask Questions. Get a conversation started by asking provocative questions when your products or services provide an answer. If you're selling those felted tea cozies, ask your audience what's the worst thing about drinking lukewarm or cold tea, and engage with the responses as they roll in.
9. Share User-Generated Content. In the best of all social media marketing worlds, your customers buy your products, photograph themselves using them, upload those photos (giving you user-generated content), and share other customers' uploaded content. All while you sit back and smile.
10. Post Numbered Tips. Everyone loves tips to do something better, whether it's parenting hacks or wisdom on reorganizing your closet. Keep a numbered log to encourage users to scroll back through your feed to see what you've already posted.
10 Priceless Social Media Marketing Tips
You need more than social media marketing ideas. You need to execute those ideas well. Here are some tips to keep you moving forward.
1. Respond Immediately. When your customers engage with you on social media, get back to them right away. This is especially crucial if (or when) a customer posts a complaint. A quick response in the customer's favor can turn a potentially disastrous moment into a win for your business.
2. Recycle. As you continue to create great content for your site and share it on social media platforms, don't be afraid to recycle old content. Remember, it's new content to all your recent followers who haven't seen it yet.
3. Schedule Your Tweets. Watching the clock to make sure you post content at the optimum time is a waste of your time. After all, you have a business to run. Instead, use social media marketing tools (see below) to keep your content flowing.
4. Link to Influencers. Link to the posts, uploads and tweets of influencers in your field to share their genius with your own followers. Partnering with influencers is especially powerful on Instagram. Don't be surprised when these influencers start sharing your content in turn.
5. Go Visual. The more photos you post, the more eyes you're likely to catch. Use high-quality photos that are sized correctly for each platform. And don't limit yourself to photos of your products. Starbucks has done quite well posting photos on Instagram that just make people feel good (thereby connecting their products with the idea of feeling good).
6. Celebrate With Your Customers. If a customer posts a photo of that felted tea cozy at her birthday party, make sure to wish her a happy birthday. One-on-one responses about seemingly trivial life moments help build a community online.
7. Ask for Input. You can spend a fortune on focus groups. Or you can ask your online followers the same questions and build engagement at the same time. Ask everything from what color to release a new phone case in to when the best time is to post your new videos.
8. Be Helpful. When you link to useful articles and blogs that provide value to your customers (without promoting your own products), you establish your business as one that has their best interests at heart. That's a good thing.
9. Provide Recommendations. If you sell products, recommend services that your customers will find helpful. If you provide services, recommend the products you love.
10. Tag Wisely. Tag your Instagram posts with the high-profile accounts that overlap your business. That way, your posts get seen on those accounts, and their followers may start to follow you. (Be careful not to make yourself a nuisance by overtagging! Seriously!)
Social Media Marketing Tools
Executing your social media marketing strategy can involve a fair amount of work. Fortunately, you don't have to do it alone. Social media marketing tools can help you analyze data, engage with your audience, schedule posts and tweets, send direct messages to your customers, and more. Read on for some of our favorites.
Free and Paid Social Media Marketing Software
Buffer. Use Buffer to automate posting to social media platforms. The free version of Buffer has a lot of functionality, but if you want unlimited posts and the ability to have multiple people upload posts, you'll need the (inexpensive!) paid version. Buffer helps you design social media posts and advises you on when to post them (or takes over the scheduling, if you prefer). The one drawback: There's no way to mark a post as urgent.
•Crowdfire. Use Crowdfire to grow your Twitter and Instagram followers. This app weeds out inactive or spam accounts, and it provides you with valuable analytics, especially about un-followers and inactive users. You can also use Crowdfire to follow your competitors' followers. However, recent upgrades haven't been as popular as the original app.
Hootsuite. Manage and analyze your social media accounts with Hootsuite, one of the most popular social media marketing management tools out there. Hootsuite provides easy-to-use tools for publishing posts, listening to and engaging with customers, and identifying influencers. It also integrates with many of the top customer relationship management (CRM) apps to provide additional data, though if you're looking for intensely complex analytics, it may not be your top choice.
Social Media Marketing Courses
If you want to learn more about social media marketing, check out some of the free courses available. Hootsuite offers its Hootsuite Academy. Also check out DS106, a digital storytelling course from the University of Mary Washington, to learn how to use stories to build your network. Northwestern University makes courses for its social media marketing specialization available online to help you learn about listening, engagement and content.
If running your business takes all the time you might squeeze out to take a social media marketing course, maybe the solution is to hire a social media marketing agency. What are the benefits of hiring someone to handle your social media marketing? Here are just a few.
•They know their stuff. Of course, you know your stuff, too. But your stuff is creating the products and services that are at the heart of your business. It never hurts to bring in experts who have experience and resources that you don't.
•They'll still be here next year. If you're a small business with only a few dozen employees (or fewer), you could find yourself in quite a crunch if you turn over all the social media management to one employee — who quits unexpectedly.
•You get a whole team. Instead of one person who knows a little bit, you get a whole bunch of people who know a lot, all working on your behalf.
•They keep their eyes on the goal. Let's face it, writing tweets and cropping photos can be sort of enjoyable, especially when compared to dealing with the challenges of running a business. It's all too easy to focus on the trees and lose sight of the forest.
•You don't have time. It takes a lot of time to create and manage a social media marketing campaign. Do you really want to add that to your current responsibilities? What happens when you're in a production crunch and all that social media marketing effort gets shunted to the side?
Is Social Media Worth the Effort?
What do you think? Join the discussion, and share some of your best social media marketing stories with us in the comments.