Social Media Marketing
Social media platforms and networks have revolutionised the way that we connect and communicate with friends. However, they have also changed the way that we interact with businesses—and how they interact with us as consumers. This has led to a huge increase in social media marketing: the use of social media platforms and social networks to promote your goods or products.
There are many ways that social media platforms can be used for marketing. These include advertising or sponsored content, influencer marketing, organic reach, engagement with customers and employee advocacy. This page covers all these, and provides some useful tips to get your social media marketing started.
What is Social Media Marketing?
There are several definitions of social media marketing (see box). They all have one thing in common: the use of social media to promote or market products or services.
Social media marketing definitions
“The term social media marketing (SMM) refers to the use of social media and social networks to market a company’s products and services” Investopedia
“Social media marketing is the use of social media platforms and websites to promote a product or service” Wikipedia
“Social media marketing, or SMM, is a form of internet marketing that involves creating and sharing content on social media networks in order to achieve your marketing and branding goals.” Online advertisement company WordStream
Forms of Social Media Marketing
Social media marketing may include:
Market research, to find out more about your customers or competitors
Our page Gathering Information for Competitive Intelligence explains that social media can be used to gather information about customers or competitors. This might be through ‘listening’, or scanning social media for existing content about or by your customers or competitors. However, some businesses also use social media to actively engage with customers and learn more about what they want from products.
Sharing original content, including blogs or videos
Many businesses use social media as a way of amplifying content that they have published elsewhere, including marketing copy. This might include blogs or videos on their website, or content published via other social media sites such as LinkedIn or Medium. Social media scheduling tools mean that you can schedule sharing of content over a period of several weeks or months, and ensure that your content is exposed regularly.
Sharing other people’s content, such as customer reviews of your products
To pad out original content, and make their social media feeds more balanced, many businesses opt to share content produced by other people. This might, for example, include positive customer reviews and comments from satisfied customers. However, it might also include content from competitors if it is considered interesting and engaging for customers.
Listening and engaging with customers in response to their initial contact
Many businesses may post very little on social media. Instead, they use it as a platform to respond to and talk to customers who have reached out to the company. This often involves dealing with complaints, so the business needs to be quick to pick up these contacts, and move them to a less public domain, such as direct messages.
There is more about this in our page Customer Service for Social Media.
Businesses also need to monitor social media for any problems, such as a social media post going viral for the wrong reasons. This is likely to need swift and careful handling. There is more about how to do this in our page on recovering from social media disasters.
Influencer marketing is the use of so-called social media influencers for marketing. Influencers are independent users with a large following, who may accept pay or goods in lieu for promoting goods or services. This approach works because people are much more likely to believe statements about the quality of a company’s goods or services from someone who is perceived to be independent of that company.
Employee advocacy simply means giving your employees permission to engage with customers on social media, as both themselves, and as your employees. Businesses also often encourage employees to share company content on social media platform, which can expand the business’s organic reach considerably. Employee advocacy makes a company look more ‘human’, but can also backfire if employees get the ‘tone’ wrong in a social media post.
Paid-for content and advertising
Social media companies have made considerable efforts in recent years to reduce businesses’ organic reach via their platforms. It is now extremely difficult for businesses to reach enough customers organically to make unpaid social media worthwhile. Instead, the best way to reach specific customers is ‘pay to play’. For businesses that are willing to pay, social media companies offer highly targeted advertising to very specific segments of their user base. The pay-off can be very good.
None of these forms of social media marketing are mutually exclusive. Businesses can, and do, engage with several or all of these at once.
Getting Started with Social Media Marketing
Before you start any kind of social media marketing, you need to be absolutely clear about what you want to achieve from it.
It is no good doing it just because everyone else is there. Instead, you need clear goals for your social media marketing, which are set within the broader context of your overall marketing strategy. You then need to use those goals to identify what forms of activity will be best for you—and work out how you are going to measure your success.
You also need to take a little time to develop and define your brand image, so that everything you share via social media is consistent with that.
The next step is to choose your platform(s). This will depend on:
Your audience’s preferred platform, because it is no good sharing great content if your target audience never sees it; and
The type of content that you want to share. Some platforms lend themselves much better to some types of content than others.
You may need to do some research to find out which platforms are best—and remember to keep updating your research to be sure that you are still in the best place.
Practical Tips for Social Media Marketing
Getting the best out of social media marketing is partly a matter of practice, but partly a matter of using the right tools and techniques. There are a number of practical tips that can help.
1. Use social media scheduling tools—but give yourself flexibility to respond to events
There are many social media scheduling tools now available, some built into particular platforms, and some stand-alone. These allow you to schedule the publishing of particular posts, so that you can plan your social media well in advance.
These tools help to take the effort out of planning social media marketing, because you can schedule several weeks ahead. This therefore gives you the flexibility to set up a marketing campaign with planned posts. You can then spend your time monitoring and responding to engagement with your planned posts, rather than worrying about getting the next planned post out on time.
WARNING! Don’t just schedule and abandon!
You need to keep monitoring your posts, because you need to be able to react to engagement in as close to real time as possible. This is especially true if there are any negative reactions to your posts.
2. Use social media monitoring tools to listen and enable rapid response to developing events
You cannot be everywhere all the time. Instead, use social media monitoring tools to listen out for any mention of your company, to enable you to respond rapidly to unexpected mentions.
This is essential for negative coverage—but it is also nice to be able to acknowledge a compliment quickly.
3. Use tools to monitor and evaluate your social media activity
It is also important to monitor and evaluate your social media activity against the goals of your strategy. You need to know whether your social media activity is effective—that is, is it doing what you wanted? You may be generating a lot of engagement on a particular platform, but that’s no good if your goal was to drive people towards your website. Use the tools available on each platform to check your effectiveness.
4. Don’t publish the same content on multiple platforms—but do share posts to amplify
Generally speaking, each platform has its own ideal content. Content that works well on Instagram is unlikely to play well on Twitter, and vice versa. It is therefore advisable to pick your platforms, and tailor your content to those, rather than simply publishing the same post to each platform.
However, having said that, it is possible to share the same original content via multiple platforms. You can also share long-form content from platforms like LinkedIn and Medium via Twitter, as a way to amplify your reach. The key is to tailor the post to fit the platform, but use the same basic content.
Stay up to speed on your chosen platforms’ facilities and services
It is very easy to do your research upfront and make decisions about your chosen platforms. It is much harder to monitor changes in those platforms and ensure that you are staying abreast of progress.
However, it is worth doing so, for three reasons:
You could be missing out on new features that would be very useful to your marketing activities;
Your audience may have moved on; and
Your content may not be reaching your target audience if the site has changed in some way.
A final word
In the last few years, it has become almost expected that every business will use social media for marketing purposes. However, social media marketing is not for everyone. Take time to ensure that you will be reaching your target audience, and that your activity will add value to the business. If this is not so, it may not be worth the time and effort required.