Social media platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn are one of the newest and yet most popular ways for a business to market themselves. Think about it—20 years ago, these platforms didn’t exist. You were more likely to mail out postcards or hang up flyers for your business in local grocery stores. But now, a lot of your audience is extremely online (yes, that’s a real term!)
Despite the coming and going of old and new social media platforms, one thing is for certain—people are social online. Over half of the world’s population has at least one social media account.
Since the vast majority of consumers are active on social media, it seems like the perfect place for businesses to interact with their audience and promote their brands. However, using social media in your marketing isn’t as simple as setting up a profile and posting here and there. In this article, we provide a complete guide to social media marketing. We explore the main uses of social media, explain how social media helps small businesses, and provide a practical breakdown of the most popular social media platforms so you can know which one is right for your brand.
Table of Contents
Marketing in the Age of Social Media
Thirty years ago, no business (or person for that matter) was using social media. There were no smartphones and no social networking sites. “Following” people was a much sketchier activity, only birds tweeted, and “doing it for the ‘Gram” was being kind to your grandmother. (Okay, pretty sure no one ever actually said that last one.)
In the decades since, social media has become intertwined in our daily lives. People have a range of different opinions on it and hotly debate its effects, but one thing we can say with certainty is that it has changed marketing for good.
Billboards, newspaper ads, and even TV commercials don’t cut it anymore. No modern business can create a marketing strategy without at least considering social media. In fact, recent research suggests over 30 million businesses in the U.S. use social media. That number continues to grow.
Why Small Businesses Use Social Media
Why are so many companies interested in using Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and the like? Why is social media marketing important for small businesses?
- It’s where consumers spend their time. Seventy-two percent of Americans use social media with the average person spending almost two and a half hours on it each day. That’s a lot of opportunities for a business to promote their brand.
- Social media marketing is fairly cost-effective. While maintaining a presence on a platform can cost a lot of time and creative energy, setting up an account is free and easy (say nothing of paying $8 to get verified on Twitter.)
- Platforms make it easy to target a specific audience. Since social media profiles contain a lot of demographic and psychographic information, businesses can learn a lot about their audience. They’re then able to create ads or posts that target these specific populations.
- Social media drives traffic. Businesses can use social media to drive traffic to a specific landing page, piece of content, or special offer on their website.
- Social media helps develop relationships with consumers. Perception of this is mixed nowadays, but platforms were originally designed to help people connect with one another. It made it possible to share ideas, interests, and experiences with people all over the world. Businesses that use social media well have unique opportunities to earn their audience’s loyalty and affection.
How Businesses Use Social Media
Businesses large and small use social media in four general ways:
- Brand awareness: A social media platform makes a brand visible to a wider audience and allows them to get their business in front of more eyes than they could through other channels.
- Customer engagement: Businesses can post, like, comment, direct messages, and more, making social media an easy way to interact with their audience. Personal and authentic engagements increase customer loyalty and promote conversations about the brand.
- Market research: Social media platforms provide businesses with valuable data and insights. They can quickly learn about their audience and identify what content is resonating with customers and prospects
- Targeted advertising: Every social media platform offers paid advertising opportunities. A business can create an ad and promote it to platform users who meet certain characteristics or behavioral criteria.
Organic Posts vs Social Ads
Speaking of advertising, this brings us to the two main types of content businesses have on social media: organic posts and social ads.
Organic posts are unpaid and appear in the feed of followers. They help a business reach people who are already interested in their products or services.
Social ads are paid posts that appear in the feeds of people who might not follow your brand. They help a business reach new people and, as mentioned above, target specific users—so you’re more likely to get in front of the right people.
Both organic posts and paid ads can be part of an effective social media marketing strategy but require different techniques to be successful. For this article, we’ll be primarily focused on organic posts.
Should Your Business Use Social Media?
The answer depends on what your business is and where your audience gathers. Social media has a lot of potential upsides, but it needs to be part of a bigger strategy with clear and relevant goals. It is how you use social media that makes it valuable for marketing.
What is the Best Social Media Platform for Marketing?
There are so many social media platforms available today that it is impossible for a business to maintain a presence on each. Which ones are worth your time? What social media platform is best for marketing your business?
As you can imagine, the answer depends on several factors. There’s no one social media platform that is best for marketing every brand. Each platform has unique strengths and weaknesses to consider. How much you value these strengths and weaknesses will depend on your goals, audience, and brand identity. To help you determine the platforms that are best for you, we’ll provide an overview of the six most popular options.
An Overview of Social Media Platforms
Facebook Marketing for Businesses
What is it:
Launched in 2004, Facebook is a social networking website that allows users to create personal profiles, share photos and videos, and connect with others. With nearly 3 billion monthly active users, it is the largest social media platform, and your grandma’s favorite place to post inspirational quotes.
- News Feed: The News Feed is the central feature of Facebook, where users can see updates from their friends and the pages they follow. What’s important to know about the news feed is that Facebook constantly updates its algorithm, meaning most users don’t see news chronologically, but based on what posts they typically engage with.
- Profile: Users can create a personal profile on Facebook, including a profile picture, cover photo, and bio. Users have a lot of control over how much information they share on their profile and how public that information is to other users and businesses. Facebook uses information from users’ profiles to target specific ad campaigns.
- Messenger: Facebook Messenger is a separate app that allows users to send messages to their Facebook friends.
- Groups: Facebook Groups allow users to join communities based on shared interests, hobbies, or professions. Groups can either be private (requiring a request to join) or public (visible to anyone on Facebook.)
- Events: Facebook Events enables users to create, manage, and promote events, from small gatherings to large conferences.
- Live video: Facebook Live allows users to broadcast live video to their followers, enabling real-time engagement with their audience.
Who is on it:
- The largest demographic on Facebook is older Gen-Z and younger millennials (ages 25-34), followed closely by older millennials.
- More men than women use Facebook in almost every age demographic.
- Most users who use Facebook also use other apps in the Meta suite (like YouTube, WhatsApp, and Instagram.)
How Often Should A Small Business Post on Facebook?
The experts say that posting once or twice a day on your business’s Facebook page is ideal. What’s most important is that you post consistently, but in a way that’s not disruptive or even overwhelming for your audience.
When is the Best Time to Post on A Facebook Business Page?
Since Facebook has changed (and continues to change) its algorithm, the time at which you post content isn’t as important as it once was. Our team at Hughes Integrated recommends posting during working hours (between 8 a.m.-5 p.m.) Let’s face it—most people check their phones while they’re at work, and that time frame will give you the best opportunity for engagement. And the more your audience engages with your posts, the more prominent your content will be on their feed.
What Should A Business Post About on Facebook?
We could write an entire blog post about this topic! However, to keep it light, people love photo and video content on Facebook, and the Facebook algorithm prefers this type of content. For service-based industries, this could look like a 30-second client testimonial, or some before and after photos. Take a look at this fun Facebook post from Hughes Integrated when we launched our new branding:
Instagram Marketing for Businesses
What Is It?
Instagram is an image and video-based platform that allows users to share content with their followers. Posts feature short captions, but most content is visual rather than written. Users can like and comment on posts. They’re also able to explore content similar to followed accounts.
- Stories: Instagram Stories is a feature that allows users to share short-form content with their followers. Stories can include photos, videos, and text overlays, and they disappear after 24 hours. Users can add stickers, emojis, filters, and other creative elements to their Stories to make them more engaging. Since Instagram’s feed is also not chronological, some users use Stories to repost their Instagram posts and notify their followers that they posted recently.
- Reels: Instagram Reels allow users to create and share short-form videos up to 60 seconds long. Reels can include music, text overlays, filters, and other creative elements. Reels and in-feed videos replaced Instagram’s IGTV feature in 2021.
- Hashtags: While not unique to Instagram, hashtags are popular on the platform. They are keywords or phrases proceeded by the # symbol and are used to categorize content. Users can search hashtags to discover content of a similar topic or theme or follow hashtags to see related posts in their feeds.
Who is on it:
- Young millennials are also the kings and queens of Instagram. They make up 31.5% of users on the platform, with Gen Z following close behind at 30.1%. Reportedly, Gen Z prefers Instagram over other social media platforms.
- Interestingly enough, Gen-X is the fastest-growing demographic on Instagram.
- Similar to Facebook, more men use the app than women.
How Often Should Small Businesses Post on Instagram?
This is an easy answer since Instagram is owned by Meta and uses a similar algorithm. In general, don’t overwhelm your audiences’ feeds. We recommend posting once a day or a few times per week.
When is the Best Time to Post on Instagram?
Since the algorithm of Instagram’s feed isn’t chronological, what truly matters is creating high-quality content that your audience will engage with—so you continue to appear on their feed often. The less a user engages with your posts, the less Instagram will show them your posts. Posting during peak hours (similar to Facebook) will boost your visibility among your followers.
Twitter Marketing for Businesses
What Is It?
Twitter is a text-based platform that allows users to share short messages known as “tweets”. Tweets can also include images, videos, and links. The site is known for sharing real-time news updates and commentary on trending topics.
- Character limit: Unlike other social media platforms, Twitter posts are generally limited to a maximum of 280 characters. This limits the amount of content that a user can share in any one tweet. If you’re a member of Twitter Blue, you can use up to 10,000 characters. But we advise strongly against that—no one goes on Twitter to read an essay.
- Hashtags: Twitter uses hashtags even more than Instagram. Keywords and phrases tag a tweet so that users can follow a topic or easily find similar content.
- Retweets: Users can retweet other users’ tweets to share them with their followers. Retweets can also include comments or quotes to add additional context or opinions.
- Mentions: Users can mention other users in their tweets by using the “@” symbol followed by the user’s handle. Mentions allow users to direct tweets to specific individuals or groups.
Who Is On It:
- 68.1% of Tweeters are male, while 31.9% are female.
- Once again, millennials aged 25-34 reign supreme on Twitter at 38.5%, with Gen X coming in second at 28.4%.
- Users spend about 35 minutes per day on Twitter. Elon Musk might spend a bit longer.
Twitter is a bit of an outlier in the social media platforms we’ve covered so far. People go on Twitter for bite-sized pieces of content and easy-to-reshare bits of information. That’s why it’s important to stick to 280 characters or less. Honestly, we’d recommend Twitter’s old parameter of 140 characters.
The platform is more of a stream-of-consciousness model of posting. No one cares if you post on Twitter multiple times per day, since most people don’t spend a lot of time camped out on one tweet. Keep your ideas short and interesting, and they will keep your audience engaged.
LinkedIn Marketing for Businesses
What Is It?
LinkedIn is a professional social networking website. It operates in a similar way to Facebook—you can post thoughts or photos on your feed and see posts from others, all with the ability to react and comment. LinkedIn also offers services like event management, learning courses, and a premium option to do deeper research on LinkedIn profiles (including who has viewed yours.)
- Your network. This is your LinkedIn “friends” list. You’ll see posts from these people on your LinkedIn feed. You’ll also see posts from people or brands you follow (brand pages are not the same as your connections.)
- Messages. LinkedIn offers a messaging service similar to Facebook. It can be used to congratulate someone on a new job or to coordinate a one-off meeting.
- Business profile. When you set up a LinkedIn business profile, you can post as your business, advertise jobs and services, and see who follows you. Business pages can interact with people on LinkedIn in the same way that other users can.
Who Is On It
- LinkedIn currently has 675 million members across 200 countries.
- In the United States, older Gen-Xers and young Boomers are the most active users.
- There are more men than women on LinkedIn (57% versus 43%.)
- The United States has the most amount of users on LinkedIn.
LinkedIn’s algorithm is following a similar trend that Facebook and Instagram follow—not chronological, but according to the interest of the user. It filters everything from the quality of the content to its relevancy to a user. As we’ve said before, it’s important that your content is relevant to your audience. In fact, that’s more important than what time you post. However, we don’t recommend posting in the middle of the night, when you’re not likely to get as much engagement. Experts say the best time to post on LinkedIn is on Tuesday and Wednesday morning, smack-dab in the middle of the work week.
Pinterest Marketing for Businesses
What Is It?
Pinterest is a social media platform that is centered around sharing images and information in a grid-like style. Pinterest is often used by creators, like crafters or artists since the platform makes it easy to share design inspiration, recipes, and mood boards.
- Pins: Pins are anything you save onto a board. They typically link to another website. Anything you can think of could be a pin—recipes, outfit inspirations, DIY, crafts, and more.
- Boards: Boards are spaces to save pins that interest you. They make it easy to categorize pins (for example, a board full of recipes or things that are red.)
- Messages: Similar to other social platforms, you can send pins to people you are connected to on Pinterest.
- Notifications: Users are notified when someone has saved a pin they’ve saved or is now following them. Users also have the option to follow individual boards, not just a user.
Who is on it:
- As of 2022, Pinterest has about 433 million monthly users.
- Pinterest users aren’t logging on every day—about 50% log on weekly or monthly, while about 7% log on daily.
- It’s the 14th largest social media platform, outranking Twitter and Reddit.
- 31% of US adults use Pinterest.
Pinterest is a great platform for brands that can produce stunning visuals and images—the more eye-catching, the better. Pinterest is a great place to post blog content as long as you have eye-catching images to match them. Not every industry should be on Pinterest. Product-based brands love advertising on Pinterest because of the availability of product images, but service-based brands won’t advertise on this platform.
TikTok Marketing for Businesses
What Is It?
Millennials remember Vine, a popular short-form video app from the mid-2010s. TikTok launched in 2016 but didn’t gain more traction until 2020. From its start as a platform to record wild dance routines to being one of the biggest trendsetters in the world, TikTok is one of the newest social media apps and has become the most downloaded app in the world.
- For You feed. This feed of videos is based on an algorithm based on the videos you watch. The videos on this feed might not be from people you follow.
- Following feed. This feed is solely videos from users you are following.
- Live. Similar to Instagram, Tik Tok has a live feed where users can join the live stream and comment and react in real time.
- Upload. Users can upload and create their own Tik Tok videos using the Upload feature. TikTok offers a number of effects, backgrounds, and sounds to add to user-generated content.
Who Is On It
- TikTok has over 1 billion monthly active users, just shy of Facebook, YouTube, and Instagram.
- This one’s for Gen Z—the largest age group on TikTok are users between the ages of 10-19 (influencers start young, folks.)
- Users spend about 95 minutes per day on TikTok (don’t tell their bosses…or their teachers, for that matter.)
- Half of Gen Z users use TikTok and Instagram in the same way old people like us use Google search—to research products and ask questions.
TikTok is solely a video-based social media app. If you have the capability to produce high-quality and engaging short-form videos (and if your audience is there), then you should be on TikTok. Many TikTok content creators are also influencers, meaning influencer marketing is huge on the platform. If it fits your brand to hire an influencer, they can make high-quality user-generated content for you.
Send A Clear Message Across Social Media Platforms
No matter what platform your business uses, what’s most important on every platform is a clear message. Without that, your social media posts are just more noise on the internet. But another important piece of the puzzle is understanding who your audience is and how they use social media. The better you know your audience, the better you can communicate with them.
Having trouble knowing what social media platforms to use for your audience? At Hughes Integrated, we’re all about strategy. We can create both a clear message and a comprehensive strategy to get you posting like a pro in no time.