With the popularity of social media, business owners can achieve nearly any marketing objective—from increasing sales to targeting new customer markets—without an army of salespeople or even much advertising cost.
Conventional marketing techniques include researching and analyzing customer groups and using the data collected to promote products or services to that audience. Social media marketing performs the same activities using online platforms such as:
Though generating sales is the ultimate goal of any marketing plan, social media marketing aims to accomplish the goal by drawing attention to a company's products and services, engaging with customers, and establishing the company as a go-to resource for customers' needs.
Many businesses can and do sell products and services via social media. But a social media marketing plan focuses on building relationships with customers rather than selling outright.
Some of the techniques used in social media marketing include:
Social media marketing can be organic or paid. Organic marketing refers to the use of free tools available on social media platforms, such as online posts and blogs. It's usually a long-term strategy for connecting and networking with customers by providing useful information or entertainment and responding to their comments and questions.
Here's an example of how organic social media marketing works: Rocket Socks, a manufacturer of sports socks, sets up a company page on Facebook, Instagram, or another channel, and invites customers to "friend" or "follow" the page. Next, Rocket Socks posts a regular schedule of content that might include tips for improving athletic performance, news about star athletes, notices of local athletic events, and new product launches.
The company's friends and followers are notified of each new post to encourage them to visit the page. They can comment on the post or share it with others who aren't yet friends or followers, and the newcomers in turn, can decide to become followers. Rocket Socks can also use its online posts to encourage its followers to visit their website by offering additional content, special discounts, contests, or newsletter subscriptions.
Businesses can also opt to use highly targeted advertising called paid social media. Each social media channel offers its own options and formats for paid media, but generally, these are advertisements such as print display ads, videos, or interactive ads. When you've visited a website and you later see the same products pop up on other sites you visit, you're seeing paid social media at work.
Marketers typically use paid social media when they want to get faster results for their efforts. With organic marketing, a business can reach only its followers, and broadening that audience requires time for word-of-mouth to spread. By using paid media, marketers aren't limited to their own followers. They select a target market from all the users on their chosen channel and the ads go out immediately to those viewers.
Pricing varies by channel. In general, the amount you'll pay is based on the number of your ad's so-called "impressions" (the number of times the ad appears). Another pricing format, pay-per-click (PPC), is based on the number of times someone clicks on your ad.
Social media can be especially helpful for small businesses that have limited resources.
Imagine that you attend a trade show and you're able to afford only a single table with a banner. Next to you is a company with more square footage, fancy displays, and reps handing out candy and free gifts. Which booth do you think will draw the most attendees?
But an effective social media campaign doesn't hinge on the money you have to invest.
Social media levels the playing field. A small business that maintains an active social media presence appears every bit as large as any other company, and it has the same opportunities to attract customers.
Social media provides wide exposure. The sheer number of people that use social media means greater visibility and access to a larger target market, two key ingredients for increasing sales. Add to that the free marketing options available, and you can see how small businesses can use social media marketing to grow.
Social media provides insight into customers. Social media platforms provide businesses with analytic data about customer demographics, behaviors, and preferences. Businesses can use this data to better understand their customers and improve products and services.
Social media yields a high return on investment (ROI). The biggest expense involved in organic social media marketing is time, so businesses can acquire new customers and additional revenues without a significant financial commitment. Even paid social media marketing costs considerably less than traditional advertising such as television, radio, billboards, direct marketing, or newspaper ads.
Despite its many benefits, small businesses often find it difficult to use social media marketing for several reasons:
It requires a time commitment. Creating social media content takes time and human resources (although artificial intelligence is increasingly useful for content creation). You'll have to develop content that's relevant to your customers, and you must publish that content on a consistent schedule. If you're unable to dedicate staff or hire an outside contractor or agency to manage your campaign, your social media marketing efforts will flounder.
It requires diverse skill sets. Those who perform social media marketing must be skilled in several areas including graphic design, photography, writing, and data analysis. Posts, blogs, and videos must not only have visual appeal, they also must present information in a way that connects with an audience. You'll also have to continually monitor social media efforts to be certain that you're reaching the right audience and your messaging is connecting with your customers.
It must comply with privacy laws. State and federal governments as well as some international agencies regulate the way businesses can collect and store the data they use for social media marketing. Ensuring your social media activities comply with these laws can take resources from other aspects of running a small business. (Additional information on compliance with regulations is included below.)
When it comes to effective social media marketing, posting a photo or article or reposting other posts, or writing a blog once in a while won't cut it. You'll need to define a strategy and execute it consistently to see results. By following the steps below, you can get the most impact from your social media marketing.
Knowing what you want to accomplish and the types of customers you want to reach is necessary to determine which platforms to use and the types of content you create. Your goals also provide a benchmark for measuring your results.
Your goals can be as simple as increasing the number of followers you have or as complex as increasing your sales. What's important is creating specific, measurable goals that you'll be able to monitor over time.
Assess the time and resources you're able to devote to your strategy at the outset, and tailor your goals to what you can realistically accomplish. For example, a business that sells home improvement products will clearly get a lot of traction from a series of YouTube videos explaining DIY projects. But if the business has only a few hours a week to devote to social media, no money, and no staff with expertise at making videos, a more attainable goal might be posting two DIY tips a week on the company's Instagram page.
Check out your competition on social media to learn:
You, of course, want to develop a unique online personality for your business. But knowing what the competition is doing can help you to better target your audience and develop your own style.
While there's some overlap, each social media channel has a distinct primary user population. For example, Facebook has a lot more older visitors than TikTok does. You can typically find information about a platform's user demographics on its website.
It's a good idea to also pay attention to the types of posts you see on each platform. For example, if your product or service lends itself to a multi-media approach, TikTok might be a better channel for you than, say, X or Threads, where posts are mostly text-based.
Develop a consistent style for your posts. Establishing a coordinated, unique brand identity helps viewers recognize your business and sets your company apart from the crowd.
The elements that make up your style include:
A voice can be buttoned-up and corporate, casual, humorous, authoritative, or any other communication style that fits your business and your audience. Whatever tone you choose, keep it consistent to make your brand easily identifiable.
It's a good idea to plan out your content a month in advance so you're not scrambling to fill posts at the last minute and you're offering a well-balanced mix of posts. Include the topics you'll cover, the visuals you'll use, and the time of day you post. (At the beginning, consider varying the times that you schedule posts to see the days and times that get the greatest viewership.)
Be careful not to fill your page with promotional content. It's okay to crow about your successes, announce new products, and talk about your expertise. But as a general rule, 80% of your content should be informational or entertaining, and only 20% should directly promote your company.
Parachuting into your social media page once in a while is the easiest way to lose your audience. Sticking to your publishing schedule will keep your audience engaged and establish your business as a reliable resource.
Acknowledge and thank readers for their comments. Remember that social media marketing is about establishing relationships, and the best way to connect is by establishing a dialogue with your readers.
Knowing what's working and what isn't is key to getting the most mileage from your social media marketing.
Just about every platform provides analytics that give you a wealth of information on your post's performance. You can log into your account page to study metrics such as:
Track the metrics that are most relevant to the goals you set for your marketing. For example, if your goal is to increase the number of followers for your social media page, you'll want to study engagement rates. If your goal is to increase sales leads, look at conversion rates.
You'll want to track metrics for your posts to learn whether your content resonates with readers. If you're using several social media channels, track the performance of each platform to determine whether your strategy needs tweaking. Compare metrics over time to assess the progress of your efforts.
Typically referred to as privacy policies, social media laws and regulations are designed to protect the customer information you collect and store. Privacy legislation is an area that's rapidly evolving and marketers would be wise to keep abreast of new developments.
Some of the well-established laws affecting social media include:
State laws can also impose restrictions related to collecting, using, and disclosing customer information, and additional regulations apply to certain industries such as healthcare and finance.
Not to be overlooked, U.S. advertising laws apply to social media advertising as well. And if you're planning on using AI tools in your marketing strategies, be sure to keep up to date with developing AI data privacy laws.
If you're embarking on a social media marketing initiative, it's a good idea to establish a written social media policy to ensure that your programs and practices are in compliance.
The rise in popularity of social media can't be overstated. The most tireless small business owner can labor at traditional marketing for months (and probably years) without reaching the sheer numbers of consumers found on social media platforms.
Keep in mind, however, that social media marketing isn't a quick fix. Just as your business plan includes one-year, two-year, and five-year goals, you should be prepared to develop and nurture your social media strategy over time in order to see results.