A guide to social media marketing
We see it all the time: brands with an enviable social media account and following. How do they do it?
In the world of social media marketing, competition between brands is tough and if you’re going to do it successfully, no matter what the size of your business, you need to be prepared to put in the time and abide by a few fundamental rules (and I’m not just talking about GDPR).
But the truth is that there’s no ‘one size fits all’ approach to social media marketing- it’s all about figuring out what aspects of it are right for you and your business. If you’re going to go in all guns blazing and using every type of advertising you know of, your strategy isn’t going to be refined enough to maximise your ROI. If your strategy is too tentative, you simply won’t see the impact and business growth you want.
With this in mind, this guide to social media marketing will look at everything you need to consider about social media marketing so that you can make an informed decision about what your strategy needs to prioritise and include.
The rise of social media
To start out this guide to social media marketing, it’s important to acknowledge the past, especially when there are too many businesses still employing archaic techniques to reach their audience.
For many millennials and the whole of Gen Z, it may feel like social media has always been there. For older generations, it can feel like social media dropped out of nowhere, and some are still trying to make sense of it. Of course, these are sweeping statements, but you get the idea: Social reliance on social media has drastically changed our world and how we interact with it.
A brief history:
- The first social media website, Six Degrees, launched in 1997
- LinkedIn was launched in 2003
- Facebook closely followed in 2004
- In 2005, the world was introduced to the first exclusively video platform: YouTube
- Twitter was born in 2006 and so is the art of keeping a sentence under 140 (now 280)
- In 2010, Instagram was launched, bringing us a world of latte art, hotdog legs and ‘throwback Thursdays’.
- It’s hard to believe Snapchat is almost a decade old, but it was launched in 2011
- 2017 brought about one of the latest social media phenomena: TikTok
We’ve come a long way since the first social media platform, and now businesses and marketers alike utilise the platforms as a core part of their social media strategies. Essentially, if you have a business, you should be able to find it on social media.
Why is social media important for your business growth?
You may already have a social media presence, but perhaps it isn’t generating the number of customers or clients you want. Many businesses do have social media, but their lack of planning and strategy means that it doesn’t serve much purpose.
If this sounds like you, don’t be disheartened- social media is a big opportunity for businesses that know what techniques to use to reach their target audience and convert them. The figures back it up; almost 90% of marketers say that their social media marketing increased their business’s brand awareness amongst its target, and 75% say that it increased traffic to their site.
Even if you are doing all the ‘right’ things on social media, the effort can’t stop there because it simply won’t work unless it’s tied into the rest of your marketing, but how can you do this effectively?
Using an omnichannel approach
Like with any process in a business, if you only focus on a single aspect of it and neglect the others, nothing will work. The same goes for your marketing strategy. Social media marketing is only one component of your whole marketing.
Because of this, if your social media is going to be successful, other aspects of your marketing also need attention so that the customer experience from the start of the customer journey to the end is a seamless and well-integrated one; this is called omnichannel marketing.
Failing to have an omnichannel approach means you’re failing to meet your customer’s expectations, as figures show that 9 out of 10 want an omnichannel experience. For example, if a customer likes the look of your social media presence, they’ll want to find out more about you. If they can’t easily navigate to your website, or when they do, it’s aesthetic and messaging looks different, it’s going to be jarring for the customer, leading them to give their business to a competitor instead.
This leads us on to the importance of branding and consolidating your marketing message.
Branding is an essential part of making any business recognisable and distinguishable from its competition. You’ll normally see beautifully designed websites that clearly have strict branding guidelines that help streamline the business’s message. However, that doesn’t always translate onto their social media.
From the colours you use in your ads to the images you post, everything you share on social media adds to- or detracts from- your branding. Therefore, keeping in line with your branding guidelines on social media is part of achieving that all-important omnichannel approach and is something that can’t be ignored.
If you need to establish brand guidelines, you need to include details on:
- Logo design
- Brand font
- Brand colour palette
- Brand imagery
- What tone to use
- Mission statement
- ‘About our business’ section
It might seem meticulous, but it does make a difference. For example, a signature colour can increase brand recognition by 80%, showing the choices you make with your branding matter.
The impact branding has on your audience, like most successful marketing, is psychological, so to run a profitable marketing campaign, you need to understand a few key things about how the psychology of social media marketing works.
The psychology of social media marketing
Have you ever wondered how marketing actually works? What takes us from seeing an image of a brand we haven’t heard of before, to wanting to buy that same brand’s product or service?
All good marketers understand and use some variation of the customer journey to understand the process. It consists of some variation of these stages:
For a person to become a new lead, they will need to consume some kind of content, online or offline, related to your brand/subject at every stage of the sales funnel. You may have heard of the phrase “Know, like, trust”, that’s because it derives from the sales funnels (above).
Here’s an example of what that might look like when specifically on just social media: (Remember, a consumer can jump between channels to absorb your brand and also includes talking to friends and family)
- Have a social media competition to like, share and tag friends – Awareness
- Ask a question that’s related to pain points – Engagement
- Post an in-depth article that is of value to your customers – Interest
- Re-share a testimonial from one of your clients – Acquisition
- Have a DM conversation with the enquiry – Conversion
- Engage with their social media – Retention
This is just one example, and it can look hundred’s of different ways with the different variables that are possible. The trick is outlining what works for you. Categorise each of your different “types” of social media posts into each stage of the sales funnel and ensure you’ve posted an equal balance of them. This only highlights the importance of planning out your social media in advance.
But why does this model work time and again?
In a 2017 Ted Talk, cyberspace analyst Laura Galante spoke about the ‘illusory truth’, stating that “our realities are increasingly based on the information that we’re consuming at the palm of our hand, and from the news feeds that we’re scanning, and the hashtags and stories that we see trending”. She also suggests that the evolution in digital technology has made our brains “the most exploitable device on the planet”.
Essentially, many of us are experiencing what we perceive to be ‘real-life’ through our phones. Just think about phenomena like FOMO (fear of missing out). When we’re stuck inside but see people having a ‘good time’ on our phones, we perceive that everyone must be out enjoying themselves apart from ourselves, even if it’s not true. Much of the time, the photos we post only tell a small part of a story, but the people seeing it make the mistake of interpreting one still image as the whole story. We’ve all done it at some stage or another.
Back to the illusory truth- it means that a statement is more likely to be believed when it is repeated. This raises a whole host of ethical concerns, much of it documented in reports about the spread of fake news on social media. However, it also showcases the potential power of messages you put out on social platforms, and if you leverage to spread factual messages about your products or services, you can remain ethical.
For example, if you want to market one of your core services, you will need to repeat the message you want to convey to your audience. Hashtags are an example of how many marketers use repetition in campaigns and get their target involved.
Hashtags can even spark public movements, too. As more people tweet the same message, the more people that get on board and the bigger effect it has- just think about the impact #MeToo or pro-democracy movements like the Arab Spring, which was sparked on social media. More recently, hashtags like #WashYourHands aim to combat the spread of Covid-19. The more people that are repeatedly exposed to the message, the more people who will change their behaviour correspondingly.
The takeaway is that you need to be accurate in what you’re saying at all times, and you also need to be repetitive (without duplicating your content). Doing so will take your target audience smoothly through the customer journey, increasing your sales.
However, techniques for repeating messages from platform to platform can also be useful. I’ve already mentioned hashtags as an example, which is most effective on Twitter. What platform you use largely depends on who your target audience is, read ahead to the next section to find out what platforms you need to prioritise your marketing messages on.
Which platform should you use?
Marketers use a variety of social platforms to target different audiences. Some people use ‘platform’ and ‘channel’ interchangeably, but it’s important to know the difference in marketing.
Channels and platforms
- A platform refers to the site/application, e.g. Facebook, YouTube, Whatsapp, etc.
- A channel is the overall form of communication, e.g. Social media, email etc.
Choosing the right platform for your brand is a fairly straight-forward process. You just need to collate some information about your business and target audience.
You need to know:
- Who your audience is
- What platforms your audience use and why
- Are you B2C or B2B?
- What is your product or service?
- What are your goals?
From answering this list, you should be able to discern which platform is right for your brand and its audience.
For example, if you’re a B2B construction business who wants to increase their leads, LinkedIn will be your primary platform, and you will also use Facebook and possibly Twitter.
If you’re a B2C fashion business aimed at millennials with a goal of increasing sales and retention, Instagram is an appropriate primary platform, with supporting platforms including Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat etc.
Ultimately, you need to go where your customers are, but you also need to consider where they would want to hear from you. If you’re trying to reach out to the MD of a company on Facebook, it’s probably not going to be received as well as if you connected on LinkedIn to network.
Creating a strategy
Once you have established the right home (platform) for your social media marketing, you have to examine how you’re going to generate engagement and create a suitable strategy to reach your goals. It might be tempting to simply set up a social media page and post on it when you feel like it, but that won’t give your audience the repetition needed to convert them.
Instead, you need to carefully investigate what types of content are going to work, and how you can post informative and entertaining content to keep your audience engaged without repeating the exact same posts.
From creating a content plan to evaluating your current channels, there are a variety of things that need to be considered. You can read more about what needs to be done in our 7 simple steps to improving your social media strategy.
Owned, paid and earned media
All of your social media marketing content can be split into three categories: owned, paid and earned.
It’s important that you understand the difference so that you can refine your strategy and know what works best for your brand.
Owned media includes the channels and accounts that you create and control. For example, your website, YouTube channel and Facebook page are owned. However, if you have a social media page, you don’t technically ‘own’ it, and it can be taken away from you if you don’t follow community guidelines. Because it’s free and you control it day-to-day, it falls into this category.
Your owned media grows organically because its reach relies on how much and how often your audience engages with the content. If no one interacts with it, no one will see it. Therefore, it’s important that your content adds value to your target’s life.
For example, if you’re a local taxi company, you can share content promoting local events. If you want to position yourself as a thought-leader in your industry, it’s helpful to publish educational articles you’ve written with a call to action placed at the end.
Paid media is where businesses promote their content through sponsored social posts, display ads, paid search results, influence marketing, video ads, pop-ups and other types of media.
Using paid media can be used in support of your owned media to increase your target’s awareness of your brand. Your paid media will place your brand in front of people who may not have heard of you before but need a product or service like yours.
It may be tempting, but it’s crucial you don’t overspend on a poorly planned paid campaign. Instead, invest small amounts in running tests to determine which is the most effective ad you can use before moving onto investing in the winning result.
For example, if you’re looking to make the most out of FB advertising, you’ll need to make sure that you have businesss.facebook.com fully set up and pixel actively working with your website. You can lose a lot of money on paid advertising by just “boosting” posts. This also goes back to our earlier point of why having an omnichannel marketing strategy is important for your business to be successful.
Earned media is something we should all be aiming for in our marketing. It’s made up of what our customers say about us and includes things like reviews, tagged posts and any content produced by a user that mentions the brand.
82% of consumers actively seek out the advice of their peers before making a purchase, and for many people, the first port of call is social media. If you have lots of positive earned media to your name, your brand will stand out as a viable option. However, earned media doesn’t just happen, you have to work for it.
To build up the amount of earned media you need, you will have to nurture your relationship with your target. This is called relationship marketing.
Remember that customer feedback isn’t always positive, and you will need to set some reputation management guidelines in place to deal with negative comments in a way that casts you in a good light.
While most of your content will likely fall under ‘owned media’, it can sometimes feel like an uphill battle to get the level of engagement you want. If your content isn’t being seen, you may need to think about the impact of algorithms on where your content appears on a social feed. Read ahead to find out more.
Creating algorithm-pleasing content for your social media marketing may seem daunting, but when you understand the fundamentals, it’s easy to apply to all of your content.
Here’s a quick summary of how to make the algorithms happy on the main social platforms:
Facebook uses an algorithm called Edgerank. From 2018, it has prioritised content that has meaningful interactions in an effort to get engagement between family and friends to rank better on its feed.
This is a challenge for marketers, but the payoff can be significant. Aim to create posts that get your followers talking about and engaging with the subject. For example, if where you are based is integral to the brand and its customer base, sharing location shots in line with your branding is one good option.
Similarly to Facebook, LinkedIn’s algorithm aims to prioritise ‘authentic’ interaction on the platform. As a result, users that offer more personal insights. This can be tricky from a brand point of view, but it’s still possible to gain a good level of engagement on LinkedIn, especially if you think outside the box.
LinkedIn employees also play a deciding role about the level of reach of some more successful posts- if you want this to happen, you’ll have to make sure that your post is platform-appropriate for LinkedIn.
Tweets are ranked chronologically and tweets categorised as ‘relevant’ will rank the highest overall. To have any impact with marketing on Twitter, you will need to choose the optimum time to post (whenever the highest proportion of your target are likely to be on the platform) and use relevant hashtags to increase your reach outside your followers.
Instagram’s algorithm works to show the user what it thinks will matter most to them based on what they like and interact with on the platform. The first stories and content to appear on your screen are the result of your combined past activity, so Instagram really functions as a curation of your own tastes.
The most important engagement for ranking on the feed are: comments, likes, reshares and views for videos.
Depending on how much your target audience engages with what you provide, there’s a potential opportunity to be successful on Instagram, but it will generally work better for B2C eCommerce businesses.
Bear in mind that algorithms continually undergo changes. These are normally very small changes, but every now and then a more disruptive change will come along that throws marketers content into disarray. What this guide to social media marketing (published 2020) has stated about algorithms may change in the future, so make sure you keep up to date with the latest algorithm alterations so you don’t get caught out.
You can keep up to date by subscribing to the platform’s blogs and updates. Though, the news will be “talked” about on each of the platforms in no time.
It’s primarily going to be your owned media that the algorithms have an impact on, so what do you need to think about for your paid media?
Types of ads
Not all ads are born equal, so if you’re spending part of your marketing budget of paid ads, you want to make sure you’re getting the most out of your money.
PPC (pay per click) ads is a marketing model that does as the name suggests- the marketer pays a set amount every time a user clicks on their ad.
There are subcategories to PPC ads, but the most common form is paid search ads (although these are used to rank on search engines).
For Pay Per Impression (PPI) ads, you need to pay each time your ad is displayed on a webpage. Social media platforms like Facebook offer PPI options, but generally, PPC is the prefered method.
Also known as banner ads. These adverts will show up in a user’s social feed. If they click on the ad, they will be taken to the corresponding landing page.
These ads are also useful for retargeting if a potential customer leaves the journey partway through. For example, if someone has been looking at your products but hasn’t made a purchase, targeting them with ads featuring the products they were looking at will make them more likely to convert.
Using the ‘stories’ feature
Users generally prefer fresh content as older content ages quickly in the world of social media, and posts don’t get more fresh than stories.
There are a few things you can do with stories to maximise on engagement and to get it seen by as many people as possible.
Get more views on your story
Your followers will only see you at the front of their stories if they already engage with you. The less your followers engage and watch your stories, the further back it will feature in their stories queue.
However, every now and then, Instagram will run a stories feature where if you add the right tag into your story, it will be compiled with other peoples stories with the same tag and feature at the beginning of the stories.
There’s an example of it at the time of writing this article: there’s currently a ‘stay at home’ story feature on Instagram. You can see everyone’s story who has used the tag by clicking on the feature, meaning users who don’t normally see your story will be more likely to see it.
With more people seeing your content with this feature, it’s important that it’s engaging to stand out amongst everyone else’s. For example, you could run a poll or ask a question that’s relevant to your business.
Stories are also a great way to run competitions and increase awareness of your brand. To enter, people will need to share the competition to their own stories, increasing your brand’s exposure.
Influencer marketing is generally most effective for B2C eCommerce businesses.
Influencer marketing is usually classed as paid media because a business will usually pay the influencer for a review or gift them with items in return for a review.
However, influencer marketing can also be classified as earned media if an influencer talks about your product or service without any form of payment from you.
However, there’s a lot of competition and arguably an oversaturation of influencers in the market. Social media users are also pretty switched on to when something is authentic, and when reviews are overhyped by paid influencers.
You also have to make sure that the influencer you’re paying is keeping in line with ad transparency and disclosure guidelines. Ultimately, it can quickly become more trouble than it’s worth and doesn’t necessarily promise the ROI as the other areas of your marketing.
This guide to social media marketing suggests that you take a few things into account before forking out for an influencer.
When looking to use influencers, it’s important to ask yourself the following questions:
- Are their followers real?
- Who are their followers? Are they your target audience?
- How much engagement do they have with their followers?
- How much credibility does the influencer have?
- What platform are they an influencer of?
For example, you might have an influencer that only has 5000 followers, but they have a high level of engagement with your target audience, and they are authentic. These kinds of influencers who have 2k-50k followers are called ‘micro-influencers’. If you have a number of these influencers working with your brand, you can create more noise than working with just one big influencer.
Why you need to prioritise video content
Any good guide to social media marketing will emphasise the need for video as part of your content. You probably keep hearing it, and that’s because it’s true: video content is here to stay. If you want to market on social media effectively, the bottom line is that you’ll need to invest in video in some form or other.
The stats overwhelmingly prove the case for video: viewers retain 95% of a video’s message compared to 10% when reading text.
One of the great things about video is that the choices are boundless and one of the few limits is your creativity (or the creativity of the people you’re paying to do it!) Video is now becoming more accessible than ever to businesses with smaller budgets, too.
Even if you have no budget for video content, you can pick up a camera and do it yourself, after you’ve read our technical guide to video marketing and our tips to make your video engaging.
Ultimately, though, it’s difficult to beat a professional touch with great lighting, sound and editing while showcasing your brand at its best.
Reputation management and engaging with your audience
There are 3.8 billion social media users across the world. That’s a lot of people and a lot of potential for clashes of opinions and negativity to arise.
One of the biggest opportunities, as well as risks, of putting your brand on social media is that it’s well and truly open to the court of public opinion. This can be a valuable asset if you receive plenty of positive feedback and engagement on your platforms.
However, it can take years to build up a reputation and only moments to destroy it, so negative comments can quickly become problematic for your PR. After all, ‘there’s no such thing as bad publicity’, right? Unfortunately, it doesn’t quite work like that for social media.
Sentiment analysis tools such as Brandwatch allow businesses to see at a glance the sentiments towards their brand as well as competitors through the analysis of social posts, reviews, blogs and other resources on the internet. This is great if you’re a business with an already well established social media presence, and can be used to understand what actions cause a shift in customer sentiment.
However, for those just starting out, it’s crucial that you know how to deal with negative comments. When you come across one, remember this guide to social media marketing and the fact that whatever you respond with can be seen by your customers.
You should aim to do the following:
- Be seen to be acknowledging and dealing with the issue publicly before going to direct message
- Be polite and remember you’re representing the brand, not yourself. Always take the high road if possible
- Always use the company account to respond
- If the grounds for complaining were legitimate, provide the disgruntled customer with an offer or discount to prevent them from spreading negative sentiment
- Learn from mistakes and listen to feedback in reviews to continually improve your product or service
- For whatever reason, if you need to remove a comment, always hide the comment and do not delete it.
Reputation management and engaging with your audience moves us on nicely to the next topic in this guide to social media marketing: relationship marketing.
Relationship marketing on social media
Overall, one thing should be consistent across all aspects of your social media marketing: relationship marketing. If you take anything away from this guide to social media marketing, make sure it’s this.
Forbes defines relationship marketing as:
‘a strategy designed to foster customer loyalty, interaction and long-term engagement. It is designed to develop strong connections with customers by providing them with information directly suited to their needs and interests and by promoting open communication.’
It’s essentially the glue that ties all of your marketing together- consumers now have so much information at their fingertips and are smarter than ever, so most can easily tell when a message is inauthentic and pushy.
Instead of focusing on getting your customers to the conversion stage as quickly as possible, it’s important to make every stage an educational, engaging and valuable experience for all of your customers.
To apply this to your social media, you should aim to engage with followers regularly. This doesn’t mean bombarding them with messages, what you can do is make sure you comment back or ‘like’ whenever someone leaves a comment, think of fun ways to promote your business while rewarding customers who get involved and keep an eye out on what kind of content generates the most positive feedback so that you can cultivate your feed.
Measuring success and KPIs
Key performance indicators (KPIs) are the analytics that measures your performance across various digital marketing channels.
For social media, some KPIs to keep an eye on include:
- Traffic to website from the platforms
Whatever you choose to measure, make sure it serves a purpose, i.e. getting you closer to an overall business goal. One of the worst things you can do is focus on KPIs that don’t add value. These are called vanity metrics.
There are several tools you can use to gain insight into how successful your campaign is, free ones are even available through each social media platform, but they aren’t always the most accurate insights available. Tools such as Dasheroo are cost-effective and show the stats in an easily interpretable way, making it easy to see what’s happening at a glance.
Any guide to social media marketing should tell you that Google Analytics is also essential for your campaign. You can head to your settings, set up a conversion goal and track which platform generates you the most business every month. For example, if you’re a business to business company, tracking the amount of contact us forms filled out on your site will give you a good idea on your lead journey.
Throughout this guide to social media marketing, each aspect of what it means to build a strong social media presence and run a successful marketing campaign on the platform has been covered. If you’re able to tie each of these together into your overall strategy, you should see awareness of your brand increase, and increase in engagement, positive sentiment and overall sales.
Doing this well is by no means an easy feat and takes time, planning, commitment, and persevering through a continuous process of trial and error. No matter your budget, you have an opportunity to do it well because there are so many resources at your fingertips and low-cost options for ads.
However, if you are stretched for time or are unsure of how to build a strong social media presence, it may be worth consulting experts to get their opinion and if appropriate, hand the work over to them or collaborate with them on it.