Social Media: The Absolute Beginner’s Guide for Business and Marketing

Dec 12, 2023

As of 2020, over 3.6 billion people across all demographics use at least one social network. By 2025, that figure is expected to grow to a whopping 4.41 billion. With about half of the global population already using social media apps and platforms like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, brands would be foolish to neglect its power.

Today we’ll cover the social media basics: what it is, how it works, the different types of social platforms, and how to use it for marketing. Buckle up!

Table of Contents

  • What is Social Media?
  • How Social Media Sites and Apps Work
  • Types of Social Media Platforms and Networks
  • Top Social Networks and Platforms to Consider for Marketing
  • Why Do You Need Social Media for Marketing?
  • Common Social Media Disadvantages and Mistakes to Avoid
  • Elements of a Successful Social Media Marketing Strategy

What is Social Media?

Wikipedia defines social media as:

Interactive computer-mediated technologies that facilitate the creation or sharing of information, ideas, career interests, and other forms of expression via virtual communities and networks.

To fit under the social media umbrella, a digital tool must have a few basic characteristics:

  • Runs on an interactive web-based application.
  • Relies on user-generated content.
  • Users create unique profiles that the social app/website designs and maintains.
  • Networks form when individual users connect with other individuals or groups via their profiles.

Social media differs from other tools like radio, newspapers, and TV in that everyone can make an account on most platforms. Most social apps and websites are free for anyone to join and post. With the right strategy and interesting content, anyone can amass a following on social media platforms.

With social media marketing, brands and organisations develop a strategy with goals and tactics to connect with customers. Social media marketing lets you reach a wide yet highly targeted audience while promoting your products and content.

How Social Media Sites and Apps Work

It really depends on the specific app or tool.

Generally, most social media apps require you to create a unique account for your person or brand with an email address or phone number and handle. Some platforms, like Facebook, require individual accounts to create pages rather than accounts for their business.

Most social apps and sites supply a curated feed on the home screen with content from pages, hashtags, and accounts you’ve followed. These feeds are usually personalised using AI-driven algorithms and machine learning based on the user’s previous behavior on the platform.

The longer someone uses the app, the better the app gets at selecting relevant content and advertisements.

You can also interact with other accounts and pages via comments, reactions, shares, and saves.

Many social media platforms offer private messaging features as well where you can send a direct message to pages or accounts. Likewise, customers can send your brand a personal message.

Types of Social Media Platforms and Networks

When you sign up for a new social platform, it takes time to get it right. A big reason for this is that social media apps follow different structures. Some are focused on discussions or blogging while others are more image-heavy or shopping-centric.

Social Networks

People and brands share a wide range of copy and multimedia content with a network they’ve built.

Ex: Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter

Media Sharing Platforms

Users share, search, save, and browse multimedia-based content like images and videos.

Ex: YouTube, Instagram, TikTok


Discussion Forums

This format is designed to encourage questions and long-form discussions, often anonymously.

Ex: Reddit, 4chan, Quora


Content Curating and Bookmarking

The emphasis here is more on the content itself and not the creator or poster. Bookmarking apps are highly searchable and personalised based on behavior.

Ex: Pinterest

Review Social Networks

Users reach for their favourite review social network when they need peer advice on places to go and things to buy. 84% of people trust online reviews as much as a friend’s recommendation.

Ex: Yelp, Trustpilot, TripAdvisor


Blogging and Publishing

Some blogging sites function more like social networks with curated feeds, comments, and reactions. Users can post their long-form writing and follow/interact with others.

Ex: Medium, Tumblr

Niche Social Media Platforms

Whatever your niche is, you can bet there’s a dedicated social media platform. Wikipedia lists over 100 different social media apps for everything from Chinese healthcare professionals to the Turkish version of 4chan.

Ex: DeviantArt, Goodreads, Athlinks


Marketplaces and Shopping

Some shopping apps have a social networking vibe for connecting with other users, saving ideas, and scrolling a curated feed.

Ex: Etsy, Ssense (formerly Polyvore)

Sharing Economy Platforms

Most sharing economy apps meet the basic criteria for social networks with a curated AI-driven endless feed based on behavior, likes/saves, and peer-to-peer interactions.

Ex: Airbnb, Poshmark, Rover

Top Social Networks and Platforms to Consider for Marketing

I can’t tell you which social networks to choose for your brand because it depends entirely on your audience. Ideally, you want to invest your time and energy into platforms with millions of monthly active users.

Smart Insights

Certain social media platforms are also more friendly for marketers and businesses than others. To succeed, you want to choose platforms that offer a wide range of both free and paid tools to help you reach your target audience and grow your engagement.

Some of the best social networks for brands right now include:

  • Facebook
  • Instagram
  • TikTok
  • YouTube

You might think YouTube is only for video-centric brands and creators but YouTube is also the world’s second-most popular search engine so it can be worth the investment in video.

Think about your target market’s demographics and the demographics of each platform base.

Don’t neglect the power of niche platforms too! If your focus is ecommerce, sites like Etsy, Instagram Shopping, and Pinterest are musts. If you create music or audio, for example, SoundCloud and Bandcamp are the way to go.

Why Do You Need Social Media for Marketing?

Face it: Every brand needs a comprehensive social media marketing strategy. It’s where your audience hangs out, so you need to hang out there too.

Spreading and Solidifying Brand Recognition

A social media presence exposes your brand to new audiences, giving you a chance to demonstrate your values and voice. Building familiarity encourages recognition and trust.

Engaging Your Customers and Audience

Today, it’s not only about the products you sell but the experience you provide. A solid social media presence gives you an opportunity to share non-promotional content – like infographics, blogs, eBooks, etc. – to improve your customer experience all around.

People want to see that you’re trying to improve their lives – not just make a quick buck. 84% of customers say treating them like a human instead of another number is the key to winning their business. It’s a simple concept but harder to put into practice than most brands realise – especially online.

You can’t rely on your charisma, charm, and wit unless you can translate it to internet activity. Social media is the perfect vessel.

Understanding Your Audience’s Perception of Your Brand

Years ago, brands had to invest tons of cash into focus groups and surveys if they wanted to understand what customers thought of their brand.

Not anymore!

Today, you can use social listening tools to track mentions of your brand, products, or key figures online. You can monitor the context every time someone talks about your brand – whether good or bad. By setting up similar alerts for your competitors, you can track how your brand stacks up against them too.

Researching and Understanding Your Audience Segments

Social media platforms also give you tons of reconnaissance opportunities. Tools built into social media apps and third-party analysis tools let you study your audience’s behavior and interests.

Use this information to identify upcoming trends, seasonal waves, and content marketing ideas. Platforms like Reddit are especially useful for accessing raw and unfiltered thoughts.

Providing Well-Rounded Customer Service

You never know exactly where a customer will want to communicate with your brand – but you better be there.

Some customers might want to text you on WhatsApp while others might just pop open your page on Facebook Messenger. Still, others will demand a response from you in the Facebook comments of your post.

A solid social media presence with a dedicated social media manager ensures you’re available to customers at every touchpoint.

Increasing Website Traffic and Sales

Without a strong social media marketing strategy, your options are fairly limited for reaching new audiences. PPC advertising is expensive and it can take months or years to rank organically in Google for your most relevant search terms.

Social media platforms give you a chance to share content like blogs, graphics, and eBooks and encourage traffic to your website.

You Can Make a Big Impact with Less $$

Social media ad spending is expected to reach nearly US$38 billion in 2020. Some brands spend a fortune on social media ads – but you don’t have to.

Most social platforms, like Facebook, give you super-advanced targeting tools to reach the right people at the perfect time. Unlike Google PPC, you have more liberty to customise your social media ads with graphics, copy, emojis, and links.

With a highly targeted and relevant strategy, you can stretch your money pretty far on social media and deliver incredible results.

Common Social Media Disadvantages and Mistakes to Avoid

Although over 91% of companies use social media, only 73% of small businesses do.

You can bet those 27% of anti-social small businesses have fallen victim to one of the problems below and got scared off.

Spreading Yourself Too Thin

You just can’t be everywhere at once. Lots of small businesses spread themselves way too thin on social media trying to maintain accounts on five different platforms.

You’ll see much better results sticking with just two or three platforms, depending on your budget and resources available. Social media is a full-time job even for just one or two platforms.

If you’re not sure which to choose, Facebook, Instagram, and YouTube are some of the most popular platforms across all demographics and they all offer great targeting tools.

Publishing Generic Content

No one will interact with – much less share – content they’ve seen 30 times. Using tools like BuzzSumo to see what people already shared thousands of times have is essential.

Likewise, creating content for a broad audience will never be relevant to anyone. People need niche topics right away to hook them in.

Which topic are you more likely to read and share:

  • 10 Workouts You Can Do at Home
  • 5 Shoulder Workouts for Women Using Only a Chair

Provided the reader is a woman, the second topic is far more relevant and interesting.

Running Untargeted Ads

Many brands think they can just throw money into ads and Facebook will get the content in the right places. Without a highly targeted strategy, social ad spending adds up fast.

Like your content, your ad groups should target people of specific age groups, professions, interests, and behaviors. Someone should say, “Wow, this is PERFECT for me!” when your ad shows up in their feed.

Social media algorithms and data are super advanced and accurate, but you have to put the work into targeting the right people.

Elements of a Successful Social Media Marketing Strategy

You simply can’t succeed on social media without a marketing strategy.

Even if you luck out and manage to go viral for a few random posts, that engagement won’t translate into targeted followers and long-term success.


You can’t succeed with your social media marketing if you don’t know what success looks like. SMART goals are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and time-based.

First, plan your general goals. Do you want to build brand awareness? Generate more sales for your ecommerce site?

From there, you can apply metrics to your goals to track them.

Beware of vanity metrics. Breaking two million followers might sound cool but if they aren’t in your target market and highly engaged, they might as well not be there.

Metrics like clicks, shares, and comments tell you much more about your brand’s presence. Putting them together into key performance indicators – such as your reach-to-click rate – is even better.

A Comprehensive Understanding of Your Audience

The straight fact is, you can never perform well on social media if you don’t understand your audience. You must know who makes up your current followers and who you wish to reach in the future.

Understand as much about them as possible:

  • How old are they?
  • What’s their gender?
  • Do they work full-time? What do they do?
  • What media outlets do they read and watch?
  • What are their hobbies and aspirations?
  • What skills do they have and at what level?
  • Do they have kids? How many and what age?
  • Are they married or single?
  • Where do they live? Do they live in urban, suburban, or rural areas?
  • What do they dislike?
  • What are they afraid of?
  • What are their friends like?

These questions might seem like overkill, but they’re all essential for understanding who you’re trying to reach. Without building comprehensive profiles for your audience segments, your content will never be relevant enough to resonate with them and your social media account will fall flat.

Post Quality Content on a Regular Schedule

Consistency is key. Both social media algorithms and human followers need consistency from your posts.

This doesn’t mean you have to post five times a day on every platform. In fact, you should never post that much unless you have high-quality content to share.

Instead, go with best practices for each platform.

  • Facebook: 2x per day
  • Instagram: 1x per day or 2x per week depending on your brand
  • YouTube: 1x per week or 2x per month depending on your resources

Create an editorial calendar and plan your content at least a month in advance so you’re always prepared.

Consider how often your audience uses each platform and when they’re online. For example, a stay-at-home mom might be more active online during the kid’s naptime while a student might spend more time online all hours of the day.

Stick with a Single Topic for Each Post

Organic social media posts are free. There’s no need to cram multiple ideas into a single post.

Your content will perform much better when you stick with a single topic and call-to-action in each post. It keeps attention directed and tells people exactly what you want them to do.

If you give people two or more CTAs, choice overload takes over and decision paralysis kicks in.

On that note, keep your copy concise, engaging, and highly relevant as well.

Use Hashtags and All the Platform’s Available Tools

Social media platforms give you tons of tools to expand your presence and reach new audiences without spending a dime.

Relevant hashtags are vital on platforms like Instagram and Twitter.

Make sure you choose niche hashtags super relevant to your audience and post topic. Don’t pick a broad hashtag like #fitness just because you think it’s high-volume. Your post will just get lost in the 10 million other posts.

Likewise, YouTube content should be tweaked for SEO just like you would with blog posts. Use a keyword in your title, write an engaging and actionable description with the keyword, and include a handful of relevant tags.

Learn what works on each platform for content in your industry and run with it.

High-Quality Video and Images

High-quality original content is always the way to go on social media platforms: infographics, videos, GIFs, etc.

Canva is a free tool but packed with awesome features for creating your own social media graphics in the right size. Don’t forget to use your brand’s logo and colour guidelines so your media content always drives that brand recognition home.

Unless you’re creating a long-form YouTube series, social media videos should be brief – between 30 seconds and two minutes. People want straightforward digestible video content on Facebook and Instagram.

It’s also smart to repurpose media content from other sources and cross-post. Instagram Stories and TikTok are perfect for this.

Just avoid sharing direct links between competing platforms (such as a YouTube link on Facebook). Social platforms want to keep people on their app so they might throttle your reach.

Keep a Consistent Voice and Tone

Consistency creates familiarity which ultimately breeds trust. Switching from a friendly and warm tone one day to a technical tone the next feels unsettling. People won’t be able to figure out what your brand represents.

It’s smart to create a set of brand guidelines for each social media network so your copy always sounds the same no matter who’s writing it.

Beyond your brand, each social media platform has a certain aesthetic tone as well. Instagram, for example, is light and airy while LinkedIn is professional and punchy. Your brand’s copy should reflect the overall vibe of each platform.

Get to Work and Kill It with Your Social Media Marketing

With something as fast-paced as social media, it’s easy to forget that sustainable success comes from in-depth research and planning. Research everything: your audience, the platform’s users, platform tools, unique voices, preferred content, your competition.

Once you finish the research, you can start developing goals along with a strategy and tactics to bring your social media plan to life.

Our down-to-earth team at Kubbco has the skills, experience, and personality your brand needs to make an impact online. Check out our social media services to see how.

Chris Kubbernus

As CEO of Kubbco, Chris leads the company's vision and uses his 20 years of advertising experience to drive results for our clients.

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