How to Build a Social Media Marketing Strategy for Your Business: A Step-by-Step Guide

Like it or not, social media is now the primary means of modern, global communication. From the early days of MySpace to the dawn of the Metaverse, social media is many people’s primary source of entertainment, socialization, news, shopping, trend tracking and information. Uses for these platforms have expanded far beyond sharing images and song lyrics; entire brands have launched in recent years using social media alone.

In terms of marketing potential, consider these statistics:

In light of these statistics, why wouldn’t you harness the power of social media to market your business?

What Is Social Media Marketing?

How Does Social Media Marketing Work?

Types of Social Media Marketing

Why Market Your Business Through Social Media? [Benefits]

What Could Go Wrong? [Challenges of SMM]

How to Build a Social Media Marketing Strategy for Your Business

Social Media Marketing Best Practices

Social Media Marketing Resources

What Is Social Media Marketing?

Just like it sounds, social media marketing is the practice of using social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, LinkedIn, TikTok and Twitter to advertise products and services. As any marketer knows, marketing requires much more than simply putting up an ad and hoping for the best; effective social media marketing (SMM) involves: 

  • Creatively showcasing products and services
  • Creating targeted ads for unique personas 
  • Strategizing ways to reach new customers
  • Engaging with existing customers
  • Building and enforcing a brand
  • Tracking and analyzing performance data 
  • Driving traffic to the brand’s website 
  • Partnering with customers to create promotional content
  • Sharing industry-specific news and updates
  • Responding thoughtfully to public pushback or issues  

Social media marketing is really a two-way street; brands must build and maintain an ongoing dialogue with their audiences by answering questions, responding to requests and criticism and even sponsoring customers to generate content on their behalf.  

SMM falls under the umbrella of digital marketing, which combines data, human behavior and technology to reach as many potential customers as possible, anytime, wherever they are. Since social media fosters dialogue through comments, polls, hashtags and tag functions, these platforms also provide an invaluable opportunity for marketers to track a brand’s performance, influence its perception and identify even more ways to engage its audience. 

How Does Social Media Marketing Work?

You may have heard that word-of-mouth is the most effective form of marketing. In many ways, social media is the modern word-of-mouth, which provides businesses a powerful tool. Social media allows brands to sidle up to the virtual water cooler, “listen” to what people are saying via hashtags, mentions and comments, and tweak their marketing strategies to influence buyer behavior. 

When a new user creates a social media account, they must agree to the platform’s terms of use. This agreement basically gives the platform (and the businesses that buy advertising there) the right to leverage user data however they wish. This means that, when businesses buy ads on Facebook or Instagram, they gain access to user data that can tell them what consumers like, which brands they interact with online and where they spend their time in cyberspace. This helps brands create targeted ads designed to resonate with the right users and drive engagement. 

When a brand creates a social media post, they can leverage analytics to track user behavior and gauge the post’s performance. Brands are often interested in the following metrics: 

  • Post engagement (likes, comments, shares, clicks)
  • Post impressions (how many times a post appears in a feed)
  • Reach (how many unique views the post receives)
  • Share of voice (total mentions of the brand following each post) 
  • Referrals (how a user lands on the brand’s site)
  • Conversions (whenever a lead from social media makes a purchase from the brand)

Brands will also track their own response rate, or how quickly someone on their team responds to questions, comments or direct messages online. While users may not necessarily track a brand’s response rate to the decimal, it’s generally noticeable when a brand is slow to engage with its customers. Higher response rates equal more audience engagement, which in turn influences brand loyalty and generates interest. 

Types of Social Media Marketing

Paid advertising

Perhaps the most straightforward form of SMM, paid advertising involves brands buying ad space on social media platforms designed to get in front of the right audiences at the right times. Social media already collects information about users’ demographics and interests, so brands can analyze their primary audience segments to choose where, when and how their ads appear in users’ feeds.

Shareable content

Ideally, all of the content you post for your brand will be attractive, well-written and compel viewers to buy. Some posts, though, are bound to stand out. Shareable content refers to those posts that are so appealing or memorable, viewers simply have to share them with their own followers (hopefully after making a purchase). In doing so, these customers are implicitly endorsing your brand, amplifying the content and attracting more potential customers through invaluable “social proof.”

Influencer marketing

This tactic involves sponsoring an influential social media user to post about a brand’s products or services. These influencers can have hundreds of millions of followers, and can appeal to audiences that range from general to extremely niche. Brands will supply influencers with a trial product or service (plus a stipend) in exchange for posts promoting the brand. Influencer marketing serves the dual purpose of content amplification and social proof.

Earned media

Influencers are frequently paid by brands to promote their products or services on social media (these paid posts are usually accompanied by the hashtag #ad or #sponsored). Earned media, on the other hand, is user-generated content that the brand did not buy — rather, the customer was so pleased with the product or service, they took it upon themselves to create content specifically promoting it. This also applies to brand-solicited testimonials and reviews, which are optional for customers to provide.

Viral marketing

This is content created with the express goal of reaching the largest number of people as quickly as possible. Much of the time, virality is unintentional; posts can go viral for positive, negative or perplexing reasons. Brands can aim for virality by capitalizing on viral trends, such as TikTok challenges or trending memes, or by producing content so noteworthy that it’s bound to capture the attention of the general public. Once a post “goes viral,” brands can rely on their audiences to amplify their content for them, even beyond their target audience.

Why Market Your Business Through Social Media? [Benefits]

With social media serving such a wide range of purposes, it behooves business owners to use at least one channel or function to promote their brand. The benefits are many: 

  • Consumers use social media to engage with their favorite brands and find new ones.
  • Most platforms allow for dynamic, real-time interactions with customers. 
  • Brands can connect with their customers at any time, from anywhere.
  • The most popular platforms offer a diverse range of content options to suit any type of business.
  • Most platforms enable in-app shopping.
  • Paid social media advertising programs enable easy audience segmentation.
  • Most platforms provide analytics tracking, making all audience interactions measurable.  
  • Savvy brands that capitalize on trends can depend on free, digital word-of-mouth. 
  • The opportunity to craft an online persona enables businesses to humanize their brand.
  • Businesses can increase their brand awareness beyond local advertising campaigns.    
  • Both paid ads and posts can drive traffic back to a company’s site. 
  • Engagement analytics and scheduling tools allow businesses to optimize their posting schedule to capture the greatest number of impressions. 

What Could Go Wrong? [Challenges of SMM]

To riff on Spider-man, with great social media presence comes great responsibility. Social media is a great equalizer, meaning that everyone — from massive corporations to celebrities to average people — has equal access to these platforms. Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, TikTok and Instagram have become the new “town square,” where anyone can create, view, share and comment on anything at any time of day or night. This level of exposure carries inherent challenges for businesses trying to build their social media marketing strategy: 

  • Anything posted on social media is open to attack, which creates a huge level of risk. A poorly-timed or -worded post can draw attention for all the wrong reasons, so businesses need to triple-check their posts for copy errors and stay apprised of current events that could affect the perception of their posts. 
  • It can be difficult for businesses to maintain an active social media presence without a dedicated manager or team. This is especially true for smaller or new businesses, who often have small teams juggling multiple responsibilities. If a brand plans to use social media to help grow awareness and generate leads, it’s wise to invest in a dedicated manager. 
  • Anyone can find information online in a few clicks, so any claims made by a business can be verified or refuted in seconds. This is especially important for brands that post “your money or your life” (YMYL) content, or content that has the potential to affect customers’ finances or their wellbeing. Always check your sources before making any claims on social media.
  • Influencers are people too, and therefore can be “canceled” at any time. If they act as ambassadors for a particular brand, that brand risks being implicated in the influencer’s behavior or choices, especially if they continue to partner with the person.  
  • Relying too much or solely on social media creates issues for customers with limited access to or interest in the platforms, such as those without smartphones. Businesses building their SMM strategy should be careful not to forget about their customers who don’t use social media.

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How to Build a Social Media Marketing Strategy for Your Business

Marketing strategies vary across businesses and industries, but most brands can follow a similar process of research, planning and deployment. Before creating your business account, take a few steps to prepare:

Align SMM goals to your business objectives

Don’t create a social media business account just to join in the fun. Determine why having a social media presence is important. Do you want to grow your audience? Expand into new audiences? Increase website traffic? Gain insight into audience metrics? Defining these goals will give shape to your strategy.

Define your target audience

This includes knowing your target customers’ age range, professions, industries, interests, favorite platforms, income bracket and what other brands they tend to follow.

Analyze your competition

Study how your competitors use social media, including what works and what doesn’t. Your online persona should absolutely be unique from your competitors’, but it’s important to identify effective trends in the way brands like yours present themselves online, and therefore understand what kinds of content audiences might expect from a brand like yours.

Audit your current strategy

The way your current marketing efforts perform will help you replicate successful tactics or introduce new ones on social media. If you already have social media business accounts that seem to be underperforming, you may want to partner with a social media consultant to find opportunities to improve your engagements.

Create a content calendar

Social media is up-to-the-minute, which means that brands need to be ten steps ahead to lead or join the conversation. Your content calendar should account for any major holidays, industry events and any other scheduled happenings that may inform your posts and your audience’s behavior. However, social media managers also need to be prepared to respond to pertinent events at a moment’s notice.

Understand social media analytics

Joining a new platform means learning an entirely new language. In addition to learning the difference between likes, shares and follows, you’ll also need to learn to differentiate and interpret data points like engagement, reach, views and impressions, depending on the platform.

Now that you’ve done your prep work, you’re ready to start posting! This is the fun part — but that doesn’t mean it isn’t a lot of work. You’ll need to consider the following for each post: 

  • Timing: What time or day of the week is best for reaching the widest audience? 
  • Frequency: Be mindful of how often you post — post too sparingly, and you lose your audience’s attention; too often, and you get unfollowed for being “spammy” or producing low-quality content. 
  • Adaptation: If you track your performance analytics, you may realize you need to adjust your content or strategy. With each new post, make sure it aligns with any recent adjustments you may have made. 
  • Diversity: Are you posting different types of content to diversify your feed? If it fits your business model or industry, post a healthy mix of images, videos, text and interactive posts to keep followers engaged. 
  • Value: Will your target audience find this post valuable? Altogether, your posts should offer a healthy mix of information, entertainment and interaction. Follow the 70-20-10 rule: Use 70% of your content to build your brand’s persona and perception, 20% to share others’ posts (with credit) and 10% to promote your products and services. 
  • Content: Your industry or specific business may indicate the most appropriate kinds of content, but a mix of the following types generally performs well and adds value to your brand:
  • Featured products
  • Lifestyle content 
  • How-tos or tutorials
  • Quick tips
  • Industry news
  • Polls and questions
  • Contests and raffles
  • Business updates and announcements
  • Testimonials and reviews 
  • Repurposing: Just like your resume should be customized for every potential employer, your social media content should be customized for every platform. That said, you can repurpose slightly tweaked content for different channels; for example, you can promote an article about your business via an image carousel on Instagram, a link on Twitter or a long-form post with featured pull quotes on LinkedIn. 

Social Media Marketing Best Practices

Social media platforms are constantly evolving, along with how we use them. Functions will change and new platforms will emerge, but there are a handful of best practices that will likely always hold true for responsible social media use.

  • No matter how many accounts and profiles your brand has, be sure to maintain and optimize all of them to appeal to the right audiences. If one platform generates more engagement than another, you may feel the need to prioritize your activity on it; but don’t let the others languish as a result. 
  • Stay consistent and on-theme when posting content. All photos, videos and copy should reflect your brand’s persona and stay within your brand messaging guidelines. 
  • Make sure you understand your audience and can distinguish between your existing and target audiences. For example, your existing customer demographic may skew slightly older, but your goal is to attract a younger audience through social media. People of all ages are on these platforms, though, so be careful not to post content under a new persona that risks alienating those existing loyal customers based on age or access. 
  • Interact with your audience regularly, especially when they ask questions or comment in a public forum. Pay attention to direct messages as well, since many of today’s consumers prefer to communicate their questions and issues virtually instead of calling the customer service line. A reputation of unresponsiveness spreads quickly on social media. 
  • Focus on building a community by inviting audience interactions. Contests, raffles and polls are all great ways to drum up engagement and reward dedicated followers. Even something simple like inviting people to respond to a question in the comments section can help followers connect with each other under a common interest. 
  • Take advantage of analytics and scheduling tools to catch your intended audience at the right times. Most platforms make this easy with built-in optimization tools that track engagement rates, and will recommend the best posting times accordingly.  

Lastly, social media should serve to add value to your existing business, so be careful not to rely on it too much for advertising or lead generation. Sure, there are social media-only brands, but if your business exists beyond the apps, don’t neglect your already-successful marketing initiatives in favor of a new medium. 

Social Media Marketing Resources

If you’re reading this blog post, there’s a good chance you’re one of the 4.74 billion people worldwide on at least one social media platform. However, if you’re new to using social media for marketing purposes, take time to learn how marketing campaigns and strategies work on the most popular platforms.

If this task seems daunting, start by choosing at least two platforms to learn about, then expand from there. Here’s what each platform is good for:

Facebook: Dedicated business pages, newsfeed ads, long-form posts, building community, promoted posts, direct-to-consumer selling

Resource: Facebook Marketing: The Ultimate Guide

Instagram: Visual ads, short videos (Reels), influencer partnerships, in-app sales, audience interactions, user-generated content

Resource: Instagram Marketing: The Ultimate Guide

LinkedIn: Professional networking, referrals, industry-specific news, job boards, thought leadership

Resource: The Beginner’s Guide to LinkedIn Marketing

Twitter: Trending topics, text-based ads, conversations, audience engagement, polls, sharing links

Resource: The Complete Guide to Twitter Marketing in 2023

YouTube: Product tutorials, video ad campaigns, sponsored influencer content, reviews

Resource: YouTube Marketing: The Ultimate Guide

TikTok: Viral trends, sponsored influencer content, audience engagement

Resource: How to Create a Successful TikTok Marketing Strategy for 2023

Once you’re familiar with a couple of these platforms, start creating content based on best practices. Pay attention to users who talk about your product category or brands like yours — they could become potential influencer partners. Identify brands you would like to emulate on social media and notice which of their efforts seem to resonate with their audience (and which don’t).

Due to the power of social media as a marketing tool, there are countless resources out there to help brands make compelling content that works. Take advantage of some of the most popular tools:

  • Canva: A content creation tool with an extensive graphics and font library, animation, templates, and more.
  • Hootsuite: A leading social media management partner.
  • Akvertise: A marketing company that specializes in SMM
  • Mailchimp: Email marketing that integrates with your social media platforms.

Ready to enhance your digital and social media marketing skill set? Take the next step in your career by exploring the courses offered under USD’s Digital Marketing Series at the University of San Diego Division of Professional and Continuing Education.


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