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The Beginner’s Guide to Building an Online Presence Part 4: Social Media

Jennifer Williams

If you’re a solopreneur or small business that’s questioning whether social media is worth the investment, the answer is yes. Several years ago, social media was a nice-to-have. Today, it’s a need-to-have. The data shows that 81% of consumers research online before making big purchases and more than 74% of adults use social networking sites. With numbers like these, it’s no surprise that 3 out of 5 SMB’s report gaining new customers through social media.

Once your company has set up a website and/or eCommerce shop and has at least a basic grasp on search engine optimization (SEO), the next step in building an online presence involves getting started with social media marketing. For small businesses, social networks are the most cost-effective way to attract the attention of fans and potential customers. That’s because they don’t require any money to get started with and, if used correctly, can result in boosted search engine rankings, business partnerships, customer service wins, and valuable word-of-mouth sales.

While it can take some time to cultivate online communities and earn results organically, these channels also offer affordable paid advertising options that can be used to target consumers according to demographic, keyword, or interest-based parameters. Even though it’s more commonplace today than ever before, social media marketing still provides the highest return on investment for every marketing dollar spent. But just like any other business tool, social media will only produces positive results if used strategically. That’s why this guide will focus on the steps you should take to define a marketing plan that will drive your company’s success on social media.

Step 1:  Start With Your Audience

If you followed our guide to creating a website and took the time to create buyer personas and conduct keyword research, refer back to these as you go through the process of planning your social media strategy. As a general rule, social channels should maintain a similar style and tone to the websites they are connected with.

A successful social media strategy starts—like a website does—with a picture of your target audience. Buyer personas are a great tool to use in creating this picture. These fictitious profiles of ideal customers (based on current customer data or market research) give a human face to your buyers. They outline characteristics like age, gender, occupation, income, hobbies, interests, motivations, and challenges that define each kind of person or business you are trying to reach. Such details will help you decide which social platforms are best for your company and the types of content you should share on them. For example, you may start by thinking it’s important to reach all women ages 18-45 that are interested in fashion, but after doing some reflection find that your primary audience is composed of college-age girls. Given this information, you might decide to choose newer social channels (i.e. Instagram and Snapchat) and target your messaging to the younger age group.

After you have a solid understanding of who you plan to engage with on social media, take some time to find real-world examples of your personas and analyze what online groups they belong to, who they go to for their news, what sorts of things they share with their networks, and what words or #hashtags they use. One place you can easily find these people is on your competitor’s social channels.

Step 2: Learn From Your Competition

Whenever starting a new venture, it’s always a good idea to draw some inspiration from those who have already taken the leap. Your competitors’ social profiles can offer a wealth of knowledge about everything from which key industry influencers are active on social media to what types of content perform best with a similar audience. Study their content. Is it humorous or serious? Do they focus on their products primarily or other things? For instance, if you sell markers, do your competitors talk about the quality of their markers, or do they post amazing videos of artists who just happen to be using their markers? How much engagement (likes, comments, shares, etc.) do each of their posts get? Do some perform better than others? Don’t be afraid to appropriate some of the insights you learn from auditing their marketing efforts, but also keep in mind ways that you can distinguish yourself and appeal to potential customers that they might be missing.

Step 3: Choose Your Social Channels & Get Set Up

When getting started with social media, many businesses make the mistake of either putting too much effort into one channel or spreading themselves across too many. Resist the urge to dive in quickly. It’s actually much better to slow down and spend some time assessing the data you’ve collected on your customers and competitors before making any decisions about which channels to invest in and which to avoid.

Each social network has its own strengths and weaknesses and appeals to certain audiences more than others. Small businesses should carefully pick and choose which networks they want to take advantage of. To get you started, here’s a breakdown of some of the most popular social media platforms and what they’re best suited for:


This social media behemoth remains the market leader with 1.65 billion monthly active users and growing. Facebook business pages are easy to get started with and offer rich analytics for tracking the success of posts. They serve as a great place to share industry-related articles, blog posts, and images and videos that portray your company culture and/or products.

Best for:

  • Reaching a large audience that represents almost every demographic.
  • Targeted paid ads that allow messages to be tailored to users with certain interests and can work for many business types.

Biggest weaknesses:

  • Now a highly-saturated channel, Facebook has become a pay-to-play network for businesses.
  • Page owners are subject to the whims of the newsfeed algorithm, which constantly changes which types of content get prioritized.
  • The younger generation is showing a preference for other networks.


The platform for online chatter, Twitter has 310 million monthly active users that engage in a constant stream of 140 character conversations. Because of this, Twitter is a network that requires businesses to interact as much as possible if they hope to stay top of mind with their customers. These days, Twitter is becoming a more effective ad platform for businesses looking to created branded hashtag campaigns (ex. Always’ “LikeAGirl) or make their messages stand out in all the noise. Like Facebook, Twitter’s in-depth analytics offer valuable insights on the performance of each post.

Best for:

  • Staying on top of industry news and interacting with industry influencers.
  • Establishing thought leadership in a particular industry (via regular posting and participating in Twitter chats).
  • Keeping informed of current trends and increasing brand visibility by leveraging trending hashtags.
  • Networking and drawing attention to your brand at live events (via live tweeting).
  • Real-time customer service.

Biggest weaknesses:

  • Limit of 140 characters makes it more challenging to use.
  • Requires a lot of content and preferably, daily participation.
  • User growth is stalling compared to other networks, particularly since novice users don’t tend to stick around.


This photo-focused platform has become hugely popular in recent years, exceeding the user base of Twitter with 400 million monthly active users. It’s a great investment for image-friendly B2C businesses, like restaurants and fashion designers who are interested in marketing to Gen Z and Millennials ages 18-29. Instagram is the go-to network for this demographic and, like Twitter, is very hashtag-driven. As such, businesses can use Instagram to participate in what’s trending. Instagram uniquely boasts a high user engagement rate of over 4%, which far exceeds Facebook and Twitter. Pictures on Instagram can be seen by thousands of people outside of a company’s direct following.

Best for:

  • Building brand awareness and promoting products (and deals on them!) with highly-visual content.
  • Conducting market research. Shows what colors and products people are drawn to, along with what interests (ex. fashion) are popular. Can be used to help determine marketability.

Biggest weaknesses:

  • Though there is a web application for viewing images, Instagram is really a mobile-only platform. This makes it challenging for businesses who want to schedule content in advance because some interaction with the mobile app is always required.
  • Hyperlinking can only occur in Instagram bios and not posts, so it’s harder to drive website traffic using this platform.
  • Images must convey authenticity for them to receive high engagement, so content production requires a bit of personality to work.
  • Offers no analytics.
  • Many key features are only available advertisers.


This professional social network with 100 million monthly active users is a great place for B2B marketing. In addition to serving as a site for individuals’ online resumes, LinkedIn allows businesses to create searchable company pages where they can showcase content. Business leaders can work to boost the image of their brands (and prime the pump for sales) by writing opinion pieces for LinkedIn’s Pulse newsfeed and by contributing to discussions in various industry-specific groups.

Best for:

  • Finding and connecting with current and potential business partners, clients, and service providers.
  • Establishing thought leadership in a particular industry (via posting in Group pages or writing for Pulse).

Biggest weaknesses:

  • Many users are not regularly active on the platform.
  • Requires a large time commitment and lots of targeted messaging.


This platform is ideal for product-driven businesses with nice visual content. It has about 100 million monthly active users, the majority of which are women, though it is slowly becoming more popular with men. On Pinterest, businesses have the ability to display their work and develop a strong personal style by creating visual portfolios (known as ‘boards’) that can be seen and shared by other Pinterest users. Unlike Instagram which is generally for sharing your own photos, Pinterest is more about curating others’ images in addition to your own and using them to communicate your brand, and is useful in driving traffic to your website. For businesses interested in direct commerce, Pinterest offers “shop-able” pins with Buy buttons that allow people to purchase products they see on the site with just a few taps. Because Pinterest is growing as an ad platform, it can serve as a great investment for small businesses looking to promote their wares.

Best for:

  • Building brand awareness with highly-visual, product-focused content.
  • Direct commerce (via Buy buttons).
  • Conducting market research. Shows what colors and products people are drawn to, along with what interests (ex. baking) are popular. Can be used to help determine marketability.

Biggest weaknesses:

  • Site can be confusing at first.
  • Still not the best place to target men.
  • Requires a large time commitment to create quality images (which are a must).


The newest and most rapidly growing social platform, Snapchat boasts 200 million monthly active users and is most popular with younger audiences. In fact, it is the only proven social media network where teens are regularly hanging out. This popular mobile app allows businesses to send videos and pictures, both of which disappear after a few seconds of a person viewing them. And using Snapchat’s Live Stories, businesses can create channels that collect videos and photos that people publicly post from live events they host. As the network reaches more and more people, it’s beginning to attract serious content creators and become a more welcoming ad platform.

Best for:

  • Providing an unpolished, behind-the-scenes look at company culture.
  • One-on-one relationship-building by sending tailored content directly to individual followers.
  • Drawing attention to your brand at live events (via the Live Stories feature).
  • Influencer marketing.

Biggest weaknesses:

  • There are few ways to track the success of snaps.
  • The platform can be confusing to navigate at first.
  • As an in-the-moment mobile platform, Snapchat isn’t suited for businesses hoping to schedule posts in advance.

Now that you know the ins-and-outs of all the major social networks, we suggest picking two that your business can get started with. There are many resources online to get you started with creating your social profiles. On any social media platform, your profile is typically the first place people go to learn what your company does and get a sense of its personality. A well-crafted profile can drive people to your website or other online assets, promote some of your best content, and lead to new clients and sales. Put some effort into making profiles for your company that are both discoverable (i.e. optimized for search engines) and attention-grabbing.

Step 4: Decide On Your Goals & Messaging

Goal-setting is a required of any business strategy and social media is no exception. Goals give structure and direction to any strategy. Begin by defining the purpose for each social media channel that you’ve chosen. Who will you be targeting and how do you plan to use the platform to do this?  The second part of this question will require you to think about your business goals.

For example: We will use Facebook for advertising to target new mothers in order to help increase sales of our organic baby products.

Here, the goal is to increase sales and the purpose of Facebook is to serve as an advertising platform. The primary audience being targeted in this example is new mothers. Get it?

If you’re struggling to identify your business goals, think about some of the challenges your business is facing. For instance, is customer loyalty low? Are you having trouble getting people to know that your product exists? Take these challenges and turn them into tasks for your social media channels to tackle.

Once you know where you’re going, it’s easier to figure out how to get there. Now that you have a handle on your audience (who), your channels (what), and your goals (why), it’s time to dig into what messages and tactics (how) you will use to bring everything together. Building your messages doesn’t mean creating detailed content; rather it’s about plotting the key words and ideas that will resonate with your customers based on the personas you have created.

Choose two or three messages, and then branch off of these to create a messaging hierarchy. These messages will form the foundation of your company’s online style and tone and they will be recycled throughout your content. It’s fine to get ideas from some of your competitors’ messages, but remember that your company can only stand apart if you create a unique brand voice.

Aim to make your brand as approachable and human as possible. Social media is a great medium for showcasing your business’ personality, as well as behind-the-scenes information about you, your employees, your workspace, and more. Most consumers (unless you’re a B2B company) will find it easier to connect with your business and develop loyalty if you humanize your brand. After all, social media is more like a house party than a cocktail hour. By nature, small businesses have the advantage of being more approachable and genuinely authentic than a corporation. Use this to your advantage and show your customers that you’re just like them.  If you need some help getting started, check out our guide to creating sizzling social media content for ideas.

Step 5: Create Measurable Objectives:

After you’ve outlined the business goals and messages behind your content, the next step is to create some measurable objectives for each social channel. The right metrics will help you determine if you are on track to meet your goals and will allow you to react quickly and strategically when social media campaigns aren’t performing according to expectations. Without them, it will be a challenge to gauge your success or prove that your efforts with social media are producing a return on investment (ROI).

First, check each goal you’ve outlined and see if it follows the SMART framework, meaning it’s specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-bound. Revise or add more detail to those that aren’t.

For example:

From this: We will use Facebook for advertising to target new mothers in order to help increase sales of our organic baby products.

To this: We will use Facebook for advertising to target new mothers in order to help increase sales of our organic baby products. We will do this by posting two “Did You Know?” blogs and one photo of a happy customer per week. Target engagement for each post will be at least 20 likes and 5 comments

See the difference? The second statement adds in details about 1) what types of content the company intends to create and post, 2) how often the content will be posted (frequency), and 3) what amount and types of interaction are expected for each post. With guidelines like these in place, companies that are new to social media will find it easier to keep track of how they are doing and adjust their strategies accordingly.

Step 6: Evaluate & Adjust Your Strategy:

So now that you have a social media marketing plan in place and are have begun putting it into practice, how do actually go about comparing your performance on each platform to the measurable objectives you outlined? Most of the top social networks have built-in analytics dashboards that you can use to track your posts and campaigns. For those that don’t, there are usually third-party tools available which can provide you with the data you need.

If you’re just starting out, it’s easy to get confused by all the words and acronyms used to describe social media metrics. Don’t worry, we’ve got you covered! Here’s a list of the most important and popular metrics to understand:

  • Conversions: the number of times users performed a desired action on your social media profiles. For example, on Facebook or LinkedIn, it could be commenting on a post. Conversions are defined by you and can also include actions like filling out an online form, signing up for your email newsletter, clicking through from social media to your website, or any other goal that helps you achieve your marketing objectives.
  • Reach: a measure of potential audience size. It can be defined on a per-post or overall reach basis.
  • Audience growth rate: the rate with which your social audience (followers, etc.) has grown over different periods of time (week, month, year).
  • Engagement: total number of interactions (likes, shares, comments, retweets, etc.) on a post.
  • Engagement rate: the number of engagements (likes, shares, etc.) divided by the number of audience members.
  • Impressions: how many people saw your post in their social media feeds.
  • Visits vs unique visits: comparison of the total number of visits and number of unique visitors who have not visited your site before.
  • Bounce rate: the number of people who land on your website and then immediately leave your site.
  • Referral traffic: the amount of website traffic that is being driven from your social media accounts.
  • CTR (Click through rate): the number of post clicks divided by the number of impressions.
  • CPC (Cost per click): how much it costs for each time someone clicks on an advertisement.
  • CPA (Cost per action): the price that is paid every time someone engages in a “conversion.” A conversion is an action that was considered useful by a user on your website, such as subscribing to a newsletter or buying a product. These conversions must be defined in the beginning of an ad campaign.
  • CPM (Cost per thousand): cost per thousand impressions (advertising).

When evaluating how your social media posts are performing, it’s important to only focus on analyzing that metrics that relate to your goals. Your content may be reaching more people, but that won’t matter much if what you’re really looking for are more clicks to your website and the number of these conversions hasn’t changed.

If your social media channels aren’t producing the results you’d like, look for information that can help you revise your approach. Try to spot patterns in how your audience engaged with your content. Which types of posts worked and which didn’t? At what time of the day did they get the most interaction? Did your audience prefer posts about your products or about a relevant topic to your business? Are there any phrases or keywords that repeatedly perform well?

Evaluate. Adjust. Evaluate. Adjust. Eventually, you’ll find the social media recipe that produces the best results for your business.

Next time, we’ll talk about how to make the sale with email marketing. Stay tuned!

In the meantime, share your social media success stories with us on Twitter @FreedomVoice.