Last updated: June 22, 2020
Do-it-yourself business owners quickly learn that social media marketing is deceptively difficult.
“Why isn’t this working?!” I can almost hear business owners screeching into their laptops as they look at their lackluster results.
Of course, there’s nothing overly complex about the act of creating a Facebook page and sending out a post. My eight-year-old could handle that.
But it’s not so easy to find the huge results you’ve been reading about on your favourite marketing blog.
Getting your business on social media is easy.
Effective social media marketing is something entirely different.
So if you’re looking to start tapping into this powerful marketing tool in an effective way, I’ve put together this starter kit to get you off in the right direction.
Because social media is still one of the best things a small business can spend their time on.
I’ll guide you through why you should post, which platform to be on, when to post, and what to post.
Why Should Your Business Be On Social Media?
Why should you post on social media? Many will struggle coming up with an answer.
You might have just assumed that it’s practically mandatory in today’s age, and never questioned it beyond that.
We know what moms everywhere say when kids use the excuse, “but my friends are doing it!”
A better answer could be, “because that’s where my customers are.” That’s not wrong, but maybe a bit incomplete. We need to dig deeper than that.
Every business has a specific reason, whether they’ve been intentional about it or not. Let’s figure out yours.
Determine Your Intent
You need to figure out your purpose for being on social media.
Once you have a narrow and well-defined focus, there’ll be less floundering and inconsistency, and you’ll be far more effective.
Here are some of the ways different businesses can use social media:
- to drive traffic to a website
- to build relationships and loyalty with consumers
- to be available for troubleshooting, support, and to answer questions
- to build brand story and recognition
- to reach new customers
- to collect customer/market info
- to increase ecommerce sales or capture leads
Choose one (yes, one) of these as the primary focus of your social media activities, and maybe select one more as your secondary purpose.
Which objective is most meaningful to your business?
Then audit all of your posts against this newfound social mission. If your post doesn’t serve the purpose you’ve chosen, don’t post it!
Right now you’re thinking, “why can’t I do all of them?”
You can’t. Trust me. You’ll do a poor job of all of them.
Focus is what’s important.
Make it your social media mission. Write it down.
In fact, here! Print this out, write in your mission statement, and keep it nearby when you’re creating social content.
How to Measure Your Social Media’s Effectiveness
Now that you’ve decided on your intent, you need a way to measure it.
There’s lots of options out there, so be careful to choose a measurement that matches the objective you determined above.
You’ve probably heard the term KPI, or key performance indicator, which is just a term to refer to what you measure.
Return on investment (ROI) is one possible KPI to measure the effectiveness of your social media marketing, and it’s one that people ask about often.
But it’s really only useful for businesses who can measure sales from ads or posts directly.
In the real world of small businesses, this isn’t very many of them. Not everyone is running a Shopify store.
You can’t (easily) measure sales from social media if you’re running a brick-and-mortar retail store or a tire shop or a tree trimming business or … you get the picture.
Shorter sales cycles (customer goes from never hearing of you to purchasing within minutes to a few days) are better candidates for using ROI as a KPI, but when the sales cycle becomes longer (weeks, months, or years) you can’t be sure if the purchase was related to a single ad or post nearly as well.
But just to get it out of the way, since everyone wants to know the ROI of social media, and if you happen to be able to measure everything clearly, let me explain.
ROI is a mathematical equation. And this is how it looks:
ROI = (Attributed Sales Growth – Marketing Cost) / Marketing Cost
For example: If you can determine that your campaign directly led to $1,000 in new sales, and you spent $100 to achieve that, then your ROI is 900%.
($1,000 in sales – $100 cost) / $100 cost = 900%
But since it’s nigh impossible (unless you have that really short sales cycles, like I mentioned) to determine the amount of sales you can attribute to a post or ad, the whole equation doesn’t work.
And since you hopefully picked a different objective above than ecommerce sales if you’re not in ecommerce (and maybe even if you are), then you will want to look at a KPI more relevant to that social media mission.
Here’s some other common KPIs you may want to use:
This is a good KPI if your objective is branding or relationship building.
It gives you a sense of whether people care about your content.
You can just measure the total volume of engagements in a week or month, but the number will vary a lot by how frequently you post.
You could double your engagements by just posting twice as often. But that doesn’t necessarily tell you much about the quality of the posts.
So it’s usually better to measure an engagement rate.
To measure engagement rate, find the number of people who saw a post (reach) and the number of engagements a post got. Divide the engagements by the reach.
Engagement rate = (Post reach / Post engagement) x 100
For example: Your post reached 1,000 people and got 100 engagements. So the engagement rate would be 10%.
- Reach & Impressions
This is a good KPI if your objective is to reach new customers or to build brand recognition.
These numbers tell a story of how many people saw your post. Reach tells how many unique people saw your post, while impressions tells the number of times a post was seen.
That means if 500 individuals saw your post, the reach would be 500. But if they each saw the post an average of three times, then there were 1,500 impressions.
Depending on your objective, you may just want the total volume of reach and/or impressions over a given period.
But, again, you could just post more often to increase it. That may serve your purposes, but you may also be interested in how effectively you were able to reach or make impressions per post.
So, alternatively, you can measure reach as a percentage of your followers.
This is a good indicator of the performance of a post, because good content will reach more people because of how the algorithm works.
Many people will say reach is dead on platforms like Facebook, and some estimates show the global average for reach is as low as 6%! But you can see for yourself how well you reach your audience.
I’d say if you’re reaching less than 20% of your audience, something is terribly wrong.
There’s a mismatch between content and audience.
Either the content is wrong or the followers are wrong (commonly because of giveaways that required entrants to follow the page).
Anyway, this is how you figure out your reach:
Follower reach = (Number of page followers / Post reach) x 100
For example: You have 2,000 followers and your post reached 1,000 people, so your reach is 50%.
More useful KPIs:
- Clicks (if your objective is website traffic)
- Leads (if your objective is lead capture)
- Sentiment (a measurement of whether people are engaging with you in a positive, neutral, or negative way, and good for an objective like brand building, relationship building, or customer support)
Understanding Outbound vs. Inbound Strategies
To understand what makes for good social posts, we need to look at the difference between outbound and inbound marketing strategies.
Outbound marketing interrupts people and demands their attention. For example:
- TV & radio commercials
- Print ads
- Cold calls
- Digital banners
- Social media ads
It’s not always successful, mind you. We’ve all become exceptionally good at ignoring these things.
Many of us have heard at least a dozen radio ads today, but you’d likely have a hard time recalling one.
On the flip side, inbound marketing earns the audience’s attention by providing what they’re looking for or interested in. For example:
- Public speaking
- Native social media
Imagine it’s spring and you are thinking you should sharpen your lawn mower blade. So you go to Google or YouTube and search “how to sharpen a lawn mower blade.”
You find a blog or video and partway through you get interrupted with an ad for Home Depot. At least their placement is relevant, but it’s still interruption (outbound) marketing.
But what if that blog or video you were learning from was published by Home Depot with subtle branding — no pitch, just being helpful and informative. That is content (inbound) marketing.
Choose an Inbound Marketing Approach
Social media should be just that: social!
Taking an advertising strategy to your organic social media (the posts you make on your page) is not going to get you satisfying results.
Most, if not all, of your posts should be inbound marketing.
Much of inbound marketing is made up of content marketing, and this is a marketing strategy that provides the consumer with valuable content and builds a relationship with them rather than just trying to distract them from content to deliver a message they weren’t looking for (outbound or interruption marketing).
The best example of content marketing I’ve ever seen is The LEGO Movie.
They created an entire movie that doesn’t ask you to buy their product, it simply entertains you (and their product is the star). But it is still a 101-minute piece of marketing for a toy.
Content marketing is something people are willing to consume.
Good content marketing is something the audience is willing to share.
Great content marketing is something they’re willing to pay to consume, like The LEGO Movie.
People have to choose to follow your social media account. Why would they want to follow an account that just looks like a stream of advertisements?
Do it and see what happens. You won’t be interrupting anyone with your interruption strategy because you won’t get any reach. Save that for ads where you pay to interrupt.
Instead, post content they want to see and share and engage with, and you’ll be rewarded with brand loyalty and followers becoming brand ambassadors.
Social media is primarily for inbound marketing, which brings us to our next point: keeps ads and posts separate.
What Should Be an Ad vs. a Post
Social media is a free social platform.
Social media is a cheap advertising platform.
Social media is not a free advertising platform.
Use organic social media to post inbound marketing.
Then when you need to advertise something, use a paid ad.
No one comes to your page looking for an ad; they come looking for content.
An ad is outbound. This is interruption marketing.
It’s paid, reaches a target audience whether they follow you or not, and is campaign-focused.
A post is inbound. It’s free, reaches an organic audience of mostly your followers, is social by nature, and is focused on providing value to the audience.
I highly recommend treating these two things very differently.
Think Like a Media Company
You may have heard the saying “every company is a media company.”
Gary Vaynerchuk was harping about it a few years ago.
But it really is true. Let me explain.
Before social media came along, businesses relied on things like TV, radio, newspapers, and magazines to deliver advertisements to consumers. These are different types of media (obviously).
Then companies like HGTV, your local radio station, and National Geographic are all publishers and broadcasters on their respective types of media.
Then there are advertisers who pay to access (interrupt) the audiences that have been earned by those publishers and broadcasters. So Home Depot might advertise on HGTV, or a well-known real estate agent on your local radio station, or camera manufacturer Canon in National Geographic.
So we can divide these different categories into three sections: types of media, publishers & broadcasters, and advertisers.
The media provides the format. The publisher/broadcaster creates content for that type of media. The advertiser pays to access the audience that has been earned by the publisher’s/broadcaster’s content.
Local radio station
Real estate agent
This is why social media is a completely different way of reaching consumers, and why so many experienced marketers and advertisers struggle with social media: because it doesn’t follow the same pattern.
On social media, businesses like yours (who used to just play the advertiser role, remember), now fit in both the publisher and advertiser role.
So Facebook is in the media category. Your business is in the publisher category. And then your business can also be in the advertiser category.
Why? Because Facebook doesn’t create content to attract audiences. You do. Other businesses do. Individual users do. It’s user-generated.
So your primary role there is to be like a media company and create content that earns an audience (followers).
Then you can also be an advertiser on social media, if you wish. But ads mean paid. Not posts.
The biggest miss here is that people don’t put their business in that middle column. But they need to be there.
Your company is a media company, too.
Also note that we don’t put “social media” in the media column. Facebook is the media. Instagram is another media. Twitter is another one.
That means that you treat each type of media differently, the same way a broadcaster or advertiser treats TV different from radio.
Canon wouldn’t put a print ad on TV. You create for the specific type of media.
Content made for Facebook isn’t quite the same as content made for Twitter. They’re different types of media.
Admittedly, the difference between LinkedIn and Facebook isn’t as drastic as the difference between a magazine and TV. But they are still different, and the best approach acknowledges those nuances.
Which Social Media Platforms Should You Use?
Many businesses already have a pretty good idea which social media platforms are best for them, but here’s some quick tips to consider.
It is always best to do a great job managing a social media profile on one platform than to have a weak presence on a number of platforms.
Don’t spread yourself thin!
Bad (or even mediocre) social content is worse than no content at all.
If you feel like you’re killing it on one platform, then you can consider becoming active on a second. But focus on that first one.
If you had all the resources in the world to dedicate to social media, you would want both breadth and depth. Meaning, you want to reach wide, but also have meaningful, deep impact.
But this isn’t the case for most (or any?) small businesses. And when you can only have one or the other, choose depth. Ignore breadth for now.
That said, it’s not a bad idea to at least open an account on all platforms so you can reserve your name for if and when you ever decide to become active on that platform. You don’t want someone else to steal it and hold it hostage.
Now, to choose which platform to be on, you need to reverse engineer your audience.
Find out where they spend their time and go there; that’s where you can earn their attention.
Instagram is usually the second-most popular choice. With over a billion monthly active users and now under Facebook ownership, it is also backed by powerful targeting and analytics. Instagram is also the best platform for engagement. A post on this photo-sharing platform gets far more audience engagement on average than anywhere else. However, accounts are limited to just one link — the one on your profile. You can’t put links in your posts, which can be a huge downfall for some businesses. It’s also harder to grow because there is no share function for your audience to help you reach their friends.
Beyond those two, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, Snapchat, Pinterest, TikTok, and others might be worth considering. But take a look at how they’re used, who is active there, and whether they can be used to serve the intent you set above.
That’s probably all I need to say on that. If you really can’t decide which one is best for you, go spend some time on the few you’re considering and think of which would be most natural for you to create content for.
How Often Should You Post to Social Media?
I’ve been giving the same answer to this question for years, and I’ve seen no reason to revise it: Post as often as you can without compromising quality.
You want to uphold a certain quality of content, which we’ll touch on in a minute. So don’t post for the sake of being active on social media. If you can’t create a quality post, then don’t bother.
Your post frequency is set by how often you can create quality content.
And make sure you’re publishing at times where your audience is online and engaging. You can find that data in your “Insights”, but it’s usually in pretty predictable patterns like early morning, lunchtime, after work, and late evening, which are the times most people are checking their social feeds.
We are starting to see older posts on timelines now, though. That didn’t used to happen a few years ago. The expiry date has been extended over the years, so it’s less important how recent it is.
Even still, if you have a brilliant idea for a post at 11pm, write it in and schedule it for the next day. If you post it at 11pm, it won’t be seen by as many people.
Maintain a Content Calendar
For consistency and time efficiency, a content calendar is absolutely essential.
It’s so important that we’ve included a printable social calendar you can use in this starter kit. Print it weekly and use it in your planning!
Once you’re in the right mindset, it’s easier to keep creating ideas. So take an hour once a week and plan out all of your social content for the week ahead, rather than wasting half an hour every day trying to think of what to post.
You can also use the schedule function on Facebook to post a week’s worth of content at once. Just set each post for when you want it to publish.
Facebook’s Creator Studio allows you to schedule your Instagram posts, too. And Twitter now has this functionality built into their platform.
There’s many tools you can use to plan and schedule posts ahead, but most platforms now allow you to do it natively (in-app), so it’s not as important to use a social media scheduling tool.
What to Post on Social Media
If you remember years ago, the algorithm for Facebook used to be chronological.
There was uproar when this was changed to an algorithmic feed, but there’s good reason for it.
We follow too many people and pages for it to be chronological.
We could never possibly see everything that gets posted, and it’d be too easy to get people’s attention by just spam posting every five minutes to stay at the top of everyone’s feeds. So the algorithm was introduced to show you content you’re more likely to be interested in.
Why? Because social platforms make money off every ad impression they can serve; so, naturally, they want to serve more ad impressions to make more money.
And how do they serve more ad impressions? By getting people to stay on the platform for longer.
If you spend 30 seconds scrolling Instagram, you might only see five ads. If you spend five minutes, you might see 50.
And how do they get people to scroll for longer? By showing users things they want to see. Not spam or uninteresting posts.
That’s the simple intention of the algorithm. If you want to beat the algorithm, make content that people want to see. That’s it.
Now, you’re likely wondering, “How does the algorithm know what people want to see?”
One way is that these platforms pay attention to the initial response a post gets.
If you publish a post and it reaches some of your followers and none of them engage with it because they didn’t think it was very interesting, Facebook or Instagram or whoever can take that as a sign that others probably won’t find it very interesting either, so you won’t get much more reach.
But if you post and your first few dozen or hundred people who see it all like and comment and maybe share it, that’s a clear sign that people like this post, and you’ll be given far more reach.
Think about when Facebook shows the message, “This post is doing better than 95% of your posts.” They’re paying attention to the response your content gets.
They also measure specific things like the text in your copy (your caption). You want to avoid words like sale, discount, and promotion, or even using dollar signs, because it sounds very salesy. And we know that people don’t really love seeing this kind of content. The presence of these words and characters will decrease your reach.
They also check the amount of text in a graphic. A graphic filled with text is busy and looks like a cheap flyer, and people don’t like it.
Engagement can trump these technical measures, though. Posts can still go viral if they’re good quality, even if they’re filled with text.
I said I’d come back to talking about quality.
It’s important to understand that quality is all about relevance and shareability. It’s not about slick, polished photos from an expensive camera. And it’s not the gorgeous graphic design or the cinematic slow-mo pan shots.
Quality means relevance, not polish.
A quick check we use is, “Would people share this?”
Think about the last viral post you saw. I can almost guarantee it wasn’t some $100,000 budget commercial from Toyota made by a production studio and a 20-person crew. It was something someone shot on their phone and the video is kinda shaky and the audio isn’t great, but it resonates. That’s what is important.
Organic reach isn’t dead. It’s just more competitive. You need to be the one making great content, and you’ll reach people.
Create Effective Social Media Content
If you understand everything above, then you understand that for content to be effective, it needs to be engaging.
Before you hit publish, make sure your post is something your audience is likely to stop to click on, comment, like, or share.
Print this out and keep it handy as a reminder!
I’ve borrowed a theory from Margaret Magnarelli about content marketing. The earliest mention I can find of it is in this interview from 2016, and we’ve been following it religiously since shortly after that time.
In my interpretation of it, there are three types of posts that social media users come to their feed to see: how, now, and wow. Your content should always be at least one of them.
How: These posts are informative or instructive. You’re an expert in your industry; share some of that knowledge!
Now: This is timely content that relates to something very current. It could be something in the news, a development in your industry or business, a current meme, or something people are talking about.
Wow: These posts are entertaining, exciting, inspiring, heart-wrenching, etc. They stop your audience as they scroll through their feed and command their attention.
This is the content that your audience will enjoy seeing in their timeline.
Try as I might, I can’t think of great content that doesn’t fit this pattern.
Like I mentioned before, if this feels like a high standard to uphold, only post as often as you can without sacrificing quality.
If it doesn’t fit one of these, it isn’t quality.
You can only create a post of this caliber once a week? Perfect. Only post to social media once a week.
Before you hit post, always consider if you’re hitting one of the how, now, or wow categories. If not, your audience just isn’t interested.
Every business and industry will be a bit different in what works for you. Your best strategy is to routinely look back at your best-performing posts and replicate that.
To help you get started, grab this PDF of our Social Media Marketing Starter Kit!