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What is social media marketing? How to get started

At a glance

  • Social media marketing is the strategic approach of using digital platforms to drive website traffic, build awareness and increase sales.
  • Successful social media marketing improves three main metrics: engagement, views and unique visitors.
  • Social media marketers are responsible for employing short-term tactics to achieve long-term goals around improving these metrics.
  • University of Phoenix now offers a non-credit, professional development course, Social Media Marketing Essentials, which explores the vital skills of this fast-growing field.


Upgrade your business strategy with social media marketing

Social media marketing (SMM) is a crucial way to reach customers, clients and fans of a brand or business in the modern, internet-connected world. With most businesses using social media to reach a target audience through digital platforms like Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter and Instagram, digital marketing has become a massive, vital new field for marketers.

But just because it’s important doesn’t mean it’s easy. Even for those with a strong social media following (say, in the several thousands and up), some or all of these platforms may be foreign or confusing when you are tasked with marketing a brand. Especially when you consider some of the many moving pieces that are involved in doing it effectively, such as:

  • General social media strategy
  • Influencer marketing
  • Analytics
  • Lead-to-close
  • Social media advertising

And there are other considerations, too, like running cost-per-click campaigns and figuring out the right hashtags to use.

Here, we’ll explore what social media marketing is, how professionals can use it to help improve a brand’s awareness and all of this is important for most companies. As well as what you might learn in a social media marketing course.

What is social media marketing?

Today, much of the world is online and connected through at least one social media platform, and that number is expected to grow. As points out, "as of 2021, there are roughly 3.78 billion social media users all over the world, a 5% increase from 2020."

Social media marketing is the practice of using social media platforms to connect with your audience to build your brand, increase sales and drive website traffic. In other words, social media marketing is important for gaining attention and increasing overall interest in products or companies through the platforms people use the most.

Successful social media marketing will increase one or all of the following metrics:

Engagement Interactions (sharing of posts; comments; clicking "Like" on a Facebook, Twitter or Instagram post; etc.). Important for judging how your content resonates with people not part of your company.
Views The number of times a page, image, text post, etc. is viewed on a social media app or website. Helps compare whether people are returning to a post to see it again, whether a lot of people saw it and didn’t engage with it (not a positive sign), etc.
Unique visitors The total number of people who have viewed a piece of content marketing or a brand website. Determining the number of people who have visited a website or a piece of content during a fixed period of time (30 days is commonly used) can indicate how well content marketing is helping to increase traffic.

Content marketing is a key component of social media marketing. It involves either drafting short pieces of content (such as tweets, videos, memes and other graphics) or longer content (like blogs or newsy articles that have links to related topics). While content can take different forms, the goals tend to be similar: improving read time, boosting the number of clicks to the website and/or links and enhancing brand awareness.

Why is social media marketing important for businesses?

Small and large companies alike use social media to promote their business and connect with customers. In fact, 97% of all Fortune 500 enterprises use at least one social media platform to promote their initiatives and foster positive communication with stakeholders, according to Entrepreneur Magazine.

"For businesses, social media offers the opportunity to connect authentically with a business’ consumers," says Rebecca Montchal of the University of Phoenix. "It’s also a place where brands can display their brand voice, promise, mission, etc."

"If you want to connect and engage with your future customers, you have to be where they are. And that’s largely on social media," adds PostBeyond. In fact, roughly 7 out of every 10 Americans has a social media account, according to Statista.

Once you’re "where they are" on social media, you can potentially grow a business by driving business goals and outcomes through new sales outlets/opportunities, reach customers through a new medium, collect data, and much more. Social media allows you to:

  1. Reach customers online, where the bulk of young people get their information (as opposed to, say, ads on live network television)
  2. Create sales opportunitiesOne-quarter of Americans shop online monthly.
  3. Increase brand awareness and trust: and customer retention through what’s known as "engagement" (content that isn’t necessarily an ad but is seen by current and potential customers alike and interacted with, such as by commenting on, sharing with other users, etc.)

(By the way, professional social media is not all about advertising. Oftentimes, it’s about fostering conversation, making people laugh and building trust and community so that when a brand needs to advertise or market a product, fans and followers will be more receptive.)

  1. Foster engagement and solve problems en masse: social media enables conversation, including real-time responses and conversations with a brand’s followers. When customers all have the same question or issue ("When is the new version of ___________ being released?" a social media manager can save the customer service team hours of labor by responding to that one question, negating other users’ need to call and ask you the same thing.)
  2. Data collection: Collect details on these new customers in ways not feasible in person (such as mailing addresses and interests) and use them to plan ("our biggest fans are, surprisingly, women 18-25, so let’s brainstorm more products for that demographic.")
  3. Measure your overall marketing efforts: Because analytics tell you the truth (instantly), you’ll have a better understanding of how well a product has been received or what the market demand is for something. (Many companies use social media to either tease upcoming products or gauge interest in concepts.)

Which social media platforms are best for marketing?

When it comes to choosing the perfect platform, it’s all about personalization. It depends on the type of business. While virtually all marketers agree that social media marketing is important, not all platforms are equal when it comes to marketing.

For example, a social media marketing strategy isn’t as important as a LinkedIn marketing strategy for most B2B companies. In fact, 8 in 10 social media leads come through that app, specifically, according to the blog.

"For businesses that largely do business with other businesses [B2Bs], LinkedIn is the premier network for making connections and being a part of relevant communities," Montchal explains. "However, businesses that do business directly with consumers may benefit from using Facebook, Instagram, Pinterest or even TikTok."

Montchal notes that, in most cases, a brand will need to "go where its customers already are — meaning if your customer base largely participates in Facebook, meet them there instead of expecting them to join a new channel to meet you. Ultimately, it comes down to business needs, [your] audience, and what is performing best."

Here are some examples of social media for marketing and which types of businesses work best for which platforms:

  • Social media for restaurants: Instagram and, to perhaps a lesser degree, Facebook, help restaurants by being image-driven, and food and drink photos tend to really hook people on a brand.
  • Social media for doctors: Facebook is good for information sharing, so it’s an ideal platform for doctors, dentists and other service providers who need to keep patients and clients in the loop on new guidelines, protocols and the like.
  • Social media for small business: Facebook, Yelp and Google Reviews work best for small companies. Facebook is the platform with the most users and the one people generally use when looking for a specific brand, a recommendation for a new business or service, or entertainment options in the area. Yelp and Google reviews are also excellent for small businesses looking to build a strong following. Building up five-star reviews on Yelp and/or Google reviews can do wonders for walk-ins and appointments.

What does a social media marketer do?

A social media marketer can be either an in-house digital marketing staffer an outside freelancer or agency employee who runs all or some of the following accounts for a business: Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, TikTok, Snapchat, YouTube and LinkedIn.

Typical tasks and responsibilities include:

  • Long-term strategy to grow the number of fans or followers a page or account has.
  • Short-term tactics, including managing a posting schedule, to meet long-term goals.
  • Creating content, including selecting and/or creating graphics and photoshopping or editing images.
  • Creating, editing and publishing videos and other content for sharing on SMM platforms.
  • Reading, responding to, forwarding, and hiding, deleting or promoting comments, messages and reactions from users. (This may be handled by someone with the title of community manager.)
  • Sharing or engaging with content made by others so that they can also reach those users’ followers.

How to learn social media marketing

Social media marketing may be a relatively new field, but it’s also a constantly evolving one. To master best practices and get familiar with the general direction of social media marketing, training is crucial.

An effective social media marketing course covers all the major skills of SMM. In a course such as UOPX’s Social Media Marketing Essentials, students get the lowdown on the most in-demand skills and toolsets hiring managers are looking for in potential social media marketing employees or freelancers, including:

  • Social media strategy (how many posts to create per month, for instance)
  • Planning and publishing (content calendars, tone and types of content, when to post, etc.)
  • Listening and engagement (how to increase and maintain engagement, etc.)
  • Advertising (including creating, implementing, monitoring, and analyzing results from running digital ads on social media platforms and websites)

Students also develop in-demand, specialized skills like:

  • The ability to identify the appropriate digital marketing platform to run content on (and what type of content to post), according to its likelihood of helping the brand
  • Social media marketing master planning, including the crucial role of calendar management and strategizing (scheduling and timing posts, etc.)
  • Interpreting data and analytics for social media marketing
  • Evaluating campaign performance (looking over the course of an ad or organic marketing campaign and being able to judge what worked and what didn’t and why)

Learn social media marketing at University of Phoenix

University of Phoenix offers a professional development course on social media marketing essentials for people who want to become social media marketers or companies that want to learn to promote their brand on social media.

Designed for both professionals and those who are simply curious to learn more (and maybe improve their company’s social media presence and performance), this self-led course involves approximately 30 hours of instruction. Students can access the materials and learnings in the course for up to 12 months.

"Taking a professional development course at University of Phoenix can help a student learn more about the top social networks, how to set up accounts and use promotional tactics to engage with an audience on each platform, and how to successfully measure the efforts a business is making on social media," says Montchal.Perhaps most importantly, UOPX’s Social Media Marketing Essentials course

If you are ready to leverage the power of social media to develop an optimal social media marketing campaign, enroll in our Social Media Marketing Essentials course here.


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