Social media refers to websites and applications that are designed to allow people to share content quickly, efficiently, and in real-time. While many people access social media through smartphone apps, this communication tool started with computers, and social media can refer to any internet communication tool that allows users to broadly share content and engage with the public.
The ability to share photos, opinions, and events in real-time has transformed the way we live and the way we do business. Here are the basics of understanding social media and how it can be used to help promote your business.
What Is Social Media?
Social media is any digital tool that allows users to quickly create and share content with the public. Social media encompasses a wide range of websites and apps. Some, like Twitter, specialize in sharing links and short written messages. Others, like Instagram and TikTok, are built to optimize the sharing of photos and videos.
What makes social media unique is that it is both broad and relatively uncensored. While many social media companies impose some limitations—such as taking down images that display violence or nudity—there are much fewer limitations on what someone can share than there with other means of mass communication like newspapers, radio stations, and television channels.
Anyone with internet access can sign up for a social media account. They can use that account to share whatever content they choose to, and the content they share reaches anyone who visits their page or profile.
How Social Media Works
Since social media covers so many different kinds of websites and applications, the function of these tools also varies. However, most social media sites start with a user creating a profile, usually by providing a name and an email address.
Once a profile has been created, users can create and share content. For instance, an Instagram user with a new account can take a picture and share it on their profile with a caption. In addition to creating content for their profile, social media users can find other users whose content they want to follow or comment on. Depending on the type of social media, a user may "follow" another user, add them as a "friend," or they may "subscribe" to another user's page.
Social media often uses "feeds" that allow users to scroll through content. Social media companies use algorithms, based on a user's profile data, to determine the content that appears and the order that it appears in. The feed will include content from "followed" users, as well as from entities that pay to promote their content.
Types of Social Media
There are many different types of social media, and many services could fit into multiple categories. Here are a few of the major types, along with some examples.
Social networks specialize in connecting and exchanging thoughts, ideas, and content with other users—often with users who share tastes and interests. Facebook and Twitter are examples of social networks. Though more professional than others, LinkedIn may be considered a social network, as well.
As opposed to social networks, which specialize in letting users share and exchange raw thoughts and ideas, media networks specialize in distributing content like photographs and videos. Instagram and YouTube are examples of this. A YouTube user, for example, will upload a video they've created, and other users can "like," "dislike," or comment on the video. If they enjoy the video enough, a user may choose to "subscribe" to the creator, so that new videos from that creator appear in their feed.
Discussion networks like Reddit are the ideal outlet for posts that can spark in-depth discussion among users. Users can leave detailed responses in the comment section, and other users can respond directly to those comments, allowing for conversations to grow and develop organically.
Review networks like Yelp and TripAdvisor add social media aspects to user reviews of products and services. Users can interact directly with those leaving reviews, as can the businesses being reviewed.
Businesses and Social Media
While any individual can sign up for social media, social media platforms have become an important part of marketing for businesses of all sizes. The key to successful social media is to not treat it like an extra appendage but to treat it with the same care, respect, and attention you do all of your marketing efforts. Here are some things businesses should keep in mind while using social media.
Social Media Marketing Is Fleeting
By its nature, social media is a short attention span media—you have to catch their attention as they're quickly scrolling through dozens of posts at a time. Ad headlines and copy are harder to fit into an attention-grabbing tweet than a traditional newspaper ad.
You Must Be Active on Social Media
One of the biggest mistakes retailers make is to open up accounts on every social media platform they think is relevant and then leave them alone with no activity. In fact, social media users may be turned off by the retailer who opens accounts and does not engage with clients or the public.
It may be better to not have a social media icon on your website if you are not going to actively engage with it on a daily basis.
Focus on the Customer
Another big mistake retailers make is to use social media to talk about what is important to them rather than talking about what is important to the customer. Retailers who use social media, for instance, may think it is great to spread the word about a sale. In some ways, this would be true, but if that's the only reason you are getting involved in social media, it won't be beneficial. Your goal should be to provide content that is relevant to your customer and engage with them to the point that they want to share your post with others.
If you use social media, you need to engage with your customers, involve them in a dialogue, and ask them for their opinions. Post a picture of two items you are considering carrying in your store and ask customers which one they like best. This creates a dialogue that leads to shared posts and engaged followers. Plus, if you successfully engage with your customers, it will help you better identify their tastes and preferences.
Images Are Key
Another thing to consider is that the most commonly-shared content on social media is an image, so it's a good idea to include an image with your posts.1? This will dramatically increase your chances that one of your followers will share the post with their network. While building up a large network of followers is great, a better measure of social media success is how often your followers share your content—no matter how many followers you have. This is the new form of "word of mouth."
Social media marketing tips for every platform
Both new and well-established brands are using social media to grow their following, generate leads and increase sales. Building a brand using social media might feel like a massive undertaking with all of the platforms available to you. But it’s easier than ever to use social media to connect with people and grow your brand organically.
Whether you’re just getting started or have been active on social media platforms for years, there’s always room for improvement. Each platform has different uses.
In this article, we’ll cover social media tips and tricks you can apply that will optimize your marketing strategy. Then we’ll break down the top social media platforms you should be using and give suggestions for making the most out of each one.
Social media tips for any platform
Create a specific strategy for each social media platform
The same way you prepare other aspects of your marketing plan, you need to have a specific and intentional plan for each platform you use. Each platform has nuances and best practices for generating engagement. Your brand may not need to have a presence on every platform, but for your posts to be targeted, you need to have a strategy that is specific to the platform you’re using.
Make sure you can answer questions like:
Why am I using this platform?
Who will reach on this platform?
What post types work best on this platform?
How are my posts unique to this platform?
If you have a hard time answering these questions, it might be time to dig deeper into why you’re investing time there. Answering these questions will also help you develop your strategy for that platform.
If you’re just getting started, prioritize the quality of your content over the number of your posts and sites that you use. For most businesses, particularly small businesses, trying to tackle a new strategy on five different social media networks often results in doing a mediocre job with little to no results.
How consistently you post should be specific to each social media site you’re utilizing. Some platforms like Twitter and Instagram Stories require you to be active multiple times per day to get the maximum potential from your audience. Other post types, like regular Instagram Posts and Facebook updates, don’t have as much urgency and can be used less sparingly. When determining your post strategy, look at factors such as how the algorithm works for each platform and whether content posts chronologically or is curated based on other factors.
This ties back in with your social media marketing plan. You should outline:
How often you plan to publish on each social
media platform based on best practices for that platform
What type of content you plan to post on each platform
Who is your target audience on each platform
Remember, your followers are likely following
hundreds or even thousands of other people. If you’re not publishing
new content as often as the other accounts out there, it’s easy to get
lost and forgotten.
Focus your messaging
Each platform you use will have it’s own unique demographic. There will be overlap of the people you’re targeting on each platform, but it’s still essential to understand your demographics so you can tailor your message to have the most impact.
Having a focused message will help you create higher quality content that is on brand and resonates with your audience. When you have a solid message that you don’t stray from, you can count on your social media posts to always be relevant to your audience.
Sprout Social has a great social media targeting
feature that gives you flexibility on who sees your social media posts. Depending
on the network, you can target your posts by location, language, demographics
and other criteria.
Sprout Social compose messages with audience targeting option
Let’s say you want to share a post on LinkedIn targeting the finance industry. Your followers who are in IT or the health industry might not find it relevant. Instead of filling their stream with irrelevant content, you can choose to only show that post to people within your network in the finance industry.
You can try out Sprout’s audience targeting feature with a free trial.
Keep an eye on what’s trending
Once you have your key messaging determined, keep an eye on popular trends emerging on each platform. If you notice a pattern or strategy rising in popularity and it aligns with your messaging, then it’s a great idea to capitalize on it to drive engagement.
Be wary of jumping on board every new internet trend you see. Creating posts that don’t align with your overall messaging to appear relevant is a quick way to alienate your target audience. You never need to create a particular type of content just because you see other brands doing it.
This is why it’s so essential to create a focused message that you can use as a baseline against which to measure all of your future social media posts.
One way to have a steady supply of popular content is to create a list of sites in your industry that publish high quality, current content. Add them to an RSS reader like Feedly. Then you’ll have a dashboard full of the latest posts from sites you trust. You’ll also know that you have relevant content you can confidently share with your followers. You can even integrate Feedly within the Sprout Social dashboard!
Use that content as inspiration for original posts you create for your brand that features a unique twist that the other brands in your niche aren’t doing.
Measure & analyze results
To make sure you’re getting the best results from your social media marketing, you need to be accurately tracking and measuring your efforts. Over 40% of businesses don’t accurately track their social media ROI at all, which means there’s no easy way of knowing whether or not your strategy is working.
To simplify your tracking process, identify key metrics that are important to your brand.
Some of the metrics that you want to look for include:
Reach and engagement for Facebook
Impressions, retweets and mentions on Twitter
Clicks, impressions and interactions on LinkedIn
Engagement and impressions on Pinterest
Likes, comments and mentions on Instagram
Views and engagements on Instagram Stories
You should track these metrics on a weekly, monthly and quarterly basis so you know when and if you need to make changes to your social media strategy.
Invest in video content
The fact is that video content is booming right now. With the birth of IGTV and the rapid growth of YouTube, Facebook Live and more, social media users are consuming more video content than ever before.
In the past three years, video views have increased by over 99% on YouTube and 258% on Facebook. A Tweet containing a video is 6x more likely to be retweeted than a Tweet with a photo or just text.
Here’s an example of how Warby Parker used a fun and engaging video Tweet to announce to followers that they were hiring
Not only is engagement higher on video content,
but networks like Facebook and LinkedIn are giving higher priority in their
algorithm to people posting video content. This means that the brands utilizing
video are getting more exposure and reach than the brands creating text and
A/B test whenever possible
One social media marketing tip that a lot of professionals take advantage of is A/B testing. A/B testing, or split testing, involves using multiple headlines for the same piece of content to see which generates a better response.
Marketers use A/B testing for landing pages and sales pages, but you can incorporate split testing into your social media posts as well. Instead of publishing a Tweet or Facebook post once and then forgetting about it, schedule the link to be shared multiple times and change the headline out with each post.
A/B testing is important because people will react differently to a post depending on the copy and CTA phrases used.
The reason why a piece of content is unsuccessful on social media could be because it’s low-quality content. It could also be that your headline in the Tweet, Pin or Facebook post didn’t capture your followers’ attention. But you can’t know for sure the reason that a post isn’t doing well if you’re not testing it against other factors.
Use Sprout Social’s post planning feature to schedule your posts to be shared throughout the week and test different headlines. Then see which one has the best engagement.
Join in on communities
Within large social networks, smaller communities are increasingly important. Whether it’s Facebook Groups, Twitter Chats or LinkedIn Groups, there are plenty of opportunities for you to connect with like-minded people and companies within your niche.
As we found in the Sprout Social Index: Empower & Elevate, 40% of social marketers believe private community groups will become more important. Participating in these communities will help you establish yourself or your company as an authority and let you connect with your most passionate audiences.
Look for communities related to your industry on the social media platforms you’re active on, then start joining and actively participating. You can also start your own groups around your brand to cultivate an audience with shared interests who are motivated to become your brand advocates.
Interact with your audience
Social media users crave authentic interaction with the brands they follow. So on top of posting high-quality and relevant content, make sure you’re keeping an eye on each platform you use and engaging with your audience. Answer questions that come up on your posts, handles or hashtags.
If you notice other users having a conversation about your brand or product, don’t be afraid to chime in and add additional value. Users want to know that there is a real person on the other side of the computer and not just a robot that sends out links all day.
Make sure your social media strategy includes answering questions posted on each platform. You should promptly respond to people who mention you, thank people who share your content and add value where you see people mentioning your brand.
You can also start conversations with your audience by asking them questions and then responding or adding to that conversation. Most platforms make it easy to ask people questions and respond to them in the comments of that post.
You want your social media presence to represent a two-way line of communication. Engage WITH people rather than just talking at them.
Don’t be discouraged by algorithm shifts
Social media sites are notorious for randomly changing their algorithms without notice, leaving a lot of users frustrated at their lack of exposure. It can be tempting to fall into the trap of trying to “beat” the algorithm with various content hacks. Instead of looking for a quick fix, aim to understand what’s changed in the algorithm and adjust your content strategy — in many cases, maintaining high quality content will help you avoid significant consequences from algorithm changes.
When algorithms change, it becomes crucial to be omnipresent and to follow your users where they find the most value. A great example is on Instagram. Instagram regularly changes its newsfeed algorithm and many users have noticed a significant drop in engagement in their posts. But Instagram Stories have remained consistent and still post chronologically. Instagram Stories also have over 500 million daily active users.
So if your posts aren’t getting as much interaction as you’d like, shift your focus to reaching people via Instagram Stories. You can post a Story when you have a new post on your feed to encourage people to click through to your profile and like your photo. This will let the algorithm know that people want to see your posts and do a better job of showing your posts to people who engage with them.
Partner with influencers and micro-influencers
One of the toughest things about maintaining a social media presence is gaining the trust of your audience on platforms that are so saturated with content. A great way to target your audience on a more personal level is to partner with influencers in your niche to help you promote your products more organically.
When you partner up with an established influencer that has an active following in your niche, you expose your brand to a new audience that might not be aware of your company.
Many brands are also turning to nanoinfluencers,
who cultivate a small but passionate and personal niche of followers. As influencer
marketing becomes increasingly common, a micro- or nanoinfluencer can convey
an extra level of authenticity. With an audience of loyal followers that know,
like and trust them, getting a shout out will let their followers know they
recommend you as a brand to trust as well.
Involve your entire team
Your social media team doesn’t have to be the only people contributing to your social media posts.
Encourage employees from your company’s other departments to help your social media marketing efforts. Whether it’s contributing content to the blog, sharing their photos, or taking followers behind the scenes, the more involved your team is the better.
Showing your followers that there is a team of people behind the brand they follow will build transparency and grow their trust in you as a brand.
One example of a brand that regularly does this is Into The Gloss. They frequently involve members of their team and let them take over their Instagram Stories to show followers a day in their lives, or take them behind the scenes.
Put these tips to use
Now that you know the most up to date best
practices for social media let’s go over some social media tips that
will help you make the most of each site.
Social media marketing tips by platform
Social media tips for Facebook
Use Facebook ads & promoted posts
While the Facebook algorithm continues to significantly change organic visibility on posts, paid advertising is always a reliable strategy for higher visibility.
If you want to accelerate your Facebook marketing efforts and have a budget for it, it’s worth exploring paid advertising. The benefits of Facebook’s ads platform go far beyond increasing your reach among your audience. Facebook Ad Accounts have robust targeting capabilities that let you target people who share your audience’s interests, exposing your brand to people who are most likely to be interested in what you offer.
You can also create very focused messaging that target specific demographics from age and location down to what kind of device they are using when they see the ad.
Facebook Live video still generates some of the highest reach among every post type of Facebook. The average Facebook Live session gets up to 10x more comments than a regular video in your newsfeed. People tune in to Live videos for up to three times longer than they would stick around watching a prerecorded video.
You might notice that you get notifications on Facebook when people you follow go live. Facebook Live streams also show up at the top of your newsfeed when you log in. Facebook is actively prioritizing promoting live videos and shows no signs of deprioritizing this kind of content.
Using Facebook Live to give product demonstrations,
tutorials or holding Q&A sessions is a great way to generate engagement
and stay in front of people in a way that you know they will see.
Build a community with a Facebook Group
It’s never been a better time to start a private community with a Facebook Group. If you have a Facebook Page, connect with your followers even more and reach them more directly with a Facebook Group your die-hard fans can join. Your Facebook Page can offer more general information, while your group can create a stream of communication between you and your audience and among your audience themselves. Groups give you a great opportunity to facilitate the conversation around your brand and create a space for people to connect over shared interests.
The group can be very niche, about your brand or product, or it can be about a broader topic that affects your industry as a whole. Before you start the group, get very clear about the purpose behind it and what you hope you achieve in creating and moderating it.
Groups aren’t the place for hard sells.
Try to avoid being overly salesy in your Facebook Groups, although it is a
great place to offer exclusive discounts and promotions to people within the
Utilize Facebook Messenger
Facebook Messenger lets you interact with family and friends, and it’s quickly gaining popularity as a marketing tool for brands to connect with their users more efficiently.
With the rise of chatbots, brands can automate their Messenger use and create useful flows to answer frequently asked questions and nurture their fans in a more direct way than targeting them on their Newsfeed. See how people in your industry use Facebook Messenger to gauge if there’s an opportunity for you to create a strategy of your own.
Chatbots can replace a lot of community management time by tackling questions and problems that come up frequently for your brand.
Sprout makes it easy to set up a chatbot with an intuitive workflow. You can even create sales and nurture conversation flows so your chatbot covers all your customers’ needs.
Once you interact with your audience through
your chatbot, you can create custom Messenger subscriber lists that are warmer
than your overall email list and send them personalized offers and updates.
Social media tips for Twitter
Join the conversation
Using Twitter is still one of the easiest
ways to engage with people in your industry regardless of whether or not they
follow you. It allows you to join in on trending conversations and get your
message in front of people who are interested in your niche but aren’t
yet aware of your brand. Twitter also allows you to establish yourself as
a thought leader in your industry by contributing valuable insight into topics
that people are already talking about.
Use hashtags appropriately
We just talked about how critical it is to join the conversation on Twitter, but it’s just as important to make sure the conversation is relevant to you.
Many brands try to stay top of mind by joining
in on every trending topic, despite if it’s relevant to their brand
or not. This is not a great strategy to follow and will lead to a reduced
focus on your core brand message. Maintaining the focus of your message and
don’t dilute your brand and message by jumping on every topic you see.
Instead, focus on your own branded hashtags and participating in trends that
matter to your audience and that you can add actual value to discussion in.
Experiment with Twitter advertising
If you know your audience is active on Twitter, paid advertising can be an effective way to get your message in front of the right people. Twitter has three ways to advertise your content: Promoted Tweets, Promoted Accounts and Promoted Trends.
No matter which strategy you choose, Twitter
advertising can be especially effective since it’s not disruptive and
looks very similar to the organic content your audience is already scrolling
Social media tips for LinkedIn
Prioritize video content
Content creators have a huge opportunity to find an audience on LinkedIn and capitalizing on the fact that Linkedin, like Facebook, is rewarding users who post videos directly to the platform. There are a few things to keep in mind before publishing videos to LinkedIn. About 85% of social media users play video without sound. So it’s important to account for that in your video by including descriptive images and closed captions on your video. Closed captioning makes your video more accessible to all viewers. LinkedIn even has its own closed captioning feature built into its platform.
LinkedIn also has some recommendations on optimizing the length of your videos for maximum reach. They recommend keeping brand awareness and promotional videos under 30 seconds. Videos intended to sell services or products perform best at the 30-90 second range. Finally, one LinkedIn study concluded that long-form video videos could drive just as many clicks as short-form video if the video emphasizes a more complex story.
Build directly on the platform
Building your content on the platform means that rather than posting links to YouTube videos or blog posts, you host your content directly on LinkedIn using their native tools. Uploading a video file directly onto LinkedIn guarantees much higher reach than posting a link to a video on another platform. The same rings true for blog posts. LinkedIn prioritizes distributing content that’s hosted directly on its site over content that links out to another website. For blog posts, you can state in the post that it was originally posted on your website with a link or include a short snippet of the article that links to the full version on your site.
Social media tips for Instagram
Post more Instagram Stories
Since Instagram regularly changes the way posts interact with its algorithm, it can be difficult to predict if your posts will generate significant engagement. One way to make sure that you stay in front of your followers on Instagram is to post Stories consistently.
Instagram Stories are chronological. Every
time you post a story, your followers see your account at the top of their
feed and know that you have a new story up. You can use Stories to bring attention
to what you’re posting on your newsfeed to make sure people see it.
If you have more than 10,000 followers, then you’ll also be able to
include links within your stories. You can use these links to drive traffic
to blog posts, your website, or any other web page you want to share.
While you might not have time to create original content on yet another platform, IGTV is a great way to reuse your existing videos and redistribute them on a new platform. If you find yourself creating lengthy IG Stories for your brand then you might benefit from creating longer-form versions of your Stories for IGTV. Content types that work well on IGTV include tutorials, listicles and behind the scenes videos.
Buzzfeed is a great example of a company who has capitalized on IGTV. They regularly create engaging content that complements their Instagram posts as well as the content they post on their website.
Social media is constantly changing. We’re seeing new updates and trends emerging every year, causing marketers to have to shift their strategies to keep up. Whether you have a huge social media following or are just getting started, use these tips to craft your social media marketing strategy. They can help put you ahead of your competitors and grow your audience in a way that adds value to them and your industry as a whole.
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