Tara Hall

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Feb 02, 2016

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What is social media marketing and is it right for your business?

In this marketing series so far, I’ve introduced you to content marketing and search marketing, two closely related forms of online marketing. If these are strategies that you want to implement, then why not boost your marketing efforts with social media marketing?

In this article, I explain social media marketing and the best ways to make it part of your overall online marketing plan.

What is social media marketing?

Social media marketing (sometimes known by the acronym SMM) is a method of online marketing that uses social media channels to build awareness. Typically, marketers use social media to share content that drives traffic to websites, landing pages, blog posts, online offers—you name it.

One of the biggest benefits to social media marketing is that it costs nothing to get started. You can sign up for a free account on most, if not all, social media sites. Likewise, most social media apps are free to download. As soon as you have access, you can begin posting content right away.

With social media marketing, you can share with your target audience different types of content, depending upon the channel. If you prefer video over the written word, for instance, then YouTube, Vine, or Vimeo may be right for you. Do you want to share live stream video? Download the Periscope or Meerkat app to get started.

Finally, social media sites, like Facebook, and apps, like Instagram, have enormous audiences. As of this writing, Facebook reports more than one billion active users. Instagram has more than 400 million active users. Finding your target audience on these sites and apps comes down to producing content that attracts your ideal customer.

With so many social media channels to choose from, it’s just a matter of finding the sites and apps that your target audience is using.

Selling on social media

Social media is known for driving traffic, building awareness, and increasing visibility. But until recently, it wasn’t as well known for generating leads and converting visitors to customers.

That’s now changing on some splatforms with functionality that allows you to sell products direct from your social media accounts.

Facebook introduced Facebook Store to enable you to create an online store on your Facebook Page. Similarly, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram allow you to add a buy button so visitors can purchase directly from you.

That’s one more good reason to start using social media in your business today.

How to choose your channels

Maybe you find social media overwhelming. Having so many social media channels available to you is both a plus and a minus. How do you know which ones to choose? Do you need to be on all of them? Here are three tips to help you figure that out.

First, you can’t be everywhere.

If you’re a small business without a dedicated social media resource, then you can’t afford to invest in every site and app regardless if they’re free.

Social media isn’t about pushing your content out to your audience. It’s about engaging with them. You want to be available if a potential customer asks you a question or makes a comment that you need to respond to. You can’t do that if you spread yourself too thin.

How many channels do you think you can manage on a regular basis? Maybe the answer is one or maybe it’s three or even five. It’s up to you to determine how much time you want to spend daily or weekly on social media.

The less time that you have to spare, the fewer channels you should choose.

Second, what kinds of content do you want to produce for social media?

The types of content that you want to create—images, video, or text—can help you narrow down your choices.

If you have a product-based business or if you’re a creative entrepreneur or artist, then channels that allow you to post images, such as Pinterest, may be ideal.

If you’re a blogger, then maybe StumbleUpon or other social bookmarking sites are good places for you to promote your blog posts.

Are you an expert on a certain topic or have a consulting business? LinkedIn may be a good place to spend your time marketing. Join one or more LinkedIn groups and help answer questions in your area of specialty.

If you have a content marketing plan, there’s no need to produce different or separate content for social media. Use social media to drive traffic to your existing content.

Third, what are your competitors using?

If you’re still unsure which sites or apps to choose, investigate what your competitors are using. Most businesses include links to their social media accounts from their websites. Don’t be afraid to check them out.

How often are your competitors posting? What kinds of content are they posting? Are they engaging with their audience? These are all important questions to answer. There may be lessons to be learned from either their successes or failures.

Case in point, a business that I once worked with changed their logo. They posted the new logo on the company Facebook page. A visitor to the page made a less than favorable comment about it, but the company either chose to ignore it or didn’t realize it was there.

Lesson learned: make sure to pay attention to comments. If something negative is said, respond to it or delete it. (I’d only recommend the latter in cases where comments are hostile, and no response will suffice.)

If a competitor has a high number of followers, friends, likes, or shares, don’t be discouraged. As with any marketing effort, consistency is key. Give your audience a reason to pay attention to you and your business on a regular basis. Your numbers will increase with time.

Measuring effectiveness

No matter how much or how little time you spend on social media, you want to know whether or not your marketing efforts pay off.

Some social media sites, including Facebook and Twitter, provide analytics so that you can see how well your content is performing. Take advantage of those metrics to determine which pieces of content perform best. They may help you determine the direction of future content.

If you are collecting web analytics on your site, then check your referrals to see which social media sites are sending you traffic and how much traffic each month. Use those metrics to determine:

Final thoughts

One thing that content, search, and social media marketing have in common is that they are all free. You can get started with any one of them right away without a marketing budget.

For the final installment of the series, I’ll look at email marketing. Like the other forms of marketing covered, email marketing can augment your content plan. However, unlike the other forms of marketing, it may not be free. I’ll talk more about that in the next article.