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Updated May 30, 2023

Step-by-Step Guide to Social Media Marketing for Small Businesses

Social media marketing is a crucial aspect of modern business. Here's a step-by-step guide to creating a successful strategy.

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Kiely Kuligowski, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Strategy
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Table of Contents

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Social media has provided multiple platforms where businesses can brand, advertise and ingratiate themselves with their audiences. A strong social media presence can strengthen your company’s reputation and visibility while offering a window into your competitors’ strategies and activities. 

Today, social media marketing is a crucial element of any business’s marketing plan. We’ve created a step-by-step guide to help businesses develop an effective social media marketing strategy, including pitfalls to avoid and tips to ensure successful social media marketing campaigns.

How to create a social media marketing strategy

graphic of a woman emerging from a smartphone

There are seven steps involved in creating a successful and effective social media marketing campaign. Social media marketing is relatively straightforward. However, conducting research and ensuring your strategy suits your business and goals is crucial. 

Follow these steps to set up your social media marketing strategy for success. 

1. Evaluate your business and social media marketing goals.

Examine your business and see what – if anything – you’re already doing with social media marketing. Next, determine your social media marketing goals. Setting business goals will inform your social campaign’s direction and help you stay on target.

A helpful way to organize your goals is the one-year, five-year, and 10-year format, where you outline where you’d like to be with your social media in one, five, and 10 years. You can adjust this method for shorter periods of time if you prefer.

2. Research your audience to inform your social media content.

Before connecting with your audience on social media, it’s crucial to understand who they are and what they need. Thoroughly research your target audience so you can formulate posts and content that address their needs. 

Consider your existing audience, the people you’re trying to reach, and how you would classify them according to market segments. Your research will guide your content and ensure a receptive, engaged audience.

TipBottom line
Collect survey data from current customers and prospects to better understand their needs, desires and pain points so you can create content that matches their interests.

3. Determine which social media platforms are right for your business.

Using multiple social media accounts is often crucial for reaching your audience. However, there are a lot of social platforms, and not all of them will be right for your business’s culture and offerings. 

Here are some of the social media platforms businesses use: 

  • YouTube
  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • Pinterest
  • Twitter
  • LinkedIn
  • Tumblr
  • TikTok
  • Snapchat

Each social media platform has a demographic that comprises most of its users. For example, professionals and B2B businesses tend to congregate on LinkedIn, while TikTok and Snapchat users tend to be Gen Z and young millennials. Unless you’re targeting everyone, you don’t need to establish a social media presence on all available platforms. 

When selecting the right social media platforms for your business, consider these strategies: 

  • Find where your audience spends time online. Consider your business type and where your target audience spends time online. For example, nearly 50% of those over the age of 65 are Facebook, according to the Senior List. So, if you operate a walking cane company, you’ll want to focus on Facebook and avoid TikTok. B2B marketers may want to concentrate on LinkedIn and avoid Pinterest. 
  • Consider platforms you like. If you run a small business, you can think personally, according to personal branding and online business coach Darlene Hawley. “Start with you – what platform do you like to spend time on?” she said. “If you enjoy the platform, then you’re more likely to keep showing up, building relationships and engaging with your ideal clients.” Using a platform you like also means you’re more comfortable with it and understand its nuances, which can go a long way in ensuring engagement.
  • Consider how many platforms you can commit to. Digital advertising specialist Ashley Monk advised considering your marketing team’s scope. She suggested asking yourself, “How many platforms can myself or my marketing team commit to creating quality content for?”
  • Consider the platform that works for your business type. Your industry or niche may make your social platform choices obvious. “For a smaller brick-and-mortar company such as a boutique, channels such as Instagram that are visually engaging and encourage trends are effective,” Monk said. “But for larger brands such as Target, a multichannel approach is essential to engaging a wider reach.”

4. Create unique and engaging content on your social platforms.

Before you post on social media, spend time lurking and sharing other posts to get a feel for the platform’s culture and how users interact. When you’re ready, use your audience research to inform your content, and observe how your audience engages with various content types. 

5. Include your followers to bolster your social media marketing.

Your followers are your most critical social media marketing resource. They will decide your campaign’s success or failure by either engaging and sharing your content, or ignoring it.

To include your followers and build engagement, encourage user-generated content. For example, ask them to share pictures and videos of your products in use and post them on your accounts. Here are a few other ideas for building engagement with followers: 

  • Setting up hashtags specific to your brand
  • Reposting users’ content about your brand
  • Hosting competitions and giveaways
  • Highlighting positive customer reviews
  • Requesting customer feedback via social channels
FYIDid you know
It's crucial to understand social media giveaway best practices and be mindful of legal considerations for social media contests.

6. Schedule your posts to keep your social campaign organized.

Once your social media marketing gets going, you might have trouble remembering what posts are going on what platforms, and when they’re appearing. To stay organized, consider hiring a social media manager or use intuitive social media management tools. 

You can use social media management tools to write captions, prepare photos and videos, and schedule posts. Some even have centralized dashboards where you can view all your platform content and analytics. This also makes it easy to repurpose your content for different platforms to save time and expand your reach.

7. Analyze your results to inform your campaigns going forward.

If followers are your most important resource, analytics are a close second. Analytics data allows you to measure and improve your marketing ROI and see if your efforts are helping you meet your goals. 

Track key social media metrics, such as engagement, reach, followers, impressions, video views, profile visits, mentions, shares, tags and reposts. Use these metrics to tweak your social media marketing strategy or help you decide on new campaigns. 

Many social sites have platform-specific analytics tools, including Facebook, Twitter, Google and Instagram, or you can use your social media management tool’s analytics to track your entire social presence.

Did You Know?Did you know
Establishing specific key performance indicators (KPIs) for your social media marketing campaigns is critical if you want to determine your digital marketing return on investment.

What is social media marketing?

Social media marketing involves creating content to promote your business or products via a social media platform, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn. Social media marketing has become an extremely popular way for businesses to connect with their audiences because each platform reports millions – or even billions – of daily users. 

Social media marketing glossary of terms

Social media marketing is a unique category with specific terms. Here’s a rundown of the social media marketing terms you’ll need to know.

  • Content. Content is anything you post, create or share on a social media site. Create content yourself or share content from another user or platform.
  • Engagement. Engagement is a general term for how many people like, share, or comment on your content. Engaging your audience on social media is your number one social media marketing goal.
  • Follower count. Your follower count refers to how many people follow your account on any given social media site.
  • Click-through rate. The click-through rate (CTR) is a ratio that shows how many people have seen and clicked a link to your content, whether through an ad or another social media post. CTR is calculated by dividing the number of times your ad is shown by the number of clicks it receives.
  • Platform. “Social media platform” is another term for “social media site.” Facebook and Twitter are two examples of social media platforms.
  • Share. A share is when someone views your content and posts it to their profile or account, increasing the number of potential views for your content.
  • Traffic. Traffic is how many people access your site via your social media channels. For example, someone who clicks on a Facebook post you shared and is redirected to your website would be considered digital traffic.

Why is social media marketing important?

graphic of a man standing in front of social media logos

Social media marketing has become necessary for all modern businesses that wish to connect with customers where they are – online. Other social media marketing benefits include the following:

1. Social media marketing increases brand awareness. 

According to Statista, there were over 4.59 billion people on social media in 2022. That means 4.59 billion opportunities to get your brand in front of new customers. Social media increases brand awareness through engagement. You’re increasing brand awareness if you create a business page for your company and engage with other social media posts. Social media can also increase your website’s traffic through posts, shares, and comments.

“[Social media] is one of the best word-of-mouth tools out there,” said Jon Lee, CMO at ana tomy. “All you need to do is get your audience to share to their friends, [and] if you plan your campaign content correctly, you can do that.”

2. Social media marketing boosts lead generation and conversion.

Promoting and sharing content on social media is a great way to generate more sales leads and successful lead conversions because you’re actively promoting content to people who have already indicated interest. 

Facebook and Instagram have also added a shopping feature that allows social media users to buy directly from a business without leaving the app. This feature helps businesses easily close sales by reducing customer friction and making purchasing easy and convenient. 

Bottom LineBottom line
Social commerce is a powerful growing force, with sales expected to reach $2.9 trillion by 2026, according to Statista.

3. Social media marketing builds personal relationships with customers.

Customers’ desire for genuine interaction is a huge driver of social media marketing’s popularity. Before social media, customers felt distant and detached from brands. Social media lets brands and businesses connect directly with customers, giving them a more human touch. Companies can participate in social media trends, chat with customers, and share their human side.

4. Social media marketing helps businesses analyze the competition.

If you’re on social media, chances are, your competitors are also there. Social media gives businesses a unique opportunity to see what competitors are doing and what’s working for them – and to learn from their mistakes. 

Pay attention to competitors’ social media marketing campaigns, how they interact with customers, and how they promote their products or services. This lets you ensure your campaigns are unique to your brand.

“Starting with a competitive analysis may help you discover some holes in your competition’s strategy and show you channels they may be missing out on,” said Jason Myers, senior vice president of public relations & social media marketing at The Content Factory.

5. Social media marketing gives businesses more brand authority.

A regularly updated online presence goes a long way toward establishing your business as a brand authority. Additionally, regular customer interaction shows you’re committed to your customers and care about their satisfaction. Social media makes it easier to resolve customer issues, and since your commitment is visible, prospective customers will feel more comfortable doing business with you.

TipBottom line
Besides being a vital marketing tool, businesses can also use social media to improve customer retention because positive social interactions build relationships, trust and loyalty.

What about sponsored and paid content?

Because so many social media users report regularly engaging with brands as well as friends, the use of sponsored or paid content has skyrocketed.

Usually identifiable by phrases like “paid post,” “presented by,” “sponsored by,” “promoted” or “advertisement,” sponsored content is any content that a sponsor pays a publisher, company or influencer to create and distribute on their social media channels. Sponsored content differs from traditional advertising because it aims to fit in with the regular content on a given social media platform.

Sponsored content can be an excellent mutually beneficial arrangement: The advertiser pays for the content, and the other brand, influencer or account shares it. However, if you are considering sponsored content, remember that social media users tend to be sensitive to posts that feel overly “salesy” or don’t fit in with the account’s regular content. 

Here are some guidelines to help you find success with sponsored content:

  • Ensure it adds to the user experience instead of disrupting it.
  • Don’t promote anything that doesn’t make sense for your brand or business.
  • Try to match the tone, look and feel of your other content.
  • Commit to working with brands that you can fully support.

The same general guidelines apply if you want your content shared as sponsored content by another brand or influencer. Carefully consider who you choose to post your sponsored content, and ensure they match your company’s general values and goals. This will make the content seem natural and not out of place on users’ timelines or feeds.

Did You Know?Did you know
To strike a balance between paid and organic social media activity, consider using paid content to attract new customers and organic efforts to engage existing consumers.

Tips for an effective social media marketing campaign

graphic of hands holding smartphones using social media

Once you’ve researched and outlined your steps, it’s time to ensure a successful campaign. Keep the following tips in mind:

  • Focus on content. A common saying about social media is that content is king – and it’s true. Content should be your number one concern when creating social media campaigns. If it’s not quality, don’t post it.
  • Connect with your audience. The heart of social media marketing – and its greatest challenge – is finding unique ways to connect with your customers and provide engaging content. If you create content for the sake of creating content, you’re unlikely to connect with your audience or grow your follower count and engagement rate.
  • Find ways to engage with other content. Engaging promotes engagement. “An easy tip for increasing engagement is to engage positively on noncompetitive but relevant content on the same social channel,” said Joe Sinkwitz, CEO of Intellifluence. “If you were to comment on tweets related to your subject, and are also putting out useful content, you’ll find others will engage with yours as well.”
  • Think outside the box. Provide fun ways to generate leads with social media, like contests, special offers, live videos with exciting updates or news, and opening Facebook or Instagram shops.
  • Keep your end goal in mind. Your social media marketing goals should inform your campaign and its content. “Think about your end goal first,” said Olivia Heel, director of account operations at Catapult PR-IR. “Are you trying to drive more engagement? Awareness? Followers? Then build out your campaign in a way you think will get your desired result. A lot of social media campaigns are trial and error, so don’t worry too much about nailing it at first.”
TipBottom line
Incorporate humor into your social media posts and ads to improve your social media presence. According to a report from Oracle, 90% of people are more likely to remember funny ads, and 72% would choose a humorous brand over the competition.

What to avoid in social media marketing

Because social media is such a pervasive aspect of most people’s lives, detailed and nuanced etiquette has formed for social media generally and for each platform. Here are a few things to avoid in your social media strategy:

  • Too many posts. Your followers want to see your content, but they don’t want to see it all the time. A good rule of thumb is to post during business hours (i.e., between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.) and only when you have a good reason.
  • Flashy trends. Trends come and go, but they could make or break your business. If you see a trend that interests you, carefully consider the benefits versus the risks of participating. Keep in mind how your followers are likely to respond.
  • Fake followers. As you become more immersed in social media, it can be easy to get caught up in follower counts. You may be tempted to buy followers or use influencers with a high percentage of fake followers. These accounts provide no actual engagement, which is ultimately what matters in social media marketing.
  • Failure to prioritize your customers’ needs. “Think about your target customer and what they want, not what you want,” said digital and social media consultant Bobby Guions. “A lot of businesses … get wrapped up in the idea of their product or service, not understanding their customers’ needs.”
  • Inconsistency. Try to remain consistent with your content type and timing. Customers will be confused and thrown off if you put out different personas or engagement styles daily. Determine the kind of online presence you want to have and stick to it.
  • Inauthenticity. Remember why you got on social media in the first place – to expand your audience and increase brand awareness. If you project a persona on a social platform that is not true to your business, customers will feel misled and confused. “The best social media campaigns are authentic – stay true to your brand voice while keeping in mind the audience you are appealing to,” said Heel.

The best social media management tools

graphic of a laptop with social media on the screen

Because social media marketing is constantly changing, software tools can keep you organized and updated on best practices. The following are our choices for the best social media marketing tools that offer scheduling, analytics, media creation, social channel management and more. 

  • WebiMax. WebiMax offers dedicated account managers to help create your content, design profiles on different social platforms, and devise strategies to meet your social media goals. WebiMax is also one of our choices for the best online reputation management services
  • Oracle. Oracle provides a full-featured content-creation tool as well as detailed analytics to help you track prospects wherever they are in the sales funnel. It offers a comprehensive social listening feature, engagement trackers and post-campaign analysis. It also has an interactive editorial calendar to help you plan and schedule your social media advertising campaigns. 
  • Meltwater (formerly Sysomos). If you conduct business internationally, Meltwater is a great choice, boasting the ability to monitor 186 different languages in 189 countries. The tool can help you identify key influencers in your industry and monitor what your competitors are saying, and it provides detailed analytics on how your campaigns are performing. 
  • Portent. Portent specializes in competition analysis. It helps you identify your target audience, devise a strategy to refine your company’s appeal, and make your business stand out from others in your industry. 
  • Hootsuite. Hootsuite is a popular social media management software solution that provides content creation tools, scheduling and post-campaign management. It offers several different plans at multiple price points and a user-friendly interface. 
  • Buffer. Buffer is a publishing, analytics and engagement platform with customizable tools and features. It allows you to mix and match your tools and features to create a plan that works for you.
  • BuzzSumo. BuzzSumo makes it easy to find and collaborate with influencers, find content insights, monitor your campaign’s performance, and create social media content from one simplified dashboard. 

Jennifer Dublino contributed to the reporting and writing in this article. Some source interviews were conducted for a previous version of this article.

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Kiely Kuligowski, Senior Writer & Expert on Business Strategy
Kiely Kuligowski is recognized for her expertise in project management and business software. With a strong background in project oversight, she excels in defining project scopes, monitoring timelines and ensuring high-quality deliverables for a diverse range of clients. In addition to her proficiency in project management, Kuligowski also possesses experience in product marketing and has made valuable contributions to business fundraising endeavors. In the realm of business software, Kuligowski has reviewed a number of modern digital tools, such as email marketing services and document management systems, and advised business owners on purchasing decisions and usage best practices. Recently, Kuligowski has focused on sustainability software and project management at IBM, further establishing her as a respected authority in her field.
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