What Is Social Media Marketing? Definition, Examples, More

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What Is Social Media Marketing?

Consumers are spending more time than ever on social media networks and platforms. According to We Are Social, a digital analytics firm, the average American spends 1.7 hours on social media platforms every day (Smart Insights), while a recent report by the non-profit organization Common Sense Media found that teens spend nine hours each day consuming digital media (Washington Post).

To reach audiences who increasingly rely on Instagram, YouTube, Snapchat, Facebook, and several other social media platforms for information and entertainment, today’s top brands and companies are developing social media marketing strategies designed to increase engagement with social media users and boost brand awareness through social interactions, conversations, and sharing. Before investing in social media marketing, however, it is important to obtain a firm understanding of why this form of marketing is effective, as well as the distinctions between social media marketing and other forms of digital advertising.

The Prevalence Of Social Media Marketing Today

While leveraging audience engagement on social media platforms may have been considered an innovative strategy five years ago, most competitive brands now recognize the importance of social media marketing as a vital aspect of a larger digital marketing strategy. A recent survey of nearly 4,000 marketers and business owners found that 96% of participants use social media marketing, and 92% of those surveyed believe that social media marketing is important to the success of their business (Social Media Examiner). Another study conducted by the Pew Research Center discovered that over 90% of brands currently use two or more social networks (Adweek).

The Different Types Of Social Media Marketing Campaigns & Strategies

Social media is a powerful tool because it allows people to communicate and engage with others by sharing Facebook videos, Instagram photos, YouTube videos, Snapchat Stories, and other forms of content with their friends and followers. For brands, leveraging these social conversations provides a valuable way to increase a company’s exposure, establish a positive brand identity, and integrate a brand’s name and/or content into millions of social media interactions.

Related Post: What Is Sponsored Content?

Simply creating and publishing great content, therefore, fails to take advantage of social media’s Word Of Mouth (WOM) recommendations/shares and severely limits the number of consumers who could potentially engage with a brand and its content. Some social media marketing strategies that help incentivize audiences to share content include developing:

Hashtag Campaigns

Creating a branded hashtag is one of the simplest ways for brands to increase their visibility to social media audiences, and many companies now use branded hashtag campaigns to inspire audiences to create and share their own brand-related content.

Giveaways & Contests

Hosting a contest or distributing promotional codes can generate social buzz and encourage social media users to take a specific action. Companies can leverage contests, raffles, and giveaways to inspire followers to produce user-generated content (UGC) or share a brand’s content on their own social media channels.

Viral Videos

To increase exposure, many brands create content designed to be shared by millions across social media channels. While it is difficult to know which photo, video, or tweet will “go viral,” producing highly relatable, creative, funny, and/or shocking content is often an effective strategy for reaching new consumers and facilitating social conversations.

Social media takeovers involve allowing a social media user (often a celebrity, digital influencer, or expert) to take control of a brand’s owned media channel for a set period of time. This social media marketing strategy can serve to boost a brand’s content and/or channel by exposing the company to new audiences.  

Social Media Marketing: Owned vs. Earned vs. Paid Media

Knowing the differences between earned media, owned media, and paid media (as well as where these three types of marketing can overlap) helps marketers and brands understand how social media marketing differs from other types of digital/social media advertising:

Owned Media

Owned media is defined as any content or digital properties controlled by the brand, including websites, social media pages/accounts, company blogs, etc. Because brands can communicate directly with consumers through their owned media content, developing great owned media materials is an efficient way for companies to reinforce their identity and offer value (in the form of information and/or entertainment) to consumers.

Earned Media

Earned media is any type of brand-related media—social shares, reposts, retweets, positive reviews, user-generate content, PR mentions—that originate from social media users, not from the brand itself. Also commonly referred to a “word-of-mouth” marketing, earned media helps brands reach greater audiences by taking advantage of social media users’ influence and leveraging their social following to increase exposure.

Paid Media

Banner ads, pre-roll YouTube ads, brand sponsored posts on social media influencer channels, and paying to promote pieces of content are all examples of paid media. Like traditional advertising, paid media serves to increase the efficacy of a campaign or piece of content by boosting the number of people who see (and potentially interact with) the paid media.

Successful Social Media Marketing Campaign Examples

When done well, social media marketing can generate large amounts of user engagement, thousands (or millions) of social shares, and/or valuable pieces of user-generated content. As social media platforms and networks become increasingly inundated with content, it’s now vital that brands develop creative campaigns and engaging, shareable content.

Smith & Forge Hard Cider Sponsors Viral Thrillist Video

A prime example of earned media through effective social media advertising, Smith & Forge Hard Cider’s “Old Man Strength” video leveraged the reach and engagement of Thrillist‘s audience to generate a viral response and millions of social shares. In less than one week, the brand-sponsored video earned over 75M Facebook video views, 1.2M Facebook shares, and 330K YouTube views.

A photo posted by Daniel Wellington (@danielwellington) on

Daniel Wellington Leverages User-Generated Content

Watch manufacturer Daniel Wellington has grown the brand’s Instagram channel by asking consumers to post Instagram photos of themselves wearing Daniel Wellington watches (an example of user-generated content, or UCG) and tag their content with branded hashtags #DanielWellington, #DWPickoftheDay, and others. An excellent example of a brand converting earned media into owned media, Daniel Wellington’s social media marketing strategy has generated more than 860K pieces of content and garnered over 2.3M Instagram followers.

Related Post: An Inside Look At Daniel Wellington’s Instagram Marketing Empire

Taco Bell Celebrates New Taco Emoji By Creating “Taco Emoji Engine”

To take advantage of the excitement surrounding the release of the long-awaited taco emoji, QSR leader Taco Bell developed a “taco emoji engine” which automatically sent Twitter users one of 600 unique pieces of content when they tweeted @tacobell a taco emoji + any other emoji (see example above). Taco Bell developed the “taco engine” to encourage social media audiences to explore and share the branded content with their friends and followers (Adweek).

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