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More than three-quarters of the world’s population aged 13+ uses social media. A whopping 4.74 billion people are active social media users.
Social media marketing provides a unique opportunity to connect with this massive audience on the platforms where they already spend their time.
But what exactly does social media marketing entail? Is it right for your business? How do you “do” social media marketing, and how do you get started?
In this post, we’ll walk you through everything you need to know about marketing your brand on social media.
Bonus: Get a free social media strategy template to quickly and easily plan your own strategy. Also use it to track results and present the plan to your boss, teammates, and clients.
Social media marketing is the practice of using social media platforms and tools to promote a business and connect with existing and potential customers.
At its core, social media marketing is about building relationships with your audience in the places they already spend their time online.
Unlike traditional advertising, social media marketing allows for two-way communication between individuals and brands. There’s also potential for building a sense of community, which creates brand loyalty.
Social marketers do a lot more than scroll through TikTok all day.
All in a day's work 🥱
Shout out to all the social media managers juggling so many hats while keeping their social channels afloat. You're all the true MVPs 🌟 pic.twitter.com/7jtsbgkbhK
— Hootsuite 🦉 (@hootsuite) December 8, 2022
Social media marketing activities can include:
- Content planning and creation. This is the most visible component of social media marketing. It’s the art of creating appropriate types of content for each platform to connect with the audience there.
- Content scheduling and publishing. This is the task of actually getting your content onto the appropriate platforms at the appropriate time.
- Social media analytics. Using analytics tools to track how content performs, report on progress towards social media goals, and plan ways to improve overall response.
- Social listening. Using social tools to keep a virtual ear to the ground, learning what’s being said about your brand and your industry. This is also a powerful tool for competitor research.
- Community management. Connecting with followers to build a community online, then working to keep that community active and healthy by responding to messages and creating ongoing opportunities for engagement.
- Social media advertising. Using paid tools on the social networks to get your content in front of a larger audience. This may include working with influencers or external content creators.
Social networks are the second-most-popular type of website or app, topped only by chat and messaging.
They offer incredible reach and opportunities to engage with an audience in ways that are simply impossible in any other marketing format.
Here’s what that looks like in terms of real benefits for any brand that gets social media marketing right.
Build brand identity and awareness
From the smallest business to multinational corporations, every brand needs to stand for something if they want to connect with consumers. Social media gives you a chance to consistently show the personality behind your brand.
How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors? On social, you can participate in conversations, encourage engagement, and even interact with your audience in real time.
Create community and brand loyalty
People naturally organize themselves into communities on social media. That might mean a Facebook Group or a hashtag like #DIYTok. When brands support and engage in these communities, they gain credibility with people who are naturally inclined to be interested in their products and services.
Providing helpful resources, information, or even entertaining content on social media helps people identify with your brand. They become loyal brand advocates who make repeat purchases and spread the word about your brand through their own social media channels.
Test ideas in near real time
Social media networks are an ideal platform for testing, as the feedback gathered through social media analytics tools shows you almost immediately what works and what doesn’t in your marketing.
This allows you to refine your marketing strategy very quickly, and reveals lessons you can apply to areas of marketing beyond social, too.
Support business goals
Social media marketing doesn’t always get credit for its contribution to the bottom line. Social media can drive customers to your website and generate sales leads. Social marketing efforts can even support social commerce sales, in which customers purchase from your brand without ever leaving the social platform.
Your social media marketing team also supports (or sometimes provides) social customer service.
Customers expect to be able to connect with your brand on social media for service and support. Having an easily accessible and responsive social care team can win back annoyed customers or provide the extra boost of confidence needed for first-time customers to complete a purchase.
There’s a social network out there to connect with every audience. These are our top picks, sorted by number of users.
Facebook is still the world’s most-used social platform, with 2.934 billion global active users. It’s also the “favorite” platform of the largest number of social media users. And it accounts for the vast majority (71.64%) of web traffic referrals to third-party websites.
Check out our guide to marketing on Facebook.
Instagram is the next-most-popular social network with 1.386 billion active users. It’s known to sometimes be a source of frustration for social media marketers because of its frequent feature updates and algorithm changes.
But the frustration is worth it, because nearly half (44%) of Instagram users shop weekly on the platform.
Learn more about how to market your brand on Instagram.
TikTok has skyrocketed seemingly out of nowhere to become an incredibly important social network for marketing in the last few years. It has 1 billion active users, a year-over-year increase of 14.6%.
And here’s an interesting fact – if we’d sorted this list by average time spent on the app, TikTok would have come out on top. Users spend an average of 22.9 hours per month on the platform, more than any other social network. That addictive quality makes it an important network for brands to understand.
We’ve got all the details you need to know in our post on how to create a TikTok marketing strategy.
LinkedIn is unique on this list in that it’s a social network specifically focused on business life. That means its 875 million members are primed for business discussions and purchasing research. It’s a critical platform for anyone working in B2B, or for any companies that hire anyone, ever.
Business to consumer brands can find success on LinkedIn too. We explain all the details in our post on LInkedIn marketing for both B2B and B2C brands.
Snapchat may get less press than TikTok, but it’s still an important platform with 576 million active users. It’s far from fading into obscurity – in fact, the platform is still growing, adding 38 million users from Q4 2021 to Q4 2022.
Snapchat is particularly useful for brands targeting an audience ages 18 to 24. We explain all the details in our post on how to use Snapchat for business.
Twitter has been in a bit of turmoil since its purchase by Elon Musk in October 2022. But social marketers still have the network’s 544 million active users on their radar, and its value as a marketing platform remains strong heading into 2024.
Twitter is especially useful for brands looking to participate in real-time trends and conversations, as we explain in our Twitter marketing guide.
Pinterest has the lowest number of active users on this list at 433 million. But it’s an important platform for social media marketing because of the way people spend time there.
The top reason people say they use Pinterest is to follow or research brands and products. The very top reason! That’s a key distinction from most of the other platforms, where people tend to focus on connections with people over brands.
Learn how to use this shopping-oriented usage pattern to your advantage in our post on using Pinterest for business.
Here are the most important social media statistics marketers need to understand in 2024.
People spend nearly 2.5 hours per day on social media
- Specifically, 2 hours and 28 minutes. That provides plenty of opportunities to connect with your audience on social platforms.
Nearly half of internet users seek out brands on social
- To be exact, 49.2% of internet users worldwide use social media to learn about brands and see their content. And it’s not just kids – even in the 55-to-64-year-old age group, 41.3% of women are seeking out brands on social media.
- Social media is also an important vehicle for brand discovery: 27% of Internet users aged 16 to 64 discover new brands through social ads, and 43.3% use social networks as a primary source of information for brand research.
- For younger users, social networks are the preferred source of information for brand research (50%), outanking even search engines (46%).
Social media users play the field
- The average person uses 7.2 social media platforms every month. That gives you the opportunity to reach them through multiple touchpoints. But it’s a better idea to use one or two platforms really well than to spread yourself too thin by trying to be everywhere at once.
Short-form vertical video is critical
- TikTok’s ad reach grew 14.6% from Q4 2021 to Q4 2022, now reaching 945 million adults over age 18. Note that ad reach is an important statistic even if you only plan to use TikTok organically, as it can be used as a general indicator of how many people are using the platform.
- The global audience for ads in Facebook Reels grew by almost 40% from Q3 2022 to Q4.
1. Research your audience
In order for your social media marketing to be successful, you need to understand who you’re trying to reach. This will involve some audience research.
You can start your research by understanding the different demographics of each social platform. We’ve done a lot of the work here for you, comparing the key demographic details you need to know:
- Facebook demographics
- Twitter demographics
- Instagram demographics
- Pinterest demographics
- Snapchat demographics
- LinkedIn demographics
- TikTok demographics
But this is just the starting point. You need to understand your specific audience, so you can get a clear picture of how to tailor your social media content, which platforms to use, and how to develop your brand voice.
As you come to understand who you want to reach, it can be helpful to develop audience personas.
2. Understand social media goals and KPIs
Everything you do on social media should be underpinned by a solid strategy based on realistic social media goals. Each of those goals will be tied to measurable data in the form of key performance indicators (KPIs).
For inspiration on what kinds of goals to set for your social media marketing efforts, look to the advantages of social media outlined at the top of this post. For example, you could aim to:
- Increase brand awareness
- Improve community engagement
- Drive online sales
We’ve got a whole blog post filled with examples of social media marketing goals, if you need some help getting started.
One critical element of goal setting is determining how you will track and measure your success. That’s where KPIs come in.
Fortunately, social media analytics make it quite straightforward to track and report on your social media performance. For details, consult our post on everything you need to know about social media analytics.
3. Plan and schedule your content in advance
Creating effective social content takes planning. Rather than creating your content on the fly, take the time to map out your posts in advance. This allows you to be strategic and consistent in your messaging across platforms.
Creating and scheduling content in batches allows you to make much more effective use of your time. Instead of interrupting your work multiple times per day (or night) to post on social, you can create content in dedicated blocks of your workday, then schedule your posts to go live on the right networks at the right time. A social media marketing dashboard like Hootsuite will help you schedule all of your posts in one place and keep a bird’s eye view of your content strategy at all times.
This advance planning also allows you to bring multiple people into the content creation process, so you can access more skill sets or just have a fresh set of eyes look at your captions before you post.
4. Involve your community
Social media marketing is unlike marketing on any other platform. It’s a two-way street, with communication flowing from the brand to consumers and consumers back to the brand.
Above all, make sure to respond when your followers engage with your content. Answer comments, thank particularly active users, and be sure to stay on top of your DMs.
5. Monitor your competition
Social media is an incredibly effective platform for competitor research. You can see what your competitors are doing in real time, and even listen in on the conversation happening about competitive brands.
Social listening is a great jumping-off point for your competitor research. Using automated tools, you can track mentions of your competitors, even when they’re not tagged. You can see what’s working for them, and what strategies might backfire.
This is extremely valuable information as you develop your own social marketing strategy. You don’t want to copy your competitors, but you can certainly learn from their successes and mistakes. You can also learn about new promotions, products, or company shakeups in real time.
Hootsuite Academy offers social media training and certification through online courses taught by professionals in the marketing and social media industries. More than half a million people have taken courses through Hootsuite Academy, and more than 1,000 universities are enrolled in the programs.
Once you pass the exam for a Hootsuite Academy program, you receive a digital certification you can display on your LInkedIn profile to highlight your expertise.
Native training and certifications from the social platforms
The social platforms want brands to find success with their tools. To that end, many of them have created their own social media marketing courses along with training and certification resources to help businesses and social media marketers learn how to use all of their features.
This three-month online program takes you from the fundamentals through to immersive projects that help you understand how digital marketing really works. You get access to a mentor and career support.
Insider Intelligence is known for its forecasts and analysis. Full access requires a subscription, but you can gain plenty of insight from the freely accessible articles and podcasts.
In particular, their daily Behind The Numbers podcast is packed with digital marketing insights, and is available wherever you get your podcasts.
Gary Veynerchuk accepts questions on Twitter using the #AskGaryVee branded hashtag, then answers some of the most pressing in every episode.
If you’re an audio learner, there are plenty of podcasts to help you develop your social marketing skills. We’ve compiled a list of some of our faves.
Whether you join in the weekly #TwitterSmarter Twitter chat or listen to the podcast, you’ll gain important and up-to-the-minute insights on how best to incorporate Twitter into your social media marketing strategy. Host Madalyn Sklar is a top expert in the Twitter space, and regularly participating in #TwitterSmarter will help you, well, do Twitter smarter.
This textbook by social media strategist Dave Evans, founder of Digital Voodoo, offers practical tips on how to establish a social media strategy and increase engagement with your social followers.
This book also gets into the details of how to connect social media throughout your organization. Rather than focusing only on the social media team, it explains how to use social media for customer service, employee engagement, and even product development.
If you want to dive into the latest academic research on social media marketing, Google Scholar is the place to start your search.
Some interesting reads include:
- Friedland, The Next Step in Social Media Marketing?
- Saravanakumar & SuganthaLakshmi, Social Media Marketing
- Mason, Narcum & Mason, Social media marketing gains importance after Covid-19
So, is social media marketing right for your brand? Let’s look at a few of the arguments for and against.
Pros of social media marketing
- Connect with your audience where they already spend time online
- Low barriers to entry – it’s free to create a business account on all major social platforms
- Create brand loyalty
- Expand your audience
- Get audience feedback that can apply to all areas of your business
- Learn about your audience through social analytics
- Refine your strategy with real-time testing
Cons of social media marketing
- Requires some time to do it right
- Initial follower growth can be a challenge
- Potential security risks if not managed correctly
For most businesses, the advantages of social media marketing far outweigh the risks. If your audience is already on social media, they expect to find you there. Without an active social media presence, you’re missing out on an important way to grow your brand.
Fortunately, it’s easy to get started. You don’t need to do everything all at once. The first step is building your social media marketing strategy.
Social media marketing FAQ
What is social media marketing?
Social media marketing is the practice of using social media platforms to promote a brand and connect with customers.
The intended outcomes can range from building brand awareness to increasing sales.
How do beginners start social media marketing?
If you’re a complete beginner, start with research. Identify a few competitors, find their social accounts, and take note of what seems to be working for them. Then, create accounts on the social platforms that best fit your audience demographic and start creating your own content. Post consistently and closely watch your performance stats to get an understanding of which strategies are the most effective — and do more of what works.
What skills should I learn for social media marketing?
Important social media marketing skills include copywriting, graphic design, community management, marketing strategy planning, and performance analysis.
Manage all of your social media marketing from one place with Hootsuite. Create and schedule social posts, interact with your audience, track your results, and keep an eye on competitors from one easy-to-use dashboard. Try it free today.