The 7 Essential Elements of Effective Social Media Marketing

plug in to social media essentials

By now you know it’s a bad idea to be a digital sharecropper and build your business entirely on someone else’s land (like Facebook, Tumblr, or any other third party you don’t control).

But you may be asking yourself, “What type of social media marketing should I be doing?”

How are savvy businesses using social media effectively to find more customers, boost their reputations, and make more sales?

Here are the seven essentials that will turn your social media marketing from an annoying time-waster to an effective bottom-line booster.

1. Get your home base together

Your home base is your website. It’s on a domain you own. You control the user experience — from the content to the site design to the user interface.

This is where you show that you know your stuff. That means building a nice cornerstone of high-quality content that demonstrates your expertise in a likable, accessible way.

First impressions matter, so make sure the design is clean, professional, and smart. It can still be stylish or funky, if that’s your thing, but it shouldn’t look amateurish or confusing.

Your home base is where you post content to answer your readers’ questions, give them interesting tips, and help solve their annoying problems.

When someone wants to know more about you, this is where you send them.

Your home base is a content marketing tool, which means you need to be communicating primarily with customers, not with other experts in your topic.

Don’t just pontificate to show what you know — tie your news and opinions back to how those things affect your customers.

2. Who’s the face of your business?

If you want to use social networking platforms like Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn, you need a human face to make your social media marketing work.

So, does that mean potential customers want to know about your personal struggles finding high-quality organic dog food? No. (Unless your company sells organic dog food, that is.)

Just like people have always done in public settings (work, church, volunteer activities), you’re going to adopt a persona — a selected range of your thoughts, emotions, and observations.

You don’t want to share absolutely everything about the “real” you with your social media connections.

You’re going to be social and informal, but in a way that’s relevant, appropriate, and interesting to who you’re talking with.

That doesn’t mean I want you to be a fraud. I want you to be friendly and genuine. Sound like a human being, not a corporate robot.

And you certainly don’t have to stick to business all the time. It’s fine and good to show that you have a life. It’s not so good to show the world you’re careless, rude, or boring.

The truth is, the definition of “appropriate” depends on your audience.

If it works for your customers, it’s appropriate.

Authenticity for a business doesn’t come from oversharing or boring your audience to death — it lies in doing what you say you’ll do.

3. Who else has your customers?

Social networking platforms were designed to make it easy and fun for people to hang out together. That means you’re going to use them to build relationships that will help your business.

Look for people who have healthy-sized audiences who are a good fit for your product or service.

They may be bloggers, they may be authors, they may have a popular podcast or column in mainstream media. They may simply be social media mavens who have lots of friends and like to share good stuff.

These are the people you want to share and promote your excellent content.

Cultivating professional relationships isn’t rocket science. Stick to the basics — link to them from your content, comment intelligently on their blogs and social platforms, and be a nice person.

Don’t think that picking fights or manufacturing controversy makes you stand out. It doesn’t; it just makes you look like a troll.

If you’re going to take a controversial position, make sure it’s one that really matters, and express it with respect.

4. Pick a primary platform

Again, think about where your customers are.

If you love Twitter but your customers spend hours every day on Facebook, you need to recognize that Facebook is probably a better venue for your business. It may not be as fun for you — but that’s why they call it work.

Only move beyond your primary platform when you’re sure you’re handling it well. A lot depends on the industry you’re in.

If you’re a copywriter, social media consultant, or professional content marketer, your customers spend a lot of time in these venues, which means you probably will too.

5. Manage your time

If you don’t decide how much time and focus you’ll put into social media, the default will be “all of it.”

Sites like Twitter and Facebook are seductive places to drop in and just check what’s new.

But when your five-minute check turns into twenty-five minutes, and you’re doing that four or five times a day per site, you’re going to find your productivity taking a dive.

Remember your home base. That (and actually delivering whatever it is you do) are where the bulk of your time and energy need to go.

The best tool I’ve found for managing social media time is a $3 kitchen timer. Decide in advance how much time you’ll spend checking in and being social, set your timer, and stick to it.

6. Content first, conversation second

You’ve been told again and again by social media “experts” that your entire business should revolve around something called “The Conversation.”

Too often, this form of Conversation leads to business owners spending hours every day chattering with potential customers and hoping someone will buy something. (Or, more often, chattering with peers and friends and hoping this counts as work.)

Yes, be personable. Yes, keep an ear out for customer complaints so you can respond appropriately. And yes, network with peers in your industry to keep your links healthy.

But if it feels like goofing around all day instead of working, it probably is.

Instead, spend the bulk of your time creating content, whether it’s on your own home base or for a guest post so you can find a wider audience.

Use content to educate your customers about what they need to know to make an intelligent purchase. Focus on customer objections, questions, and problems.

When you find someone else’s content that your customers will find valuable, share that too — and add a few insights of your own, if you like.

Even a 100-character tweet can have content value. Think about what you can say that makes readers’ lives better, rather than just filling up time before you run to Starbucks.

Make sure your reader has a good experience every time she hears from you. Keep it both useful and entertaining.

Social media conversation is a seasoning that makes your content more appetizing. It’s not the main dish.

7. Don’t forget SEO

Too many people think that social media sharing means they don’t need SEO anymore. The fact is, social media marketing is a superb complement to SEO.

Play the long game.

The same elements that make social media work (sharing content that’s both useful and user-friendly, doing what you say you’ll do, building healthy relationships with others in your industry) are the elements search engines prefer to serve up.

Search engines want to find the content that’s a widely valued resource.

Skip the time-wasting ego game

For too many businesses, social media is a time-wasting ego game.

But use the tools strategically — with a focus on content and getting a useful message in front of a wider audience — and they can be brilliantly effective.

How about you? What do you consider the most essential element of social media marketing?

Share in the discussion on LinkedIn!

Editor’s note: The original version of this post was published on August 31, 2011.

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Reader Comments (80)

  1. says

    I think finding that balance between content and conversation is really important. I see that a lot of businesses online are either too conversational or are too linky. There are a very small percentage that actually do a great job of finding the perfect balance.

  2. says

    Couldn’t agree more with point #7! Social media and SEO are getting more and more intertwined as time goes by that it would be silly for a company to ignore one in favor of the other. Both SEO and social media marketing are long term and thrive on content. They work best when integrated together!

  3. says

    All good points, but the 2 keys in there for me is the time factor and the conversation vs content discussion. I usually have a set amount of time to spend on social media marketing and make sure I don’t go over, it’s easy to get carried away, specially when you get involved in too many conversations that don’t result in leads or sales.

    • says

      Jamie: In my opinion, content should come first. That leads to people having conversations around your content. Deliver something that’s useful to them, and that will take care of itself.

      As for time management, I have a simple $2 kitchen timer that I picked up at Target. That silly little device is one of the best time management tools around!

      • says

        I agree content is the most important (not the only important thing, but the most).

        I heard of the kitchen timer technique before, but I use Google Calendar which pops up when it’s time to change my focus.

    • says

      Christina: What kind of work do you do? Or to be more specific, what kind of services do you provide?

      When I sold web design, I built a list of qualified prospect by doing WordPress 101 webinars. In the sign up process for the webinar, I asked two question:

      1.) Would you like to sign up to our newsletter to get updates on future webinars?
      2.) Are you interested in learning more about our web design services?

      I gave something away for free and immediately built a list of qualified prospects in the process.

      So, just an idea :-)

      • says

        I am an interior decorator and I just finished my first book, Sassy Decorating Secrets: A Div’as Guide to Interior Design and Feng Shui. I am holding teleseminar course to go with it. I have free ebook giveaways along with signing up for my email list. i can’t seem to get anyone to sign up for my email list and have been trying for two weeks. I have three sign ups. Better than nothing!

        How do you get people to sign up?

        • says

          Christine –

          1st I assume your pricing is competitive and you’ve done your home work and people will commit to 2 nites/week.

          From a quick look at your landing page .. it doesn’t provide, for me anyway, with enough detail on the specific sessions. So I have no idea what you’ll cover. “Spend two evenings per week going through Sassy Decorating Secrets chapter by chapter.” Perhaps including a description of the chapters might help as a start.

          Best of luck.

  4. says

    Just as important as building your “Home Base,” build an email list. Your blog and your email list are your most important assets. (Credit to you Sonia for drilling that point home).

    I used an email list to promote my subscription newsletter. The setup was, sign up to receive 7 free courses on how to build a foundation for your real estate blog, and in between the lessons, you get a promotion, then of course a promotion at the end. I’ve not used social media to promote the newsletter (much). For the most part, that process drives itself. And it’s neat to see subscribers sign up for a process that is now for the most part, automated.

    • says

      Thanks for mentioning that — the email list can be even more important than the blog/home base, although you need that home base to keep bringing new people in.

      I’m like you, I love it when it starts to Just Work. :)

  5. says

    A note about primary platforms…

    If you choose Facebook or Youtube to focus your social efforts you should be safe. Both sites are so huge that you’ll die and live again before exhausting all of the prospects you can connect with.

    For instance, my site is about career development in the entertainment industry. So, that would make LinkedIn my primary platform, correct?

    Not so fast. Facebook sends me more traffic than any other social site, yet I don’t have my own presence there. Links to my articles spread the on Facebook faster and further than on LinkedIn.

    So, don’t get stuck on all the choices of social sites out there. Your customers ARE on Facebook and Youtube. Choose the platform you like best of the two, and ignore everything else.

  6. says

    The really important one here for me is #6 – it is *sooooooo* easy to get sucked into wasting time on social networking sites under the guise of “participating in the conversation”, when there are hundreds and hundreds of other things that would be a better use of your time.

    Honestly, the best thing that’s worked for me is setting a timer to block off chunks of time for social networking. Once those blocks are up, I go back to building content for my website. I’m probably missing out on some things (and I really should have a better system for monitoring instances of specific keywords popping up), but for now, that’s what’s working for me :)

    • says

      I would add up all the time I’ve spent in the last 20+ years hanging out on social sites, but it would be much too depressing. :)

      I’m a time-blocker too. If I don’t, it just gets away from me.

  7. says

    I LOVE this post. You are validating my quality content strategy, though sometimes, as a travel blogger, I feel I am swimming upstream. While others are heavily involved in experimenting with social media, SEO, advertising, affiliate advertising, text links, etc., I’ve concentrated on building content and contacts. I always say “I am playing a long term game.” I want to build my name, my brand, my integrity, my authority … and not dither it away.

    Bravo, well done with this post.

    • says

      I know how you feel — there’s always something out there that looks sexy and glamourous, and may work really well in the short term. Then something like the Google Panda update happens, and the sexy stuff gets a lot less sexy in a hurry. :)

      It’s good to try new techniques and stay open to what’s out there, but that’s not the same as chasing every fad that comes along.

  8. Marvin says

    The first principle of marketing, of any kind, is simply this – what ever you offer must solve a problem. In the case of social media, the question should be, is what you say helping anyone solve a problem or are you just chatting?

    My take on social media marketing is this. Readers demand antigenicity. Anything that smells rotten will be discarded. Is you social media hype or commercial in nature? It’s more likely to fail if it’s off the mark when it comes to a readers expectation. No one wants to be sold – we all want honest information that actually helps us in some way.

    Social media must be used to support your core message, not to create it.

  9. says

    Agree with your points! We have to balance the two most-important elements: your social media marketing and your base. Your prospects’ impression especially the first impression will determine yon can meet your target or not.

  10. says

    I think this is such a timely article. I think people get so excited to be off and running on social media, but need to take the time to create a solid social media plan FIRST. In fact, I am going to take a clues a la points 6 & & and run out and buy an egg timer.

  11. says

    It’s all very fine to get interested about social media, but don’t forget that you can create your own social media within your own group. So for instance, um ‘social media’ has existed for thousands of years in religions, groups etc. And even on the Internet, we have had a ton of stuff in terms of forums etc.

    In the right forum, it’s like social media on steroids. This is because a good forum, unlike Facebook or Twitter, doesn’t allow for blatant ‘hey look at my website’ or ‘look at my post’ nonsense. And therein lies the conversation—social media conversation that can go back and forth. The best part (in my opinion) is that the relevant topics don’t die. They show up repeatedly as the topic becomes important. Sometimes posts from 6 years ago, get dredged and are new again.

    And yes, forums can be time suck too. If you waste time on them, yes anything can be a time suck. But if you use it well then it’s a huge boon. I write about an article every day, and I do it on the forum in response to a question. This makes the answer really stand out, and it’s relevant to the topic. You can use it to ask questions and know that the people answering it are at least somehow not from the mass of humanity, but actual folks who are interested in the topic.

    There are many ways to look at social media, and I’m sure I went right off tangent. But hey, it’s 6:18 AM here. A guy has the right to wander around at that time of a winter’s morning (Yup, still winter in NZ, but getting warmer).

    • says

      Agreed — a well-run forum is one of the best social platforms there is. You get continuity, you build great trust and rapport, and you can really get in-depth.

      It depends on your customers, though. Facebook has so many users, and has become such a key part of mainstream life, that it’s hard to pass up.

  12. says

    I think the #2 point of the “face” is so critical and that can be the golden step that many small business owners fail to grasp. A real persona sells. People love to have their icons, gurus, and whatnot with some real standout characteristics and eccentricities. Milquetoast has no place in business.

    On the flipside, as you said, people also don’t want to hear about you lunch or your speeding tickets.

    I am a firm believer in a separate social media plan for your business persona vs. your “real” life. I know it’s something that I need to work on, and I’m glad that you brought it up here.

    -Joshua Black
    The Underdog Millionaire

  13. Liz says

    Thank you for reminding people who are using social media to promote their BUSINESS to not get too personal and to keep the posts on topic.

    On Twitter, I just un-followed two e-entrepreneurs for a) ranting and raving about politics (a vegan chef!) and b) tweeting 14 times in an hour. Just like I would have walked out of their STORE if they had preached about politics or chatted incessantly.

  14. says

    I completely agree with point #5 about time management. I remember someone said there is a theory that a task will take up as much time as you give it. Your example of checking sites to see what’s new is perfect. We’ve all been there, “Oh, it’ll only take a minute,” then 45 minutes later we wonder where the time went. I love the idea of the kitchen timer. I use a daily calender on my computer to “budget” the hours of my day for each task.

  15. says

    Thanks for the information. I’m trying to play catch-up, to learn everything I feel I need to know. Nice to have a clear, well-written article to reference as I asorb all this new information.

  16. says


    You’ve shared some great insights here so I’ll share my thoughts on each one:

    1) Home Base: I remember the earlier days of my blog when I wasn’t using a premium theme. I definitely had readers and comments. But right after my first redesign and upgrade, people who had read my blog before started to take me much more seriously. I think if you can’t afford to hire a designer your best bet is to use a premium them and go simple.

    2) The Face of a Business: I think that the corporate world from can learn quite a bit from bloggers. It always amazes me that a corp blog with a million dollar budget makes me want to gouge my eyes out and somebody who doesnt’ have two pennies to rub together produces amazing/interesting stuff. One of the most interesting challenges of having a “personality” in social media is the amount of red tape people sometimes have to deal with. At the end of the day I think that you have to be willing to showcase some of your personality even if it is on behalf of a brand. I ran the twitter account and blog for a travel company and I remember having a conversation with a blogger about the television shows he liked. If we can let go of making it all about business and take a genuine interest in the people connecting with us, it goes a long way.

    3) Other People Who Have Your Customers: I remember asking Dave Navarro in an interview that I did with him how to leverage another person’s audience. The key is basically to offer something that complements but doesn’t compete. Bloggers do this well and brands could learn from it. Why isn’t a hotel chain partnering with an airline for social media marketing campaigns/contests?

    4) On Managing Time/Platforms: As far as time goes, I think it’s easy to get really unproductive and chase the next shiny thing. I think we can’t really say that there is right or wrong way to manage your time. My only time management rule is work when you are most productive. But I do think it’s important not to waste time as you said. in terms of platforms, going where your customers are is key. I think some people get caught up in the “We need to be on twitter because everybody is” mindset. If your customers are not there, then you should focuson on where they are.

    5) On Content: I told the people I spoke to at at travel industry conference: tell the stories of the people in your organization, tell the stories of the customers, tell the stories of customers using your products. In my opinion good content comes down to telling a good story.

    6) I’m no SEO expert so i’ll defer to you on that one:)

    Great write up that I’m sure I’ll be coming back to over and over again.

    • says

      That’s a whole mini-post in itself! :)

      You point to a lot of issues that big companies have trouble with — it’s hard for them to trust and let their employees show some personality, it’s hard for them to create joint ventures and navigate all the contract issues. There are some beautiful advantages to being small (but powerful)!

    • says

      It really does help! Also good for when you’re in that I-don’t-wanna mode, for example if you’re procrastinating on writing. (Not that I have ever done that.) Set that timer for 20 minutes, it’s amazing how much you can get done. And usually when it rings, I’ve broken the inertia problem and I want to keep going.

  17. says

    Great comments, I am so new to blogging, a lot like a sponge just soaking everything up at this stage. I would love to know how to use social platforms eg.Facebook to promote the websites I build for back links maybe. I have been building sites for a few years now and apparently I can get back link juice from Social media. Do any of you guys know much about promoting websites on Facebook for example? I will keep reading and learning, it’s great to see so many people helping each other without negatives and complaints.
    Thanks again all.
    Best regards Steve

  18. says

    I am wondering if this niche approach would be more advantageous with major search directories like Google. The system might naturally have so much to catalog that it processes information in trees. Those trees that are well connected are considered a community and those who have the most conversation going on are likely to have higher rankings. Therefore, it may be beneficial to comment on other blogs and link to those blogs as well.

  19. says

    Hi Sonia,

    Sensational pointers here!

    #6 resonates with me, BIG TIME. I luv engaging, and I do add value to wherever I’m at.

    But I have a real talent for churning out copious amounts of usable, impactful content. I intend to get back to writing 3 blog posts a day, shooting a handful of videos and producing new cash gifting content daily. I will set aside a number of hours in the morning to do this, then proceed to network later in the day.

    Conversations are wonderful, especially when we’re adding value, engaging and answering real questions. But we all need to honor our unique talents, the things we do best, so we can provide the most value to those around us.

    Thanks for sharing your keen insight Sonia. I appreciate the shift you just provided me with!


  20. says

    I’ve been meaning to sign up for social networking sites, but haven’t got around to doing so. This post is a great explanation of how to use social media effectively.

    I’m concerned that I’ll spend a lot of time using social media, so I may have to set limits!

  21. says

    I really love this. Point six makes since to me since because this is the evolution that I am in. My first change was to move from learning to doing. I spent more time learning than actual implementing. Now I am learning that I have to keep producing content. I answer most emails and respond when something is directed, but this a great article. thanks

  22. says

    Thanks Sonia,

    Is a great wrap-up of SEM. I find the most important guideline is to be authentic and consistent.
    Content is critical for a website, but for social marketing I find it plays second fiddle to consistency.

  23. says

    yep i agree, working on homebase first, and then social media
    imho google searchers are much more interested in your content than your friends

  24. says

    Thank you for your insight on how to best use social media for marketing. The question I has relates to The static content used in product descriptions. If it does not change from day to day, how does Google treat it from an SEO perspective. For instance, if I describe an executive desk I cannot change the content associated with it every day. Your thought on this will be greatly appreciated.

  25. says

    To sum it up…Home base blogging first with one social media tied into YouTube and tie this into my home base. Conversations are at the end of my day for 20 minutes. Is this correct?

  26. says

    Thanks, Sonia. I needed the reminder right now. Content before conversation. It’s so easy to get the priorities mixed up. I guess that’s one of the reasons I’m subscribed to Copyblogger :)

  27. says

    Thanks good post – I’m so bad at making the 2 minutte Facebook visits only last the 2 minuttes.

    But a good question is – how many time would you say a new blogger should update their socialsites (FB/twitter and so on)???

    All the best

  28. says

    I particularly agree with Element No.5. I’ve seen so many clients that were given the best social media plan but failed to execute it correctly because they didn’t manage their time efficiently. We as a company have many clients who have basically overexpanded their social media reach, tried to connect with too many networks and users and end up with thin content, thin relationships and ultimately a social media platform that doesn’t connect or function well.

    Thanks for that!

  29. says

    Sonia great insight on point #5:
    “The best tool I’ve found for managing social media time is a $3 kitchen timer. Decide in advance how much time you’ll spend checking in and being social, and stick to that.”
    I often find myself setting the alarm on my phone to go off in 10 minute intervals to keep myself on track with multiple projects. I find that dedicating a set amount of time to tasks rather than overloading my mind with one project keeps ideas fresh and organizes my day.

  30. says

    Great article that we’ll be sharing with clients. So many small businesses have no clue how to conduct themselves online (personal, all business, somewhere in between) and this article is a fantastic “30,000-foot” view of how to go about establishing your online personality and style. As always, thanks for the great content Copyblogger!

  31. says

    It is all about the pre-sell, and yes point 6 about content first is an old internet marketing/SEO golden rule.

    It is then about aggregating that content to the relevant channels and this is usually better to be multiple in my opinion, but horses for courses and al that.

    The main point I agree with is this: “Content before conversation” which just so happens to be how we work at Aim Social.

  32. Alessandra says

    Love the part where it says that you might love Twitter, but Facebook is probably a better outlet for your business. I think that this is so true for so many businesses. They need to find their niche, and they need to be pushing out valuable content where their audience resides. Know your audience! I recently wrote a blog post about small biz, big biz and social media. Check it out here:

  33. says

    Wonderful foundational principles for SM marketing!

    Essential Element i’d add is integrating your profiles.

    If your different properties aren’t connected, then they’re operating independently: leaking traffic, and functioning with limited value.

    When their integrated around a central hub (usually your blog or website), and woven together, each acts as a spoke for the wheel, making it stronger.

    Link them all together. Make sure they point to each other, and back to the center.

    The trick is balancing that strategy with #4… And it all takes time.

  34. says

    Ouch! My husband and I were talking about 5 & 6, but in conjunction with something he’s working on.

    I needed to hear the same advice from you! A lot of great thoughts.

    I’m glad to know there are some things I’m doing right, but wish I had read something like this before I started my blog. Thanks again!

  35. Serge Trad says

    Hey, i’m trying to manage different Facebook and twitter accounts as inside marketing for the company, but i’m not finding a way to increase my number of likes and followers ! i don’t want automated followers from a silly twitter app ! i need help ! right ?

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