The web seems to grow more complex with each passing year. First it was simple webpages, then came more dynamic content and then web 2.0 which offered the amazing innovation of user-generated content and access to the web via mobile devices such as smartphones and tablet computers. Finally, today, we have arrived in the age of social media. Keep in mind, that throughout the development of the web, marketing has played a large role and marketers of all kinds have had to continually innovate in order to take advantage of new technologies. Today is no different because we are now seeing social media marketing. If you think social media marketing is just like any other Internet marketing then you are in for a shock because this is not at all the case – it has many distinct differences that you must understand in order to grasp what social media marketing is. We are going to walk you through the important points of this kind of marketing so that you can better understand it and begin to make use of it for your own purposes. By the end, you should have a fuller and more complete appreciation for this style of marketing that nearly all businesses need to be doing today.

First Off, Let’s Define Social Media

This is the first step because we need to know exactly what social media is rather than to know what a specific platform like Facebook or Twitter is or what it does. Boiled down, social media is a service technology delivered via the web or through apps on mobile devices designed to facilitate communication between individuals, groups, organizations, businesses and so forth. It is social software designed to encourage sharing of user-generated content in the sense that the social media platform itself is just that, a platform, open to those using it rather than a broadcast point such as a TV or radio station is. In social media, everyone with an account is allowed to participate in the ‘conversation’. Today, social media is one of the most powerful web or mobile technology sectors on the planet, arguably becoming as prevalent as TV or radio as the years roll by.

How Does One Market via Social Media These Days?

One of the first things you need to realize long before you begin marketing via social media is that, as a marketer, you have less control over your message than you would within other environments. Yes, you can say what you want, how you want, but you can’t control what will happen as that message spreads throughout the communities built on a given social media platform. This is not broadcast television. It is not a webpage that you have full and total control over. It is not even an ad on a website you do not own which will still show up the way you want with little the user can do to manipulate the message.

Social media is about ‘conversations’ and this is the scary part: consumers can talk back. In fact, not only can they speak out about what they do or don’t like, there is a fairly decent chance that what they have to say is going to be listened to. Why? Because poll after poll of social media users has shown that people listen more closely and value more highly the words that they perceive as coming from ‘people similar to themselves’. In other words, they are more apt to put stock in what other consumers say than to listen to what a business has to say about its own products, services, ethics or other facets of its organization.

So what does this mean for marketers? It means that if you want to be well represented, you have to give up the urge to control what is said about your company – those days are long gone. Instead, you need to be participating in the conversation and be far more involved than you might have been in the past. You can make your marketing far more powerful by asking questions, answering questions, making suggestions, offering tips, giving away gifts of appreciation and providing value in any way you can.

Today, consumers have clout and you can’t simply blast messages at them anymore. You have to alter your game plan and engage in social media the way any other person, group or business would. This wins respect, earns trust and builds authority, something we will discuss later.

Why is Social Media Marketing So Important Right Now?

Social media is important to many more people and groups than just those doing business. The statistics regarding its usage are mind-boggling. Recent statistics cited in Wikipedia show that it is a more prevalent technology than many people realize. Consider the fact that in the United States, over 20% of the time the average person spends online will be spent using a social media site. People of all ages are using social media, too, with usage among adults 65 or older doubling in 2010 alone. There is no age group above the age of 13 that is not substantially involved in social media today.

Most of those involved in Internet marketing for any length of time know that, in the past, interest focused on search engines such as Google because that is where the bulk of Internet traffic originated from. Well, today, it is a social media site that ranks as the second largest search engine in the world: YouTube. Twitter is working hard to rise up the ranks to become an important place for searches, as well.

In less than 5 minutes, around the clock every day, over 100 hours of video will be uploaded to YouTube and this does not even factor in competitor sites such as Vimeo or DailyMotion. As of Spring 2015, Facebook has over 900 million registered users. In 2014, over 20% of couples who married in the United States first met via social media.

Don’t think that social media is only important in the US, either – it is a truly global phenomenon the world is experiencing. Web users in India spend more time engaged in social media than they do any other activity on the Internet. Australia has 9 million people who spend close to 9 hours a month just on Facebook. The list goes on and on with nearly every country having at least some part of their population participating in social media today.

Clearly, social media’s reach is incredibly long and its attraction is incredibly powerful. This is exactly why marketers look to harness it to do their work. After all, you have to go where the people already are.

Why Developing A Strategy in Social Media Marketing is Absolutely Essential

In understanding social media marketing, one thing that needs to be clarified early on is that if a business or entrepreneur goes in without a strategy already laid out, the results can be spectacular failure. This is not as simple as setting up a webpage, running some ads and seeing some traffic – not at all. Strategy is truly essential because there is so much to do when it comes to social media marketing.

While there is no ‘one size fits all’ strategy that will work for every marketer or business engaged in marketing, a lot can be learned by studying social media marketing success stories. This is one way to get a sense of what all can be accomplished in this sector of the web. It is also a smart idea to research strategies that have worked for others within your niche that might not be as widely known. The bottom line is, you absolutely must develop a way to approach social media and then stick to it, making adjustments when needed, until you get the results you are seeking. This is not a venture to leap into unprepared and expecting to see success. It also takes a while to be established and see real results.

Defining a Social Media Marketing ‘Persona’ to Stick With

Remember, consumers are more likely to respond to ‘people like themselves’, according to polls. This is why many businesses will develop a ‘personality’ that makes sense for their brand. This is similar to the way that some companies use a spokesperson to pitch their products and services on TV or via the radio yet slightly different. Spokespersons merely speak to the audience, they are not involved in conversations – social media thrives on conversations.

In social media, consistency is important because the audience is watching, day after day, and they want to see that a brand is not erratic, but that it is instead trustworthy. Your tone should remain fairly consistent and utilizing humor is often a very effective tool to put people at ease and engage them.

It isn’t required that you develop a ‘persona’ in the sense that you create an imaginary person to role play, but you need a ‘way to come across’, a style of communicating with your audience. This can take time to develop, but the results will be worth it once people become comfortable with the way you engage them. Your marketing will be far more successful when they trust you and are willing to look at links you share, for example. This is the gold of social media marketing and precisely what you want to cultivate among those following you.

Study the Etiquette of Any Social Media Platform Before Using It

Social customs are prevalent among all of the world’s cultures and social media sites have their own customs and practices, as well. What marketers must make a point of doing is learning the etiquette involved in using sites like Facebook, Twitter and so on. Observe other users and also other marketers. Study the way people respond to what you say and do. When something doesn’t work or raises the ire of your audience – stop it immediately and shift techniques. The last thing you want to do is alienate your core audience.

While some would argue that marketing is inherently pushy and manipulative, it is important that you avoid appearing this way to your audience. You want people to trust your efforts, not resent them and social media users can quickly become resentful if they feel a marketer or business is pushing them to buy something or even to engage when they are disinclined to do so. Stick to encouraging people to engage, inviting them to take a look at what you offer, etc. Again, irritating people is a fast track to being ignored.

That being said, it is certainly important to promote repeated exposure to your brand and to what you have to offer. Finding diverse ways of doing this and learning the proper timing for your particular audience is important. Different people are on at different times of day on Twitter, for example, and you will want to put the word out about something new you are offering during each of the peak times that different segments of your audience are using Twitter. Time, patience and practice will show you how best to get results, but do continue your marketing. Just try to intersperse marketing messages with other content that is not designed to make sales or directly promote your brand and is instead solely intended to offer value to your audience members.

Don’t Go Overboard Trying to Be Active on Too Many Sites at Once

Here is a short list of some of the most popular social media sites on the web right now, in no particular order: Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Google+, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and Instagram to name just a few. Obviously, this list is in no way comprehensive and these sites may come and go, but the point is that there are a vast number of these sites out there with more coming and going every day. There are also more specialized social media platforms that focus on a certain niche and that sector of the social media industry continues to grow.

So why is knowing all of this important? Because you need to understand that it is very unlikely you can be successful across each and every one of these sites. What you need to do, especially when you first start doing social media marketing, is just pick one or two sites to focus on. Develop your strategy, craft the right persona and get started when you feel best prepared. It is going to take time to do things right and you absolutely do not want to overextend yourself.

Also, remember that not all brands succeed on all platforms. Some sites will be better for your business than others. Stick to those sites where you can see an impact being made and where people appreciate the things you have to share. Keep in mind, too, that you could go months or even a full year without seeing any significant results – reports of how long it takes to build a successful campaign on social media platforms vary widely.

If you are serious about social media marketing and you really do want to reach out to those who can benefit from your products or service then you absolutely must be committed to the long haul. If not, it is best to choose another form of advertising that can reach people more quickly even though it is likely to require higher expenses to do so. Social media marketing is not for everyone nor for every business and that is perfectly fine.

Focus on Relationship Building in Order to Succeed

Conversations may be what keeps social media moving, but relationship are the structures that hold it all together. You must build relationships with your customers, and in some cases, also with your allies in business. Some companies even encourage their employees or management to get involved in social media to create a fuller presence that showcases the people involved in the business.

While relationships are key, the way to reach the largest number of people in social media is through word of mouth, but the more popular someone is the more powerful they will be at spreading messages via word of mouth. This is why it pays to form relationships with popular individuals or organizations on social media sites. They have large audiences and when members of those audiences might be interested in the products you offer, you can build up a big following quickly simply by having those popular accounts mention yours. Generally, to get popular people or organizations to mention you, you need to give them something for free. It may take time to figure out how best to do that, but it is certainly a strategy worth considering.

Winners in Social Media Marketing Develop Their Authority

The biggest players in social media, those with the largest or most engaged audiences, are those who exhibit authority. They are widely trusted by their user base and they listened to because they regularly contribute value to the audiences they serve. This should be the position that all of those doing social media marketing aspire to.

Building authority takes time, but it is worth it when the results begin to appear. In order to become an authority, you need to focus on a certain niche and prove to your audience that you are an expert at it. You need to forge relationships with others within that niche and demonstrate that your business is confident in its position, reaching out to not just consumers, but others in your field.

Social media is a long-term marketing area, but building authority is also long-term. If you want to make the most of your social media marketing efforts then this is the direction you should be sure to point yourself in. Over time, the ROI will be far higher than it is for those who merely dabble in marketing on social media sites and reap only sporadic payoffs.

Keep in Mind That Many Social Media Users Are on Mobile Devices

A significant portion of most social media sites’ user bases engage, at least partially, in the site while on a mobile device. These individuals experience the web a whole different way and there are technological considerations that need to be kept in mind when marketing to them. This will require some research on your part to discover how best to market to those using smartphones, tablet computers and so forth, but it will be worth the effort. Mobile devices are certainly not going anywhere any time soon.

Remember, also, that if the bulk of your audience uses mobile devices, offering shorter content or faster loading content can be a smart idea. These people are usually using the web for short periods of time. They may respond more quickly if you can offer them contact information such as phone numbers or even directions if you are marketing to a local audience. Do what you can to make things easy for them and research says they are far more likely to engage and support your business on social media sites.

Content is Key to Using Social Media to Its Best Advantage

This is one aspect of social media marketing that is often overlooked. Yes, you need to make your tweets on Twitter, your status updates on Facebook or your videos on YouTube, but in order to really make your marketing succeed you need to go further. Building a blog you can encourage your audience members to visit for more content is another way to get them more engaged in your brand, service or products. To do this, you need high quality written, audio or video content to offer them once they get there.

Great content, of any type, can spread like wildfire across social networks and the better it is, the more likely it is to do that. Also, the more popular the people are who are spreading your content, the more likely it is that it will go viral. Work on developing the best possible content you can and have a content marketing strategy in place so that your social media marketing is truly robust. The results can be massively powerful, helping you leverage your social media audience and create incredible engagement by adding value to their lives.

Feeling Overwhelmed? Consider Outsourcing Social Media Tasks

Is social media marketing starting to sound exhausting to you? All those tweets, Facebook status updates, Pinterest boards, Instagram images and so on have to be done and it can take incredible amounts of time just doing those. Actually engaging your audience in a sincere way requires even more time and energy. Trying to get all of this done while running a business is almost impossible and most people notice that their business suffers if they tie up too many of their personal resources in social media marketing.

This is why you should strongly consider the value of outsourcing tasks that need to be done for your business on social media. There are professional social media managers as well as companies which provide services across many different social media platforms. You can generally end up saving yourself money over the long run because you can focus on the core activities that are actually earning you a profit and let an expert handle your social media needs.

A Final Word on Social Media Marketing

It cannot be overstated that each business or entrepreneur should approach social media marketing in their own way and in a way that makes sense for them. You do not want to get caught up following the crowd, even though you can learn from leaders and winners, you need to define a unique presence for your brand that people will come to appreciate. Take your time to learn to do this right and remember not to give up even if it seems as if you are having little or even no effect. Keep learning and keep going because the whole point of social media is that it is for everyone. That’s why it makes sense to get involved if it makes sense for your business’ marketing needs.