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What is social media marketing: The ultimate guide

If you’re a small business owner looking to use social media as part of your marketing strategy, our guide will tell you everything you need to know

Social media has become an important part of everyday life. Not only do people use it to connect with friends and family, but it’s also a way of interacting with brands. This means there are opportunities for businesses of all sizes to use social media as part of their marketing strategy.

In 2019, it’s predicted that there will be 40.58 million social network users in the UK, according to data published by Statista.

But what is social media marketing? How does it work? Is it essential for your business? Should you hire an agency, or can you do it yourself? And what are the costs involved? 

If you’re wondering ‘why use social media for business?’, we'll provide the information you need to know. This includes a social media marketing definition, along with a look at some of the main social media marketing platforms and top agencies out there. We’ll look at the reasons to run your own social media campaigns (and how to do it), as well as why you might want to hire an agency. Plus, we’ll provide real-life insight and experiences from other small business owners and experts.

You can go straight to the section that you most want to learn about by clicking the relevant link above. Or, read the whole article for a more detailed insight into social media marketing for small businesses.

Alternatively, if you’re wondering ‘how can I compare quotes for social media management?’, then simply complete the form at the top of the page – it’s quick, easy, and free.

What is social media marketing?

Social media marketing uses social media networks such as Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn to interact and connect with customers and communities. This can be done through images, text, videos, or a combination of all three, and can also be done either organically or through paid-for campaigns.

Social media marketing can take different forms, depending on the platform and medium used. Although content is often at the core of social media marketing, its scope also extends to analysis, engagement, and advertising.

What is a social media marketing strategy?

In this section, we’ll discuss what a social media strategy may look like, and show you how to create one for your business with our quick step-by-step guide.

What is social media marketing: A definition

Social media marketing (SMM) is a way of using social media platforms to market to your customers on the internet.

Marketing can be text, image, or video based, or a combination of the three. It could be organic, where customers find your business, or paid, where you pay to be put in the feeds of your target market. You’re likely to begin focusing on the former, but in time, you may want to consider running promoted posts or paid advertising for your business on social media.

An SMM strategy should take into account the differences between the platforms on offer. For example, Instagram is primarily visual, Twitter is text-based, while Facebook offers multiple options for sharing content.

Whether your business is completely new to using social media in this way, or it’s already active on some sites and you’re looking to increase your activity, it’s important to have a plan (the strategy) to guide you.

This is likely to include setting goals for social media overall, and may also include specific aims for each platform, too. It may be helpful to consider goals that are SMART – specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.

Examples of social media marketing goals include:

  • Raise brand awareness
  • Connect with target audience
  • Direct selling
  • Gain traffic (i.e. visits to your site or social pages)
  • Create new leads
  • Provide customer support

How to create a social media marketing strategy

  1. Define why your business is using social media
  2. Understand your target audience
  3. Consider key metrics
  4. Conduct competitor analysis
  5. Create, schedule, and publish content
  6. Review activity on an ongoing basis

Note that this brief guide works on the basis that you’ve already set up your social media accounts.

For more detailed information on managing social media accounts, read our article on the best social media management tools.

What are the benefits of social media marketing for small businesses?

In this section, we outline some of the key benefits of promoting your business using social media marketing.

Anytime availability 

If you're running a small business, it's unlikely you'll be following a standard 9-5 work pattern – especially in the early days. Whether you need to answer a customer query at the weekend, or launch a new product or service in the evening, social media lets you connect with your community immediately, at a time that suits everyone.

Low-cost service

If you opt to run your social media marketing activity yourself, then joining and sharing on the platforms is essentially free. While you may consider paid content eventually, in the beginning, the free tools available are likely to be sufficient – making social media marketing ideal for budget-conscious startups. Although you might not have to pay for the service, remember that using it will take up a considerable chunk of your time.

Improve organic search results

One of the factors that search engines take into account when ranking sites is social media activity. As a result, sharing and tweeting can help you boost your business by moving your website higher up the rankings, helping more people to find you.

Community engagement

By using social media, you can market directly to your customers on the platforms and channels that they are already using. Not only does this open up more opportunities for potential sales, but it also allows you to engage with your customers, too. As a small business, this lets your customers interact with you or your team on a more personal level.  

Business networking

Social media marketing can also be beneficial for linking you with other startups in your sector. Whether it’s building your list of contacts or pitching collaborations, social media can be used to help you connect with other business owners, too.

Types of social media marketing

Here, we profile some of the main types of social media marketing, looking at the key platforms and how your small business could best use them.

Facebook

Founded in 2004, Facebook has grown to become one of the internet’s most enduringly popular social media platforms.

Facebook allows you to create a specific Facebook for Business profile, which you can use to interact with your customers. Facebook offers users the opportunity to post and share text, image and video content. Features like the instant messaging function (for customer support) and the ability to create ads (for promoting products) are particularly useful for businesses.  

Small businesses that receive a lot of incoming queries which need to be responded to quickly could find Facebook an ideal platform to use, while the advertising features are ideal for targeting ads at specific user groups. 

According to data published by Statista, approximately 44% of the online population in the UK use Facebook more than once a day. This shows how extensive Facebook’s reach is, and suggests a varied audience.

Learn more about how to use Facebook for business.

Twitter

With more than 500 million tweets sent each day, Twitter is an ideal platform for businesses looking to connect with more people. Plus, with its focus on discovery, it offers the opportunity to reach new audiences.

On Twitter, it’s possible to promote Tweets and run ads, allowing you to boost the reach of your 280 character messages. Twitter is primarily word-based, with its #hashtags and direct messages – essentially, it’s all about building a conversation with your customers.

Therefore, Twitter could be ideal for small businesses with lots of articles and written content to share. As it’s word-based, it’s also ideal for managing customer service enquiries. 

Plus, with the UK being the third most popular country for Twitter use (with 14.1 million users), it’s possible to reach a significant section of society.

Discover more Twitter for business tips here.

Instagram

If you’re looking to connect with your customers through images, then highly visual Instagram is the social media platform for your business. 80% of accounts follow a business on Instagram, and the platform can be used to inspire customers to make purchases.

Now offering video in addition to still images, Instagram offers businesses the opportunity to promote products, as well as interact with their communities.

And with a dedicated Instagram business account, you can benefit from additional features like contact details and call to action buttons.

The largest proportion  of Instagram users globally are in the 18-24 and 25-34 years old age brackets, suggesting the platform is particularly suitable for businesses wanting to target a younger demographic.

Find out why Instagram is a social media app for business.

Pinterest

Another highly visual platform, Pinterest allows its users to create and curate boards of their favourite inspirational images.

Whether your company offers luxury holidays or budget interiors, Pinterest offers the opportunity for businesses to get their products in front of customers who are looking to make decisions. Your business can also share content that it itself finds inspirational.

Promoted pins and buyable pins are a way of targeting more customers as well, with the latter allowing users to make purchases directly within Pinterest – a quick and easy experience for them, and a prime commercial opportunity for businesses.

With the opportunity to buy and sell within the platform, Pinterest could be a perfect match for an ecommerce business. 

Also of note: We are Flint, a creative communications consultancy, found that for Pinterest in the UK in 2018, from the online adult users aged 18+ who were surveyed, 45% were female and 27% were male.

Visit our dedicated page on Pinterest for business.

LinkedIn

It’s likely that you’re already familiar with LinkedIn – after all, it’s known as the social media site for professional profiles. 

However, it’s also a place to promote your business through its Company pages, while its dedicated service for small businesses, Open for Business, allows users to find your business services.

LinkedIn can be used to share content, find talent, and build a community. You can post articles and contribute to groups, as well as advertise job opportunities and connect team members.  

Branding itself as “the world’s largest professional network”, LinkedIn boasts 645+ million users globally, in 200+ locations. 

YouTube

Whether you decide to create your own content or run an ad, YouTube is the place to be for businesses wanting to use video marketing. It allows users to create video content that can be accessed by a worldwide audience.

For example, you could use YouTube to create informative how-to videos, or videos that raise brand awareness by taking a look ‘behind-the-scenes’ of your startup on a day-to-day basis. 

You could also use the platform to showcase what happens during your production processes, while YouTube’s live function allows for ‘in-the-moment’ connection.

Video content is becoming an increasingly popular form of marketing, and YouTube is one of the most well-known social media platforms dedicated to the moving image.

Plus, YouTube has an almost equal number of male and female users (78% of men and 80% of women, respectively) and a high percentage of users across multiple age brackets, according to We are Flint. From these findings, it seems YouTube offers access to an expansive, diverse audience.

You can read our YouTube for business article for more information.

What is social media influencer marketing?

You may have heard of influencers – people who are highly active and influential on social media, often due to the number of followers they have and the levels of engagement within the communities they’ve created.

Some companies use these Instapreneurs and other social media influencers as a way to reach out to the customers they want to connect with. This could be through sponsored posts, or more developed partnerships.

Examples of winning social media campaigns

Emma Watson, founder at Little Hotdog Watson, provides the following example of a winning social media campaign, saying:For AW19 (winter hat collection) we launched a fully digital campaign on social media and we went after the video aspect. This was something we hadn’t done previously but I was aware how big video marketing had become and so wanted to bring video and consumer marketing together.”

Watson describes the campaign process, commenting: “This season we planned the campaign in two ways: 1. the actual campaign and 2. the filming of the campaign (‘Behind the Seams‘). Everything we did for the campaign we filmed and showed snippets on social media and talked about the campaign up until launch when we then launched the actual campaign video called ‘Born to Wander’.

“For the campaign itself, we used social media to find children to take part, asking parents to tag themselves or friends in. We worked with Micro-Scooter and Start-rite providing props for the campaign shoot so that they would also share the video at launch. On top of this, we had 12 children and parents take part who shared the campaign on launch day. 

“We shared the campaign across all social media (Instagram/Stories, Facebook and Pinterest) and we also ran lives on Facebook and Instagram to show the collection. The following day, we ran a competition with Micro Scooter and Start-Rite to give away items in the campaign video. We continue to use the campaign, edited and shot in different ways, to create new content for social media.”

Watson discusses the impact of the campaign, stating: “The campaign was received extremely well – it got great feedback, shares and, most importantly, sales. With social media it is always challenging to understand the full impact of a campaign without the sophisticated analytics of a bigger business but considering it was a small budget launch, we are very pleased.”

Megan Proctor, Paid Social Media Manager at OTTY Sleep, says:Due to our smaller marketing budget, we haven’t done any huge campaigns per se, but we do successfully jump on the back of awareness days. The most recent campaign was “Sleeptember”, which saw the company promote the benefits of a good night’s sleep throughout the month of September.”

Proctor offers the following description of the campaign process: “The campaigns are always a collaborative effort between the entire marketing team. Activity included the creation of specially-designed ads for both our paid and organic social media channels, which were strategically scheduled throughout the month, and the publishing of blog content, which again was used through our organic platforms.”

And on the impact of the campaign, Proctor comments: “September is already a relatively busy period in the mattress market, so we aimed to profit from this bump in custom. Sharing sleep tips and promoting the benefits of the “full OTTY experience” saw an improvement in campaign engagement, click-through rates and ROAS when compared to last year’s figures.”

Best social media marketing companies

Here we’ve identified three of the best social media marketing companies that could help your startup, depending on your business requirements.

1. Spin Brands: Best for understanding startups

Here we’ve identified three of the best social media marketing companies that could help your startup, depending on your business requirements.

According to the company’s website, Spin Brands is the #1 ranked social media agency in the UK. Listed in the Clutch 2019 Top Social Media Marketing Companies (an industry respected buying guide), Spin Brands can offer businesses a range of services. 

Spin can assist with both organic and paid social marketing, as well as ambassador campaigns. Plus, it has an in-house design team that can cater to your business’ creative requirements. 

Founded in 2016, Spin is a startup itself, so it understands what it’s like to be a new and small business. Spin was even ranked at number 73 on the Startups 100 2018 index!

ProsCons
- Spin Brands is a startup itself, so it understands your needs
- Clear pricing
- Range of expertise
- Organic and paid social media marketing are offered as separate packages

As Spin is only three years into its journey, the company is an ideal choice for startups wanting to work with another small business. This makes Spin Brands the best for understanding startups

With its focus on scalability, the company is well suited for small businesses that are looking for flexibility, both in terms of approach and pricing structure. 

Spin offers the following four packages for organic social media:

PackageServicePrice
Post and Grow- Monthly reporting
- Standard content
- Dedicated account manager
- Instagram and Twitter growth
Starting from £600 per month, or £250 per channel per month (monthly or per channel pricing options)
Step On the GasThe above, plus:

-Boosted content
- Optional content approval
- Audience analysis
- Two Instagram stories and two social assets per week
Starting from £1,000 per month, or £400 per channel per month (monthly or per channel pricing options)
Lift OffThe above, plus:

- Two more social assets (so four per week)
- Animation
- Facebook growth
Starting from £1,750 per month
OrbitUnique services with this package include:

- Weekly creative concepts
- Daily content on all channels
- Extended creative time
Starting from £2,500 per month

2. The Good Marketer: Best for paid social media advertising

The Good Marketer offers assorted digital advertising services, as well as social media management and email and content marketing. The services on offer include:

  • Pay-per-click
  • Advertising on Google, Facebook, and Instagram
  • Search engine optimisation (SEO)
  • Social media management
  • Email and content marketing
ProsCons
- Paid social option
- Transparent pricing
- Small business that launched in 2017
- Advertising is only on Google, Facebook, and Instagram

With the ability to create paid content across Google, Facebook, and Instagram, we think that The Good Marketer is the best for paid social media advertising

The Good Marketer could be especially suited to startups that are looking to grow beyond organic social media and develop a paid ad strategy.

It offers the following pricing structure:

PackageServicePrice per month (excludes VAT)
Starter10 hours minimum per month£400
Advanced15 hours minimum per month£550
Elite25 hours minimum per month£875
Ultimate75 hours minimum per month£2,500

Note that hours can be used on any marketing activity, and that the packages exclude advertising spend. For more details, you can review the packages here.

3. Yell: Best for affordability

Building on the success of its former life as the Yellow Pages, Yell.com claims to be the UK’s leading online business directory. It also offers a range of digital marketing services, including:

  • Google ads
  • Facebook ads
  • Website and video services
  • Reputation manager (for accurate online details)
ProsCons
- Affordable
- Starter pack offers a taster of services
- Easy to understand services and prices
- Trusted brand
- Social advertising only offered on Facebook

With its starter pack option and low-cost services, Yell is the best for affordability.

Startups that are looking to test out digital marketing services, as well as those that want to expand their online presence more generally, may be particularly suited to Yell’s services.

These services are available at the following price points:

PackageServicePrice per month
Starter Pack- Yell.com listing
- 5-page website
- Reputation manager (accurate online details)
£30
Presence- Website design and management
- Video
- Reputation manager
Starting from £60
Promotion- Sponsored Yell.com listing
- Managed Facebook advertising campaign
- PPC search results
- Reputation manager
- Display advertising
Starting from £56
Total Marketing- All of the above combined into one packageStarting from £84

As a small business, should you do social media marketing yourself, or hire an agency?

In this section, we look at what you might be able to do on your own in terms of social media marketing, and what you might need help with. We’ll look at the benefits of each approach, as well as the associated costs.

Benefits of in-house management

  • Retain control of your social media content
  • Real-life understanding of your brand, audience, and tone of voice
  • Save money
  • Develop your skills

Benefits of outsourcing

  • Dedicated time spent on social media
  • Technical knowledge
  • Fresh perspective
  • Results focused
  • Access to varied expertise
  • Ability to scale
  • Understand the industry
  • Varied prices and packages often available

What can a social media agency do that I can’t?

If it’s possible to oversee your own social media marketing, then you may wonder what a social media agency can do that you may not be able to. In this section, we offer a guide to some of the key benefits of using an agency.

  • Industry expertise – social media agencies have sector-specific knowledge and experience that will be available to you. Just like how you may know your product or service inside out, agencies specialise in social media marketing too, and know what works – and what doesn’t – on various platforms
  • Different perspective – with all this experience and knowledge, social media marketing agencies can offer a new way of perceiving and promoting your business, with the potential for fresh ideas and renewed creativity
  • Budget management – agencies will usually have measures in place to track expenditure and resources dedicated to each campaign, so your budget can be put to best use
  • Scalable teams – as your business grows and develops, it’s likely that the resources you’ll need to put into your social media marketing activity will as well. Hiring an agency gives you the flexibility to develop campaigns as needed

‘I’m interested in using an agency for my startup’s social media management.’ Fill in the form at the top of the page to compare quotes now.

How to run a successful social media marketing campaign yourself

Here, we profile the key steps you should take if you decide to run your own social media marketing campaign:

1. Set goals

Before you get started on your campaign, it’s important to think about why you’re running it. Some common reasons for marketing on social media include to improve search result rankings, increase engagement, or raise brand awareness. A campaign may also be driven by a seasonal event, like Christmas or Halloween.

Similarly, you’ll need to consider the channels that the campaign will focus on, such as Twitter, LinkedIn, or Facebook – these platforms all have different uses and purposes, and in turn attract a different type of audience. 

2. Identify your audience

But who is your audience? If you’re already established, it might be existing customers or users. And if you do have an audience already, you can analyse trends to highlight areas that you want to work on. 

Alternatively, if you’re yet to launch – or want to attract a new audience – you can create personas of a typical user to help you refine your campaign. 

Consider a collaboration with social media influencers, as they can help you to build a community or reach new people through their networks.

Once you know who you want to target, step into their shoes, and think about what they would type into search engines to find your business. This is called keyword research, and it’ll help you to identify the best search terms to target and include in your campaign.

3. Confirm the budget

How much money you’ll need to allocate for your campaign will depend on a number of factors. If you’re focused on organic social media, then this is essentially free. However, be sure to take into account the time you’ll need to spend on a campaign, as well as any tools or software you may need.

If you want to include paid content in your campaign, then you’ll need to budget for the cost of running ads, too. If you choose to hire a professional photographer or copywriter for certain aspects, then consider the costs of these as well.

4. Consider content requirements

Content is one of the most important elements of a social media campaign. Therefore, think about the content that you intend to use, and how will it be created. 

You could make it yourself, opt to hire a professional content creator, or select stand-out user generated content if your business already has a social following.

5. Run the campaign

At this stage, it’s time to actually run the campaign! Depending on your goals and your target audience, some of the steps you might take include:

  • Setting up ads on each platform, thinking about the reason for the campaign
  • Reviewing social media profiles on an ongoing basis
  • Creating relevant landing pages so that users can go straight to where they need to be, depending on the action you want them to take
  • Offering incentives, such as competitions or discount codes. If you do run such schemes, be sure to understand each platform’s rules and regulations for doing so
  • Interacting with your community

There are many tools that you can use to help you run a campaign, such as social media scheduling platforms like Hootsuite, or a CRM system like Salesforce.

Email marketing

In addition to your social media activity, email marketing may also prove to be a useful strategy. This can be as basic or advanced as you like, depending on how much time you have and whether you opt to do it yourself.

You could set up automated replies (such as thank you messages or acknowledgement emails), as well as newsletters and other forms of emails as part of the campaign. 

Plus, emails can be used for remarketing purposes, such as for reminding users who have a pending incomplete transaction.

6. Measure success

Both during and after a campaign, you should use analytics and other tools to help you understand its performance. How you’ll measure success depends on the goals you set initially, such as whether you sought to increase followers or improve sales. 

Be sure to maintain any contact made during the campaign after it ends, so you can continue to develop it in future.

What are the costs involved with social media marketing?

Here we take a look at some of the main costs associated with social media marketing, both in-house and outsourced.

DIY social media marketing costs

While it can effectively cost you nothing to use social media platforms to market your business, there are still some costs to take into consideration. These include:

  • Time – to do your own social media marketing, you’ll need to dedicate your time to it, which means moving focus from other areas of your business
  • Products and services – if you work with influencers, you’ll have to supply them with your product or service so they can promote it. Similarly, if you offer discounts or other incentives as part of a campaign, you’ll need to factor these into your finances

Typical agency costs

An agency will often charge on a monthly basis for social media marketing. For this fee, you may receive a set number of hours, or certain services. It may also be possible to pay for marketing on specific channels only.

For very basic social media marketing, such as ads on one channel or an optimised listing, it’s possible to spend under £100 per month.

A standard social media marketing package could cost anywhere between £250-£600 per month. This amount could offer a certain number of hours (e.g. 10-15 hours minimum), or focus on selected channels with enhanced content.

More complex or detailed social media marketing is likely to be priced in the region of £800-£1,000 per month. At this price point, you could expect an increased number of hours, as well as more channels and types of content.

For spends of £2,500+ a month, you’re likely to receive a comprehensive social media marketing strategy and maintenance, as well as focused attention and extra creative input.

How social media marketing helped my small business

Watson details how her business uses social media marketing, saying:Social media is fundamental to my business, Little Hotdog Watson. It grew through a personal Instagram account and then became a business account and we now market mainly across Instagram, Facebook and Pinterest. Social media has been a largely free way to find customers, as well as to introduce our brand, values and our products (stylish and clever hats for kids). More recently, we have started to use some advertising on social media – prior to 2019, we had focused on the free element to it.

On how social media is run, Watson comments: “Our social media is all run in-house by me, or in the case of Pinterest, overseen by me. Little Hotdog Watson is a small mum-run business and so I’ve kept it in house for two reasons. The first being cost and the second being this is a personal business – it’s important that the customers and I are connected and that’s the beauty of social media: feedback in real time that can help shape and grow the business. 

“I do, however, have support at certain points in the year. We offer a paid placement programme working with universities and each student has a project set at the beginning of their placement, focused on an aspect of social media. This helps bring a new perspective and they learn a helpful skill for their career. In fact, I trained my previous student, Kate, and she has since gone on to set up her own business and run accounts for other people. Kate still runs our Pinterest and is excellent!”

Watson discusses the impact that social media marketing has had on her business: “Social media marketing has had a huge impact on the business. Without social media there wouldn’t be a business. It makes it possible for a small business to exist and to find their tribe.”

Proctor talks about how social media marketing is used at OTTY, saying:As an online retailer, social media is a key marketing channel for us at OTTY. The most important aspect of this is paid social media marketing, which helps us reach new audiences and generate brand awareness, while also retargeting those who have previously expressed an interest in our products.

“The importance of paid social media is highlighted by the fact that some of our closest competitors spend very heavily on this marketing channel and use a scattergun approach to target anyone and everyone. This is a poor strategy when looking to turn those who are just viewing the advert into actual paying customers, and it’s one which negatively impacts the ROAS (Return on Advertising Spend).

“At OTTY, we’ve taken a different approach when managing our paid social media activity, ensuring that we’re very particular with the audience types we target. Our audiences have been refined over the years as both our customer database and marketing knowledge increases. This approach has allowed us to achieve a ROAS that is four times better than some of our competitors. We’re continuing to further improve this figure, while also increasing our market share.

“Also, because we’re a consumer-facing brand and social media marketing is multi-dimensional, customers regularly comment on our social media adverts and organic posts. Whether they are asking questions or trying to strike up a conversation and have a laugh with the brand, our team use a chatty, yet professional, tone to help customers feel comfortable talking to team through social media.”

Proctor explains how social media is run at OTTY, stating: “Social media is run solely in-house. Because we’re an online retailer, we need to be reactive with all our marketing channels or risk being left behind by the competition.

“Prior to the start of my employment in early 2019, OTTY worked with an agency, which controlled the company’s paid social media marketing channels. However, the higher management at OTTY realised that employing a member of staff to work in-house will allow the company to quickly turn content and marketing strategies around, offer more cohesiveness and achieve better work communications, and ultimately decided to internalise marketing operations.”

And what impact has social media marketing had on OTTY? Proctor states: “A huge one. Social media marketing really helped the company get off the ground and level the playing field. OTTY products are revolutionary when compared to the other boxed mattresses, but as the company launched with a fraction of the budget of its competitors, it was key to efficiently use social media to ensure the correct messaging was being presented to the right audiences. This helped customers differentiate the OTTY mattress from the others, and helped us to get a foothold in an increasingly compacted and competitive market.”

Next steps: Compare digital marketing agencies

From reading this page, you’ve learned more about social media marketing for businesses, as well as the importance of developing a strategy. Additionally, we’ve provided an introduction to some of the top social media marketing platforms and agencies, as well as helping you decide if you should run your social media campaign yourself or hire an agency.  

Next, read our articles on Facebook and Twitter for more in-depth information on those platforms in particular. Also, our best social media management tools page can help you find software for managing social media that’s most suited to your startup.

‘I want more information based on my specific business needs’. Complete the form at the top of the page to compare quotes about social media management – it’s quick, easy, and free.

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