There are two mistakes it’s easy to make when starting to promote your content, company, or product on social media.

  1. You think you already know everything about social media; after all, you’ve been on Twitter and Facebook for a decade!
  2. You think social media is a black hole of content and there’s no way what you’re promoting will stand out.

Both are erroneous assumptions and can detract from a perfectly successful social media campaign, but finding the right strategy does take some work.

There is an endless list of consultants and prognosticators who’ll give advice on how to guarantee social media success when marketing your business. That’s not what this article is. Social platforms are living, evolving systems that are impossible to game or predict. However, there are guidelines to follow to increase your chance of success. Below are the basics – covering both organic and paid growth – the essential things you need to know to get started with marketing on social media.

Things to ask yourself before you begin:

Is my content ready to be promoted? – You don’t want to jump the gun. You should be confident in your website/blog post/app/product before you spend any energy (or money) promoting it.

What’s my target audience? – What demographic do you want to engage with? This doesn’t need to be as specific as “college-educated white women in their 40s earning more than $100,000/yr,” but you should have a general idea of who you want to see your content. Knowing your target audience will also influence which platform you’ll engage with the most. (More on this later.)  

What do I want people to do? – Are you looking for more readers? Email sign-ups? Or are you attempting to convert readers to buy? Not all of your social content can be blatantly promotional, but for posts that are, you need a clear call to action.

Do I want to pay for social promotion? – Ideally, everyone would be able to get the word out about their product organically. Saving that, a well-targeted paid campaign can generate essential discussion, clicks, and conversion for your brand.

Creating good content and finding your voice:

Your brand has a voice and a personality, and it can be whatever you want it to be. But, you have to choose what it is and stick to it, otherwise your voice, by default, will be “boring company that promotes its own stuff every day.”

Some content brands even put this voice and personality in their bio:

Others just make their voice apparent through the content they post. Take this example from Etsy:

Like nearly all Etsy tweets, this one contains a link to purchase items on But it doesn’t come off as blatantly promotional. It utilizes the style and cadence of other popular tweets (i.e. “You know you’re an adult when…”) and modifies it to fit the Etsy brand. Other companies like Etsy might want to follow this template, but an accounting firm probably wouldn’t.

Whether it’s free or paid, look at what’s working well for your competitors, and do that. Chances are, someone already has a product or content that is at least similar to yours and can provide guidelines on how to take your social content to the next level.

Be smart about when you post. Save your best content for times of top engagement:

  • Twitter: 1-3 p.m. ET, Monday through Thursday.
  • Facebook: 1-3 p.m. ET, Monday through Saturday (and Thursdays and Fridays are the top days for engagement, according to Buffer).
  • Instagram: 3-4 p.m. ET, but Thursday appears to be a particularly popular day.
  • LinkedIn: 8 a.m.-2 p.m. (in your time zone), Tuesday through Thursday.

A few more tips:

  • Use social media as a way of building your brand and engaging with your audience. Don’t be exclusively promotional.
  • Make your content fit the platform. (Remember the LinkedIn/Facebook/Instagram/Tinder meme? You can do that with your content as well.)
  • Sound like a human. Get rid of all the marketing jargon you might use during meetings and replace it with colloquial language that others might use on that platform. (The one notable exception might be LinkedIn, where it could be beneficial to use language that shows your brand’s breadth of knowledge in an industry.) For more on sounding like a human, check out our post on How to Craft a Great Twitter Thread.

Glossary of helpful terms:

CRM – Customer Relationship Management. Whatever your product, customers and potential customers will engage with your social media accounts with questions or complaints. Any business or content operation needs a strategy for managing this. A social CRM platform, like Hubspot, Buffer, or Sprout Social, can help organize your social posts and collect data about your post performance and target audience.

CTRClick-through rate. A metric for comparing the number of clicks per impression on a social media post or ad listing. CTR varies widely depending on the platform, and thus, so does ad pricing.

CPC Cost per click. An advertising model by which the advertiser pays a platform a flat rate for every click on an ad.

CPM – Cost per mille, which is a fancy way of saying "one thousand." If an advertiser isn’t paying per click, they might pay per thousand impressions of an ad. The CTR per impression on a platform can help you gauge if it’s worth it to pay by the click or by the impression.

Influencer marketing – The use of social media influencers, prominent individuals on a given platform, to promote your brand.

Inbound marketing – Free content and resources you create to draw in new potential customers. For example, Inside’s primary business is signing up new readers to our network of email newsletters, and then selling ads on those newsletters. This post you’re reading right now, which has no ads on it, is essentially a piece of inbound marketing. It’s free content we think will be helpful, and might encourage you to sign up and read more from us.

Find a more exhaustive list over at the Hootsuite Blog.

Choosing a platform:

The platform you’re marketing on depends primarily on what you’re promoting and to whom. Some brands don’t have a choice and benefit from hosting their content across platforms. Wendy’s, for example, can be found on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, Pinterest, and TikTok. It’s to a major corporation’s advantage to cast as wide a net as possible and be available on every platform.

But, a smaller business may not have a need for a TikTok, and probably shouldn’t devote energy and resources to creating content there. Here’s an overview of some of the most prominent platforms and the benefits and drawbacks to marketing on each.

Facebook – For organic social engagement, Facebook is best utilized to reach older audiences. 56% of Facebook users are over the age of 35, and more than three in every eight users is over 45. For paid advertising, Facebook’s dynamic ad platform allows you to target ads with remarkable specificity. For B2C marketing, you can sort by region, age, employment, and gender, to try to get your ads in front of the perfect audience. The average CPC varies depending on the length of your campaign and whether your targeting is effective. Facebook’s “bidding” system means you can easily spend more to make sure your ads are featured, which can quickly drive up the cost. Median CPC: $0.57

Twitter – Twitter’s audience, overall, is significantly younger than Facebook’s, with 71.6% of users falling between the 25-44 age range. The platform also allows targeting of users who’ve tweeted a particular keyword or hashtag, which is not available on Facebook. On Twitter, you set a marketing objective, and pay when that objective is met. For example, if you run a Follower campaign, you only pay when users who engage with the ad follow you. Likes and retweets are free. Median CPC: $0.40

LinkedIn – In general, LinkedIn advertising is more expensive than on Facebook and Twitter, but it’s highly targeted to professionals and potential employees, and preferable for B2B advertising. You select a maximum amount you’re willing to spend per click, per 1,000 impressions, or per InMail send, with a minimum on text campaigns of $2. Median CPC: $3.49

Instagram – If you’re targeting a young audience and have a visual brand, Instagram may be your best bet. 75% of U.S. adults between 18 and 24 say they use Instagram, and 63% of that group says they check the app at least once a day. Median CPC: $0.83

A few more tips:

  • Be consistent. You don't have to post exactly 10 times per day, every day, but your accounts shouldn't go dark for weeks at a time between posts. It's not 2007 anymore so it's not enough to just ask an intern to check in every once in awhile – most companies have a dedicated social media professional in charge of accounts.
  • Engage with comments and replies. This is a chance to expand beyond the purely promotional and start a conversation with potential customers.
  • Think about how you use these platforms yourself and what engages you. If you scroll quickly through Twitter and never pay any attention to the ads, you might worry about your own ads getting buried in all the noise. You can also test ads on multiple platforms at once with caps on how much you’re willing to spend.
  • Be sure that you’re active on the platform where you’re placing ads. If people click through and follow your account, there should be other content available, and it shouldn’t all be promotional! (See the "Creating good content" section above.)

Analyze the data:

Once you’re posting regularly on social media – and, potentially, paying for ads – you’re going to receive a lot of data. The key is knowing what to do with it.

If you pay for ads, the platform in question will you provide you, at minimum, with a number of impressions, engagements from those impressions, and how much you’re spending to get those engagements.

You should also receive a conversion rate and a cost-per-conversion. That is, if the primary goal from your Facebook ad is to get more individuals to “like” your Facebook page, you should see how much you’re spending per like. Most platforms will also let you drill down into the demographics of those who engaged with your ad, providing a conversion rate and cost-per-conversion by gender, age, and other categories. Here’s an example from Facebook:

For managing your social media presence as a whole, there are a number of (free and paid) social media analytics tools, which also make it easier to schedule new content. Once you’ve been posting on any platform for a month or so, you should have enough data to see what’s working and what’s not. To go back to our Etsy example, take a look at the tweets below.

You’ll see that the post with video received significantly more engagement than the post without video. We’re using Etsy as an example here because it’s an account with 2.4 million followers that rarely gets consistent engagement. A tweet with more than 10,000 video views (top) is certainly more successful than one with ~35 total engagements. According to a Scrunch analysis of influencers, an engagement rate of between 0.02% and 0.09% is “good” and between 0.09% and 0.33% is “high.” This may seem easily achievable, but relatively few individuals and brands successfully engage more than 1 out of every 1,000 followers on a consistent basis.

If you’re just getting started and are overwhelmed by the data, do the following first:

  1. Determine your Key Performance Indicator (KPI) – What metric are you going to use to measure success? Page likes? Purchases? Subscribers?
  2. Establish a goal – If you’re paying for ads, what’s the maximum cost-per-result  you’re looking to spend? It’s okay to start out well above that number, as long as you keep refining your ad and looking for ways to lower the cost. If you’re working to grow organically on social media, establish a goal for new followers or clicks to your website per month. Refine your strategy as you get closer to your goal.

Now, you're ready to get started marketing on social media. Remember to be patient. It takes time to build a consistent voice and stand out online, especially for small business owners and startups that don't have the immediate brand recognition of Wendy's. Good luck!