Social media has changed the game for brands. To understand how, imagine a party attended by brands and consumers. In the pre-social media era, consumers would have a good old time, while brands, dressed to the nines, would attempt to catch consumer attention. No one really knew what other people were thinking, unless a close friend happened to whisper an opinion in your ear.
Today, in the social media era, the dynamics of this party are different. It’s bigger and louder—but more importantly, the guests also relate to each other differently. At today’s party, consumers collectively judge and promote both brands and each other. One person can shout their opinion at the top of their lungs and get others to rally around them—or against you. It’s like a cross between a nightclub and the Roman colosseum. The crowd can save you or condemn you—displease it at your peril.
To succeed at this party, business owners need to understand audience preferences and behaviors, research competitors, social media trends and social selling, and use insights to develop a presence that breaks through the noise by working with (not against) cultural forces.
What is social media branding?
Social media branding is a digital marketing strategy in which businesses distribute content on social media platforms to increase brand recognition and build connections with their target audience.
Your social media branding strategy is part of your company’s larger brand strategy, and your social media brand is an extension of your company’s brand identity. Although consistent branding is important, some businesses treat their social media brand as a subset of their main brand, further refining brand colors, brand voice, and brand tone for success on social media platforms.
How to build your brand on social media in 5 steps
To succeed in the social media branding game, business owners need to set goals, understand their target audiences, develop a strong social media branding strategy, and create an organized implementation plan. Follow these five steps to harness the brand-building power of social media platforms.
1. Audit your current social media presence
If you’re already running social media campaigns, perform a social media audit to establish baseline metrics. Run reports on follower counts, audience growth rates, engagements, and impressions for all of your social media accounts, and take special note of high-performing content.
2. Define your social media brand strategy
Your social media marketing efforts should support your overall business strategy. Review your core values, brand strategy, and strategic objectives, and draft a social media brand strategy that includes the following:
- Goals. What do you want to achieve on social media? Set specific goals for your social media program—and potentially each platform—that ladder up to your business goals. For example, if your goal is to boost sales by 10% in the next quarter, you might set a social media goal of increasing traffic to your ecommerce store by 25% over the same period.
- Target audiences. Your social media target audience may be the same as your business’s overall target audience, or it may be a specific subset of your audience. Conduct research to determine which of your audience segments are most active on social media platforms, taking note of demographics, interests, and media consumption preferences.
- Key social networks. Different social media networks serve different audiences, provide different features, and display content differently—so you’ll want to focus on the ones right for your business. Instagram serves a relatively young audience, provides in-app shopping features, and relies heavily on photos, making it a good choice for online retailers that target young adults as well as brands with compelling visual content. LinkedIn, on the other hand, serves an older audience demographic with a higher level of educational attainment, allows links to articles, and displays long-form narrative posts, making it better suited to professional services companies and brands in the B2B space.
- Voice, tone, and visual identity guidelines. To help your social media team implement consistent branding across platforms, create written brand guidelines that include visual identity, brand voice, and brand tone, keeping in mind that your social media brand may differ slightly from your main brand identity. If you plan to vary your brand based on channel—say, you’ll crack jokes on Twitter but embrace sincerity on Instagram—make sure to note that as well.
- Content pillars and types. Use your goals and target audience research to determine what types of content you want to share on each platform, and what conversations you want to be involved in. Your strategy should include content pillars (key topics or themes) and post types, which could include everything from team photos to articles to memes.
3. Create a social media content calendar
A content calendar establishes posting frequency, topics, and post types for each of your social media channels.
Use your content calendar to work backward from the focus areas identified in your content strategy to monthly or weekly themes, and finally, to individual post types. If your ecommerce store sells pre-packaged organic smoothie ingredients for busy professionals, the process might look like this:
- Q1 focus: New ingredients highlights and self-improvement tips for the new year
- January topics: The health benefits of papaya, productivity hacks, and recipes
- Posts types: Blog posts, company culture posts, infographics, polls, memes, and influencer marketing partnership posts
From there, create content and build out a calendar of social media posts, making sure to identify content that can be reshared at a later date.
4. Build your asset library
To maintain consistent visual branding, create a library of assets for use on social media channels. This might include Instagram templates, infographics, videos, product photos, team photos, and downloadable assets such as a one-pager describing a product or service.
5. Monitor results and adjust strategy
Once your social media campaigns are running, set weekly or monthly times to run a social media analytics report and compare results to your baseline numbers and goals. Analyze engagement and customer data to identify top-performing content and adjust your strategy accordingly.
Examples of successful social media branding
Successful social media branding efforts typically follow these best practices:
- They conduct audience research and tailor content to the platform and audience.
- They allow for flexibility and fun, and capitalize on trends—all without straying from brand identity.
- They monitor metrics and adjust their social media branding strategies to optimize results.
These two social media brands demonstrate best practices in action.
Jewelry brand Mejuri invests a significant amount in social media branding, and for good reason: The company’s target demographic is made up of heavy social media users, and its products are both photogenic and online shopping-friendly.
Mejuri has over 1.1 million followers on Instagram. To achieve this reach, it employs three full-time social media staff who log hundreds of hours of competitor and audience research each month. In 2022, the company adjusted its social media marketing strategy based on these findings, incorporating more “real-life” photos of Mejuri staff modeling their products, as well as branded content that promotes a lifestyle desirable to its target audience, like this snow day compilation that leads with a kitten photo. “Our social strategy is driven primarily by what we predict our target demo is looking for and wants to engage with based on our data analysis,” says Majed Masad, president and co-founder of Mejuri.
The brand also uses a social media analytics tool to measure reach, comments, and conversions and improve performance.
Activewear company Loungefit’s social media branding leverages TikTok’s affinity for unfiltered, behind-the-scenes content to build connection with its target audiences.
Founder Andre Smith’s Day in the Life series features Smith going about his life in Loungefit clothing, from waking up at 5 a.m. to packing an order. Loungefit’s social media brand strategy demonstrates how tailoring brand tone and content to platform pays off: In the early days of the business, 80% of Smith’s sales came from TikTok.
Social media branding FAQ
Which social media platforms should I use for my branding efforts?
The best social media platform for your small business brand depends on two main factors: your target audiences and your product type.
- Target audience. Be where your customers are. Research audience demographics by platform, and choose the platform that serves your target audience.
- Your products or services. If your ecommerce store sells products, consider social media platforms with in-app shopping experiences, like Instagram. If you sell services, choose platforms with display parameters that can accommodate your content.
How do I measure the success of my social media branding efforts?
Social media marketers use social media analytics tools to measure the success of their social media branding efforts. These tools can help you measure engagement, reach, and click-through rate, identify top-performing content, and measure return on investment for your social media marketing strategy.
What types of content should I be sharing on my social media profiles?
While your exact content mix will vary depending on your target audience and social network selections, most experts recommend a mix of promotional, educational, and entertaining content. A common rule of thumb is that 80% of your content should provide educational or entertainment value to your audience, and 20% should directly promote your products and services.
What is user-generated content and how can I incorporate it into my social media branding?
User-generated content is any content created by individual people—not by businesses or brands. This can include customers, employees, or fans of your brand. To incorporate user-generated content into your social media branding, solicit customer reviews or encourage your customers to tag you in posts and feature a few social media posts on your company's social media channels.