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The Complete Guide to Social Media Marketing & Design

Of all the innovation brought on by the internet, nothing has made quite the same splash as social media. What used to be limited to message boards and one or two profile-based sites has now blossomed into countless idea boards, news feeds, and streaming sites that allow people to connect in novel ways on a scale never seen before.

Companies have started making the jump to the internet in droves in recent years. The biggest players from previous decades were just getting used to digital advertising when the concept of “going viral” exploded onto the scene. Now any business that feasibly can is jumping onto social media to advertise and reach new customers.

Read on to find out exactly what this jump entails and how companies use social media to effectively expand and broadcast their brand messaging.

What is Social Media Marketing?

When email became ubiquitous, companies and marketing teams did the logical thing: they translated what they knew from print marketing into digital graphics and posters and sent those out. Over time, innovators in both marketing and technology began to build new tools for contacting people until we came to the tailored cookie-based personalized advertising we have today.

Social media marketing wasn’t much different. In fact, since the business model for the largest social media sites relies on marketing dollars, standard box-shaped ads are very much still around. That’s how companies use social media most frequently.

But social media marketing encompasses much more than these straightforward advertising tactics. Companies develop page profiles and entire marketing plans for the biggest social media sites. Brand voicing and unique sales opportunities abound.

Social media for businesses is similar to social media for individuals – they engage with other content and post their own. Instead of a selfie picture on vacation, you’re more likely to see in-store events, sales notifications, viral ads, or more unique approaches like native advertising.

Social Media Marketing vs Social Media Design

To avoid any confusion between terms, let’s lay out the difference between social media marketing and design. Like traditional marketing and traditional design, marketing is a more general term that has many categories within it, of which design is one. Social media design covers the header photo, profile picture, page layout, and anything else that has a common link with graphic design.

Social media marketing is the purpose social media design serves. The marketing involves messaging, tone, strategy, outreach, response metrics, and much more.

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Social media is one of the easiest ways to reach millions of customers.

What’s the Secret to Social Media?

If so many companies are building social media profiles to interact with their loyal customers and reach out to new customer bases, have any of them cracked the code yet?

The answer to this question is a bit complicated. While many companies have had great success going viral with a variety of tactics, you’d be hard-pressed to find one who would guarantee that they knew exactly how to make something that would appeal to millions of viewers without a doubt.

That’s sort of the allure of constructing social media for businesses for many creatives. Somehow the users of these various websites always manage to surprise even the most seasoned marketing experts with the content they elevate to viral status.

In many ways, that’s social media marketing in a nutshell. Users log on to social media sites to peruse the internet and share things that they enjoy. Social media marketing endeavors to create that kind of content and link their brand to it. Unfortunately, most miss the mark more times than not.

Common Mistakes with Social Media Marketing

The rush to join social media has left many companies lost in the noise. In some cases, this may be due to the majority of people ignoring branded content on social media, preferring to stick with trusted news sources, content creators, and personal social contacts.

However, it can’t be ignored that the majority of companies who attempt social media marketing don’t go about it the right way, at least not all the time. Here are a few of the most common mistakes companies make with their social media marketing.

  • Lacking Research

The folks in charge of making decisions at some companies aren’t the type to be glued to their smartphones or peruse an endless scroll for hours while they chat with their friends. Most people don’t have personal accounts with thousands of followers, so why would companies be able to accomplish the same goal without research?

This market research is similar to the kind you would do for traditional advertising. You need to understand who your audience is and find out the kind of content they gravitate toward. It’s also critical to decide which social media sites your company needs a presence on.

Without the right research, a bogged down social media coordinator could be managing ten dead accounts instead of cultivating a following on the one or two where people are receptive to the product’s messaging.

  • Bragging On Their Product

It’s a well-known fact that businesses want to promote their products or services and will always claim to be the best, or one of the best, or have some advantage that the competition doesn’t have. As with television, movies, video games, and anything else, people don’t like to see advertisements.

People go to social media for content. If they get bombarded with ads from a social media profile that doesn’t post anything else, you can count on a block. Once that block is in place, the company is unlikely to regain that follower because they won’t see anything the account posts.

Naturally, the marketing part of social media for businesses is all about promoting the brand. But if you go about it too explicitly you’ll alienate people who would otherwise be susceptible.

  • Unrealistic Expectations

When something goes viral, two things almost always happen. The first thing is that other accounts repost the content as their own in a quest for likes. The second is that businesses try to copy the format to attain viral superstardom.

For users on these sites, it’s always cringe-worthy when big companies try to cash in on a viral moment by shoehorning their product or branding into a copycat version. Memes and repeated jokes often make the rounds for a day or two only to meet their end when a corporate account tries to get in on the joke.

There’s no doubt that companies can get lots of use out of social media for businesses. Reaching customers, responding to service issues, and notifying people of useful information has never been easier. But it’s best not to expect any miracles – most things that go viral do so at their own expense because of an error, so companies should aim to communicate in more traditional ways.

  • Broadcasting Too Generally

Not all the users on a website are going to be receptive to your messaging. Some of them might be customers in real life, but some segments of the population simply don’t use social media to keep up with brands and products.

Don’t find out who the main users of a media site are and then appeal to them. Go in the opposite direction. Tailor your message to the people who you know are your customers and then create social media marketing that will appeal to them.

For example, if your primary market is older, you can use more traditional digital marketing methods and expect some moderate success. If your product is most successful with millennials or Gen Z, you’ll have to break the mold a bit more.

Younger generations are savvier with tech and significantly less receptive to advertising than older market segments. If you can reach them through social media at all, it will probably be with content and legitimate info that has little or nothing to do with a specific line of products.

Managing Content for Social Media Marketing

One of the biggest differences between social media for businesses and other more traditional forms of marketing has less to do with the platform itself and more to do with the users. The people who are most likely to be on social media have much more experience with the internet. They consume information constantly even if that information is never recalled afterward.

For that reason, content is king when it comes to social media. On streaming sites, advertisers have learned how to sponsor content creators so that their product gets a shoutout during the programming. Content creators are often responsible for presenting this advertising material authentically and entertainingly so the viewers don’t click away.

In many ways, this is one of the most successful arrangements to emerge on social media marketing. That’s because users don’t feel their viewing is significantly interrupted. They can still watch their content creator of choice extol the virtues of some product or service appealingly or funnily and then get right back to the content they came for.

On other platforms, the written content is just as important. Most web traffic to eCommerce sites comes from searches that might not have anything to do with a specific product. For example, someone might have a question about a fishing method or tracking a specific species of fish. Fishing companies post content that explains this information for free in the hope that it leads the reader to the shopping section of the website.

The web abounds with examples of this setup. It’s one of the most useful forms of social media marketing because the best content writers create pages with legitimate and well-researched information. If there has to be some marketing angle for this information to be public and essentially free, that’s not a bad way to do it.

Expanding Your Brand Identity for Social Media Marketing

Hopefully, you already have a plan worked out that includes notes for voicing, logos and their use, and other important brand guidelines to make sure the company messaging is uniform across platforms and instances. If you do, then expanding it to account for social media marketing should be much easier.

You should aim to keep the tone equal on social media. Imagine a top-shelf product that has taken pains to develop a sophisticated voice ruining the whole thing by trying to appeal to social media users as an edgy aloof voice.

But that’s also a great example of how companies use social media to shine. With the right planning, the brand might be able to combine sophisticated and aloof voicing for a unique character that will appeal to the wide age ranges that use social media. Of course, the success of this plan will depend on the particular product.

Social Media Design for Effective Marketing

Companies can make their social media marketing more likely to succeed with the right design. The quickest example is the profile picture. Different social media platforms have particular image size requirements for profile pictures. If you want to come across as a voice of authority on your product and the legitimate account for the brand, you need to have a profile picture that shines.

That means constructing a specific image to use as a profile picture on each social media site that you intend to build a profile on. If you try to take a shortcut and wind up with an off-center or improperly-sized image, people won’t take the profile seriously.

The banner image is very similar. It’s also an area where your designer or team of designers can get more creative because they probably won’t be using the logo unless it wasn’t suitable for use as the profile picture. Banner images are typically used for sales announcements or a photo of the product, but if you have a strong branding voice you can also use it as an opportunity to make a joke or welcome visitors to your profile.

Goals of Social Media Marketing

Remember that your main goal when working on social media is to create content that people want to see and that you can afford to give away for free. That can be infotainment-style centered on the brand or it can be researched how-to guides in an area relevant for the product. Many outdoor companies, for example, have been able to make how-to videos for using their products that have been very successful online.

Try to stay away from getting too cynical about your social media marketing. Talking to customers directly and allowing them to see reviews and videos featuring your products or services will be beneficial enough. It’s not necessary to flood the news feed with advertisements in the traditional sense.

The shortest way to explain social media marketing is that it is branding on a much more personal scale. Extending your existing brand to a profile and regular posts allows people to glimpse your messaging and potentially your product line without a huge interruption to their day. It’s not only a more direct way to communicate with customers, but it can also be the least intrusive.

For that reason, at least for the time being, users are much more tolerant of brands on social media. Unless they’re overstepping their boundaries and ruining a meme, companies are free to communicate and reach out to people to demonstrate their values and usefulness as a business. As long as you use it right, social media marketing can be a tremendous tool for your company.

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Social media marketing is a cross-platform medium that rivals television.


How companies use social media now is probably much different from how they will in the future. Ad revenue structures and social media itself are both likely to change in the extreme in the near future. After all, everything has to innovate to stay relevant and social media is no exception.

If you want to know how companies use social media to expand their audience and broadcast brand messaging, one of the best things you can do for research is to surf around and see what companies have managed to go viral. But you should also remember that the main goal is communicating with your audience – you don’t need to reach millions to do that. Research what resonates with your customers and create content that speaks to that desire. You’ll be much better off with the improved customer connection than you would have been with a one-off viral hit.

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