What is Social Media Marketing? The Short and the Long of It

Looking to connect and sell to the over 5 billion global social media users online?

Social media marketing helps you turn posts into sales, and back-and-forth comments into long-term customer relationships.

While it might seem as easy as posting content and engaging with your audience, there’s a lot more to marketing on social media than meets the eye.

This blog will teach you how to “do” social media marketing (and do it well) while keeping your customers, brand, and business top-of-mind.

Bonus: Get a free social media strategy template to quickly and easily plan your own strategy. Also use it to track results and present the plan to your boss, teammates, and clients.

Social media marketing at a glance

Social media marketing is the practice of promoting a business (and, optionally, selling products and services) on social media platforms.

Social media is the perfect place to advertise, with more than 5 billion global users spending dozens of hours every week plugged in.

Standing out on social media requires a balance of content, analytics, and preparation – but it’s easier than you think!

What is social media marketing?

Social media marketing is the practice of using social media platforms and tools to promote your business and connect with your audience.

By leveraging the power of social media platforms and the tools they offer, businesses can not only showcase their products or services but also engage with their customers on a personal level.

The intended outcomes can range from the somewhat abstract (like brand building) to the very specific (like selling products through social commerce). Driving web traffic, increasing sales, and nurturing customer loyalty are all common goals of social media marketing.

Social media marketing is about building relationships with your audience in the places they already spend their time online. This might look like promoting your latest product drop, or simply jumping in on a trend that your audience is interested in.


If this doesn’t convince you to download our social media strategy template, we don’t know what will

♬ original sound – Hootsuite

Like most forms of advertising, it’s not always about sell, sell, sell. Sometimes, social media marketing is more about creating a space where your audience wants to hang out. Then, positioning yourself as a leader in that space they can trust.

Unlike traditional advertising, like TV spots and billboards, social media marketing allows for two-way communication between individuals and brands. There’s also potential for building a sense of community, which creates brand loyalty.

This, plus the ability to accurately track, analyze, and optimize on your results, is what makes social media marketing a truly unique marketing space.

How does social media marketing work?

In a nutshell, social media marketing works by promoting your brand to social media audiences. Businesses get a platform to say who they are, what they do, and why you should buy from them, and customers get to see a wide range of products, services, and offers all from the comfort of their phone or computer.

There are many ways you can promote your business using social media, from creating hilarious video content that shows your audience your relatable side, to crafting high-quality data-driven reports to show your expertise in your industry.

Social media marketing activities can include:

Content planning and creation. This is the most visible component of social media marketing. It’s the art of creating appropriate types of content for each platform to connect with the audience there.

Content scheduling and publishing. This is the task of actually getting your content onto the appropriate platforms at the appropriate time.

Social media analytics. Using analytics tools to track how content performs, report on progress towards social media goals, and plan ways to improve overall response.

Social listening. Using social media marketing tools to keep a virtual ear to the ground, learning what’s being said about your brand and your industry. This is also a powerful tool for competitor research.

Community management. Connecting with followers to build a community online, then working to keep that community active and healthy by responding to messages and creating ongoing opportunities for engagement.

Social media advertising. Using paid tools on social networks to get your content in front of a larger audience. This may include working with influencers or external content creators.

#1 Social Media Tool

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Why is marketing through social media so effective?

Marketing through social media is effective because it’s a place where more than half the global population hangs out. Not to mention, a whopping 76% of social media users have purchased something because they saw it on social media.

Here’s a quick breakdown by platform:

Snapchat users have $4.4 trillion in global spending power

68% of users watched YouTube to help them make a purchase decision

50% of Instagram users say that they’ve visited a brand’s website after viewing their Stories

Brands see 1.7x more product discovery on TikTok than on other platforms

50% of Pinterest users see the platform as a shopping destination

Before social media, brands relied on more traditional advertising routes to get their message to their customers. TV ads, billboards, radio ads, flyers, magazine spots, and more offered brands a way to serve up content that (hopefully) got customers thinking about buying their products.

But, with the rise of social media, brands no longer need to wait around for someone to turn on the TV or open a magazine. Today, people spend approximately 2 hours and 23 minutes daily on social media. That accounts for 35.8% of total daily online activities.

Source: Data Reportal

Social media marketing brings your message directly to your customers, while allowing you to accurately measure how effective each post, comment, and ad is at achieving your goals.

This type of in-depth analytics simply aren’t available in more traditional advertising platforms. Not to mention, the sheer volume of social media users opens up a massive new market for businesses looking to grow.

Successful social media marketing examples

Ready to see the results of social media marketing for yourself? Check out these crazy successful social media marketing examples.

Barbie goes social

To promote the release of the Barbie movie, Warner Bros. and Mattel’s marketing arm created the #BarbietheMovie hashtag which brought the brand 18 million engagements across social media.

The social media team also released a Barbie Selfie Generator tool that went absolutely viral, with celebrities and fans from around the world jumping on the trend. The selfie generator pulled in an additional 1 million actions for the brand, and the Barbie movie went on to break records at the box office.

Spotify Wrapped

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you’ve probably seen the annual Spotify Wrapped onslaught that hits our social feeds at the end of every year.

Each year, Spotify users get to see all of the songs, playlists, genres, and albums that have topped their charts. Spotify makes it easy to share your Wrapped results on social media, leading to your entire feed being one long Wrapped recap.

But this campaign isn’t just about sharing the music vibes. The 2020 Spotify Wrapped campaign led to a 21% increase in app downloads in just one week.

Source: Moengage

In 2021, the campaign saw a 461% increase in Tweets about Spotify Wrapped, with nearly 60 million Wrapped graphics shared across social media. By 2022, more than 156 million users were engaging with Wrapped.

Spotify hasn’t released Wrapped performance data since then, but seeing how everyone and their mom share Wrapped to their social media every year, we just know the campaign is still wildly successful.

Burger King, you rule

Burger King has long lagged behind its more prominent competitors like McDonald’s and Taco Bell. Yearning for market share, BK launched its “You Rule” campaign in 2023, encouraging fans to share photos of themselves wearing the brand’s iconic paper crown, and dropping a fire new Whopper EP for fans to remix on platforms like YouTube and TikTok.

The “You Rule” EP garnered 50,000 listens in its first weekend, and the wider campaign scored 99% brand recall.

The benefits of social media marketing

From increased brand awareness to more and better sales, let’s break down the benefits of marketing through social media for brands.

Meet your audience where they spend their time

These days, audience attention is split all over the place. Between work, family, holidays, and milestones, it can be difficult to know where and when to speak to your audience. Not to mention, research shows the average attention span is somewhere around 47 seconds. Yikes.

Luckily, social media attention remains high. Here’s how some of the major platforms break down:

TikTok users spend 34 hours each month on the Android app

Facebook users spend almost 20 hours a month

Instagram users spend an average of 12 hours a month on the app

YouTube users watch 1 billion hours of content every day

Snapchat users open the app nearly 40x a day

Social media presents a unique place where audiences are active, engaged, and spending a large swath of their time. Think about the last “screen time report” your phone presented to you. Yeah… it’s a lot, right?

The good news for marketing managers is that social media attention is holding steady, and that means your audience is there, ready and waiting.

All you need to do is create content they want to see, and keep doing that. Well, pretty much forever.


It’s a cycle us social media managers know all too well

♬ original sound – Hootsuite

Pro tip: Out of content creation ideas? Check out this social media content cheat sheet to drum up fresh, new ideas on a consistent schedule.

Build brand awareness and trust

Looking to leverage social media marketing to get your brand known by more people? Smart thinking! In fact, 86% of brands find social media gives their business more exposure.

There are two major factors that influence purchasing for consumers. These are:



Brand awareness can be boiled down to simply knowing your brand exists. If I’m looking for a cotton t-shirt, my first action will be to browse among shops I am already familiar with. If I have seen social media posts for cotton t-shirts from a new brand, I might save, follow, or otherwise come back to those once I’m ready to make a purchase.

Trust comes down to your credibility with your audience. Do they believe the item you’re selling will be delivered as advertised? Do they agree with your values? Do they feel you treat your employees with care?

According to a recent PwC study, 90% of business executives think their customers trust their company. Yet, only 30% of those same consumers actually do. Still, 93% of executives understand that trust improves their bottom line. So, building and maintaining this trust, however elusive, remains a top priority.

Source: PwC

Social media marketing offers a chance to bridge the gap between these high-level assumptions and what’s really happening on the ground.

Building trust for your brand on social media might look like:

Establishing a consistent brand presence across all social media platforms.

Engaging with your audience through meaningful conversations and interactions.

Showcasing authentic testimonials and user-generated content (UGC) to demonstrate customer satisfaction and loyalty.

Providing transparent and honest communication about your products, services, and business practices.

In the same vein, building brand awareness might look like:

Showcasing your brand’s unique personality through engaging content and storytelling.

Hosting live events, Q&A sessions, or webinars to foster direct interaction with your audience and showcase expertise within your industry.

Implementing gamification elements, such as contests or quizzes, to incentivize engagement and create memorable brand experiences.

Offering valuable content that addresses the needs and interests of your target audience.

Pro tip: Ready to build your brand online, but all out of ideas? Check out these 9 creative ways to build brand awareness on social media.

Showcase your personality

From the smallest business to multinational corporations, every brand needs to stand for something if they want to connect with consumers. Social media gives you a chance to consistently show the personality behind your brand.

How do you differentiate yourself from your competitors? On social, you can participate in conversations, encourage engagement, and even interact with your audience in real time. This gives you an opportunity to show your personality, not just in posts, but in comments, replies, direct messages, and more.

Before diving into your brand personality on social media, ask yourself this:

Is my brand funny?

Do we take a political stance?

How do we show up for our employees publicly?

What can we share that no one else can?

If my brand was a person, what kind of person would they be?

Pro tip: Unsure what your brand should do or say? Learn how to build a strong brand voice on social media.

Create community and brand loyalty

People naturally organize themselves into communities on social media. That might mean a Facebook Group or a hashtag like #DIYTok. When brands support and engage in these communities, they gain credibility with people who are naturally inclined to be interested in their products and services.

Providing helpful resources, information, or even entertaining content on social media helps people identify with your brand. They become loyal brand advocates who make repeat purchases and spread the word about your brand through their own social media channels.

Did we need TikTok’s Emily Zugay to redesign our logo into a 2D kids drawing? No, we didn’t. But it was funny. So, we did it anyway.


it’s a hot owl summer clothing optional

♬ original sound – Hootsuite

Test ideas in near real time

Social media networks are an ideal platform for testing, as the feedback gathered through social media analytics tools shows you almost immediately what works and what doesn’t in your marketing. This allows you to refine your marketing strategy very quickly, and reveals lessons you can apply to areas of marketing beyond social, too.

Tried to hop on a trend but didn’t see the results you were looking for? Maybe that just isn’t your space to play.

Or, maybe your higher ups are convinced that static posts are the way to go, but you have a feeling carousels get more engagement. What better way to prove it than with cold, hard numbers?

A/B testing content is one of the most effective ways to test your content in real-time. Not familiar with A/B tests? Read our A/B testing blog to learn all about it. Hootsuite users can also run A/B tests directly in their dashboard.

Generate sales

Alright, let’s talk about the thing everyone wants to know: turning likes and follows into sales.

While it’s all good and well to look really cool and flashy on your Instagram page, the bane of all social media marketers is proving that your efforts are bringing in more than just likes and comments — it’s about actually making money with those posts.

Social media can be a great place to open your storefront to new audiences, and generate sales that would be otherwise unavailable to you in other mediums. You can’t click on a magazine ad and immediately purchase that cute blazer. But, with features like Instagram Shopping and TikTok Shops, you can do all that and more.

Sales are easy on social media, where platforms have continuously introduced interactivity in posts to make promoting and purchasing products as seamless as possible. In fact, according to Statista, global sales from social media are expected to rise to 8.5 trillion by 2030!

Source: Statista

Time to get on the sales train now, don’t you think?

Pro tip: Learn everything there is to know about social selling, from what it is, to how to do it on every platform, on the Hootsuite blog.

Social media marketing statistics for 2024

Looking for the cold, hard numbers around marketing on social media in 2024? Here are the most impressive stats available.

1. Facebook is the most-used social media app by marketers worldwide

Depending on what generation you’re from, you either think Facebook is the bees knees, or a totally outdated relic in a world of fast-moving competition.

Regardless of your stance, Facebook remains a key player in the world of social media. Worldwide, it remains the most-used social media app by marketers, with 89% reporting they use the platform to promote their business, and 80% reporting they use Instagram.

2. For U.S. consumers, YouTube is the most used platform

While marketers may be flocking to Facebook, YouTube holds strong at the most popular platform for U.S. consumers, according to Pew Research Center.

YouTube is followed closely by Facebook, Instagram, and Pinterest. BeReal and Nextdoor show the lowest popularity.

Source: Pew Research Center

3. More brand discovery happens on social media than on other parts of the internet

While tactics like blogs, celebrity endorsements, and review sites remain relevant, social media outperforms them on a regular basis. Social media posts, ads, and sponsored posts are where most of the online brand discovery happens these days.

Source: GWI

4. TikTok is seeing an influx of brands

As social media platforms grow, and ad spending declines, many brands are being picky about where they spend their time and money. TikTok has seen a large influx of brands in recent years, while platforms like X (Twitter) and Pinterest are seeing a decline.

Source: Social Media Trends Report

5. Still, brands feel more confident on LinkedIn, Instagram, and WhatsApp

Brand perception around the best social media platforms is shifting, due, in part, to changes in the landscape (we’re looking at you, Musk) and general overextension. Trust is dwindling among major platforms like X (Twitter), while trust is growing over at LinkedIn, Instagram, and WhatsApp.

Source: Social Media Trends Report

6. US social media usage is declining, while usage in other parts of the world is rising

The average time spent on social media in the US is somewhere around 2.16 hours. Following closely behind is Europe, at around 2 hours. Meanwhile, Latin America, the Middle East and Africa, and the Asia-Pacific, have all risen to nearly 3 hours a day.

Source: GWI

7. Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram are the most popular platforms for Gen Z

It’s no secret that Generation Zoomer is doing things a little differently than their predecessors, and this rings true in the world of social media, too.

Platforms like Snapchat, TikTok, and Instagram are the most popular for this age group, while platforms like Facebook see far less popularity.

Source: Pew Research Center

8. Audiences don’t like too much self-promotion

Surprising no one, new data shows that audiences prefer content that entertains them or helps them relax, rather than content that is constantly trying to sell them something.

Focusing too much on self-promotion can work against a brand, with 34% of consumers saying it’s a turn-off.

What else does your audience not want to see? Low-quality content, neglecting to engage with your comments and DMs, and absence or infrequent use of social media platforms.

Source: Social Media Trends Report

9. Young U.S. users spend (slightly) more time on social media than older users

46% of Americans now spend 6 hours or more every week on social media platforms, but more users aged 16-24, that number is more like 60%.

This isn’t all that surprising when you think about younger generations screen-dependency. But, it is a good social media marketing stat to keep in mind when you’re considering who your social media audience might be.

10. Most brands are present on Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn

In the latest Hootsuite report, our data analysts found that, “The platforms that drive the most ROI (return on investment) confidence aren’t necessarily the most widely used, and vice versa.”

Some platforms may not be widely used but are highly valued by the businesses that use them, like WhatsApp. Conversely, despite being popular, brands don’t see platforms like Twitter/X as providing much value.

Facebook, Instagram, and LinkedIn remain strong players in the social media marketing realm. We’ll be keeping an eye on how this shifts, year over year.

Source: Social Media Trends Report

How to create a social media marketing strategy

Now that you know marketing on social media is worth it, let’s talk about how to do it.

Follow these steps to create a social media marketing strategy that works and performs.

Step 1: Outline your social media goals

Your first line of business when setting up a social media marketing strategy is to outline why you want to be present on social media in the first place.

The objectives you set here should align with your wider business goals. So, are you looking to:

Increase sales within a particular customer segment

Build awareness around your brand overseas

Drive more traffic to your website

Sell more products using social shopping features

Pro tip: Once you know your goals, you can track them in a social media strategy doc. Don’t have one handy? Check out our free template.

Step 2: Pinpoint your social media audience

Understanding your target audience is an essential part of any marketing plan. Or, running a business, for that matter.

But, it’s important to remember that your social media audience might differ slightly from your traditional marketing audience. There might be a good amount of overlap, too!

At baseline, you should understand the following about your customers:





Job title



If you want to get more granular, consider:

What social media platforms they use the most

How likely they are to buy on social media

Where they get their news from

Who holds the buying power in their household

Pro tip: This template for creating audience/buyer personas can help you get started. You can also use social listening tools to uncover conversations about your brand or industry that already exist on social media.

Step 3: Check out the competition

Next up, you’ll want to look into how your competitors are showing up on social media. What platforms are they on? What kind of content do they post?

Chances are, they’ve already been active on social media for a while, and you can learn from the things they do and don’t post.

Conducting a competitive analysis will help you understand opportunities and weaknesses in your competitors social media strategy. Use these to influence your own efforts.

Pro tip: Use Hootsuite’s industry benchmarking tool to continuously track results across your industry.

Step 4: Audit your current social media efforts

Hey, it’s 2024. If you have an existing business that’s never, ever been on social media — we’re amazed. What’s more likely is that you have some type of social media presence. Maybe you’re active on one channel, but have let the others fall silent. Maybe your current efforts just aren’t bringing in the results you’re looking for, and it’s time to make a change.

Whatever your reality is, it’s a good idea to audit your current social media efforts to see what’s working and what’s not.

When conducting your audit, focus on:

Top performing and lowest performing posts

Engagement rate and follower growth

Engagement rate vs. competition

Performance by platform

Pro tip: Check out our social media audit template to get a head start.

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Step 5: Set up your accounts for success

By the time you’ve conducted your competitor research and audit, you should have a good understanding of which social media platforms you want to market on.

Now, it’s time to set up accounts on those platforms, and optimize your profiles for success.

Setting up your accounts for success includes:

Choosing a clear, properly sized profile picture

Writing a catchy bio with appropriate keywords included

Following relevant accounts and customers

Setting up a business account (if applicable)

Learn more about optimizing your social media profiles here.

Source: Hootsuite

Step 6: Gather your assets

Now it’s time to start gathering the assets you’ll need to begin posting. This might include:

Brand-approved photo and video assets

Logos and style guides

Text-only content for microblog platforms like Threads and Twitter

Captions and comment copy

Competitor posts for inspiration

It’s a good idea to organize these from the start, so that any new employees who are onboard to your social media program will have an easy time finding assets.

As well, choose a diverse mix of promotional content and informative, educational, or entertaining content, so as not to bore your audience. Hootsuite recommends sticking to the 80:20 rule.

Need inspiration? Check out these social media marketing campaign ideas.

Step 7: Build a content calendar

With your content at your side, you can now begin building out your social media content calendar. It’s always a good idea to plan your content in advance. So, you should be planning Halloween content in August (at least!) rather than scrambling the week-of to think of something to post.

At its most simple, a social media content calendar outlines what you’re going to post, on which day, at what time. More advanced content calendars will account for seasonal trends, holidays, and even audience activity.

New to content calendar creation? Check out our blog on building a content calendar here, and get a free, customizable content calendar template here.

Step 8: Create and schedule your content

You’re finally ready to schedule those posts! Social media marketing tools like Hootsuite can help you schedule posts in advance (at the right time for audience engagement). You’ll also be able to schedule posts across platforms, while simultaneously tracking performance in a single, easy-to-use dashboard.

In a pinch, you can also use built-in platform tools, like Meta Business Manager for Facebook and Instagram, to schedule posts in advance. But, we advise against that, as it’s tedious, and doesn’t give you a holistic view of your performance across platforms.

Step 9: Analyze and optimize over time

Once your posts are published, pay attention to their performance and begin to optimize your efforts over time.

Your optimization efforts might look like:

Switching up content types (like Reels vs. static posts, or including links to articles)

Changing the time of day you publish your posts (check out the Best Time to Publish feature in Hootsuite)

Posting more or less frequently (depending on audience engagement)

Always let your data inform your decisions. After all, your audience’s actions are the best indicator of what you should be doing next.

Measuring the performance of social media marketing

Key to effective social media marketing is knowing how your posts, ads, and content is performing. Tracking the right social media metrics, that is, the data points that show you how well your efforts are working, will help you optimize and improve on future content.

Some of the most important metrics to track are:

Engagement rate: The number of reactions, comments, and shares that your content gets, shown as a percentage of your audience.

Audience growth rate: How many new followers your brand gets within a certain window of time.

Click-through-rate (CTR): How often people click links in your content.

Cost-per-click (CPC): How much money you have to spend per successful click.

Conversion rate: How often a social post leads to a conversion event, be that a sale, subscription, download, donation, or otherwise.

Customer satisfaction score (CSAT): A measurement of how happy customers are with your products and services.

Net promoter score (NPS): A measurement of customer loyalty, which helps you understand how likely your customers are to continue interacting with your brand.

Want the full scoop on social media marketing metrics to track? Check out this blog.

Social media marketing resources

Before you dive into the deep end of marketing on social media, why not learn from the pros? Here are our top 5 social media marketing resources to inspire you.

1. Hootsuite blog and free tools

Want to know how many Instagram Stories you should post? Or maybe you’re looking for social media post templates to get your content strategy out the door.

From unlocking social media platform algorithms to serving up creative inspiration, the Hootsuite blog continues to be one of the most high performing digital marketing blogs on the internet.

Plus, access a growing suite of free tools, like our 30-day plan to kickstart your YouTube growth, or our Instagram Reels template, to up your game.

For social media marketer, by social media marketers. Whatever your social query may be, Hootsuite is here to guide you.

2. Social Media Today

Source: Social Media Today

Ever wished there was a New York Times for social media? Well, Social Media Today might just be the closest thing.

Your one-stop-shop for everything social media journalism, you’ll find the latest platform updates, news, and algorithm changes here on the daily.

We recommend bookmarking this page, or at the very least adding it to your daily reading roster.

3. Rachel Karten’s Link in Bio newsletter

Rachel Karten is a social media consultant who has created super successful social strategies for brands like Bon Appétit and Epicurious. Her newsletter, Link in Bio, is a resource for social experts, featuring opinions and tips shared by practicing social experts. Over the years, it has evolved into an active community with a job board and a Discord channel.

4. ICYMI a newsletter by Lia Haberman

Source: Lia Haberman

Another helpful newsletter to add to your inbox is ICYMI by Lia Haberman. This weekly newsletter offers up the very best influencer trends, creator tips, and social media insights to help you get the most out of your social media marketing program.

Hosted by long-time CMO Lia Haberman, this is one newsletter you don’t want to lose in your spam folder.

5. Mindful Marketing Podcast with Andréa Jones

Source: Mindful Marketing

More of an auditory learner? No stress. Join host Andréa Jones every week as she breaks down the biggest social trends, how to manage a social media crisis, how to go viral, and much, much more.

Perfect for throwing on during your evening walk, or when you’re jamming away on the perfect content calendar. Mindful Marketing deserves a staple spot on your playlist rotation.

Manage all of your social media marketing from one place with Hootsuite. Create and schedule social posts, interact with your audience, track your results, and keep an eye on competitors from one easy-to-use dashboard. Try it free today.

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The post What is Social Media Marketing? The Short and the Long of It appeared first on Social Media Marketing & Management Dashboard.

This complete guide will help you get started with social media marketing and follow the right best practices from day one.
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