Social media has changed digital marketing. Consumers now learn about the latest products and services from their social feeds. However, not all social networks are created the same. For example, an ad that performs extremely well on Twitter may perform poorly on Facebook. That's why it's important to understand how each platform works to curate advertising content on each site.
Fortunately, learning the ropes of social media marketing doesn't require a business degree.
Social media marketing can often feel like an abstract practice. This article will help with the following questions:
- How can I learn the ins and outs of social media marketing?
- Where can I learn social media skills?
- How can I get free social media marketing?
- What qualifications do you need to be a social media marketer?
Two experts – Megan Stulberg, a self-employed social media and content strategist, and Alan Murdock, creative director of Green Vine Marketing and founder of Murdock Media Production – weighed in on this new, innovative world of advertising.
How to learn social media marketing
The first thing, according to Stulberg, is to understand which area of social media is the most meaningful to your brand.
To narrow your focus, ask yourself, "Do you want to focus on content creation, strategy, community management, digital marketing, paid media or beyond?" said Stulberg. "Where do your strongest skills lie?"
While there are several low-cost and free certifications and resources online (see below), the most important practice is right in front of you: "It may sound obvious, but the best social media tool out there is social media itself," said Stulberg. "The resources are right there. Watch what brands are doing, track what goes viral and why, study influencer engagement patterns, and keep up to date with how content is affected by new in-platform features."
Where to learn social media skills
Murdock recommends a variety of resources for learning this relatively new type of marketing. Follow websites like Social Media Examiner for the latest news and trends in the industry. He also suggests periodically skimming and studying social media white papers.
"There are a lot of data companies that provide current practices," he said. "Yes, they are trying to sell their data services, but for many of them, well-run social media feeds are the starting point for their service. They want you to be successful so you can buy what they offer. There can be some good information in those reports."
Also look for online courses, seminars and workshops to build your skills.
"Although often not necessary, certifications like Facebook Advertising Blueprint, Google Analytics Academy and HubSpot Academy's Inbound Marketing Certification are incredibly educational tools for beginners, and also look great on a resume," added Stulberg.
Here are a few online resources to kick-start your learning efforts. Not all are free, but they can be much more affordable than going back to school.
From the masterminds behind LinkedIn, Lynda compiles video courses from expert teachers that can be viewed on any device. Membership begins at $19.99 per month, which gives you unlimited access to all the site's content.
You may already be eligible for a free membership, especially if you're a solopreneur starting out. Check with your local library to see if they offer a free membership with your library card.
edX – which also runs mooc.org – is a massive open online course (MOOC) provider. Many of the courses are self-paced but follow a more traditional classroom feel than a DIY approach. However, even classes with a start and end date allow folks to access and interact with content after the course has ended.
Notable courses include Reputation Management in a Digital World by Curtin University (self-paced) and Social Media Marketing by Boston University (six weeks). Membership is free.
Coursera has compiled many MOOCs from top universities, such as Yale University and Stanford. Membership is free, but some courses require payment.
There is the option to pay for a certification, indicating you've successfully completed a course. For instance, Coursera offers Social Media Marketing Specialization from Northeastern University.
Similar to Lynda, Udemy instructors are industry leaders rather than academicians. Although with Udemy you pay for each course individually rather than with a monthly membership, there are more timely, specialized selections, such as Facebook Ads and Facebook Marketing Mastery and Instagram Marketing: A Step-By-Step to 10,000 Followers. Plus, many courses are under $20.
Unlike the other sites mentioned above, Skillshare is creator-focused. In other words, anyone can submit a course to Skillshare. As a result, the content is much more personalized. For instance, Brian Peters, the digital marketing strategist at Buffer, offers his own Introduction to Social Media Strategy course.
Membership is free, but access to certain content requires a Premium membership, which costs $15 a month.
How to generate free social media attention
Garnering free social media attention comes with a catch: It requires creativity, a hook of some sort. It doesn't necessarily have to involve a large budget or high production value, but the concept needs to be something people will find engaging and exciting enough to post on their own accounts. Merely adding a hashtag here and there won't get you desirable results.
"The best way to get free social media marketing is to set up interesting events, spaces or products that encourage your audience to photograph and share what you do," Murdock said. "I don't know how many theme park photos I've seen in my feed this week posted by friends and acquaintances, but each one of them is keeping that venue front of mind for me when I think about vacation."
Oftentimes, this can mean adjusting whatever project, event or space you have to be more pleasing to the eye. Party planners, for instance, often create photo booths but add logos and hashtags to encourage people to post the content online.
"[Go for] quality over quantity," said Stulberg. "Be intentional … Viewing social media work as entry-level is one of the biggest mistakes a company can make."
Qualifications of a social media marketer
In the business world, it has traditionally been difficult to rise through the ranks without a degree from a college or university. However, online business has made this less of a sticking point. The internet is constantly changing, evolving faster than any certification program can keep up with.
In other words, experiential skills learned outside of the classroom can be more valuable than textbook knowledge. Having a successful, engaging social media following can be a great example. Not only does engaging an online audience require being an effective communicator, it requires a unique type of creativity and strategy.
"For a social media role, employers are more likely to care about your experience – and what you can offer – rather than your formal education," said Stulberg. "Although I have a bachelor's degree in a relevant field, having strong communication skills and a creative mind are what have helped me the most. Time management, being data-driven, and having copywriting experience also make a world of difference."