Social media is quickly becoming a key place for brands to build profitable relationships with consumers. Not only are consumers engaging one another at a volume not seen since the global pandemic, but consumers are increasingly interested in relevant eCommerce posts.
These retail posts – from branded to influencer content – inspire consumers and inform their purchasing decisions. Furthermore, social media platforms are enabling these trends and enhancing pre-existing eCommerce opportunities.
Image via Smart Insights
What is social media marketing?
Social media marketing is a comprehensive strategy that leverages a combination of social platforms and their features to connect with a target audience
Contrary to popular belief, social media marketing is not:
- Creating a business account on social media
- Posting on social media
- Launching the occasional paid social campaign
To be a fully-functioning social media strategy, the marketer must:
- Seek to connect consistently with audiences online
- Identify key social channels where their target audience interacts
- Monitor relevant metrics to track social media performance
The main reason brands embrace a social media marketing plan is to build more personal relationships with consumers. Among the many benefits of social media are:
- It’s mobile-friendly.
- Developers built these platforms for creators.
- Each platform is customized for user engagement.
Social Media Marketing Trends in 2021
Achieving social media success means understanding how consumers are using each channel to connect with one another and with the brands that they love. Lockdowns and quarantines in 2020 offered these platforms more user data.
From this data, the leading social channels have launched and/or improved some of their more popular features. Here are some of the top trends in social media to watch in 2021.
“Coronavirus has driven most of us online, so there are lots of newcomers in eCommerce. Social media is one of the only ways to reach customers these days, and influencers always outperform brands on social. In 2021, Influencer marketing is going to be the only way to go.” – Neal Schaffer, Author of The Age of Influence
Influencers are social media power users that nurture online communities around a particular lifestyle or set of values. Usually maintaining a minimum follower count of 1,000, these creators attract audiences with authentic, compelling content. Many influencers help fellow consumers by providing product guidance and recommendations.
Brands that partner with influencers are able to achieve credibility among large consumer audiences, since influencer recommendations usually come across as both objective and expert advice.
Vertical, Short Form Video
The rapid rise of TikTok demonstrates that users are enjoying vertically-formatted, short-form videos. While in-depth “how to” videos remain YouTube’s bread-and-butter, there is impressive demand for TikTok-style video content.
Image via Iconosquare
In response to TikTok, Instagram launched Reels. IG Reels work much the same way as TikTok videos. In fact, users are sharing their TikTok videos as IG Reels and vice versa.
Image via Vidyard
Instagram Reels and TikTok force brands to condense their content into shorter, more digestible pieces. These videos are ideal for FAQs, quick tutorials, and even sharable, funny brand impressions.
Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn have each launched their own “go live” feature. Going live on social media is free, and it allows event hosts to virtually interact with viewers in real-time.
Brands and users can launch informative talks, create “how to” videos, make special announcements, and more. Pinned comments allow the host to share links (such as a sign-up page or online store) to help convert viewers.
Repurposed Lifestyle Content for Paid Media
Paid online ads are more expensive when brands hire third party professionals to create ad content. Top graphic designers and copywriters are not cheap.
But if a brand already posts consistently on social media, it can repurpose top-performing content for paid campaigns. Organic posts that perform well usually signal post authenticity, and studies show that authentic content converts.
As such, recycling successful, organic posts (to include written, image, or video content) not only lowers costs, but it also increases revenues.
Furthermore, influencer campaign posts – lifestyle product posts – also do a better job of inspiring other consumers. If a brand has the rights to those influencer posts, it can repurpose influencer content for better-paid ads.
Social Cause Awareness
Last year (2020) brought several tragedies where people had a front-row seat to the suffering of thousands. Racial tensions, natural disasters, and COVID-19 have greatly impacted consumer perspectives.
“Consumers have high expectations of brands and expect them to rise to the [authenticity] challenge: almost 8 in 10 (78%) think it is possible for a brand to support a good cause and make money at the same time.” – Marketing Charts
Did you know that BC is home to close to 25% of the world’s temperate rainforest? Here’s a glimpse to help you experience it from home. Video by @tbains #exploreBClater #stayhome #stayathome #stayhomesavelives #plankthespread #stopthespread pic.twitter.com/AvaUU82rrW
— Destination BC (@HelloBC) April 14, 2020
Brands that can get behind and/or support social interests on social media will not only earn respect and loyalty from followers, but they will also leverage their influence for good.
“Engagement occurs when a consumer interacts with one of your social media posts.” – GRIN, 7 Ways to Increase Social Media Engagement for DTC Brands
Too much of a conversion emphasis will alienate consumers on social media. Additionally, traditional advertising is easy for consumers to ignore. Instead, brands experience success by learning how to maintain meaningful conversations with consumers online and finding this approach to be the most efficient way to lower acquisition costs and extend customer lifetime value (CLV).
“The trick to engagement is getting in the heads of members of your audience and learning what will spark their interest and generate that engagement. With enough consumer participation, your posts will produce ongoing user-generated content, boosting brand awareness and sales.” – GRIN, 7 Ways to Increase Social Media Engagement for DTC Brands
Social media platforms are actively launching updates that create new and better engagement capabilities.
“Instagram in-app shopping is the platform’s collection of s-commerce offerings designed to help users buy a product or service that they like without leaving Instagram.” – GRIN, The Future of In-App Shopping on Instagram in 2021
Facebook and Instagram are currently the leaders of social media in-app shopping. Users can interact with an ad, put items in their cart, and complete a purchase without ever having to leave the social app.
For eCommerce brands, in-app shopping provides a more pleasant online shopping experience, and it shrinks the number of clicks from product view to purchase. Experts predict that similar in-app shopping features will become more prevalent on other social media platforms.
What does an effective social media marketing strategy look like?
Most brands take a specific approach to their social media marketing. These strategies include organic, user-generated content, paid, or influencer content.
An organic strategy includes any posts for which the brand does not pay or sponsor to reach audiences. The key to a successful organic strategy is to use creative ways to increase follower counts and nurture meaningful engagement with those followers.
The advantage of an organic strategy is that it is free, even if a post goes viral (that is, followers share a post with their followers, and then those followers share that post with their followers, and so on).
The disadvantage of a strictly organic social media approach is that it can be difficult to grow an audience quickly. Organic social media often works well in combination with influencers, user-generated content, and paid posts.
User-Generated Content (UGC)
Image via Design For Change
Brands with the ability to inspire audience participation can build their online presence with user-generated content, or UGC. With UGC, followers and fans build brand awareness rather than the brand doing so by itself.
UGC greatly increases your earned media value. More importantly, it establishes credibility with consumers. UGC is the virtual equivalent of word-of-mouth and enthusiastic customer advocacy.
Paid or Sponsored Posts
Image via Facebook
If you’re an eCommerce brand, it’s possible to maintain a robust social media program based solely on paid media. This is particularly true if you’re well-acquainted with shoppable ads or Facebook/Instagram in-app shopping.
That said, a paid media strategy is less expensive if you combine it with organic posts, influencer content, or UGC. When organic posts perform well, you can repurpose those posts into better-performing paid ads.
Influencers are low-cost sponsored posts that act as UGC and organic content on that influencer’s timeline. Because influencers maintain connections with their own engaged followers, they typically perform as well or better than paid social posts.
Image via Mediakix
As mentioned above, influencer content is also easily repurposed into effective paid ads.
Most brands utilize a little bit of each approach. Achieving the right social media marketing mix requires brands to know who their audience is and where they prefer to engage.
10 Steps to Creating a Social Media Marketing Strategy
1. Establish objectives.
As with any marketing strategy, your objectives help you prioritize what you hope to achieve. With social media, some of the most common marketing objectives are:
- Brand awareness
- Website traffic
- Consumer engagement
2. Set KPIs.
Key performance indicators (KPIs) break each of your marketing objectives into multiple milestones. It’s critical to identify those social media metrics that help you achieve your ultimate goals.
For example, if one of your objectives is brand awareness, then a few key metrics might be impressions, views, likes, comments, shares, followers, and clicks. You can attach key social media metrics to each of your objectives and establish relevant benchmarks, such as a set number of posts each week, month, and quarter.
3. Do competitor analysis.
While you shouldn’t study your competitors just so that you can imitate them, those competitors will give you insight into who your audience is and what they expect.
When running a competitor analysis, you should first identify each of your direct competitors on social media and answer the following questions:
- What social channels are they using?
- How often do they post?
- What kinds of posts do they publish?
- Which social media approach(es) do they prefer (organic, UGC, paid, influencer, etc.)?
- How do audiences respond to competitor posts?
- How many followers do each of your direct competitors have?
After answering these questions, you have a baseline set of metrics from which to engage your audience and set your brand apart from the competition.
4. Create buyer personas.
The most crucial part of your social media strategy is knowing your audience. To help you pin down your target audience and your various audience segments, we recommend using buyer personas.
In a buyer persona, you create a fictional person (or avatar) representative of your ideal consumers. You should create a buyer persona for each of your audience segments.
Image via Hubspot
After building your buyer personas, you will have a better idea about which social channels to spend the most time. Additionally, you’ll be able to make educated decisions about the kind of content your audience will respond to.
5. Perform a social media audit.
If you already have brand accounts on social media, you should next take stock of what your current program looks like. Ask yourself the following questions:
- Where do you have accounts?
- Are those accounts active?
- How often does your social media team post on each channel?
- What is your average engagement rate on each channel and post?
- Your engagement rate is the number of likes, comments, and shares divided by the number of post views (or followers).
Next, you can match your current social performance against your KPIs. The size of the gap between your current performance and your KPIs shows the amount of work you need to get on the right track. With any successful social media strategy, consistency is key.
6. Choose your main social channels.
Based on your buyer personas, it’s essential that you are active on those channels that are most relevant to your audience. Most likely, you will need to start with two or three social media platforms. After you’ve mastered those channels, you can experiment with more based on consumer response.
7. Build and maintain a process.
To maintain consistency, you need a process. That process usually involves a posting schedule, as well as a policy for interacting with engagement.
8. Track progress.
The best way to track progress is to record social media metrics. Some social channels give you an analytics platform that you can use to track those metrics. Initially, you can track your follower counts and post engagements manually in a spreadsheet.
If you want to track link clicks without investing in marketing automation software, you can create platform-specific landing pages or utilize tools within Google Tag Manager for free.
9. Report, pivot, and adjust your process.
Even if you are not reporting to a direct supervisor, building performance reports helps you stay accountable to your KPIs and objectives. With each new report, you will notice parts of your social media strategy that require changes.
10. Experiment with different features and channels.
As you gain more experience with your social media strategy, consider moving outside your comfort zone to try different features. As you experiment with different tools and channels, keep what works and ditch what doesn’t.
Getting your social media strategy to work for you means taking that program seriously. In most cases, the steps above that feel the most tedious are often the most important. If you create a plan and stick to it, you’ll achieve success and learn a great deal in the process.