As of this year, 2.38 billion people were considered active Facebook users. That figure expands to 2.7 billion if you account for Facebook’s alternative core platforms, like Instagram, Messenger, or WhatsApp. That means one-third of the human population uses social media on a regular basis, and that’s before measuring independent platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn.
With a potential audience of this size, it’s no wonder social media platforms have become the global marketing channel of the 21st Century. Each one is capable of targeting users across mobile and desktop devices, while granting marketers unprecedented access to helpful user metrics. Understanding how social media marketing works is crucial for any brand wishing to thrive in today’s online marketplace.
As part of PostFunnel’s Nuts and Bolts series, we’ll delve into the world of modern Martech to shed some light on tools and best practices being used by you – our fellow marketers – in your day-to-day initiatives. Every month, our experts will sink their teeth into another aspect of this fascinating field, hopefully inspiring you to elevate your business through smart marketing.
What is social media marketing?
Social media marketing is the practice of leveraging social media platforms for your branded marketing objectives. As with standard marketing channels, social media is often used to promote goods or services to customers. Unlike standard marketing channels, it also encourages users to follow and engage with a brand as an online presence. In this context, social media simultaneously acts as a marketing tool, advertising channel, and customer service access point.
Social media ads are usually deployed as native advertisements that blend in with the surrounding website or app. Video ads can also be integrated with most social media feeds and stories.
Which social media marketing metrics are the most valuable?
The primary benefit of social media marketing is that advertisements can be either:
- Deployed to a broad audience
- Targeted towards highly niche audiences
That means reach, virality, consumer response rates, and overall engagement are the most important metrics for social media marketers.
Beyond these metrics, all previously discussed mobile marketing practices can be applied to social media marketing, with one exception — social media ads are almost exclusively monetized by ad revenue. That rules out direct purchase or IAP monetization short of linking to storefront pages.
Reach refers to the number of users who see a specific advertisement within a given time frame, making it one of the most important social media marketing metrics. It can be further subcategorized by users who do or do not fall into the ad’s target audience.
Sometimes confused with reach, virality determines how frequently a given advertisement circulates on a social media platform. This term encompasses direct shares and any user commentary included with the subsequent post.
Customer response rates
Social media platforms let companies view and directly respond to conversations or critiques about their brands. Customer response rates refer to the frequency of these discussions and how effectively individual criticisms are addressed. This is an important, yet understated element of social media marketing. One recent study found that 72% of users expect customer service responses within an hour.
Unlike other marketing channels, each user has the potential to become a fully active participant in sharing ad creative. That makes engagement metrics especially useful for measuring a post’s performance. Along with standard metrics like clicks or views, social media marketers should also account for likes and comments within a promoted ad.
What are some effective social media marketing strategies?
Social media marketing strategies take one of two forms: active or passive. In 2019, most brands will adopt some combination of each approach, even within the same campaign.
Passive marketing strategies allow brands to use social media as a market intelligence source. Social media search tools let companies quickly locate brand-related posts, comments, and product reviews which can be analyzed for customer sentiments. With this information on hand, brands can obtain a high-level overview of customer perspectives when products launch and respond accordingly. This is a major advantage compared to traditional product surveys, which are time-consuming and costly.
Marketers can use the messaging potential of social media platforms to transform user feeds into advertising channels. Once native ads are created within a brand’s official social media page, they can be distributed as promoted posts or shared among followers. What’s more, social media platforms have built-in targeting tools that ensure that even niche products can find an audience.
How do various social media platforms market content to users?
Of all social media platforms, Facebook is among the most useful to marketers. The social media giant supports photo, video, and long-form descriptions that can be posted as native advertisements. Marketers can also create customized brand and product profile pages that users can follow and engage with.
Facebook does face certain drawbacks in 2019. Growth has slowed dramatically among Millennial and Generation Z users, and the brand faced many privacy-related scandals in 2018. Despite these issues, Facebook’s user base and revenue continued to grow last year — a trend that will likely continue in 2019.
Twitter posts may be limited to 140 characters, but a well-optimized ad can still generate impressive reach and virality. Any tweet can contain a combination of text, hashtags, images, videos, and URL links.
Of all social media platforms, Twitter is the most popular for customer service interactions. Some brands even create unique accounts specifically to address the customer service needs of users.
Instagram has rapidly become the most popular social media platform for younger audiences, especially Generation Z users. While the platform largely emphasizes images and videos, its user engagement rate is 15 times higher than Facebook and 25 times higher than Twitter. Thanks to its impressive growth potential, reach, and engagement, brands have flocked to Instagram to market products through brief, personalized advertisements.
Snapchat stories have managed to attract millions of daily active users — each creating a combined 3 billion snaps each day. Brands can leverage this reach by creating engaging video or image story ads that attracts new followers.
WhatsApp may focus on mobile messaging over standard social media posts, but its 1.5 billion monthly active users make it a prime marketing opportunity. While it doesn’t offer advertisements, businesses can send SMS promotional messages — even to users who are in “Do Not Disturb” mode. Our previous article on SMS marketing presents overlapping strategies and best practices.
What challenges does social media marketing face that traditional advertising does not?
For all the inherent opportunities of social media marketing, these channels also represent major challenges. Social media platforms are not controlled communication channels, which means companies have little control of how they are perceived or discussed across the platform. Many users also treat social media as a customer service channel, sometimes by commenting on unrelated brand posts.
As such, marketers must be prepared for the following:
Bad news travels fast
Virality is great when sharing a new product or service, but bad news travels just as fast. When Galaxy Note 7 phones started exploding, social media users had spread the news far and wide before Samsung could prepare its own statement. That’s an extreme example, but brands must be prepared to respond to marketing disasters at a moment’s notice.
Leaks travel even faster than bad news
Social media platforms increase the opportunities for leaks and compromising information to spread across the internet. Popular entertainment studios are especially prone to this fact — in 2011, social media users on the West Coast could stumble across Grammy results before the awards even aired. Popular films and television shows can also be spoiled for international audiences.
Outside of entertainment, tech companies must be wary of unannounced product leaks before they’ve made any official announcements. The risk of confidential information becoming public is high, even if your brand has a limited social media presence.
Managing personal data
Social media platforms offer unparalleled access to user metrics, but this data can be bundled with user profiles. When marketers don’t follow a privacy or data ethics policy, they run the risk of compromising millions of customers by exposing their personal information. As Europe pushes forward on new data regulations, personal privacy is likely to become a major consideration for brands in the next decade. In the meantime, brands can often generate goodwill by anonymizing user data wherever possible.
Despite these challenges, social media platforms represent a prime opportunity for brands in 2019. Each service lets marketers distribute content as native ads while creating opportunities for customers to engage directly with the brand. Social media is also a prime marketing intelligence resource that helps companies gauge public sentiment with unprecedented speed. When marketers who are savvy to the strengths and limitations of social media, these platforms can become the highest-performing channels within their portfolio.