If you’re human, you probably understand what it’s like to spend your time in the small hours endlessly scrolling through your social media. Twitter refreshes on you without warning, Facebook keeps showing you everything that happened two days ago, and TikTok? What even is TikTok?! Social media is every business’ dream – a constant stream of potential customers who can’t shut off even when they want to. But along with this constant targeted engagement, you’ve got more competition than you can imagine. And if you feel like every other business is doing it better, you’re not alone.
Social media is a path to customer engagement and brand management that deserves its own consideration, not just a tiny slice of your overall content marketing strategy. But when you balance social media engagements with your other digital marketing efforts, you’ll reach more customers and make all your online marketing investments pay greater dividends. Just keep in mind that there are a few ways to get social media right, and at least a million ways that it can go horribly wrong. Below is a guide to getting it right.
What Is Social Media?
Social media started out as a way for people to communicate with each other. The online bulletin boards of the 1990s, with their slow-loading speeds and limits on style, got replaced with sleek designs that allowed people to set up their own profiles and find others to connect with. MySpace, one of the earliest social networks, encouraged users to develop their skills with HTML to add features to their own pages.
By 2020, the environment has changed dramatically. Now people spend hours a day on social media worldwide. They post content, pictures, and even live video. Fast upload speeds have made it easier for people to create and consume information from 2 billion of their closest friends. This has made social media a big part of marketing for big to small businesses too. If you want to reach your target audience and connect with your potential customers, there’s a good chance they’re on social media.
Who Uses Social Media?
It may seem like everyone uses some form of social media, even if they’re not glued to it 24/7. Yet, only about three in four American adults spend any time there. This number, 72 percent according to the Pew Research Center, hasn’t changed much since 2016. It indicates that while the world of social media continues to change, the people engaged with it may have reached a saturation point. As with everything else related to social media, it’s hard to tell what the future holds. But for the past few years, the number of people with existing accounts is starting to plateau.
It’s tempting to pin this on the Baby Boomers or the Silent Generation since they’re less likely to use technology overall, but that may not be accurate. People in their 60s are almost as likely to spend some time on social media as their Millennial or Generation Z cohorts. However, it’s strongly dependent on the channel and frequency of use. If you’re trying to find a target demographic, you definitely need to know if the channel you’re marketing on gets more engagement on a daily, weekly or monthly basis.
According to the World Economic Forum, time spent on social media remains pretty heavily generation-based. If you’re trying to hook in Baby Boomers or Generation X, you’ve got less than two hours a day of scrolling to catch their eyes. With Millennials or Generation Z, you’ve got closer to three hours. Since this is split across a variety of channels, you’ll need to keep your eggs in more than one Instagram-worthy basket. Globally, Millennials have an average of 10 social media accounts, while boomers only have half as many. This sometimes makes the older generations easier to find for regular engagement.
How to Choose the Right Social Media Platforms for Your Business
In order to choose the right social media platforms for your content marketing strategy, you’ve got to know what each channel can offer. Some sites have been around for 16 years, like Facebook, so you have some idea of what to expect. Others might seem like they just appeared last week and they’ll be gone tomorrow.
If you’re starting to feel like J. Jonah Jameson, banging your fist on the desk talking about engagement, there’s something you need to know. You don’t need more pictures of Spiderman. You need to develop a social media strategy that starts with picking the right social media channels for your target audience.
Finding Your Target Audience
Thankfully, there’s tons of data on the way that people use social media and which channels they’re most likely to use based on a variety of metrics. Engagement is often different across generations. And although you’d like to think that the oldest platforms are more likely to appeal to the older adults while the newest is the exclusive forum of the young, it doesn’t really track that way. Everyone’s on YouTube, most are on Facebook, and Twitter? Twitter’s the platform everyone loves to hate, like Reddit with a thin veneer of respectability.
If these statistics reflect anything, it’s that a multifaceted approach is always going to be necessary for a robust social media marketing strategy. You’ll need at least a few accounts to have a chance at expanding your reach. Here’s some information about the most popular ones:
Ah, Facebook. The best-known and one of the oldest of the surviving social media marketplaces, Facebook has taken our best and our worst and turned it into a hulking behemoth much larger than we ever expected. Facebook’s major benefit is that it feels comfortable, like a one-size-fits-all Snuggie made out of polar fleece. The channel focuses on mutually-accepted friend relationships, and has aimed to provide everything that people expect from social media:
- Nascent Rage
But like that wax figure of founder Mark Zuckerberg that strangely seemed more real than he is in life, people sometimes assume what they read is fake. Facebook is the most reliable channel for general engagement, with 69-83 percent of adults saying they spent some time there in the past month. Just keep in mind that like any system that tries to be everything to everyone (we’re looking at you, iTunes), you may have trouble keeping people’s attention.
Twitter has been around nearly as long as Facebook, but engagement on the site is really different. You don’t have to form friendships to follow someone, even if they’re not a business or trying to establish a formal presence on the site. This makes the site easy to use and even easier to get attention. The site tracks up-to-the-minute trends on searches, which makes it simple for people to see what’s going viral at the moment.
Running social media for a business usually requires some activity on Twitter, but you should remember that this isn’t a mainstay for almost any demographic. Less than half of Generation Z and Millennials visit the site within any given month, which drops to only 27 percent of Baby Boomers. It’s a great supplemental way to get attention for your Insta account or hashtag campaign, so don’t rule it out entirely.
Unlike Facebook whose social media wave of dominance is starting to ebb, Instagram is one of the last established platforms still gaining popularity. The visual-focused site requires you to take your image sourcing to the next level, and maybe invest in some professional photography. Meant for influencers, Instagram is designed to work better for businesses than the retrofits Facebook made to accommodate business interests. This means you can get free access to detailed metrics about user engagement with a business account.
Users often hate ads on Twitter, but on Instagram, it’s a part of the package. Generation Z leads the pack in using social media channels for research before they sign up for a subscription or make a purchase. And since they’re the most likely group to hang out on Instagram–almost three times as likely as Baby Boomers–you’ll have a better chance of hooking them here.
If you want to find anyone, anywhere, you’ll need to start on YouTube. This channel holds the highest percentage of regular visitors in any generation. As in, 73-89 percent of adults are browsing YouTube for its eclectic collection of how-tos, ASMR, product demonstrations, and rage commentary. Like Facebook, this site began as a simple way for people to connect with each other through the sharing of videos. Now, it has 2 billion users who visit monthly. If you needed any further proof that videos are the social media wave of the future, here it is.
YouTube runs a bit differently in that creators can monetize their videos to earn ad revenue. But although there are lots of people making an entire living off the videos they produce, this route is a bit arbitrary and can disappear in an instant. You can build a thriving YouTube presence that allows you to link and share videos on other platforms. It’s important to remember, however, that most viewers aren’t in the U.S.
LinkedIn sometimes feels like the older brother of social media, the one that arrived a little too early to maximize the advantages of engagement. The site where businesses and professionals hang out to do professional things, LinkedIn remains popular as a low-level social media platform for business, but it’s pretty low for engagement. Specifically, less than one in three adults have an account or visit the site at all. This number drops down to one in 10 for people age 65 or more.
You can increase your reach using LinkedIn, but you can’t forget its limitations. People are more likely to visit LinkedIn or update their profiles when they’re looking for a job or hiring. They may see it as a more credible source of information than Facebook or Twitter, but the average consumer is not going to spend a lot of their time there. One thing that LinkedIn has over some of the other social platforms is that is is the place for industry conversation, making it popular with executives and other business decision-makers. This makes LinkedIn an excellent place for companies with a B2B product or service, but maybe not so great for selling consumer goods.
The latest social platform to take the world by storm is undeniably TikTok. The site, which allows people to create 15-second videos that are typically set to music, is so fresh that it hasn’t yet drawn the attention of analytics and research sites like Pew. This gives it a lot of unpredictability but tons of potential. You won’t find a lot of stodgy professionals with tastefully-staged shots among its 800 million monthly users, but if you’re a B2C with a bit of a wild side, it may well be the best place to be.
If you take nothing else from these statistics, remember this: Video sells. That’s true even if it’s not perfectly staged. Even if it’s a little silly. So give video the attention it deserves when you craft your content marketing strategies, even if you don’t plan to share that video with tweens on TikTok.
How to Set Goals for Social Media Content Marketing
Setting goals to improve your social media marketing or brand awareness starts with an analysis of what you’re hoping to get. Think about your current needs and your expectations:
- Do you need more potential customers to visit your site?
- Do you want more engagement with your blogs?
- Are you hoping to use social media as a way to speak to customers directly?
- Do you want to increase your search engine rankings?
Years ago, Google claimed that social media could not affect a business’s search engine rankings, but research from Hootsuite suggests otherwise. In fact, the likelihood that a Facebook post or tweet will end up on the first page is increasing. This means that if you’re using specific keywords in your content on your site, you might want to try using the same keyword phrases in your social media posts, too.
Getting people to your site from your social media channels is an excellent place to start using your profiles. Despite so much focus on social media use by businesses over the past 10-15 years, it’s still quite underutilized. SEMrush, a search engine optimization platform, analyzed hundreds of thousands of blogs and tweets in 2019. What they learned is that only about 5 percent of traffic to business’s blog posts come from social media. This is generalized across industries. At 5.2 percent, home and garden companies are more effective at this than automotive dealerships, where it’s only about 2.5 percent.
Social media provides a form of direct engagement for prospective customers, but it also gives you extra avenues to drive traffic to your website. A goal to increase engagement needs to start with:
- Selection of social media channels
- Analysis of the best posts to make
- Crafting and scheduling content
It’s all right if this level of detail makes you speechless. That’s what GIFs and memes were designed for.
How to Create Great Social Media Marketing Content
So you’ve picked out a few social media channels to start with. You’ve spent a little time with those Snapchat filters to put yourself in your best light. And… now what?
You’ve got to post.
A lot. Regularly.
The good news is that millions of businesses are already doing this to some degree, so the metrics and the examples are there for you to see. Just make sure the tips you follow were written within the last year, to be certain that you’re getting information based on current trends. These tricks of the trade help you get a leg up, whether you’re just starting out or trying to improve your brand’s online reputation.
Crafting and Scheduling Posts
Here are a few tips for crafting and scheduling social media posts:
1. Follow content format best practices.
Before posting, keep in mind what people are doing on that platform and how much time they spend there. Twitter’s 240-character limit gives you just enough space to tease your latest blog, with a little extra room for a hashtag or two. On sites like YouTube, you’ll need to pull a few items from your SEO bag of tricks to figure out which terms people are searching for to use in tagging.
2. Don’t be too salesy.
It’s really easy to fall into a pattern of trying to sell things to people in every post you make, but you should avoid it. Try to vary your voice a little bit, emphasizing natural speech. If you’re not sure of the right tone to strike, search out the most successful accounts in your industry and see what they do.
3. Engage with your followers.
The biggest thing is to remember to engage, once you get your profile going. SMBs might have a person who runs social media along with other tasks, which means it can fall to the wayside. But no engagement is often worse than no profile at all, so you may need some extra help. There are tons of tools out there ranging from free to hundreds of dollars a month that will help you schedule and post to a variety of social media accounts.
For years, marketing experts have said that visual content is going to increase in importance. On sites like YouTube, TikTok, and Snapchat, it’s almost all you have. But on other platforms, visual content is a way of increasing your relevance and rankings in a search. People are dramatically more likely to engage with posts that feature imagery in the form of:
Specifically, when SEMrush looked at tweets with the highest engagement, they found that about three in four offer visuals.
Remember that you may have a much larger potential audience than expected, so tailor your posts accordingly. Images should be the right size and safe for most audiences. Invest in the production so that the lighting is good (and the sound is good too, if you’re using video). Consider adding captions, which make it easier for people to consume the content even if the sound is off or they’re using a screen reader.
Hashtags are an awesome way to organize your content in a way that doesn’t require people to keep scrolling on your page to find more posts from you. It’s also a great method to tap into the latest viral thing, like the Dolly Parton Challenge. Use hashtags that are easy to read and limited in number. Just because some platforms allow you unlimited text doesn’t mean you have to use it.
Do some research into the best search terms for your industry and find something that’s relevant to your brand. Check to see how often the hashtag is shared and what types of content come up for that hashtag. Even if a hashtag is relevant, it may not be worthwhile to use if no one is actively searching for that hashtag on social channels.
And don’t forget, #ifyourhashtagistoolongpeoplewontuseit.
As you select the content you want to post, remember to vary the types you make even within social media channels. Like any other content marketing approach you take, you need to focus on value for consumers. Pitching a product isn’t always the most important thing. And at least some of the time, it may not be a thing at all. Many successful Instagram influencers get a lot of traction just by posting a picture of a product in an appealing light.
Feature lots of useful information and tips in a variety of formats, and don’t hesitate to link to posts on your other platforms to continue the discussion. Questions tend to perform the best in almost any industry, followed by lists and how-tos. Periodically share content from other influencers, as well, so it’s not just your voice that your readers hear.
Unspoken Rules of Social Media Engagement
Getting into a new social media channel is like joining a party where everyone seems to know each other and you’re the only one still figuring out what’s going on. This means that there are a lot of unspoken rules that you should expect to follow. Until you have a good sense of what they are, you may want to limit your interactions primarily to your own page. To have the best overall experience, you should:
- Separate your personal and business profiles, and don’t accidentally mix them.
- Be selective about the content you share, confirming that it is timely and generally accurate.
- Pick an interval for regular engagement and keep it up.
- Engage everyone with respect, even if they’re not being respectful.
- Only give access to employees who can craft posts consistent with your brand goals.
- Report rather than engage with trolls.
It takes time to get used to using any platform, and it’s possible that you’ll make mistakes. But to avoid becoming the latest social media fail, give yourself plenty of time to lurk on the platform as well as experiment with content. You’ll pick up the rules in no time.
Social Media Marketing Dos and Don’ts
Once a month or so, you’ll find a business that decided to follow the latest viral trend, which resulted in a disaster. For every Merriam-Webster or Wendy’s account with posts that are snarky, funny, and up to the minute, there are dozens of companies who damage their reputations trying to chase better engagement. You know, like Chase did in 2019. There’s a lot of room for creativity, but you still have to be careful.
Here are a handful of practical tips you can use to keep yourself on target and out of trouble:
- Don’t engage when you’re feeling very tired or frustrated.
- Do build reliable times into your schedule to interact with readers.
- Don’t make jokes that target marginalized groups you’re not a part of.
- Do make sure that you’re providing positive representation in your posts.
- Don’t use influencers exclusively as a tool to increase your reach.
- Do remember that there’s always a person on the other end of the conversation.
- Don’t spend too much time arguing over your product quality or services.
- Do set your notifications so that you can respond to questions in a timely manner.
- Don’t be so afraid of consumer reaction that you never post a single piece of content.
- Do remember that everything you post will be there forever, even if you delete it.
Once your social media engagement starts to pick up speed, you may want to hire a professional to help you manage your accounts or expand your influence. Fortunately, the gig economy is full of social media marketing experts who can make it easier for you to generate content that attracts readers without alienating them.
How to Incorporate Social Media into Your Content Strategy
Social media started out as something that was supposed to be strikingly easy for anyone to use. That’s partly why it has had so much success. And yet, trying to ensure that you secure just the right kind of brand awareness, along with keeping up with the competition, feels like a full-time job. For many businesses, it is a full-time job. People increasingly rely on their ability to search online to find more information about your company, and younger generations may use social media exclusively to achieve it. Just keeping up with social media trends takes a lot of work.
To incorporate social media in your content marketing strategy, follow these steps:
- Put a responsible person in charge of your social media.
- Evaluate each channel and pick the right social media platforms for your target audience.
- Set specific goals for each campaign, like social shares or engagement.
- Figure out the best content to post to achieve those goals.
- Use metrics to determine how well the campaign is working.
- Tweak your approach or content to improve results.
Investing the time to make your social media presence reflect your brand’s goals and values can make more customers familiar with who you are and supportive of what you represent. The biggest thing you should do is make it a priority, and never take engagement for granted. And if you get overwhelmed by the responsibility, it’s perfectly all right to ask a content marketing professional or content strategist for help.
In 2000 or 2005, few people could have predicted how much control social media would gain over our lives. It’s hard to imagine getting hours of entertainment every day scrolling through cat pictures and snarky memes, but it suits our culture. If you want people to become more aware of your business (and associate it with good thoughts), you’ve got to have a robust social media presence. One that doesn’t involve going viral in a cringe-worthy fashion.
With social media marketing, it’s most important to remember that what works now may not apply in six months or a year. You’ve got to stay on top of the trends and try to avoid being the person three days late to the meme of the year. There are lots of ways that you can do this like hiring writers to create engaging content that you can post and using channel metrics to determine when to share.
Your best social media experiences are ahead of you, that’s for sure. Just brush up on your filters, apply the right visuals and enjoy the rewards.
Holly S has over a decade of experience writing in the fields of communication, journalism, and history. She obtained a master’s degree in a writing-intensive discipline and possesses years of academic, professional and non-profit experience in editing and arranging for distribution the written works of herself and others. As a professional writer, she has written hundreds of articles and blog posts on topics including technology, finance, home and garden, health and wellness, food and beverage, travel, and education. She has a campy wit and writes well in a variety of voices, from professional to humorous. She has built an extensive understanding of SEO and content marketing tactics to ensure that her writing will reach prospective readers in the right demographics.