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Step-by-Step Guide to Social Media Marketing for Small Businesses

Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski

Social media marketing is a key part of modern business. Here's a step-by-step guide on how to start a successful strategy.

Social media has provided multiple platforms on which businesses can brand, advertise and ingratiate themselves with their audience all at once, while also seeing what competitors are doing. To help you get started on a successful social media marketing campaign, created this step-by-step guide on how to create a social media marketing strategy, what to avoid, and tips to make sure your campaigns are successful.

What is social media marketing?

Social media marketing is the creation of content that promotes your business or products on a social media platform, such as Facebook, Instagram, Twitter or LinkedIn. Social media marketing has become an extremely popular way for businesses to connect with their audiences, since each platform reports millions – or even billions – of users each day. Since its advent, social media marketing has grown into its own field, complete with unique terms that are essential to understanding how it works.

Social media marketing glossary of terms

  • Content: Content is anything you post, create or share on a social media site. It can be something you have created yourself, or something you share from someone else.

  • Engagement: Engagement is a general term for how many people interact with your content by liking, sharing or commenting on it. Engagement is generally the No. 1 goal in social media – you want real people to be actively engaging with your content.

  • Follower count: This refers to how many followers you have on any given social media site.

  • Click-through rate (CTR): The CTR is a ratio that shows how many people have seen and clicked a link to your content, whether through an ad or another social media post. CTR is calculated by dividing the number of times your ad is shown by the number of clicks it receives.

  • Platform: "Social media platform" is another term for "social media site." For example, Facebook and Twitter are both social media platforms.

  • Share: A share is when someone views your content and posts it to their own profile or account, thereby increasing the number of potential views for your content.

  • Traffic: Traffic is how many people access your site via your social media channels. For example, someone who clicks on a Facebook post you shared and is then redirected to your website would be considered digital traffic.

Why social media marketing is important

Social media marketing has become a necessity for all modern businesses that wish to connect with customers where they are – online. Customers have come to expect some level of online presence from almost all the businesses they patronize, with over 75% of consumers reporting that they go online and research a business before choosing whether to make a purchase.

There are several other benefits of social media marketing as well.

Increased brand awareness

There are over 3.8 billion people on social media in 2020, which means there are 3.8 billion opportunities to get your brand out to a new customer. Social media increases brand awareness through engagement, meaning that if you create a business page for your company and engage with other social media posts, you are increasing your brand awareness just by that simple act. Furthermore, social media can increase traffic to your website through posts, shares and comments.

"[Social media] is one of the best word-of-mouth tools out there," said Jon Lee, CMO at ana tomy. "All you need to do is get your audience to share to their friends, [and] if you plan your campaign content correctly, you can do that."

Lead generation and conversion boosts

Promoting and sharing content on social media is a great way to improve lead generation, which is the process of attracting and converting strangers into potential customers. You could also use social media to boost your conversion rates, since you're actively promoting content to people who have already indicated that they are interested in your content.

Personal relationships with customers

A huge driver of social media marketing's popularity is customers' desire for genuine interaction. Before social media, brands felt distant and detached, but social media provided the ability to connect directly with customers and gave a more human touch to brands and businesses. Companies can participate in social media trends, chat with customers and share their human side.

Analysis of the competition

If you're on social media, chances are your competitors are too, which gives you the chance to see what they're doing on social media, what is working for them and what isn't, so you can learn from their mistakes. Pay attention to what kinds of campaigns they are running, how they interact with customers, and how they promote their products or services. This allows you to make sure your campaigns are unique to your brand.

"Starting with a competitive analysis may help you discover some holes in your competition's strategy and show you channels they may be missing out on," said Jason Myers, senior account executive at The Content Factory.

More brand authority

A regularly updated online presence goes a long way in establishing your business as a brand authority. Additionally, regular interaction with customers shows that you are committed to and care about your customers and their satisfaction; social media makes that easily attainable and visible.

Because so many social media users report engaging regularly with brands as well as friends, the use of sponsored or paid content has skyrocketed, with over 200 million users visiting at least one business's profile every day.

Usually identifiable by phrases like "paid post," "presented by," "sponsored by," "promoted" or "advertisement," sponsored content is any content that a sponsor pays a publisher, company or influencer to create and distribute on their social media channels. Sponsored content is different from traditional advertising because the point of it is to fit in with the regular content on a given social media platform.

Sponsored content can be a great mutually beneficial arrangement: The advertiser pays for the content, and the other brand, influencer or account shares it. However, if you are considering sponsored content, keep in mind that social media users tend to be sensitive to posts that feel overly salesy or do not fit in with the account's regular content. Here are some guidelines to help you find success with sponsored content:

  • Make sure it adds to the user experience instead of disrupting it.
  • Don't promote anything that doesn't make sense for your brand or business.
  • Try to match the tone, look and feel of your other content.
  • Commit to working with brands that you can fully support.

If you're looking to have your content shared as sponsored content by another brand or influencer, the same general guidelines apply. Carefully consider who you choose to post your sponsored content, and try to ensure that they match your company's general values and goals. This will make the content seem more natural, rather than out of place on users' timelines or feeds.

How to create a social media marketing strategy

There are seven steps to create a successful and effective social media marketing campaign. It is a relatively simple process, but you should do plenty of research and make sure that your strategy suits your business and your goals. This will place you and your business on the path to continued success. The steps to a successful social media strategy are outlined below.

1. Evaluate your business and goals.

The first thing you must do is to take a look at your business and what, if anything, you are already doing with social media marketing, then determine your goals. A helpful way to organize your goals is the one-year, five-year, 10-year format, where you outline where you would like to be with your social media in one, five and 10 years. You can adjust this method to be shorter chunks of time if you prefer. 

2. Research your audience.

The second step is to thoroughly research your audience and customers so that you can target your posts and content to their interests and needs. Think about your existing audience, the people you are trying to reach, and how you would classify them in groups. Considering your existing and potential audiences will guide you as you create your content and ensure engagement.

3. Determine which platforms are right for you.

There are many social media platforms out there, each with its own unique culture and uses. The four most used by businesses are Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Instagram, but others include Pinterest, Tumblr, TikTok and YouTube. A common misconception is that the more platforms you post on, the better. In truth, being choosy is beneficial. Consider what kind of business you run and which platforms your target audience is most likely to be on. For example, if you run a walking cane company, you'll want to focus on Facebook and avoid TikTok.

4. Create unique and engaging content.

When you start out on a platform, it's a good idea to spend some time lurking and sharing other people's posts to get a feel for the culture of the platform and how users interact. But in time, you will need to start creating your own content to have an impact. Use your audience research to inform the kind of content you create, and watch carefully to see how your audience engages with the different types of content you put out. 

5. Include your followers.

Your followers are arguably your most important resource in social media marketing. They are the ones who will decide the success or failure of your campaigns by engaging and sharing your content or not. When creating your content, try to include your followers by encouraging them to share their own content under a single hashtag, reposting user-submitted content, or hosting competitions. 

6. Schedule your posts.

Once your social media marketing really gets going, it can be a lot to remember which posts are going on which platforms and when. Get your posts on a regular schedule by using a social media management tool, which allows you to write captions, prepare photos and videos, and schedule posts. Some even have centralized dashboards where you can view all of your platform content and analytics at once. [Read related article: The Best Social Media Management Tools of 2020]

7. Analyze your results.

If followers are your most important resource, analytics are a close second. Analytics will tell you if your efforts are helping you meet your goals. You will want to track key metrics such as engagement, reach, followers, impressions, video views, profile visits, mentions, shares, tags and reposts. You can use these metrics to guide tweaks to your social media marketing strategy or even to help you decide on new campaigns. Many social platforms come with their own analytics tools, including Facebook, Twitter, Google and Instagram, or you can use your social media management tool's analytics to track all of your social media in one place.

How to decide which platforms are best for your business

As we said in step three, determining which social media platforms to post on can be difficult. Your inclination might be to post on as many as you can at first to see what sticks, but this will only overwhelm you and exhaust your resources. Instead, carefully consider which platforms your audience is on and which are most conducive to your business. If you run a small business, you can think a little personally, said Darlene Hawley, personal branding and online business coach.

"Start with you – what platform do you like to spend time on?" she said. "If you enjoy the platform, then you're more likely to keep showing up, building relationships and engaging with your ideal clients."

Using a platform that you like also means you are more comfortable on it and understand its nuances, which can go a long way in ensuring engagement.

Ashley Monk, CEO of It Media, suggested considering your target audience, how much your marketing team can commit to, and what type of business you run.

"When determining channels to engage on social media, two questions must be considered: Where is my target client, and how many platforms can myself or my marketing team commit to creating quality content for?" she said. "For a smaller brick-and-mortar company such as a boutique, channels such as Instagram that are visually engaging and encourage trends are effective, in addition to channels such as Google My Business to increase organic SEO. But for larger brands such as Target, a multichannel approach is essential to engaging a wider reach."

Tips for an effective social media marketing campaign

Once you've done your research and outlined your steps, it's time to make sure your campaign will be successful. Below are some tips to help you ensure your social media campaigns hit your goals.

  • A common saying regarding social media is that content is king, and it's true. Content should be your No. 1 concern when creating social media campaigns – if it's not quality, don't post it.

  • The heart – and greatest challenge – of social media marketing is finding unique ways to connect with your customers and provide content they want to engage with. If you simply create content for the sake of creating content, you're unlikely to connect with your audience or grow your follower count and engagement rate.

  • "An easy tip for increasing engagement is to engage positively on noncompetitive but relevant content on the same social channel," said Joe Sinkwitz, CEO of Intellifluence. "If you were to comment on tweets related to your subject, and are also putting out useful content, you'll find others will engage with yours as well."

  • Provide fun ways to generate more leads, like contests, links to your website or special offers in your profile bio, live videos with exciting updates or news, and Facebook or Instagram shop.

  • "Think about your end goal first," said Olivia Heel, senior account executive at Catapult PR-IR. "Are you trying to drive more engagement? Awareness? Followers? Then build out your campaign in a way you think will get your desired result. A lot of social media campaigns are trial and error, so don't worry too much about nailing it at first."

Things to avoid in social media marketing

Because social media is such a pervasive aspect of most people's lives, detailed and nuanced etiquette has formed both for social media generally and for each individual platform. Generally, there are a few things you should avoid in your social media strategy.

  • Posting too much: Your followers want to see your content, but they don't want to see it all the time. A good rule of thumb is to post during business hours (i.e., between 6 a.m. and 7 p.m.) and only when you have a good reason to post, like genuinely good content or an update.

  • Flashy trends: Trends come and go, but they could make or break your business. If you see a trend you are interested in, think carefully about the benefits of participating versus the risks, keeping in mind how your followers are likely to respond.
  • Fake followers: As you get further into the world of social media, it can be easy to get caught up in follower counts and be tempted into buying followers or using influencers with a high percentage of fake followers. These accounts provide no actual engagement, which is ultimately what matters in social media marketing.

  • Not prioritizing your customers' needs: "Think about your target customer and what they want, not what you want," said Bobby Guions, digital and social media consultant. "A lot of businesses … get wrapped up in the idea of their product or service, not understanding their customers' needs."

  • Inconsistency: Try to remain consistent in the types of content you post and when. Customers will be confused if you put out different personas or engagement styles each day, throwing them off of your brand. Determine the kind of online presence you want to have and stick to it.

  • Inauthenticity: Remember why you got on social media in the first place – to expand your audience and increase your brand awareness. If you are projecting a persona on a social platform that is not true to your business, customers will feel misled and confused.

"The best social media campaigns are authentic – stay true to your brand voice while keeping in mind the audience you are appealing to," said Heel.

Best social media management tools has reviewed the best social media marketing tools that offer scheduling, analytics, media creation, management of social channels and more. Here are some of our best picks:


WebiMax offers dedicated account managers who will help you create your content, design profiles on different social platforms, and devise strategies to meet your social media goals.


Oracle provides a full-featured content creation tool and detailed analytics with a comprehensive social listening feature, engagement trackers, and post analysis. It also offers an interactive editorial calendar to help you plan and schedule your social media advertising campaigns.


If you do business internationally, Sysomos is a great choice, boasting the ability to monitor 186 different languages in 189 countries. Sysomos can help you identify key influencers in your industry and monitor what your competitors are saying, and it provides detailed analytics on how your campaigns are performing.


Portent specializes in analysis of your competition. It helps you identify your target audience and devise a strategy to refine your company's appeal and make your business stand out from others in your industry.


Hootsuite is popular social media management software that provides content creation tools, scheduling and post management. It has several different plans at multiple price points and a user-friendly interface.


Buffer is a publishing, analytics and engagement platform with customizable tools and features. It allows you to mix and match your tools and features to create a plan that works for you.


BuzzSumo makes it easy to find and collaborate with influencers, find content insights, monitor your campaign's performance, and create social media content, all from one simplified dashboard.

Image Credit: GaudiLab/ Getty Images
Kiely Kuligowski
Kiely Kuligowski Staff
Kiely Kuligowski is a and Business News Daily writer and has written more than 200 B2B-related articles on topics designed to help small businesses market and grow their companies. Kiely spent hundreds of hours researching, analyzing and writing about the best marketing services for small businesses, including email marketing and text message marketing software. Additionally, Kiely writes on topics that help small business owners and entrepreneurs boost their social media engagement on platforms like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram.