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The beginner’s guide to social media marketing

Posted by Matthew Stibbe
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Some businesses dive right into social media and attempt to strike it lucky on every platform available. The problem is, just like any form of marketing, you can’t succeed on social media without a solid strategy. This beginner’s guide will help you get started.

This piece used to exist as one of our gated resources. We've unleashed it from its shackles and now you can read an updated version here, for free. Download the original PDF version using this form:

Inform your strategy

Before you jump in, you need to think carefully about where you post, your tone of voice and how often you share your content.

Know your persona

If you’re unsure what a buyer persona is: familiarise yourself. They’re a very important part of your marketing strategy.

‘Buyer personas (sometimes referred to as marketing personas) are fictional, generalised representations of your ideal customers. Personas help us all — in marketing, sales, product and services — internalise the ideal customer we’re trying to attract, and relate to our customers as real humans.’

Hubspot

For more information on personas, see here.

Put yourself in their shoes

Once you have a better idea about the process, consider the following questions:

  • How busy are your personas? Do they have time for more content-heavy platforms such as LinkedIn? If not, X-formerly-Twitter (with its bite-size content) might be a better place to reach them. Or perhaps a more visual social media platform, such as Instagram or Pinterest. Or, short-form content-sharing platforms like TikTok (or any of the video platforms that have developed a “shorts” functionality).
  • Where are they most likely to spend their time? A sociable, family-and-friends-loving persona is likely to spend their time on Facebook, but don’t assume that this social network is strictly for consumer brands. Facebook is also a great platform for B2B companies to network and find potential customers. Of course, LinkedIn is increasingly establishing itself as the default platform for business social media networking.
  • What form of content do they want? If you’re trying to target a CEO of a business, a more formal and business-orientated platform like LinkedIn might be more suitable. If your business can share lots of interesting images that will attract your customers, you’ll want to use Instagram or Pinterest, which are especially effective for B2C organisations.
  • When are they likely to be active? Test different publishing times and see which time frame is the most active. This is a hard question to answer before you start sharing, but make sure you experiment with different times and see when you're getting the best results.

Choose your channels

You don’t need to post content to every single social network out there. Social media marketing across multiple networks can take up far more time than you might think, so figure out which ones work best for your personas and focus on those.

For guidance, we’ve honed our social media efforts to four platforms to reach different personas:

Share your content

The ultimate aim of social media marketing is to direct people onto your website where you can convert them into leads and customers. In order to do that, you need to create and share your own content.

Start a blog

If you haven’t already got a blog, you’ll need to create one. It’s the backbone of any basic social media strategy.

  • Post informative content on your blog.
  • Share blog posts on social media to link people to your website.

That’s the strategy in a nutshell, but we’re not going into depth here. If you want more details on how to make your website marketing run on autopilot, read our complete guide to website marketing.

Share away

Every social media platform is, well, social. But they’re social in different ways. Because they differ in format and purpose, they each have their own unique marketing rules. Let’s have a look at those four social platforms and how you should post to them:

  • LinkedIn: LinkedIn is much less tolerant of spam than X, for example. We aim to make sure that we share only two of our pieces of content here per week. We still re-share posts up to a total of four shares, but we make sure to write different promotion text for each share and space them out to avoid spam. In between, we share content from other creators or other types of posts. Throughout, we use two to five relevant hashtags.
  • Facebook: Aim to share two pieces of your content per week on Facebook. Use a few hashtags at the end of each post text to link it to the relevant subject area. Re-share your posts to make sure they get seen. We re-share a piece of content two months after we first promoted it, using a different piece of text promotion, so that we don't look like spammy robots.
  • Instagram: So, you can’t add links to posts on this platform except in the bio, so it’s best used for things like company pics and building your employer brand. As it’s a visual platform, first, this is also a fabulous way to share a portfolio of your work for customers, and to showcase your brand, too.
  • X: As X is such a fast, pithy social network, you can generally post as often as you’re able to without issue. After all, it’s much harder to catch the attention of your audience on their fast-paced feeds. We share three to four of our own pieces of content per week. Use at least two hashtags and (top tip) add by @yourhandle to make sure any re-tweets are directing people to your feed. You can also re-share your content more on this social media platform, because only a small percentage of your followers will see each individual post. For instance, you might share a post six times on X with three different promotion texts to mix it up, or use different images.

(Full transparency, since this piece was originally written several years ago, we have from late 2023 made the decision to reduce posts on X due to events following Elon Musk’s purchase of the company that was once Twitter. We now focus on other social media platforms.)

Whether you want to follow a similar schedule to ours or not, make sure you don’t post too little or too much. You want to be a reliable, constant source for your audience, but you also don’t want to annoy them or clog up their newsfeeds. When scheduling out re-shares, make sure you wait at least a week between each re-post.

Use scheduling applications

No one is motivated enough to remember, rework and schedule every single social post. You’d have to set multiple alarms every few hours and keep every social media tab open constantly. Let’s face it: that would be annoying. Thus, you’ll be better off using a scheduling application like CoSchedule or Buffer, or (as we do) HubSpot’s social media scheduling tool.

Scheduling apps allow you to easily manage your social posts, apply templates and create an editorial calendar. These calendars are handy if you want to make sure that you don’t go a day without posting content.

Share other people's content

We mentioned this already, but why would you do that? After all the whole point of social media marketing is to get people to your website, right? Right. But, sharing other people’s content is a proven way of increasing the number of people that go to your website and it helps you build your network.

Content curation

Sharing other people’s content on social media is called ‘content curation’. It’s best explained by a hypothetical scenario. Say you’re a marketing agency and buyer personas want help with social media marketing, here’s what you’d do:

  1. You search Feedly and Alltop to find useful, popular advice on the topic.
  2. You find one of the articles genuinely useful and share it via Linkedin, including the relevant hashtags and attributing the original author of the content by mentioning their handle; @Social.
  3. A few people see your post when searching #socialmedia and share it because they enjoyed the article. Since they appreciate your taste in content, they also decide to follow your account.
  4. Meanwhile, @Social gets a notification because they see that you’ve mentioned them. They want to make sure you share their content again. They navigate to your page and re-share a post you shared earlier in the day promoting one of your own blog articles.
  5. An article from your blog has now been shared to all of @Socials followers. Nice!

The more businesses you curate from, the larger your potential audience becomes. So, by helping out your customers by providing them with helpful content from credible sources, you’re also helping your marketing strategy and reach.

A third of website referrals are from the social sharing of your content. If content curation can improve the chances of other people sharing your own content, it’s well worth doing.

How often?

There are a lot of differing opinions on how much of your own content you should share compared to other people’s. We aim to follow something like a 3:1 or 4:1 ratio. That’s four posts from curated posts to every one of yours. That might sound like a lot, but it’s a big part of our winning formula. Be generous, in short.

Stand out

By now you’re probably thinking, ‘That’s great, but what if I spend time sharing all this content and no-one sees it?’

Well, that’s where our ninja social media tactics come in.

Use images

Images are a sure way to direct attention to your social media content. No matter which platform you use, it's vital that you include images with your social posts. Images help your content stand out amongst the crowd.

They also make your content easier to read. Think about it: how often have you read something because the image next to it caught your eye? It’s scientifically proven that content is more attractive when an image is included. It’s also much easier to remember; you’re 55 percent more likely to retain a piece of information if there’s an accompanying image.

There are many forms of images you can choose.

  • Use relevant images. This goes without saying, but it’s important to remember. If your social post is about IT security, promoting it with an image of a kitten probably isn’t the best idea. It’s necessary to use relevant images because they help to drive interest to your content. Research shows that people are 94 percent more likely to view your content if it contains a relevant image, so start being picky with the images you choose. There are many free sites that allow you to download copyright-free images, such as stocksnap.io.
  • Create infographics. If you have some nice statistics you want to show off, try to create a visually appealing infographic to draw attention to them. These tend to be very shareable images on social media. Sites such as Canva allow you to create infographics for free.
  • Comics/memes. Be funny! Social network users love sharing funny, relatable content. If you can find an entertaining comic or meme that relates to your topic, there’s no harm in using it. Or, create your own unique memes using a meme generator.
  • Videos. Alternatively, try to create short and shareable videos to post to your social network accounts. These can be how-to videos, live videos or short educational videos that could be of use to your followers.

Keep it short and punchy

We have very short attention spans. Like, eight seconds long. Because of the ever-growing accessibility of mobile information, we now desire short and consumable content that we can read quickly. That's what makes social media so addictive: we can find a limitless amount of new content at the click of a button, whenever we like.

Unfortunately, this means that it’s much easier for people to completely miss or skim-over your social content in favour of reading something else. You can’t let that happen. Give your audience what they want and create content that’s easy to consume and checks all the right boxes.

  • Write concise sentences. Short and simple works best when you want to grab someone’s attention on a social post. Don’t write lengthy posts with unattractive ‘see more’ buttons; tell your audience what they’re going to get quickly and they’ll choose whether they want to click on your content or not.
  • Use short, easy words. Replace complex words with simpler ones: they’re much easier to read. Plus, there's nothing worse than having to research a definition of a word halfway through a text.

Hook the reader

We’ve already discussed the difficulty of attracting attention on social media. That’s why you need to make sure you hook the reader and stand out from the crowd:

  • Give instructions. People respond to being told what to do. Imperative verbs are very persuasive, so if you use these verbs at the beginning of your posts, you’ll grab the attention of your readers from the get-go. For example, instead of writing ‘Here are some helpful social media marketing tips’, try ‘Use these helpful social media marketing tips’.
  • Ask questions. If you begin a social post with a rhetorical question, the chances are it’ll entice, or influence, your followers to think about your chosen topic. This will encourage them to investigate further and read your content.
  • Demonstrate the value. We like being told why something is useful to us. Try to demonstrate how your blog post, webinar or other piece of content will be valuable to your audience.
  • Show your statistics. Numbers are very consumable. People enjoy seeing clear, believable and proven facts. They help to build the credibility of your content.
  • Quote. Using a quote from a popular personality or influential person can grab the interest of your readers. To learn how to make your writing more memorable, read our blog on writing with anecdotes.

Be human

People like to talk to people, not spam bots. Thus, it’s critical that you try to breathe some life into your social network accounts.

Engage in real conversations

Human responses on X are especially important. Only 50 percent of UK companies respond to mentions. If you leave queries or messages without responses, you can upset your leads and customers and destroy brand trust.

For example, in 2013 the Bank of America sent a stream of automated at-the-time-Twitter responses to customers who had genuine concerns and queries. These responses were off-point and didn’t serve any real purpose (apart from making them look like uncaring robots).

To help avoid falling into the same situation, follow these helpful human tips:

  • Don’t use automated responses. It’s very frustrating to reach out to a business and receive a robotic response. Like the example above, if these automatic and robotic responses aren’t genuine enough, you could run the risk of losing leads and customers.
  • Respond ASAP. Not every Facebook comment or tweet requires a response, but the more you can engage with your leads and customers, the better. Try to listen intently, personalise your responses and be as helpful and informative as you can.
  • Use your buyers’ language. People like it when you talk in a language that they can understand. Don’t use technical jargon that they can’t relate to: it’ll put them off. Instead, opt for helpful, simple language that engages your readers.

Analyse, make changes, repeat

Before you can put your social media strategy into action, you’ll need to take a step back and set yourself some SMART goals. These are Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant and Timely goals. In other words, you need to be clear about what you’re aiming for. For example, a SMART goal would be to gain 50 followers by the end of week.

Set some KPIs (key performance indicators) to hexlp you measure your social media success. These can be your audience growth, the number of clicks to your site, the amount of social shares and the number of leads/customers generated from your social media profiles. Keep track of your numbers to see whether you’re reaching your targets or not.

Don’t be afraid to make changes to your social media marketing strategy. These changes can be as small as shortening your written content on Facebook or as big as trying out a new social network. Make a note of what works, what doesn’t, and optimise your social media marketing strategy to suit your business.

Just remember: social media marketing takes time. Unless you’re as famous as Beyonce, the chances are you aren’t going to gain a million followers in a week. But that doesn’t mean that you should be discouraged. If you put in the time and effort, social media will help you grow your business.

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