The Social Media Strategy Guide

Create massively profitable social media marketing campaigns for any website.
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The Definitive Social Media Strategy Guide

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World Map: What is Social Media Marketing?

You have a lot of choices when it comes to defining a social media strategy.

First, I want to get rid of some misconceptions about social media marketing, and what it means to create a social media strategy.

  • I use Facebook every day, so I’m good at social media marketing. It’s easy.

Social media marketing is not easy. Often, it requires an entire team to manage a single social media channel.

  • Companies should hire kids who post the dankest memes on Twitter and know how to use the coolest filters on Instagram stories to run social media for them.

Being good at social media is not the same as being good at social media marketing. Many social media influencers with thousands of followers struggle to make money.

  • A social media marketer’s job is to create content that goes viral on social media.

Going viral, the number of followers likes, and retweets are vanity metrics. Many businesses are incredibly successful at social media marketing without ever going viral or gathering a massive following.

In reality, social media marketing is the process of strategically using social channels to generate meaningful and measurable impact for a business.


You should use social media because it’s a strategic channel you can use to grow any business.

This guide is designed to teach you exactly how to do that.

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Strategy: How to Create Powerful Social Media Campaigns

Do you know why most companies fail at social media?

Because when you look at most companies’ social media presence, you can’t help but think:

Just another company’s social media account.

Most of them follow the same pattern:

  1. They figured they “needed to be on social media”
  2. They looked up the best times to post on social media
  3. They looked up the right amount of times to post on social media
  4. They think they can “hack” the growth of their account by automatically following a lot of people
  5. They post a “text + image + hashtag + link” combo on every social channel
  6. Their posts get this much engagement:


To be successful in social media marketing, you need to avoid becoming just another “company on social media.”

Companies who do great in social media marketing use social media as it was intended and strive to have one of the best accounts in each channel—period.

The best companies on Twitter start and engage in interesting or funny conversations with their followers (and even other brands).

The best companies on Instagram publish content that inspires and excites their followers.

You get the point.

To create a world-class social media strategy, you need to follow a simple framework:

  1. Understand and tackle the 3 components of social media marketing: Monitoring, engagement, and conversion.
  2. Pick the right channels to participate in and learn how each channel fundamentally works.
  3. Create world-class content for social media that drives engagement and action.

Let’s go over each of these next.

The 3 Components of Social Media Marketing

If you plan on becoming a social media marketer, you need to do more than just come up with content to post.

A comprehensive social media marketing strategy covers three components: Monitoring, engagement, and conversion. If you have no idea what’s going on and need to wrap your head around your social media strategy, take our free audit first.

But for those of you ready to dive in, let’s start with monitoring.

Regardless of whether you decide to participate in social media, people are going to talk about you using their social accounts.

In some cases, users will talk about how much they love your products—which you can use to your advantage and build some social proof around your brand.

Potential customers will have questions about your product or service—you can address these and remove objections to purchasing.

Other times, users will have questions, complaints, support requests, or simply feedback—replying to these in a timely manner will help you keep a high level of satisfaction with your product or service.

All of these conversations will happen whether you’re present or not—unless you have a monitoring strategy in place, they will happen without you.

Your goal with social media monitoring is to address all mentions of your brand or related terms (e.g. specific products) in a way that people talking about your brand feel listened to and cared for.

To get started with monitoring, you need to:

  1. Use available tools to track and consolidate mentions of your brand and related terms in social media (check the “Tools” section of this guide to learn about our favorite software to do this)—this is known as “social listening.”
  2. Implement a process to classify mentions by type (praise, product queries, and support requests) and the steps to follow for each type (e.g. share or amplify, direct to support page, forward to the sales team).

Use these resources to get started:

The next component of social media marketing is engagement.

This is the most straightforward use of social media, but also the one that most companies get wrong.

You’ll use social media channels to build an audience by sharing interesting and relevant content.

This doesn’t mean continually broadcasting how awesome your product is.

No one wants that.

Social media engagement is deeply connected to your content marketing strategy.

Instead of thinking like an advertiser (just pushing your product), you need to think like a publisher or media company—that means your engagement goal is to create and share content that people actually enjoy and want to consume.

There is no one-size-fits-all formula for this, and you should ignore anyone claiming to have this cool “trick” or “hack” for creating engaging social media content.

To figure out what works for your company, you’ll need to:

  1. Understand who your target persona is. For example, Airbnb focuses its LinkedIn efforts on potential employees and Instagram on guests.

Define the main role of each social media channel within your sales funnel. For example, instead of sharing content about the features on their cameras (middle-of-the-funnel), GoPro uses their Instagram account to inspire their audience with amazing video and photography (top-of-the-funnel).

Adapt your message to the social media channels you participate in. For example, Mailchimp adapts their campaign assets to take advantage of the strengths of each channel.

To prepare your engagement strategy, you’ll need to work on your content marketing strategy first.

The last component of your social media marketing strategy is conversion.

This is what differentiates a social media influencer from a social media marketer.

Having thousands or millions of followers on your accounts will not help your business unless you can get a portion of them to become your customers.

Social media is great for building audiences but it has a critical limitation for businesses.

Even though you own a social media profile, your followers are still “owned” by the social channel.

Most social media channels are purposely built to keep users from leaving the platform, that’s why:

  • There’s no easy way to move all your followers from one platform to another
  • You have no contact information you can use to reach out to them directly
  • Your content’s visibility is subject to the social channels’ algorithms
  • You have to compete for attention against every other connection each of your followers has

That’s why your ultimate goal is to turn your social audience into website visitors, leads, and customers.

You can convert social media audiences via direct or indirect conversions.

Direct conversions are those that happen by directly asking your followers to perform an action that will turn them into leads or customers.

For example, check out a direct conversion flow by Under Armour:

Indirect conversions, on the other hand, consist of simply getting your social audience to visit your website without necessarily asking them to purchase or submit contact information.

Instead, you merely want them to visit so they can become part of your remarketing audience, which will allow you to target them with ads later on.

For example, check out an indirect conversion flow by Airtable:

Remember, conversion is not the only purpose of your social channel and trying too hard to convert your social audience can be detrimental to your entire strategy—you need to balance this with monitoring and engagement, otherwise, you’ll come off as too salesy.

Once you’ve developed a plan for each of the components of your social media strategy, it’s time to pick the channels you’ll use to implement.

Social Media Channel Selection

This step is about self-control more than anything else.

When you see news articles like this…

When you see news articles like this…

…you need to resist the feeling of FOMO that urges you to create an account for your business in [insert latest trending social media].

New social channels appear all the time and gain millions of users overnight—that doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to jump in.

Instead, you need to be strategic about the selection of the social channels you’ll participate in.

Three simple criteria you can use are:

  1. Is your target persona participating in this channel?

This is pretty self-explanatory. Make sure the people you want to reach are actually users of the social channel you’re planning to participate in.

  1. What’s the role you’ll play in the channel? Are you going to use it for monitoring, engagement, or conversion?

For example, Twitter users tend to expect companies to provide some level of support—regardless of whether you plan on supporting people via Twitter or not. If your company plans on participating on Twitter, you need to include monitoring in your channel strategy.

  1. What type of content are the users consuming and how are they consuming it? Do you have the skills and bandwidth to create this content?

Each social channel has been designed around a “keystone format.”

For example, Instagram is heavy on high-quality photography and video. If you decide to create an Instagram account, you usually can’t just use stock images with text overlays—you will probably need to invest time and resources into producing professional-looking content.

Moreover, different channels have different consumption behaviors: Active vs. passive.

Active channels are those in which the users have “intent”. They know what they want to see and actively search for it—this is usually the case for Pinterest and YouTube.

For active channels, you can create content, optimize it for the channel’s search engine and get views and engagement for it over time.

This means that you don’t necessarily need to continuously publish new content—you might create it once and continue getting views, engagement, and conversions for years to come.

However, this doesn’t mean inactive channels are any easier. You’ll need to invest a considerable amount of time in optimizing and getting your content to be at the top of those searches.

Passive channels, on the other hand, are those in which the users don’t have a specific intent—they are just browsing.

For example, Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter are mostly inactive channels.

To participate in inactive channels, you’ll need to constantly push new content to people’s feeds in order to continue getting views, engagement, and conversions.

Creating content for passive channels requires you to always stay on top of the relevant conversations happening in the social channel and being able to keep a never-ending content calendar going.

Selecting channels requires you to understand each channel. To make this easier for you, we’ve created a cheat sheet for the most popular social channels.

Just click here to get the cheat sheet.

Creating World-Class Social Media Content

I’ve mentioned this several times in this guide already, but it’s important I say it again.

Forget about the “text + image + hashtag + link” combo.

It. Just. Doesn’t. Work.

There is no “secret formula” that any company can use to create great social media content.

If you want your audience to like, share, and talk about your content, you need to understand how a 21st-century user consumes content online.

Fortunately, you’re one of them.

When was the last time you watched an entire Instagram video without scrolling away? Do you check your phone while you’re watching Netflix?

You get the point.

Online audience’s attention spans are shorter than ever and there’s no shortage of competition for their attention.

Creating world-class social media content is no different to creating a world-class content marketing strategy, you need to:

  1. Gain a deep understanding of who your target customers are (including their desires, wants, and needs)—this is called creating target personas.
  2. Craft simple messaging for each of your target personas at each stage of the funnel—this is called creating single-minded value propositions (SMVP).
  3. Adapt your message to the right format for each social channel—this is called choosing your content types.
  4. Create content that people want to consume AND that helps you achieve your business goals—this is called creating attention-grabbing content.

Use these resources to get started:

Distributing Your Social Media Content

Let’s recap what you’ve accomplished so far with your social media marketing strategy:

  1. You understand the main components of social media marketing and crafted plans to cover each of them
  2. You’ve selected the best social media channels to implement your strategy
  3. You understand your audience and came up with a strategy to create content they actually want to consume, that adapts to each channel

Now, you only have one step to go—but it’s a big one:

  1. You need to make sure you actually reach your target audience

There are three main methods of distribution: Owned, paid, and earned.The owned distribution consists of sending your content to your existing audience.

Unless you have a large existing follower base, you can’t rely solely on owned distribution.

Paid distribution is exactly what it sounds like—you pay to get your content in front of your target audience.

For example, you could leverage a social channel’s advertising platform.

Or you could pay someone who already has an audience that matches your target to promote your message.

To dive deeper into paid distribution, check out the Digital Advertising Strategy Guide.

Lastly, earned distribution consists of getting other people to share your content (without the need for payment).

The first step to doing this is creating content that’s so good people want to share it—which we covered in the previous section of this guide (“Creating World-Class Social Media Content”).

After you’ve done that, you have to nudge people to share.

For example, you can reach out to influencers you mentioned in your content to let them know they’ve been included—some of them might share it with their own audience.

You can include social sharing buttons in your content.

Or you can directly ask audiences to share with their own network.

A comprehensive social media marketing strategy should cover owned, paid, and earned distribution.

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Stats: Social Media Marketing Metrics

Social media is one of the hardest channels to track and measure the impact of.

It’s very easy to get this wrong.

It’s not for the lack of metrics or things to track.

It’s because:

  1. Metrics across social platforms (and even across different content formats within a single platform) are not at all standard—which makes it hard to make any type of apples-to-apples analysis (i.e. how do you compare a reaction on an Instagram story vs a retweet?)
  2. People tend to focus on tracking the wrong metrics—sometimes using metrics that don’t help them make decisions that move the needle for their business.

Avinash Kaushik, a web analytics expert, proposes a simple framework you can use to avoid these problems.

Applause Rate

Applause rate is a proxy for how successful is your social media content at generating a reaction from your audience.The applause rate can be calculated as the total number of likes, favorites, upvotes, reactions, or similar actions over a period of time, divided by the size of your audience.

For example:

Facebook Page applause rate = (Total number of reactions on your Facebook Posts) / (Number of fans of your Facebook page).

An increase in your applause rate means that you’re being successful at getting your audience to react to your content.

Amplification Rate

Amplification rate is a measure of how much your audience is sharing your content with their networks.

The amplification rate can be calculated as the total number of retweets, shares, reposts, repins, or equivalent action over a period of time, divided by the size of your audience.

For example:

Twitter amplification rate = (Total number of retweets on your tweets) / (Number of followers of your Twitter account).

This is a great proxy for how much earned distribution you’re getting for your social content.

Conversation Rate

Conversation rate is a metric that measures how much your audience is responding to your content.

The conversation rate can be calculated as the total number of comments, replies, or equivalent action over a period of time, divided by the size of your audience.

For example:

Instagram post conversation rate = (Total number of comments on your Instagram posts) / (Number of followers of your Instagram account).

A high conversation rate means your audience is providing feedback on your content (either positive or negative). You can leverage social channels with a high conversation rate to interact more closely with your audience.

Business Metrics

All of the metrics so far relate to the users’ engagement within social media channels. They are important, but they’re not critical. Business metrics, however, are critical.

As a brief reminder, we do not invest in social media marketing because it’s trendy. We invest in it, only if it has a measurable impact on our business’ bottom line.

You can do this by tracking traffic to your website referred by social media channels.

Here are a couple of examples:

  • The success of a social media campaign designed to drive visitors to a blog post (top-of-the-funnel) can be measured by checking the traffic referred by posts belonging to that campaign.
  • The success of a social media campaign for Black Friday sales can be measured by the number of sales or revenue generated by social media traffic.

To do this, you can use UTM tracking parameters in the URLs you include in your social media campaigns—these will allow you to track the performance of your campaigns within Google Analytics.

Here are some resources to help you get started:

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Power-ups: The Best Social Media Marketing Tools

Sometimes it feels like there’s a new social media tool coming up every day.

If you get too much into following influencers and blogs, you will soon start to feel like you need to have every single one of them.

Don’t let the FOMO get to you.

Especially because some tools will promise to help you dramatically grow your social media presence.

Don’t pay attention to this. Your strategy is much more important than the tools you use, and there isn’t a single tool that will make or break your social strategy.

If you’re getting started, this is our recommended stack of tools:

Social Monitoring Tools

These tools will make it easy to gather social mentions from many different channels—some will even help you respond to them directly.

  • Google Alerts: Even though this isn’t a tool designed specifically for social media, you can use Google Alerts to get regular notifications for mentions of specific keywords that appear on Google’s index.
    Check out Google Alerts
  • Hootsuite: Among its many features, Hootsuite allows you to create “streams” to consolidate mentions of specific keywords across several social channels. Plus, you can easily reply to mentions and assign to different team members.
    Check out Hootsuite
  • Buffer: Another comprehensive social media management tool. Buffer’s Reply product consolidates social media mentions and makes it easy to collaborate with a team to respond.
    Check out Buffer

Social Content Tools

These tools will help you create and distribute your social content.

  • BuzzSumo: Creating content people like is much easier once you know what the most popular content already out there is. BuzzSumo makes it easy to find which content has been shared massively on social media and which influencers have helped to achieve that.
    Check out BuzzSumo
  • Canva: If you’re not a designer, Canva can help you quickly put together beautiful design assets for your social posts. Their library of templates makes it easy not to mess up if you, like me, lack an eye for design.
    Check out Canva
  • Hootsuite: Offers an advanced platform to manage your content library and schedule it to Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and YouTube.
    Check out Hootsuite
  • Buffer: Includes a super user-friendly platform to schedule content for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, and Pinterest.
    Check out Buffer
  • MeetEdgar: Another scheduling tool with a big differentiator—MeetEdgar includes a feature to automate “continuous posting” to continue sharing your evergreen content on your social channels even if you reach the end of your content queue, which saves you time in trying to continually add new posts to share.
    Check out MeetEdgar

Sumo: Although not exclusively a social media tool. Sumo is a great tool to easily add social sharing buttons to any website—making it easy for your visitors to share your content on social media.
Check out Sumo

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Great Social Media Marketing Experts And Blogs

Unfortunately, everyone and their mom claims to be a “social media marketing guru” these days – yet many of them are incapable of using social media to grow a business.

We’ve put together a list of people and blogs you can actually trust:

Melyssa Griffin
Melyssa has managed to build a successful business by leveraging blogging and social media. She’s a Pinterest and Instagram expert and usually shares great tactics on how to succeed in those channels.
Check out Melyssa’s blog
social helpers foundr
Even though it’s a site focused on entrepreneurship and online business, the Foundr team has put together some excellent resources on Instagram marketing.
Check out the Foundr blog
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Social Media Examiner
Social media changes faster than any other digital marketing channel. With Social Media Examiner, you can stay up-to-date with everything that’s going on.
Check out Social Media Examiner
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Sumo Blog
This blog covers many topics of digital marketing and building a business. It includes some of the most comprehensive and actional social media marketing case studies.
Check out the Sumo blog

Plus, as a general rule, it’s a great idea for you to follow companies doing really well on social media and trying to reverse-engineer their strategies and tactics.

These are some of our favorite ones:

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Airbnb (Instagram)
Their efforts on Instagram have earned them several awards, including “best brand on Instagram” for several years.
Follow Airbnb on Instagram
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Austen Allred (Twitter)
A great example of a startup founder leveraging his Twitter presence to build his company’s brand and amplify success cases.
Follow Austen Allred on Twitter
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Scott’s Cheap Flights (Twitter)
This small company manages to constantly create content their followers love engaging with—which is no small feat.
Follow Scott’s Cheap Flights on Twitter
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Buzzfeed (Facebook)
The classic example of a brand thriving on social media. Whether you like their content or not, Buzzfeed’s success in Facebook can’t be questioned.
Check out Buzzfeed on Facebook
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Quickstart Guide: Launching Your First Social Media Marketing Strategy

Like with any digital marketing skill, practice is the only way to get really good at social media marketing.

Moreover, having a portfolio of successful social media campaigns will make it a lot easier for you to find work, clients, and grow within the industry.

When you’re a beginner, you have three options to get hands-on experience:

  • Use social media marketing in your own business. If you already have a business, you can simply use what you’ve learned to grow it.
  • Start your own social media account, and try to use it to achieve a business goal (sales, traffic, users, etc.)—you don’t necessarily need to start a business, but you could become an affiliate and refer traffic to earn a commission. This is a great way to get started because you’ll have the freedom to experiment as much as you want.
  • Also, a great alternative is to find a business that you can help with social media marketing and that will give you access to publish on their social accounts. With this option you will have less freedom to experiment and but you might not need to start building an audience from scratch.

Once you have this figured out, use the following framework to get started:

  1. Finish reading this guide, of course.

Outcome: You will have a solid foundation of how social media marketing fundamentally works—plus, the final section of this guide will help you avoid some common pitfalls for beginner social media marketers.

  1. Set up social listening for your brand name and related terms (e.g. common misspellings, product name, competitors’ brands, founder’s name) using Google Alerts and Hootsuite’s free plan.

Outcome: You will have a simple way to collect and respond to relevant mentions in social media. This is the bare minimum you have to do for any social media marketing strategy.

  1. Select 1 or 2 channels to participate in. Don’t pick more than that—use the social media channel selection cheat sheet.

Outcome: Starting with a narrow focus will make it easier to grow and engage an audience.

  1. Research your target audience, design a communication strategy (check out the Content Marketing Strategy Guide and our Social Media Content Mini-Course), create a social media content calendar (check out our social media content calendar template), and schedule your content using Hootsuite or Buffer.

Outcome: You will be able to create content your social audience actually wants to consume and engages with.

  1. Periodically, attempt to convert your social audience into website visitors, leads, users, or customers. Remember to use UTM-tagged URLs so you can track traffic within Google Analytics and attribute conversions back to your social campaigns.

Outcome: You will learn how to leverage your social media presence to generate business results.

  1. Track applause, amplification, conversion rates every week or month. Plus, analyze the business performance of social media traffic.

Outcome: You will get a better understanding of the type of content works best at generating engagement and conversions.

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Traps: Avoid These Social Media Marketing Mistakes

There are some mistakes we consistently see most new social media marketers make.

These can set you back or slow down your progression and prevent you from achieving meaningful business results.

We made a quick guide so you can avoid these:

Worrying too Much About “Best Times to Post” or “Best Hashtags”

This is a small one—but it’s so common, it deserved a place in our guide.

Beginners tend to worry too much about posting at the best possible time or using the right hashtags to get more visibility.

This can lead to spending a ton of time researching things that don’t matter.

I’ll be super direct here: Mediocre content is still mediocre regardless of when you post it and which hashtags you use.

Your time is much better spent working on having a solid strategy and producing good content.

Vanity Metrics

Social media channels are designed to get their users to spend as much time as possible using the app.

They use many tactics to do this—among them, is the creation of metrics that gets their users excited.

You should avoid falling for these metrics as a social media marketer.

Vanity metrics are those that seem to make you feel good about yourself but don’t really matter in terms of generating business results.

Some common examples of vanity metrics include number of followers, having a verified account, and “Reddit gold”.

New Social Channel FOMO

I talked about this in the channel selection section of this guide, but it’s worth repeating.

You will see a new social media channel appear and get millions of downloads and users overnight.

You will be bombarded by blog posts about why you absolutely NEED to participate in this new social channel and how you’re missing out if you don’t.

You need to resist the urge to jump in a participate right away.Instead, stop to think whether it really makes sense for your business to jump in.

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