Social media network
Every social media platform offers a different way to find your customers where they live online. — Getty Images/metamorworks

Social media will give you the power to effectively market your business in a way that is inexpensive, target-focused and relevant.

This guide provides the fundamentals to establish your social media strategy, including:

  • Getting started: Preparations for successful social media engagement
  • Two-way communications: Social media monitoring and listening
  • Platform selection: A look at demographics for the top social media platforms

According to Pew Research Center, as of January 2018, 69% of U.S. adults use at least one social media platform. Since the Center began following this trend in 2005, this number has grown year over year across all age groups. This means your customers and prospects are using social media. And social media does not just drive customers to online companies; it needs to be a cornerstone of marketing for brick-and-mortar businesses as well.

So, what is social media marketing? According to Neil Patel, a top web influencer and co-founder of Neil Patel Digital, a digital marketing agency, “Social media marketing is the process of creating content that you have tailored to the context of each individual social media platform in order to drive user engagement and sharing.”

There are many social media avenues to take, and while Facebook still outpaces all other platforms in user numbers (see Statista for the current data), it’s not the only, nor always the best, way to connect with your prospects and customers. Social media is a broad and constantly changing medium. With the rise and fall of platforms year after year, Patel recommends that businesses new to social media focus on platforms that have been around for a while to best connect with their target audiences.

Getting started: Preparations for successful social media engagement

As with any marketing campaign, there are key elements to implementing an effective social media strategy and assessing the right platforms to use. Before starting or changing your social media engagement, take the following steps:

Identify your audiences. Who are you trying to reach? Understanding your prospects (and customers) by their demographics (e.g., age, gender, education, ethnicity, business type, interests, etc.) will help you identify which platforms they use so you can wisely target your campaigns.

Outline your goals. Determine what you need to accomplish with your social media marketing and set goals that are measurable and relevant. Alex York from Sprout Social, a social media management company, finds that social media can support goals around brand, sales, and competitive advantage.

Track metrics that matter. Track the metrics that help you assess whether you’re achieving your goals. While it feels good to get “likes,” these don’t grow your brand or drive revenue. Some marketers value “shares,” instead, as these demonstrate that your content is being circulated. Others want an action that leads to a prospect entering the sales pipeline. To assess your social media performance, you can download a free audit template from Sprout Social.

Select your platforms. For each platform, understand aspects such as the demographics of users, types of content shared, and responsiveness to marketing messages.

Set your budget. Patel explains that social media platforms are working to limit organic growth in order to drive marketers to paid advertising (after all, social media platforms are businesses). York contends that marketers can combat the cost of online advertising and this slow down of organic growth by fueling user-generated content and customer advocacy.

However, if you're on a budget, targeted paid campaigns may get results faster and more consistently. In its social media guide, Wpromote, a digital marketing agency, asserts: “When you are promoting a paid social display ad (sometimes called a “sponsored message” depending on the platform), you can target certain user profiles according to demographics to yield a higher return.”

To invest wisely, consider testing a paid campaign against an organic campaign to see which gets you the best ROI (remember to include man-hours in your cost).

Create your content plan. A plan is critical to your ability to remain committed to your strategy and supports you when you’re too busy to remember what’s next on the agenda. Put your plan into a calendar that specifies what content to post on which platform on what date. But, be ready to adjust this calendar as you review metrics, monitor and listen.

[See: Creating Your Social Media Profiles.]

Two-way communications: Social media monitoring and listening

Your social media activity should extend beyond posting to monitoring and listening. When it does, social media becomes an interactive tool and a strategy resource for your business. So, what’s the difference between monitoring and listening?

  • Monitoring: This is the process for tracking (and ideally responding to) references about your business and messages to your company. One way to do this is to spend time on the platforms where you post and reply to any feedback. There are also tools available to help you monitor across platforms and find what’s of interest. While there are many paid services with a variety of features, Google Alerts is a fairly basic and free resource that tracks key words and phrases on web pages.
  • Listening: This is assessing and leveraging what you learn from monitoring to help shape your company strategy. Sprout Social’s Dominique Jackson explains that listening helps you gain a better understanding of your brand perception, discover marketing opportunities, share better content, and learn how improve your customer experience. He suggests mixing social listening into your research and development process to help “drive strategic product decisions.”

Your social media activity should extend beyond posting to monitoring and listening.

Platform selection: A look at demographics for the top social media platforms

To help you decide where to focus your social media time and budget, here’s a look at some of the largest platforms and their user demographics. Except where otherwise indicated, user numbers represent active users worldwide as of July 2018 based upon data from Statista and demographic information from Pew Research Center data (U.S. users only).

Facebook: 2.2 billion users

Demographics: Most American adults are now on Facebook, including 62% of all men and 74% of all women. While there’s a lower percentage of users in the 65+ age group, Facebook is one of the most used platforms by millennials (second only to YouTube). There’s higher usage among people from urban or suburban areas than rural communities. Users come from across all education and income levels.

Content: It’s about connection. According to Wpromote, “The tools and targeting options available to marketers who promote their brand on Facebook are unmatched.” [Read our full guide on marketing your business on Facebook.]

YouTube: 1.9 billion users

Demographics: Used by 73% of Americans, YouTube is used fairly equally across all age groups under age 65 and is the most used platform by millennials. There’s a slightly higher percentage of usage among people making $75,000+ per year and among those with college degrees. Usage in rural areas is lower than in urban and suburban communities.

Content: This is a video-sharing platform that is becoming a focus for advertisers. Wpromote explains, “YouTube reaches more 18- to 49-year-olds than any cable or broadcast network. During primetime, the top 10 TV shows combined reach fewer people in that demographic than YouTube does.” [Read our full guide on marketing your business on YouTube.]

Instagram: 1 billion users

Demographics: 35% of Americans use Instagram, with a slightly higher usage among women and significantly more usage among millennials than other age groups (particularly those over 49). College educated and higher-income earners are more likely to use Instagram.

Content: It’s about images. Patel explains that it has the highest engagement rate and is the best platform for micro-influencer marketing and audience engagement. [Read our full guide on marketing your business on Instagram.]

LinkedIn: 500 million users

Demographics: 25% of American adults use LinkedIn with equal usage among men and women and a higher usage among 25- to 49-year-olds than other age groups. Also, there’s higher usage among college educated and higher-income earners.

Content: It’s all about business. Content here must be professional. According to Patel, there’s an expectation of a high quality of writing and content must help people expand their network and/or better conduct their business. [Read our full guide on marketing your business on LinkedIn.]

Twitter: 336 million users

Demographics: Nearly 25% of American adults use Twitter, with similar percentages among men and women. Again, there is higher participation among millennials and those who are college educated and earning higher incomes.

Content: Twitter's Tweets contain short content (280 characters) and utilize hashtags ("#") for discoverability. Wpromote recommends that Twitter is best used for brand loyalty and reputation management. [Read our full guide on marketing your business on Twitter.]

Reddit: 330 million users

Demographics: According to Wpromote, 71% of Reddit users are male and 59% of users are between the ages of 18 and 29.

Content: A forum-hosting site with an “Ask Me Anything” feature, Patel cautions that this platform tends to be anti-marketing and is very focused on community benefit. [Read our full guide on marketing your business on Reddit.]

Snapchat: 225 million users

Demographics: 27% of American adults use Snapchat with a higher percentage of usage among women and millennials as well as those living in urban environments.

Content: Pictures and posts that disappear after a matter of seconds. Wpromote suggests that advertising here makes sense for large brands and should focus on content that drives awareness. [Read our full guide on marketing your business on Snapchat.]

Pinterest: 200 million users

Demographics: While 29% of American adults use Pinterest, the usage is much higher among women and those under age 50 as well as those who are college educated.

Content: A personal board for pinning items of interest and very visual. Wpromote asserts that this is a key platform for eCommerce brands explaining that “users that discover your brand on Pinterest are 10 percent more likely to buy than visitors from other social media platforms.” [Read our full guide to marketing your business on Pinterest.]

Quora

While neither Pew Research Center nor Statista listed data for Quora, both Patel and Wpromote include it on their list of platforms to consider. It is a unique Q&A-style platform that gives you the opportunity to establish yourself as an expert. [Read out full guide to marketing your business on Quora.]

CO— does not review or recommend products or services. For more information on choosing the best social media management tools, visit our friends at business.com.

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Published February 25, 2019