Social Media Marketing Overview: What It Is and How to Use It

social media overview
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Social media is an umbrella term that describes websites that (1) connect people and (2) involve user-generated content. User-generated content is the hallmark of a social media site versus a traditional website. This model contrasts with the editorially controlled style of old media. Social media is sometimes called Web 2.0.

Right now social media is a huge opportunity for you to reach your target audience and to increase sales online.

Let's talk a look at the different types of social media websites and how you can use them to reach your target audience.

Social Media News Websites

The distinguishing feature of this type of social media site is that users submit links to Web content (articles, podcasts, videos, etc) that they find interesting. Think of these sites as social filtering or content curation type sites, where the best, most interesting content floats to the top.

Examples of social news sites include Digg, Reddit, and StumbleUpon.

When it comes to marketing your business on social media news websites, the key is to focus on providing valuable content and not overtly marketing yourself, your products or your services (this is a quick way to get a lot of negative feedback and potentially banned from these sites). If it makes sense, you can link back to your website or another related resource on your own website; but the primary focus should be on providing useful information - content marketing is the name of the game here.

Social Media Networking Websites

The distinguishing feature of a social networking site is the ability to upload a personal profile. These sites usually focus on the individual and connecting with other people.

Today, adults (and businesses) have joined the social networking bandwagon with more useful sites like LinkedIn (social networking for professionals) and Facebook (social networking for everyone, it seems).

Unlike social media news websites where the focus is on providing valuable content, the key with social media networking sites is to make connections and develop one-to-one relationships. Social media networking sites are just another avenue for you to meet people and develop relationships that can eventually lead to joint-venture partnerships, business opportunities, and sales.

While most people think of doing free marketing on social media networking sites, another huge opportunity is to do paid advertising on social media. The advantage of paid advertising on social media, over other means of advertising, is that you can really laser target your ideal audience by demographics, psychographics, etc. due to the large volume of personal information these social media sites collect.

Social Media Photo and Video Sharing

One of the most popular types of social media sites is the photo and video sharing services. Even though social networking sites like Facebook allow users to upload photos and videos, the standalone services are still immensely popular.

The most popular social media platform for uploading photos is Instagram and the most popular site for sharing videos is YouTube. Pinterest is also becoming a huge website for sharing pictures. If you're in an especially visually based niche you'll definitely want to use Pinterest to drive more website traffic.

Microblogging Blogging Websites

Sometimes called "presence apps", these services let users post very short messages (kind of like blogging), and easily keep up with what their friends are posting (that's where the social media aspect comes into play).

Twitter is by far the most popular microblogging service. Twitter limits you to 280 characters per post and allows you to follow a set of users ("friends") from one dashboard.

Twitter is unique in the sense that like LinkedIn, it's a great way to connect with influencers in your market and also like Facebook, it's a great place to keep followers up-to-date with your latest content and promotional offerings.

Another popular social media app that you could call a "micro" platform is SnapChat. Similar to Twitter, only the user-generated content is video based as opposed to text.

Social Media Review Websites

Local business review site Yelp! shows how social reviews can make or break a company.

User submitted reviews at Amazon and the feedback system at eBay are two other examples of social review that can make or break a company (or product).

They key here is to encourage your customers to leave positive reviews and ratings for your business, products, and services on these websites. This can increase your rankings and also increase credibility and most importantly sales in your business.

For instance, if you sell books on then you should encourage your readers to leave a rating and review on Amazon. If you have a local business you should encourage your customers to leave positive reviews on Yelp. And if you sell products on eBay, then you should - you get the point.

Keep in mind if you have a local "brick and mortar" business you should have a business listing on Google and encourage customers to leave positive reviews of your business on Google. This can increase your rankings and the number of new customers you attract.

Social Media for Everyone

Social media has broad implications for businesses - online and even offline. There is at least one social media site for everyone and you're probably best served by utilizing as many social media sites as possible; as the more places you are the more chances you have of reaching your audience. Here are some general guidelines on the best uses of social media for your business:

  • Facebook: A great site if you are marketing to a general consumer market (though useful for just about any business and niche market).
  • LinkedIn: Perfect for people who love one-to-one networking. Great for business to business.
  • Pinterest: A great match for businesses that are very visual (physical products, interior design, etc.)
  • YouTube: If you're willing to put the time and effort into a video marketing strategy, this is the place to be. (Note: right now using video marketing on Facebook is a huge opportunity as well.)
  • Yelp!: If you're a main street retailer or restaurant, you live and die by the reviews on Yelp!.
  • Google Business: same as above, a must have for local businesses.
  • SnapChat: right now great if you're targeting a younger audience/millennials.

You can see all of our social media marketing articles here.

Note: Edited by Online Business/Hosting Expert Brian T. Edmondson