Social Media Marketing: what it is, strategies and benefits
Having designed and created an amazing product or service is not enough to achieve success with your startup. In fact, people must be aware of it and, most importantly, they must clearly perceive a desire or need to use that product or take advantage of that service.
Social Media Marketing is a great way to find and connect with customers, potential and regular. To be clearer, what we are presenting to you nowadays is no longer just a possibility: you absolutely must use social media as channels to promote your business online.
Now is not the time to dwell on reasoning about the various reasons why Social Media Marketing is so important (indeed, essential) for a business that intends to promote its brand and its products or services on the Web; now the priority, for you, must be to understand precisely what Social Media Marketing is.
What is Social Media Marketing?
The meaning of Social Media Marketing may seem trivial to you, but knowing exactly what it is can help you understand how to make the most of its full potential. Even today, after all, many people confuse Social Marketing and Social Media Marketing, two concepts that, despite being linguistically similar, are actually profoundly different in terms of meaning. Let us proceed in order.
Definition and Role of Social Media Marketing
The definition of Social Media Marketing generally refers to a particular form of digital marketing in which social networks and networking platforms are used to promote a brand and its products or services.
On a more practical level, Social Media Marketing consists of a set of strategies implemented on social platforms in order to reach new customers, engage and retain those already acquired, and spread one’s image and values. The ultimate goal is to improve a company’s social media presence, which is closely linked to its visibility, positioning and reputation and on which many of its customers’ purchasing decisions depend.
The basic idea of this branch of digital marketing is to be found by potential customers in those very virtual places where they spend the most time when they are online.
Difference between Social Marketing and Social Media Marketing
To clear any doubts about the meaning of Social Media Marketing, it is appropriate to clarify an already mentioned misunderstanding that, all too often, causes confusion in those who are approaching this form of digital marketing for the first time.
It may happen, in fact, to come across the use of “Social Marketing” as a synonym for “Social Media Marketing,” referring to the set of marketing strategies carried out through social; in reality, however, Social Marketing is a different discipline, made famous in the 1970s by Philip Kotler and Gerald Zaltman and referring to the branch of marketing that aims to promote social and/or general interest causes.
The Benefits of Social Media Marketing
In shedding light on the concept of Social Media Marketing, some of the benefits you can enjoy the moment you decide to use this form of marketing (or, rather, the moment you manage to implement its principles in the right way, adopting the right strategies on the right channels) have been mentioned in general. To begin to understand why Social Media Marketing is so crucial, however, it is appropriate to define these benefits more precisely.
First, however, it is important to clarify how Social Media Marketing works. We will make it brief: companies and organizations create online communities (or connect to existing communities) that share the interests and values promoted by them, offer users content relevant to them, and stimulate discussions about the brand (and beyond); users, reacting to these solicitations, become attached to the brand and activate positive word-of-mouth within their network of contacts. Several benefits can be derived from these interactions, as already pointed out.
Improving Customer Satisfaction and Brand Loyalty
One of the benefits of Social Media Marketing is the improvement of Customer Satisfaction. Since users spend a lot of time on social media, it is there that companies can intercept doubts, inquiries, and complaints about their products and services and, as a result, take prompt action to resolve any problems, thus demonstrating to users that they understand their needs and know how to adequately meet them.
This particular attention shown by the brand generates a positive perception in users, who, as a result, are more enticed to return to buy from that brand. The commitment to buy back a particular product or service even regardless of changes in prices and features, based on a preference dictated by loyalty to a specific brand, is what is called Brand Loyalty.
Increased business contacts and sales
The fact that virtually everyone is on social media now allows you to take advantage of social media marketing strategies also to increase your network of business contacts and sales. Indeed, on these platforms you can find not only your regular or potential customers, but also suppliers and new business partners. For a startup, moreover, social media promotion also proves to be particularly important with a view to finding new investors.
Increased Web Traffic and Brand Awareness
A third important benefit you can achieve by activating Social Media Marketing campaigns is increased traffic to website. Consistently posting (following a precise strategy and editorial calendar) the content of the company’s website and blog on social media allows you to reach different users than you could reach with SEO or with Google Ads. As with search engines, on social media you must include “paid” campaigns alongside “organic” publishing so that you can ensure high-quality traffic to the website.
It has not been mentioned so far, but it is important for you to know that Brand Awareness is the most important reason why startups should do Social Media Marketing, since these platforms offer privileged visibility to companies that need to make themselves known in the marketplace relatively quickly. Know, however, that the only way to gain this visibility is to provide valuable content that is useful and interesting.
The Challenges of Social Media Marketing
Now that you are clear about the benefits you can enjoy by deciding to use Social Media Marketing for your startup, it is important that you also know the challenges you will face. Don’t worry: to overcome them, you’ll just need to come to them properly prepared. That’s what we’re here for: the next few lines detail how to manage resources and content on social media and how to safeguard brand reputation on these platforms.
Resource and content management
Nowadays, there are so many social platforms (also very different from each other in terms of features and operation), so you need to be able to identify the most useful ones based on your goals.
One of the most common mistakes is to assume that you need to be everywhere; on the contrary, it is essential that you make a careful selection of social platforms where you can have an ongoing and effective presence, both on the basis of your target audience (on which platforms can you find your potential customers? Where do they spend the most time?) and also, most importantly, in relation to your budget.
There is, then, another frequent mistake made by those who approach Social Media Marketing incorrectly: thinking that they can replicate content in the exact same way on different platforms and obtain, in this way, the same results everywhere. Precisely because each social platform is different, however, it is instead very important to diversify the content, so as to adapt it to the specific needs of each channel.
All of this, of course, requires a very significant expenditure of resources (not only economic), starting with the material production of the various content. When evaluating the resources at your disposal, there is one particular item of expenditure that you must consider: it is that dedicated to the creation of paid campaigns. The various tools for placing paid ads within the various social media give you the opportunity to reach highly customizable and specific targets, with equally precise objectives. One good thing about this is that you can decide the budget to invest yourself.
Online reputation management
Producing interesting, relevant and useful content is not the only challenge to which Social Media Marketing subjects you: an equally important role is played by online reputation management. In fact, as already pointed out, improving Customer Satisfaction is an absolutely central aspect of Social Media Marketing.
Social platforms put users at the center and allow each individual to express his or her opinion about a brand and communicate it to a potentially very large audience. All of these opinions help to define a brand’s reputation and, for this reason, it is crucial to be able to constantly monitor social interactions and brand perceptions among users, intervening promptly to respond to doubts, solve problems and, more generally, moderate conversations. We will explore this aspect further in a moment; first, in fact, there is another aspect to consider.
Effective Social Media Marketing Strategies
If you are here, it is because you first want to know how to do Social Media Marketing effectively, and it is now time to get to the heart of the matter, analyzing the best strategies to achieve success with your startup. Nothing should be left to chance: in order for them to prove effective, the content to be published must be placed within a very precise strategy, which must take into account various factors, including, above all, the objectives and the target audience.
Goal Setting and Target Audience Definition
The content you post on social media needs to intrigue, inform, engage, and persuade your audience, but in order for this to happen you need to know who you are addressing.
It can be very useful in this regard to create “personas“, similarly to what happens in pure marketing with buyer personas. These are, in short, ideal prototypes of your typical users. To build these profiles you can collect and analyze data on the web and/or make use of surveys and specific research. Once you have defined your personas, remember that, through Listening activities, you also need to figure out which social platforms you can find them on.
Defining your Target Audience is very important: only if you are clear about who your target audience is can your social content be truly effective and can enable you to achieve your goals. But what are those goals?
Again, you cannot leave room for doubt because the goals may be multiple. You must, therefore, make clear choices: you may “simply” aim to increase the visibility of your brand or you may want to achieve more articulated goals, such as improving your brand reputation, increasing traffic to your site or finding new customers.
Regardless of any kind of choice, it is important that each of your goals be “SMART” and, that is, “Specific,” “Measurable,” “Achievable,” “Realistic,” and “Time-bound.”
Keep in mind, too, that depending on the goal, the metrics and KPIs to be monitored to check the progress of the campaign and keep track of the results obtained also vary.
Creating a content strategy
If you have been paying attention so far, you will already know that content needs to be shaped on the goals and target audience, but also on the social media it is intended for and the budget available.
What you need is an editorial plan, where, in addition to the content to be created (it can be articles, corporate news, interviews, images, videos, infographics etc.), you also need to specify who should create it, the days and times of publication on the various social media, the tone of voice to be used and many other aspects that help define your content strategy.
Regarding the type of content to be published, for example, there are various theories: one possible strategy is to use the so-called Rule of Thirds, according to which one-third of the content should promote the company and its values, one-third should focus on stories and ideas regarding its industry, and one-third should focus on the products or services offered.
Another strategy, however, refers to Pareto’s 80-20 rule: 80 percent of content should aim to inform or entertain users and the remaining 20 percent should promote the brand and its products or services.
There are a number of theories regarding posting frequency as well, although they all agree on the need to maintain a steady pace, regardless of the precise number of articles to be published over the course of the week (this figure also varies depending on the specific social media outlet). Fear not: a big hand in figuring out when (and how often) to publish your content will come from data.
Monitoring and analysis of results
Measuring the success of your Social Media Marketing activities is very important but, at times, it is also complicated. Social media promotion activity, like all marketing activities, must, of course, lead to a return on investment (this is what is known as Social Media ROI) but it can be tricky to determine the actual contribution of some investments, especially when some time passes between the investment itself and the return generated by it. Just think of the return in terms of Brand Equity generated by some activities on social platforms.
Rather than thinking in terms of costs and revenues, then, when calculating Social Media ROI it is useful to think in terms of digital behaviors and motivations tied to specific goals. That said, it may be useful for you to know that, in general, Social Media Marketing, when executed and analyzed properly, tends to have a higher ROI than other forms of marketing.
As we have already mentioned, the strategic goals also depend on the metrics to be monitored to verify that they are being met. A practical example will help you better understand what has just been said: if your specific goal is to improve site traffic coming from social media, one KPI to monitor carefully is certainly the Click Through Rate (CTR), which gives you an idea of how many users intrigued by the post clicked on the link in it, thus landing on the company site.
A general piece of advice is to steer clear of so-called “vanity metrics“: these are those indicators (such as, for example, the number of likes, comments or shares of a post) that do not return useful information to analyze and certify the success of a Social Media Marketing strategy. Keep in mind the words of Lori Taylor, founder and CEO of The Produce Moms:
“Going viral is not an accomplishment; it’s an event. Sometimes it happens; sometimes it doesn’t. Just remember that fans are vanity and sales are health.”
In many cases it is the social platforms themselves that provide data analytics tools free of charge, but for more complex goals, you can also use specific tools that also allow for integrated analysis across different social media.
The Role of Social Media in Modern Business
It is now time to delve even deeper into why social media are so important for startups and companies nowadays. These platforms now represent popular virtual meeting places, within which ideas, opinions and advice are constantly exchanged. This has several repercussions in modern business.
Public interaction and involvement
Knowing how to engage users on social media has become a categorical imperative for anyone with a startup or business, and you are certainly no exception. You should know, in fact, that by doing so, the bond between your brand and customers has a chance to become ever closer because users, feeling involved in the company’s narrative, will be more likely to buy from you and share positive experiences with their circle of contacts.
Not only that, knowing how to interact with and engage your audience also gives you valuable insights into the needs and desires of your target audience.
In light of all this, you will not be surprised to learn that many of the most successful brands on social are precisely those that are used to share users’ posts (one example out of all: unboxings) and ask them for their opinions and advice.
Influence of online conversations on purchase decisions
Social media play a crucial role in modern business for another reason as well: users now spend a great deal of time on these platforms because here they can exchange ideas on a wide variety of topics, listen to different opinions and search for useful information, including in anticipation of their purchases.
You should not underestimate this aspect: have you ever heard of “social reproof“? It is a principle whereby people tend to accept and deem more worthy of approval those behaviors that are shared by a large number of people. Social media has redefined this concept, further enhancing its implications on users’ purchasing decisions. With this in mind, today, it becomes even more important to be able to intercept and promptly manage any crises generated by negative comments, which could seriously undermine the trust relationship between the brand and its customers.
Conclusion: why SMM is essential for your business
As mentioned at the beginning of this in-depth discussion, Social Media Marketing is not “just” important for your business: it is essential. The advantages your startup can benefit from by using this form of marketing in the right way should be clear to you by now; therefore, to give you some extra motivation, we have decided to briefly tell you about what has been dubbed as the 2.0 evolution of online commerce: Social Commerce.
This term refers to the possibility offered by some social media to users to make a purchase of a company’s product or service directly within the platforms, natively and fluidly, seamlessly integrated into the user experience of the social media itself. In this way, the purchasing process becomes faster and the thread connecting brand and customer even more direct.
Originating in China, Social Commerce has now caught on in Europe and Italy as well and represents yet another tasty opportunity for startups and companies, as well as, for you, one more reason to focus on Social Media Marketing to achieve success.