By its very nature, social media can seem like a long and winding rabbit hole, a complicated system of tunnels full of unexpected twists and turns that can take people in all sorts of different directions. You go to Facebook to look at pictures of your friend’s newborn baby, and the next thing you know you’re filling out a quiz to find out how much you REALLY know about Taylor Swift.
For that reason, trying to market your business online can feel overwhelming. The people you’re trying to reach are like constantly moving targets, flitting from one channel to another, one topic to another, their attention span about as long as a Vine video. Not only that, but you as a marketing maven have to be knowledgeable about a vast, complex, and constantly changing virtual world. As soon as you’ve reached one target, it seems like five more have popped up in its place.
But here’s the thing: don’t try to be the master of the entire social universe. Define exactly what you want to get out of it, make a plan about how you’re going to get there, and then follow that plan. Do that, and by the end you’ll find that social success is truly within your reach.
Define your goals
Don’t go into developing your social media strategy saying you want to come up with the next Ice Bucket Challenge. Instead, think seriously about what you want and need to accomplish for your overall business objectives. Here are the three primary goals that social marketers want to reach:
Social media is a great place to promote your brand. According to Mediakix, people spend an average of two hours on social every day, with YouTube taking up 40 minutes, Facebook 35, Snapchat 25, Instagram 15 and Twitter 1. Increasing brand awareness can be measured in several different ways:
How many new followers do I have? How many people are viewing my posts? How many people are talking about my brand? If emphasizing your brand is your goal, pay close attention to the visuals of your posts. Make sure to include your logo whenever possible and stay true to your brand colors and fonts. You can also make sure that your brand gets lodged in someone’s brain by providing them with helpful content that they truly appreciate.
Think of engagement on social like making friends. You’re not just out there playing to the house, trying to make your faceless, anonymous audience happy with your messages. Instead, your goal should be direct engagement with people. Convince them to respond to your social posts and never miss an opportunity to respond back. The goal is to start a conversation with them and build a real, lasting relationship. There are many types and levels of engagement: sharing or commenting on your post; joining your communities on Facebook, Twitter, or Slack; offering a contest or a drawing; filling out a quiz or survey; or responding to a poll.
Converting to sales
Having people pay attention to you and engage with your content on social channels is great, but it isn’t always the end goal. Businesses often want to go all the way and convert those followers to actual customers. One way to do that is to drive them to your website, blog, or online store, where you’re in a better position to get them to buy. Another way to gather real leads is to get information from potential customers, such as their name, email address, or phone number. You can also increase the likelihood of an eventual sale by getting people to sign up to receive regular emails or newsletters.
Spotlight: Paul Greenberg, author, journalist and speaker
Award-winning author Paul Greenberg is active on social media to promote his brand and encourage engagement with his readers. But his biggest win on social came before he even had a Twitter account.
Back in 2010, when his book “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food” was about to come out, Sam Sifton of The New York Times was reading the galleys to write a review. He tweeted to his followers: “Reading Paul Greenberg’s “Four Fish: The Future of the Last Wild Food,” which comes out in July from Penguin. Jeez it’s smart.” Celebrated food writer, editor and chef Ruth Reichl retweeted the comment to her hundreds of thousands of followers, adding a simple: “Agree.”
After that, things started to happen. The book nabbed the cover of the New York Times Book Review and went on to become a bestseller. Greenberg was able to parlay his success into a two-book follow-up deal. Awards, grants, speaking engagements, and a special on “Frontline” followed.
“I recognized early on that social media was essential to my work as a writer and for solidifying my position as an expert in the field. For me, it’s not about selling books in an obvious way. It’s about ‘selling’ a lifestyle that’s all about food, travel, the environment, and sustainability.”
Choose your channels
Once you know what your goals are, you can get into the nuts and bolts of your social marketing content strategy. First thing to do is figure out what social channels you want to be on. To do that, you need to think about which channel is best for accomplishing your goals. For example, Twitter is great for brand awareness. Facebook is ideal for engagement. And Pinterest is an effective avenue for getting leads. Think about where your potential customers are most active. And also consider the kind of posting and campaigning you’ll be doing, because that will influence your choice of channels.
By far the most popular channel, with nearly 2 billion monthly active users, it’s far ahead of the second-ranking YouTube, which has 1 billion. It also sends more website referral traffic than any of its competitors. A catchall social site covering everything from news to entertainment to sports to health, Facebook has something for everyone. Evidence shows that much younger users are starting to leave Facebook in favor of Instagram (owned by Facebook), Snapchat, and Twitter, but that’s no reason to ignore this social marketing behemoth.
PicMonkey’s take: For us, Facebook remains one of our best avenues for reaching our fans and users. Women 18-24 make up almost 40% of those who like our page on Facebook and almost 30% of our engaged followers there. Facebook is also an ideal platform because it supports our multimedia content, has a large potential audience, is great for driving traffic to our website and mobile app, and offers advanced targeting. We’ve found that Facebook’s new algorithms make it harder for our posts to have a large organic reach. Therefore, we’ve increased our investment in paid ads.
It might not seem like an obvious choice for social marketing, but YouTube’s ubiquity and popularity can’t be ignored. Not only is it the second most popular social site and search engine, its focus on video makes it the perfect vehicle for engaging with potential customers. Creating informative, entertaining, and thought-provoking YouTube videos is one of the best ways to get your content to go viral and your brand to get noticed.
PicMonkey’s take: We use YouTube primarily as a way to share our videos, which are mostly tutorials. However, we recently partnered with YouTube creator Alisha Marie on the launch of our new Touch Up feature on mobile. Because of her large following, Alisha Marie was able to drive more traffic to our mobile app and substantially increase downloads. We’re looking forward to increasing our use of YouTube as well as our partnerships with YouTube influencers.
Instagram has grown tremendously since its launch in 2010. Its 600 million monthly users make it the third most popular social site, and its recent introduction of the Stories feature will likely lead to an even higher profile. Instagram is known for being a visual channel, emphasizing eye-catching photography that is often treated with filters. Because it doesn’t allow for links in posts, it’s not great for driving traffic to websites or blogs. However, it’s perfect for promoting brands that are highly visual.
PicMonkey’s take: Instagram is becoming an increasingly important part of our social marketing effort. It fits well with our focus on visuals, and the platform is ideal for sharing photos and designs and engaging with PicMonkey users and potential customers. We also like to use Instagram to give people behind-the-scenes peeks into the lives of our employees and what our company culture is like.
Twitter owns a hefty share of the social universe with 328 million monthly users. But beyond that impressive reach are Twitter’s unique features that make it particularly conducive to online marketing. Twitter is all about retweeting, responding, and sharing, so it really promotes engagement and community. Because you can follow anyone, it’s less dependent on acquiring followers and easier to establish connections. And while Facebook might filter your post so it doesn’t show up in all of your friends’ feeds, Twitter ensures that all tweets appear in all your followers’ feeds.
PicMonkey’s take: Historically, Twitter has not been a very visual platform, which means it isn’t ideal for our target audience or the kind of things we post. However, the site is rapidly changing that, offering more opportunities for people to consume visual content such as photos and videos right in line. In order to take advantage of these shifts, as well as Twitter’s large audience of potential customers, we’re working to redefine our Twitter strategy to incorporate things such as Twitter cards.
Pinterest is a popular platform with a loyal following. Pinners use Pinterest to find and share inspiration, as well as hands-on how-to advice, and they pay a lot of attention to great-looking visuals. Because of its emphasis on linking off to more information, it’s an ideal vehicle for driving traffic to your site, blog, or store. It’s also one of the best ways to drive actual sales. Pinterest claims that 87% of Pinners have bought a product because of the site and 93% have used it to plan a future purchase.
PicMonkey’s take: Pinterest is one of our key traffic drivers. Each of our boards has more than 50,000 followers, and when we promote our pins we get about 1 million impressions with an average click through rate of .42%. As is customary on Pinterest, our pins are visually rich, provide detailed content, and showcase our powerful image creation tools. Another big advantage of Pinterest is that pins receive half of their total engagement three months after publishing. Compare that to the 90 minutes that a Facebook post lives on after the initial posting and 25 minutes for a tweet.
LinkedIn is the most buttoned-down and business-oriented of the bunch. People use it as their professional channel—a place to share industry-related articles and content, find jobs, and seek out qualified candidates. LinkedIn is all about getting connections based on recommendations and who you know, so it’s important to try and build up your numbers as much as you can. That said, the connections you do have will be much more likely to pay attention to your content and respond to you when you reach out.
PicMonkey’s take: As we increase our outreach to the business community, LinkedIn will become more central to our social marketing strategy. We’re finding that our company branding posts do better than our blog content, and we usually have to do some sort of paid promotion to reach a wider audience. Moving forward, we’ll work to increase our followers, expand our reach, and keep posting more robust content on LinkedIn.
Develop your content
When it comes to developing the content for your social marketing, you want to be creative, inspired, and really think outside the box. The competition for people’s attention online gets more intense every day, so you need to find ways to stand out amidst the crowded field. But even as you let your imagination run free, it’s also important to keep your goals, your target audience, and your chosen channels in mind as you develop your content.
Cater to your audience – Put yourself in your potential customers’ shoes and try to figure out what they would want to get out of a social post from your business. If you sell handmade leather bags that are made from 100% organic ingredients, your audience might appreciate content about the environment and sustainability. If you’re a wedding cake baker, make a how-to video of yourself creating elaborate roses out of frosting. The more useful, informative and entertaining content you provide, the more your audience will appreciate you and keep coming back for more.
Consider a campaign – Rather than doing one-off posts, consider creating a campaign that is drawn out over a period of time. Campaigns are more involved than regular posts and they’re usually centered around a particular theme or event. For example, if your business is experiencing a major milestone, like a new product, location, or partnership, you could develop a campaign that highlights it and capitalizes on its importance to your business.
Maintain a consistent voice – Just like you want to have a consistent brand and look for your business, you should establish a uniform voice for your social marketing. You need to figure out what your character or persona is. Are you going for playful, funny, inspirational, serious, sarcastic? Whatever you decide, your voice should reflect your business values while also matching the needs and expectations of your customers.
Utilize video – If you’re marketing on YouTube, video will obviously be critical to your efforts. But don’t forget that videos are also enormously popular on Facebook, Instagram, and other channels. In fact, Facebook is increasingly prioritizing video in its feeds. When it comes to engaging people and drawing them in, video can’t be beat. It’s perfect for making people laugh, capturing an event, showing how to do something, and providing detailed information.
Include hashtags – Using hashtags as a way to categorize your content allows people to discover your posts, and helps you connect with people over shared interests. Try to choose specific hashtags so you attract a targeted audience (i.e., #sandals instead of #shoes) and give people exactly what they’re looking for. You can ride a popular wave by choosing a hashtag that is already trending, or you can invent an original hashtag that’s specific to your business. Don’t get too complicated, don’t get too long, and don’t have more hashtags than words in your post.
Offer incentives – The more concrete and valuable your incentives, the more likely it is that you’re audience will respond enthusiastically. Discounts and rebates, particularly substantial ones, are always appreciated and go a long way toward convincing someone to make a purchase. Contests with prizes are another good way to get people involved, but be sure that your prizes are related to your business in some way. For example, if you’re involved in the travel industry, it’s better to offer up a nice carry-on suitcase than a television.
Encourage activity – Getting people to respond to your post or campaign by actually doing something is a great way to inspire interest and engagement. For example, if you sell bicycles, ask your audience to post a photo of themselves riding one of your bikes or exploring a bike trail. If you’re a landscape artist, ask them to post a photo of their garden and give a prize to the best one. The more they end up doing, the more connected they’re going to feel to you and your business.
Schedule your posts
The number, timing, and frequency of your posting is extremely important. Posting too little will make it hard for you to achieve your goals, while posting too much could alienate your audience and make them tune you out. Therefore, it’s a good idea to create an editorial calendar to keep you on an ideal schedule. A calendar will help you organize and keep straight all of your plans for posting on your various channels. Without one, you’re not likely to remember where, when and what you intend to post. It’s also a good way to check off when your post is up so you can readily see what’s been done and what you still need to do at any point.
One option is to use a spreadsheet for your calendar. You can create one of your own or download a free one online. The spreadsheet will lay things out according to the day and the channel, and can also include fields for you to input the type of content, the actual text, a link to your image, the URL you’ll include in your post, keywords, and the time you intend to post. You can also use a service such as Buffer or Hootsuite.
Each channel has certain days and times of day that are best for posting:
Posting on Twitter is best from 1:00 pm to 3:00 pm Monday through Thursday and worst everyday after 8:00 pm and Friday after 3:00 pm. This is because lots of people check Twitter during their lunch hour on weekdays.
Conventional wisdom had it that between 1:00 pm and 4:00 pm is the best time to post on Facebook and the worst is weekends before 8:00 am and after 8:00 pm. The thinking went that people tend to go on Facebook during their afternoon slump at work, while they don’t check it as much on weekends when they are at their least slumpy. However, new research by Buffer shows that there is no best time to post on Facebook. Instead, marketers should focus on posting the most highly engaging content they can.
Pinners seek their inspiration on Saturday mornings and are less active on the site during regular work hours.
LinkedIn usage peaks from noon to 5:00 pm Tuesday through Thursday, and wanes on weekdays 10:00 pm to 6:00 am.
The ideal time for Instagram is from 11:00 am to 2:00 pm.
Be sure to take all this with a grain of salt. Some believe there is no “ideal” time to post and that it’s really dependent on your specific business.
Now it’s time to figure out who your target audience is by creating personas.