Take a stroll on any job board today and you’ll see something you would not have just 7 to 10 years ago — “Hiring: Social Media Manager. Experience preferred: 2+ years in an agency”.

In the early days of the social network explosion, these positions were called “Community Managers”. Now, there’s a further fracturing of that catch-all term into things like “Social Media Marketer”, “Social Media Manager”, “Instagram Manager”, “Facebook Ad Specialist” or “Pinterest Consultant” — just to name a few.

So what does this all tell us?

Two very crucial things: The first is that social media is not a place you retreat to anymore — it’s all around us.

Secondly, social media is one part of the larger digital marketing landscape, by consequence. To treat it as anything other than just one slice of the pie is to miss out on the impact of integrating social media marketing within your whole digital strategy.

And it’s not just savvy marketers that will tell you that’s a foolish strategy if you plan to position your business to win.

So… what is social media marketing?

According to research done on social media by the Pew Research Center, users log on to various platforms to do everything from getting local and international news. They use them in the context of work (as a way to take a mental break), to simply scrolling and “discovering” new things.

Source: Pew Research Center

Users are being primed for the discovery of new content, new brands and even more relevant advertising on these particular platforms. 57% of millennials and 45% of Gen Z agree that ads they’re seeing on social are more relevant and “natural” than ever.

This would seem to say that the global trend of ever-increasing ad spending on social media marketing, then, is a smart one. This is clearly where audiences live and consume.

Source: Statista

Using a combination of his own experience and good ol’ Wikipedia, Neil Patel gives us this quirky definition of social media marketing:

“Social media marketing is the process of creating content that you have tailored to the context of each individual social media platform in order to drive user engagement and sharing.” — Neil Patel

But many business owners who end up getting “sold” on the “Kool-Aid” of the efficacy of social media are missing the bigger puzzle pieces that form the whole picture. It’s smart to adopt social media marketing (obviously). But without a fundamental knowledge of how this strategy fits into a larger marketing mix, business owners will have disappointing results.

These businesses will fail to calculate social media ROI. In order to benefit from social media marketing, business owners need to set their expectations with marketing sub-contractors clearly. They also need to know, before this sub-contractor or specialist ever comes on board, what social media content actually looks like for their particular business.

What’s the result of being unclear or in the dark about these facts? Business owners end up missing out on the very real impact social media marketing could have on their sales.

Before they move forward, here are some key aspects to social media marketing that businesses and brands should consider.

The social media “mix”

Businesses that rely on social media marketing in the form of Facebook ads, Instagram posting, and Pinterest image creation are often left a little dismayed. That’s because their results are variable, at best and, obscure, with vanity metrics, at worst.

But these businesses are missing out on the important truth: Social media marketing is just one piece of the larger digital marketing pie. It’s a method that may focus on several different outlets simultaneously.

But at the end of the day, it can’t be put ahead of other techniques or strategies like paid ads, search marketing, influencers and sponsorships or even blogging.

The problem is that businesses don’t see social media marketing as a strategy in itself. Rather, they’re too narrowly focused on how to “hack” specific platforms and mistake the specific operations of these platforms as technique.

For example, a business running Facebook ads might advocate completely learning the platform. All this work might cause that business to miss out on figuring out the backend of Pinterest. This same business might then find it overwhelming to fit in yet another platform like LinkedIn or Twitter.

The point is this — platforms don’t matter as much as methodology. And the method here is social media.

No matter what you post and where you post it, the point is to engage and refine over time. The goal is to keep the ads, posts, and content that work while discarding what doesn’t. A funnel built over Facebook ads is just the same as one built through a Google Adwords campaign.

In this case, the difference is that one is “paid ads” and the other is social media marketing. And a strong digital marketing planencompasses both.

A good social media marketing strategy will see itself as one answer in the question of how to make the various components of digital marketing speak to each other and work together. They must all unite in order to deliver the desired results.

Know the limitations

It’s the “limitations” or boundaries of each platform that tell businesses and brands how they must operate. This includes what kind of content they can expect engagement from and what sort of interaction they can expect to have with their audiences.

For example, Instagram is all about that one-to-one interaction between influencers and followers. Even business pages have a greater level of “access” so that users can directly connect with a team member of that business or brand.

Facebook, on the other hand, is all about discovery. And that discovery is occurring in short bursts of either escapism (taking a break during work) or time-passing (waiting in line and scrolling).

YouTube is about a stream of viewing, an experience of intentional viewing. However, it’s also a major search engine — the second largest, in fact, behind Google.

In fact, since Facebook’s algorithm change privileging Group activities, and Instagram’s own change to the chronological feed, YouTube has become even more of a free search engine than ever before.

Each of these platforms come with their own limitations, which include:

  • A preference for content type. Facebook focuses on 2 minute or less videos or memes. Pinterest prefers formatted and branded photos that are scaled vertically rather than horizontally. YouTube privileges longer form content or shows. And Instagram is meant for photography and influencer media.
  • A specific set of Business tools. For example, Facebook has Business Pages and Power Editor for Facebook Ads while Twitter has “Twitter for Business” and Twitter Analytics.
  • Function-based algorithms.All social media uses a kind of functional algorithm that determines how users see each other’s content on each. Twitter, for example, like Instagram, uses hashtags. Facebook’s more intrusive algorithm shows users posts in their Feed that other friends in their network have commented on.

It is based on these boundaries that social media marketers should determine the “where, when, why and what” of content posting.

Focus on “message match”

Remember how the success of social media marketing depends on how well it is integrated into a larger digital marketing strategy? Well, “message match” is sort of the exemplification of that.

We’re now living an age of increasing personalization — customers expect not just relevant content but content that is actually specifically geared to their history of behavior. This holds true whether that is measured as past purchases or previous visits and clicks.

Message match is a principle held by copywriters, but it’s true across the board. There’s always a need to segment and winnow an audience in a funnel. What are the messages that will remain the same and create a “segue” for the user?

This is one way to have various aspects of a digital marketing strategy — of which social media marketing is just one “channel” — to speak to each other. Matching messages consist of, for example, taking a message in an email newsletter and using it within a Facebook ad copy. Later on, a landing page also recalls this same message. It can also be used in re-targeting, based on what a user has clicked on.

Message match creates a sense of continuity and recognition for the user, even if personalization hasn’t yet entered the equation.

Test and track (and refine) over time

The only real way to get a sense of the ROI of social media marketing is to craft a plan for testing, measuring and then refining over time. It’s definitely not a sprint and more of a marathon.

At the same time, businesses don’t necessarily have to adjust their expectations of platforms. They simply have to adjust their understanding of the place and role of social media marketing in the greater digital landscape.

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