What is Social Media Marketing?

In an online era before the rise of MySpace, Facebook, Twitter, and dozens of similar websites, marketing to a digital audience generally meant buying advertising on like-minded websites and engaging with bloggers who were more than willing to lend a hand when promoting websites similar to their own. That has shifted in recent years, however, with the decline of banner advertising and the rise of social media as a driving force for viral promotion.

Social media marketing, then, is an evolved form of the digital marketing profession that seeks to build buzz about a company by engaging fans and supporters through social networking channels. This is done in a few key ways, usually by marketing professionals who possess at least a bachelor’s degree in marketing, IT, or business administration.

Cultivating Likes, Re-tweets, Pins, and More

One of the chief responsibilities of a social media marketing professional is to make sure that lots of people follow them on Twitter, like their company’s page on Facebook, and pin their company’s products on Pinterest. This might sound pretty easy, but it’s actually pretty complex. Instead of connecting with people they already know via a personal account, social media marketers must convince unfamiliar contacts to “like” a page about a product, rather than a person.

This is done in several key ways, not the least of which is using targeted advertising. Social media marketers spend a great deal of their time figuring out which keywords and target phrases are most closely associated with their products. They’ll also identify the usual interests of their target audience, whether they play a certain sport or a certain instrument, go to certain bars, prefer certain foods, and so on.

With this information in hand, the social media marketer then targets the page to those customers most likely to be interested in what it has to sell. If the company sells beer, and notes that many soccer fans also like beer, they’ll instruct sites like Facebook and Twitter to show their page to users who typically write updates about different kinds of beer.

Smart Posting of Updates and Pictures to Engage Users

Once the social media marketing professional has identified a target audience, sent out targeted advertisements, and cultivated a sizable social following for the company and its products, they’ll build on this by posting clever updates across all social media platforms throughout the day. Companies typically work to embrace a robust collection of images, videos, textual updates, blog posts, and open threads for user discussion. The goal of these endeavors is to create a witty, viral post that people will share with their friends. In succeeding at this venture, social media marketing professionals are essentially getting other people to spread their company’s message for free.

Of course, a smart update is only as good as the audience who sees it. That’s why social media marketing is also obsessed with posting content at the best time of day. Marketing professionals look at the days, hours, and minutes when users are most likely to share, like, or comment on a post. They then create new content only when it’s most likely to be seen by the largest number of people on a given social media website.

With Data and Technology, Social Media Marketing Makes a Difference

Social media marketing is focused largely on data, researching the target interests of an audience and learning more about when they’re most likely to engage with a company’s viral posts. In this way, the profession is very much related to traditional marketing. Social media professionals then build on their marketing skills by crafting status updates, images, viral videos, blog posts, and other tools for turning their company into an engaging, social experience that appeals to today’s connected demographic.