Think back to your life before social media. How did you even spend all your free time? Just as social media has changed our lives on a personal level, it has had a major impact on how businesses approach marketing.
To understand just how social media has changed marketing, you first need to remember how things were before social media existed.
Marketing Before Social Media
There was digital marketing before social media, but it was limited in both application and effectiveness. Email joined the ranks of outbound marketing tactics and the advent of search engines allowed for the first inbound marketing. SEO in these early days involved what we consider today as black hat techniques: keyword stuffing, content stuffed with backlinks, and the overuse of tags.
In these days, it was still more common for businesses to rely on non-digital forms of marketing, like print, TV, radio, and telephone marketing.
How Social Media Has Had an Impact on Marketing
When social media hit the internet, its purpose was still as its name implies: to build and maintain social connections. Platforms were for individuals to network; they were free from businesses and ads. Just try to remember how your Facebook or Twitter feed looked more than 10 years ago — it’s unrecognizable from today.
Gradually, social media changed from a place where you connected mostly with friends to a space where users could follow brands and individuals like celebrities and influencers. This led to some major changes in the way businesses approached marketing.
Marketing Is More Accessible Than Ever
One of the biggest obstacles to starting a new business used to be marketing. Without marketing, no one knows that your company exists. However, paying for traditional marketing is expensive — and the results are often negligible.
A key selling point of social media marketing is that it’s open to everyone. It’s easy to set up an account on any platform and there are no costs to getting started. In fact, many businesses are able to reach their audience by running only organic marketing campaigns — never paying for ads at all. This gives small companies with limited budgets the chance to reach customers like never before.
Organic and Paid Campaigns in One Place
Of course, most businesses will want to run the occasional ad. Social media gives you the chance to run free campaigns and ads in the same place. This means you can post content without promoting it and supplement with ads to reach a wider audience. Plus, since ads are targeted, you can use them to drive highly-qualified users to your account. For instance, most platforms allow you to target according to demographics, interests, activity on the platform, and psychographics.
Easy Access to Big Data
The reason paid advertising has become so massive on social media is the access to big data. Traditional marketing has always involved targeting a broad audience. This means many of the people you reach will be uninterested in what you have to offer. As a result, return on investment is low.
As social media has grown, the data it can provide to businesses has become more detailed. Big data means you don’t just see who responds to your message, you can use the information to improve your marketing. In fact, you can even change your strategy as you receive data, tweaking aspects like the audience you target, your message, and what time you deliver content. Plus, by removing guesswork from marketing, big data all but ensures that each campaign is better than the last.
Customer Service and Marketing Are Linked
Customer service used to be distinct from marketing. There are now times when it’s impossible to divide the two. Users rely on social media to communicate with a company when they have a problem with a product or a service they’ve already purchased as well as when they want information to come to a decision about purchasing. It’s much more convenient than calling and gives customers the chance to ask about the most minor things.
The Evolution of Social Media Marketing on the Major Platforms
Many social media platforms have popped up over the years. Some have died and others have thrived, but the top ones are always changing. The most popular platforms today all survived in part because they have something unique to offer businesses in terms of marketing.
What started out as a place to leave messages for friends that would be visible to everyone (remember the Wall?) evolved to become a major source of information. As well as news, this includes information from businesses — about new products and services, but also tips, content, and anything else companies think users would find interesting. It’s no exaggeration to say that Facebook redesigned how we think of social media marketing.
The posts that receive the most engagement on social media tend to be visual content. It’s unsurprising, then, that a platform designed around visual content has become extremely successful. Since Facebook bought the platform, Instagram has become one of the most popular social media channels. It has played a crucial role in driving the influencer economy, which opened new opportunities for brands who want someone to vouch for their offerings.
Although YouTube began as a place for users to upload their own videos, it evolved to become the go-to place for practically all types of video content on the internet. Brands use the platform to host their (often professionally-made) videos. Plus, YouTube gives brands a new way to use video ads, which they can run before videos of other users.
Users may spend less time on LinkedIn than most of the other social media platforms, but it has a different purpose from all the other channels. In fact, LinkedIn has given marketers a specific place to direct their efforts when they want to reach professionals, such as for B2B advertising. It has also changed how people post jobs and look for work.
Twitter has always been one of the simplest social media platforms. There was a time when users loved the 140-character limit and Twitter almost rivaled Facebook. Since then, it has faced tough times and changed considerably: users can now post images and videos (rather than just text), the character limit has doubled, and businesses have become more active. Now the go-to place for users to complain when they feel a company has treated them unfairly, Twitter has developed into a key place to provide customer support.
Younger users want a social media channel free from their parents. Snapchat both provided this and started the trend of allowing users to create impermanent content. As Gen Z gains more purchasing power, Snapchat is growing in importance for businesses who want to reach younger consumers where they are.
Another visual platform, Pinterest has an advantage over Instagram in that you can include links in posts. Plus, pins last much longer than the posts on almost any other social media platform, which is great for marketers who want to create content that will keep on receiving views and engagement.
The main way Reddit is different from all other social media platforms is the anonymity of its users. This means users connect based on interests rather than communicating mainly with people they know. Furthermore, marketers have the unique opportunity to target particular communities, including extremely specific niches.
The newest social media platform to see rapid growth is TikTok. Although it started off being mainly for teenagers, TikTok has quickly become one of the top 10 social media platforms in the world. In the short time it’s been around, it has already made a big impact in brand marketing: through hashtag challenges. These challenges involve inviting users to create videos according to a criteria the brand sets. Whereas you can create free hashtag challenges, they’re more effective if you pay for an ad.
How Social Media Has Affected Business
Social media hasn’t just affected marketing; it has changed the way businesses operate. Social media has impacted companies of all sizes in different ways and no industry has been untouched.
Before social media, communication between businesses and consumers was a one-way conversation. Businesses could address their prospects and customers, but consumers were unable to say anything back. The chance for users to respond has been beneficial for businesses, as they now know what their audience thinks. For instance, businesses that receive negative feedback can apologize and change their message, offering, or customer support appropriately.
With social media, companies are able to show a human side and develop a connection with their audience. This can mean posting behind-the-scenes stories, taking a stance on a social issue, or just creating content where your personality is able to shine through.
There are no limitations to who your business can reach with social media. It’s just as easy for your business to deliver a message to a person on the other side of the world as to someone in the same neighborhood as you. This is particularly useful for online businesses, as it puts no limit on their growth.
Keep Current Customers Engaged
Social media makes it much easier to keep in touch with current customers. Users who feel a sense of loyalty toward your brand or want to know about your latest offerings will follow your social media accounts. By posting regularly about things these users find interesting or useful, you’ll keep followers engaged and strengthen the connection they feel toward your brand. It’s even better still when you involve users directly, such as in a hashtag campaign, contest, or giveaway.
Social media has changed businesses’ approach to marketing once and for all. No matter how big or small your company, it has led to new opportunities, made marketing more effective, and even changed what marketing means.