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The daunting task of marketing a product or service becomes much less intimidating when broken down into two areas: tools and strategy. Many entrepreneurs have revealed that the key to a successful marketing strategy is choosing the right marketing tool to master. Once you know which marketing tool has the highest success rate with your target audience, you can design a strategy based on the best practices for that tool.

Some of the most popular marketing tools for small businesses include Google AdWords, email marketing, and of course, social media. All types of customers use at least one social network, and they use it quite often. Yet despite the incredible potential of social media marketing, it is still fairly inexpensive compared to other tools. If used correctly, social media can revolutionize your customer base for very little money. And the less space you take up on social media, the more space you leave for your competitors.

For these reasons, social media marketing is now considered mandatory. You just have to figure out which network deserves the most attention, and how successful strategies on this network differ other networks.

In this guide, we’ll explain how to determine which social networks to use, how to develop an effective strategy, and how to measure the performance of your campaigns. Later on, we’ll compare the most popular resources for putting your strategy into action.

Top Benefits Of Social Media Marketing

Social media marketing is famously cheap and efficient. Creating posts and launching campaigns don’t take much time at all, largely thanks to the various resources designed for these tasks.

But these are far from the only reasons social media marketing is so advantageous for small businesses. Here are a few others:

Audience Engagement

Certain forms of advertising, like TV commercials and billboards, are designed to maximize brand exposure. The company being advertised, however, has no way of seeing what all these people think of their ads. And if someone does like the ad, that person has no way of showing it to another potential customer.

With social media, potential customers can engage with your posts by liking, sharing, and commenting. Users who share your posts are essentially marketing your business for free. Every share exposes you to a whole other world of potential customers.

Comments also give you the opportunity to directly communicate with potential customers and prove that you value their input. New businesses often reply to comments very carefully in order to establish and maintain their brand identity. These replies might be their first interactions with potential customers.

Still, the biggest benefit of engagement is that it can be measured. You can easily see if your post drew attention or mostly went ignored.

Search Engine Optimization (SEO)

For many businesses, the main goal of their social media ads is driving traffic to their website. More traffic and backlinks make your website more likely to show up at the top of search results pages. This is especially advantageous if you want your business to be associated with certain search terms.

Highly-Targeted Campaigns

Unlike traditional advertising, digital marketing allows you to be very specific about which types of people see your ads and how often they see them. Compared to Google ads and email marketing, social media is by far the most targeted digital marketing channel. And since you are only showing your ads to your ideal customer, you can design your ads to suit their unique preferences. Social media ads are meant to be much less broad and universal than traditional ads.

The Impact Of Viral Content

There’s a common misconception that “viral” is just another word for “popular.” But in order for a social media post to be considered viral, it must reach an audience that is dramatically greater than the amount of people who would usually see it. In other words, the post is not just seen by the business’s target audience. Viral ads can expand your market share by exposing you to an audience that might have otherwise never heard of you.

Determining Your Social Media Marketing Goals

Much like your business’s general strategy, you can’t develop a social media strategy without clear, specific goals. And these goals must revolve around the unique needs of your target audience. When you started your business, you probably had a very specific customer in mind (age, gender, etc.). You know what makes this person unique, such as clothing choices, where they live, and additional interests.

Now, it’s time to add online behavior to that list. You cannot determine the goals of your social media strategy if you don’t know what makes your target audience’s online behavior unique.

Neglecting to narrow down your target audience sets you up to waste time and money. You’d be creating and showing ads to people who will most likely never buy from you.

To learn more about your target audience’s online behavior, find out what kind of people have already interacted with your business thus far. Tools like Google Analytics can show you the time of the day in which your website receives the most traffic as well as the search terms that are leading them to your website.

Set KPIs

Once you know what separates your target audience from the general public, you can move on to setting specific goals. In digital marketing, specific goals are often referred to as “KPIs,” which stands for key performance indicators. KPIs prevent you from setting vague goals that cannot be clearly measured, or can be measured but in several ways. Thus, your KPIs should involve specific metrics, like shares, comments, impressions, cost-per-impression, or link clicks.

They should also have a specific time frame and numerical goal. One example of a good KPI is “Decreasing cost-per-impression by 20% over the next six months.” Yes, six months is a long time. But that’s usually how long it takes for a social media marketing campaign to begin taking effect. Goals can only serve their intended purpose if they are realistic.

Developing Your Social Media Marketing Strategy

Your social media strategy begins with the content of your ads. A key element of any successful ad is focusing on the needs of your target audience, as opposed to how great your business is. So, don’t lead by talking about your business. Lead by talking about the problem your product or service is here to solve.

You should also emphasize the personal benefits of your offerings, as opposed to describing their features. Think about how your offerings improve your customers’ lives.

If you’re not sure how to phrase your ads, consider speaking to members of your target audience in person. Ask them the first words that come to mind when presented with your offerings, or how they would describe it to a friend.

Once you’ve finalized your content, you can move on to deciding which social networks to use. We’ll delve into the distinguishing qualities of the major networks in just a bit.

Next, you must determine the frequency of your ads, and which users these ads will target. For example, you could decide to post content twice a day on one network, and four times a week on another. The two sets of ads will target different spectrums of your target audience.

Your networks, frequency, and targeted users should ultimately align with the KPIs from the previous section.

Setting Your Social Media Marketing Budget

Earlier, we established that social media marketing is significantly cheaper than most other forms of advertising, including Google ads. But that doesn’t mean you won’t need a considerable monthly budget.

Paid social media ads allow you to advertise exclusively to your target audience. The cost is determined by a per-click model. In other words, you pay a fee each time the link in your ad is clicked on by a social media user. That fee can range anywhere from 20 cents to $10 per click.

A new business should probably plan on spending approximately $1,000 per month on paid social media ads. This budget will give you the capabilities to present your ads to a sufficient amount of targeted users at a sufficient frequency.

For comparison’s sake, this is just a fraction of what you’d have to spend each month to generate sufficient results from a Google ads campaign.

5 Best Social Media Marketing Platforms For Small Business

Most small businesses don’t have to advertise on every major social network. You just need the networks that are most popular with your target audience, and the networks you choose will ultimately determine your monthly budget.

Here are the primary advantages of advertising on the five most popular social networks today:

1. Facebook

Facebook has over 2 billion users, which makes it the largest social network on the planet. People from all walks of life use Facebook pretty regularly, so it makes sense for most businesses to advertise, regardless of their target market or business model (B2C, B2B). There’s no cost to create a Facebook Business account, but the average cost-per-click for a paid Facebook ad is roughly 27 cents.

2. Twitter

Like Facebook, Twitter isn’t reserved for certain types of businesses or users. Millennials, however, reportedly use Twitter the most. Since the maximum word count of a tweet is just 280 characters, Twitter is best suited for posting official statements, links to larger forms of content (news articles), and anything you wish to communicate with a sense of urgency, like promotions.

Many businesses also use Twitter to post funny comments because it makes them seem more human and therefore strengthens their connection to their target market. Instead of a per-click price model, Twitter prices are determined through engagements (likes, shares, comments). Your cost per engagement could range anywhere from $0.50 to $4.

3. LinkedIn

LinkedIn was originally created to help companies find job candidates, and vice versa. All LinkedIn profiles are business profiles designed to further the individual’s career. You won’t find many high school kids on LinkedIn.

This makes LinkedIn the best social network for B2B businesses looking to connect with potential clients and build up their reputation. Advertising on LinkedIn is fairly expensive (promotional posts start at $50), but it offers higher targeting capabilities. You can set your ads to exclusively target users from certain industries, job titles, geographical locations, and even seniority (entry-level, associate, senior, etc.).

4. Instagram

If LinkedIn is the best B2B social network, then Instagram is the best for B2C. You can post images of products, the interior of your business, your team, or really anything that aligns with your brand identity or the interests of your target market. Instagram also exposed the power of influencers, and attracting their attention is a common goal of business Instagram accounts.

Actually, any type of business can be successful on Instagram, even those that do not sell glamorous products or products used by glamorous people (or dogs, or infants). Instagram posts do not necessarily have to include products at all. For example, a B2B business could post a cartoon showing two ideal customers discussing a common industry-related issue.

And since Instagram is owned by Facebook, you can post advertisements from your business’s Facebook account and target your Instagram ads with the same criteria as Facebook ads. The connection to Facebook ads makes sense because like Facebook, the amount of followers of an Instagram account doesn’t necessarily reflect the state of the business.

The average Instagram ad campaign reportedly costs anywhere from $0.20 to $2 per click.

5. YouTube

YouTube is the second-largest search engine, right behind Google. More and more businesses are now taking advantage of YouTube by posting videos geared towards their target market’s industry-related interests. Which industry “secrets” would your target market be curious about?

As for YouTube ads, the cost depends on how many views your ad gets (instead of clicks). You can expect to pay anywhere from $0.10 to $0.30 per view.

How Much Content Should I Post?

You don’t have to not pay to post content on social media. You’re paying to “promote” the content, which increases its circulation and puts it in front of specific groups of people. Promoting every piece of content you post on social media is not only very expensive but also not practical. If you structure your ads carefully (messaging, language, images) and target the right people, you should only have to promote a handful of posts to achieve your goals.

Most businesses differentiate their standard posts from promoted posts by including a call-to-action or more detailed information about a product. That handful also includes posts from all of the networks you advertise on. You’ll probably have to combine networks if your goal is to convert users from leads to customers. Let’s say a LinkedIn user shares or comments on your post. You could follow up by showing this same person a Facebook ad geared towards leads with high potential for conversions.

Social Media Marketing Calendar

Marketing is an endless battle. It doesn’t matter how many goals you hit because there’s always bigger goals to strive for. And if you hit your goals and slow down your social media campaigns, your customer base could dwindle just as quickly as it grew.

You can avoid this outcome by sticking to a social media calendar, or posting schedule. An example could be posting twice per day on one network and once per day on another. Once you find a frequency that effectively brings you closer to your goals, you should probably stick to that frequency until your data tells you otherwise.

Entrepreneurs are usually too busy to manually maintain their social media calendars. This is why most social networks have a feature that allows you to schedule posts for the coming days, weeks, or even months.

Wouldn’t it be great if you could create and schedule posts for all of your social networks in just one place? This is the main purpose of social media management tools. We’ll go over the most popular management tools in the next section:

Best Social Media Management Tools

Social media management tools prevent you from having to log on to a different network to post and schedule content. Instead, you can just open one platform to manage every account. Depending on the plan you choose, the platform could also provide meaningful analytics about different measurements of performance.

1. Hootsuite

Hootsuite is the most popular social media management platform, largely because it was the first of its kind to become a household name. Hootsuite’s user interface has the layout of a dashboard, where you can view streams from multiple networks simultaneously.

In addition to the five aforementioned social networks, you can manage WordPress blogs, Mailchimp, Evernote, and more. You can also monitor what people are saying about your business on social media and instantly respond to inquiries or comments.

If you’re going to be the only person using Hootsuite, it costs as little as $19 per month. For multiple users, the plan starts at $129 per month, and you get to manage up to 20 social media accounts. Hootsuite’s delegating and messaging features make it particularly appealing for teams. You can assign tasks (i.e. responding to comments) to team members, who can also send private messages to each other.

2. Sprout Social

While Hootsuite is tailored to medium to large-sized businesses, Sprout Social is much more ideal for smaller businesses with smaller budgets. If you’re the only user, you can get access to nearly all of Sprout Social’s features for as little as $99 per month. This includes tools for publishing, engagement, monitoring, and social listening. You can easily track important metrics like reach, impressions, conversions, and audience growth.

If you’re not sure when to schedule your posts, Sprout Social’s algorithm can figure out the most optimal days and times. The Corporate package for multiple users starts at $149 per month.

3. Buffer

If you’re simply looking for the cheapest platform, your best bet is probably Buffer. For just $15 month, you get access to Buffer’s publishing, scheduling and analytics features. Buffer’s user interface is also very easy to navigate, regardless of the data you’re looking for.

Social Media Marketing: Patience and Consistency

As you prepare to launch your strategy, it’s important to remember that social media marketing requires substantial experimentation. It takes time to learn what kind of content your audience likes, and it could be a while before your posts begin to draw engagement. But since consistency is key, you’re going to be posting a lot of content, no matter how well your initial posts perform. With enough consistency, you’re bound to strike gold with a successful post.

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