39 Social Media Best Practices for Businesses on the Interwebz

We’re living in the digital age, and social media is one of the defining features of this tech zeitgeist—it’s pretty much a must for businesses today. 

Social media is one of the best ways for your brand to talk to your customers, prospects, and the world. Unlike more traditional marketing methods (like print ads, commercials, and emails), social media gives customers (and potential customers) the chance to have (public) conversations with companies. This is where you can really show off your company’s awesome customer experience.

Social media can be a much more intimate form of marketing too—ads show up next to status updates and pictures of babies—but ironically, since it’s public, it can actually generate more exposure. 

As of 2018, there are approximately 3.196 billion people using social media. That’s about 42% of the world’s population. And 76% of US customers are buying products they’ve seen on social media.

“Social media is a contact sport,” as Margaret Molloy, the Global Chief Marketing Officer & Head of New Development at Siegel+Gale, put it. And, like any sport, there are a number of rules you should be aware of when you’re putting together your social media profiles. 

In this deep dive into best practices for social media posts, we’ll look at:

Which social media channels should you be using?

There are dozens of social media platforms, and all of them attract different audiences and conversations. You might find illuminating (and challenging) political discussions on Twitter, niche memes on Reddit, and delicious casserole recipes on Pinterest. 

This doesn’t mean you need to be pushing ads on every single social network in existence. 

Instead, figure out which platforms are best for your business and go from there. Plan out a detailed social media campaign. Let’s look at the strengths and weaknesses of some of the biggest platforms.

Facebook

It’s the reigning king of social media. A whopping 69% of adults in the US use Facebook. Its audience is huge and diverse, and it sends the most website referral traffic compared to other networks. About 75% of females and 63% of males are users. Representation across age groups is fairly equal, but highest amongst the 18–64 crowd. People go to Facebook for news, entertainment, staying connected with others, and shopping.

Instagram

It’s also one of the most popular networks, but the audience is a little more narrow. It’s hugely popular with younger crowds, including millenials and Gen Zers. Like Facebook, Instagram is slightly more popular with women than with men. Most importantly, it’s a highly visual network—which means it’s best for brands with really cool or interesting-looking products. You can post both static images and short videos, but the one drawback is that it’s not the best for driving traffic to your website.

Instagram is great for advertising though, because it allows for both organic and paid strategies. And since it’s so visual, it’s not hard to capture your audience’s attention—if you have a well-curated feed. Did we mention that Instagram is also incredibly popular? Each month, over 1 billion people are accessing Instagram. Not to mention the 1 million advertisers that are working on the platform. So if you’re not on Instagram yet and if you’ve got a beautiful product, you’re missing out.

Twitter

It’s relatively less popular but still relevant, with 22% of American adults on the platform. Slightly more men than women are using Twitter, and it’s most popular with 18–24 year-olds. Like with Facebook, some people might consider Twitter a news platform as well as social media. (Is that a good idea? Probably not, but that’s just us.) Sharing content, aka “retweeting,” is pretty common and is a huge reason why many posts on Twitter go viral.

Oreo is one of the brands that have really mastered Twitter and partnered with the right influencers and celebrities:

Shaq Twitter post about Oreo

 

Oh, and it’s an excellent way to share blog and website content too. 

Pinterest

Another highly visual platform with about 322 million users internationally, Pinterest’s audience leans more female than male, and most users are looking to save content for inspiration (popular categories include cooking, crafting, and decorating). The platform went through a bit of a lull a few years back, but it has experienced a surprising resurgence. Good on them.

Snapchat

Don’t forget about Snapchat. You may not use it, but it’s hugely popular with younger audiences, especially teenagers. In fact, 41% of teenagers rated Snapchat as the most important social media platform. Why? Probably because Snapchat is arguably the best platform for engaging directly with your audience.

LinkedIn

If you work for a company, you’ve probably heard of this one. LinkedIn is a professional network and although it has ad content, these tend to be targeted to professionals. Industry articles, B2B, and SaaS-related topics are probably among the most-shared types of content.

Now, let’s look at some social media best practices that apply across all these platforms.

Best practices for all social media platforms

Your strategies for social media posting should adapt to each platform you’re posting on. But, there are a number of best practices that apply to all networks. We’ll get into specific guidelines for the biggest social media networks later, but first let’s look into the big picture stuff first.

1. Know your audience

This is Marketing 101. It applies to social media too. Remember, each social network has its own audience that you need to adapt your social media marketing plan to. Sprout has a great breakdown of social media demographics. Here’s Instagram’s, for example:

Instagram usage among key demographics by Sprout

 

2. Set goals

Advertising on social media isn’t cheap. To justify your budget, set realistic milestones. This will also help you measure your progress, and show you where you need to spend more time or tweak a few things.

3. Track growth

Once you’ve set your goals and started the journey of becoming a social media marketing titan, it’s time to make sure you’re on the right track. Most social media platforms have analytic tools that will show you how many clicks, shares, and sales you’re getting. Use them!

4. Plan posts and use a calendar

Social media marketing requires a lot of content, all the time. Accomplishing this will be pretty much impossible if you’re not organized and have a solid plan in place. Social media calendars are an excellent tool to keep up, and keep your sanity. Remember to incorporate deadlines to keep everyone accountable, and, equally importantly, to make sure you’re not rushing to come up with content at the last minute.

5. Automate posting

A calendar and plan are important strategies, and automation takes this one step further. Automation saves you time and keeps things running smoothly. It’ll also allow you to share content at the optimal time (i.e., when the most people are browsing social media in their time zones), so you don’t have to wake up at 5 a.m. to publish that Tweet for your followers in India.

There are tons of options for automation, including HootSuite, CoSchedule, and Zapier.

6. Don’t be afraid to branch out

Variety is the spice of life, and the same goes for social media marketing. Try not to stick to one kind of content, and don’t push too many promotional ads. Forty-five percent of people will unfollow brands if they’re too aggressive with their posting. 

Instead of just posting ads, you can mix it up with fun things like memes and useful things like blog posts and relevant news.

7. Nail down your voice and tone

Brand voice is your personality and how it’s communicated. Tone, on the other hand, is more flexible. It changes depending on the situation and context. For example, a parent scolding their kid will have a different tone compared to a parent congratulating or comforting their kid. 

Mastering voice and tone is one of the most important ways to give your brand a personality, texture, and staying power. 

Remember, social media is about being social. Your content should sound like it comes from real, relatable human beings. 

8. Be careful with slang… 

Nailing voice and tone is something every brand should strive for, but pandering with slang is a whole ‘nother thing. At best, it’s embarrassing and, at worst, it’s offensive. It’s a fine balancing act between sounding authentic, relevant, and relatable to your audience—especially if you’re targeting teenagers and millenials—and sounding like this:

GIF of Steve Buscemi saying “hello fellow young people

 

Customers will most likely be put off by your misuse of slang and popular phrases—in fact, almost 40% of followers will actually jump ship if you do this.

Beyond losing followers and potential customers, the use of slang can become downright offensive when it appropriates African American Vernacular English, aka AAVE. You don’t have to use slang to have a personality. Just sayin’.

9. … And with jargon

Like slang, jargon and overly technical language can be off-putting to your audience. Remember, you have to know your audience and market to them. Overly technical words with lots of syllables with complicated definitions that you need a PhD to understand aren’t going to be easily understood by the average person. (If your best customers are PhDs, that’s a different story.) Instead, look at your best audience (the ones who tend to be happy customers, or spend the most money on you, or refer the most business to you, however you define this) and mirror the language that they use.  

10. Scope out the competition

Also Marketing 101. Take a look at the social media presence of the competition to see what works for them, what doesn’t, and what they’re missing. Make sure your voice and tone is distinctive, and you’re filling the gaps they’re leaving. If the competition has a killer Instagram but no Pinterest, consider putting together an impressive collection of Pinterest boards—and cross-promote it on your own Instagram to reach a bigger audience.  

11. Research hashtags

Hashtags are one of the defining features—and most powerful tools—of social media. The thing is, you have to make sure you’re always using the most effective hashtags. You don’t want to waste valuable character limit space with something that’ll link to a collection of a few sad, lonely posts that won’t get you any traffic. 

Look at what hashtags your competitors are using and how popular they are. For the hashtags you want to use, search them on Twitter and Instagram to see how they’re doing. And make sure you’re confident in the meaning of the hashtag before you use it, so you can avoid fails like these.

12. Keep your profiles consistent

While you may have different strategies for different networks, your profiles should always be complete and consistent. Make sure your usernames, images, copy, and links match up. All of your profiles should link back to your website.

13. Plan for disasters

PR disasters happen, and with social media they can happen at the speed of light—and go viral. Put together a disaster plan before that happens. Your plan should include a list of individuals and teams to be notified first in the event of a disaster, pre-written, standard response templates and apologies that can be customized for the situation, and a list of press contacts so you can quickly take control of the narrative. If you have these tools in place, even a small business can handle PR nightmares quickly and confidently.

14. Be prepared for negativity

One of the most intimidating things about social media is the pretty much inevitable backlash and negative comments. Dealing with negative feedback can be stressful for anyone, especially when that feedback is public and can spark a whole conversation dedicated to how much you suck.

If and when that happens, don’t lose your cool. Be genuine, humble, and empathetic. (Learn about a few empathy exercises you can try.)

One helpful way to prepare for these situations is to create response templates ahead of time. These templates should be apologetic, express some remorse, and provide next steps to solve the problem. Encourage the reader to connect in a private message or phone call with you, and you may be able to salvage the situation.

If you’re using a phone system, see if it can hook up to your social media platforms. This way, whether someone’s messaging you or calling you, you can see their entire relationship history with your business and know right away how to handle the situation. 

For example, RingCentral has a tool that lets you handle communications with customers in every channel, all in one place:

Social Channel for Enhanced Digital Interactions by RingCentral

 

15. Do not feed the trolls

Some negative feedback is reasonable, and you should try to remedy the situation, sure. Other feedback, however, exists just to create toxic negativity, and there’s nothing you can do to solve it. This toxic negativity can be considered trolling. And trolls’ main objective is to provoke and incite bad-faith arguments Trolls typically have no basis for their complaints and, no matter how gracious you respond, they’ll never be happy. Ignore them and move on.

16. Limit employee access

Depending on the size of your company, you should have a dedicated social media team or employee. Not everybody should have access to your social media accounts. Why? A pissed off employee, armed with all the passwords and login information, can torpedo your business with a few choice tweets, insult customers in Instagram comments—or even delete accounts. Actually, not sure which one of these is worst.

For example, someone really should’ve taken away Brandon Truaxe’s access. The founder of Deciem, a wildly successful skincare company, was notorious for his erratic online behavior:

Deciem Instagram post

 

Let’s just say they lost a lot of customers.

If someone does have access to your social media accounts and leaves the company—for whatever reason—make sure you revoke their access and change the passwords. 

17. Snatch up usernames

One of the first things you want to do is save usernames for as many social media websites as you can—including the ones you’re not using right now. It’s important to be consistent with your usernames, and if you ever do decide to set up an account on a platform or change your account handle, your username is already saved and waiting for you. 

18. Host contests

Contests are a great way to boost engagement, and everyone loves to win prizes. But you have to be smart about contests and have a solid plan in place to prevent a PR disaster. Have a clear plan for the logistics of the contest (which platform the contest will be on, prizes, who can enter, deadlines, etc.) as well as promotion. 

Social media best practices for Facebook

1. Pare down your copy

Unlike with some other platforms (like LinkedIn), the copy should be short and concise. According to data gathered by CoScheduler, your target word count should be around 111 characters. One emoji is okay. For all those verbose copywriters out there, will you accept this challenge?

2. Limit hashtags

Similarly, don’t bog down your posts with tons of hashtags. Try to work them into your copy, and limit yourself to one or two.

Here’s an example of a hashtag integrated into copy (hint: you don’t have to just talk about your product either—events can have hashtags too): “Going to #EC2020? We’ll see you there in sunny Florida! ”

3. Post videos

Facebook is becoming increasingly video-oriented. But don’t force your viewers to navigate away from Facebook by linking to other websites like YouTube. Instead, directly upload your videos to Facebook. This will also make your videos appear in more feeds.

*Bonus tip

If you have the time, look into Facebook audience optimization—it’ll help you make sure the stuff you’re creating is actually what your audience is looking for.

Social media best practices for Instagram

1. Use those hashtags!

Unlike Facebook, you can go wild with hashtags on Instagram. (But not too wild.) Instagram lets you use up to 30 hashtags, and if you choose them well, you can boost engagement and reach a wider audience. Just make sure you’re using the right hashtags that’ll put you in the conversation and on the map, like Pyrrha does here:

Pyrrha Jewelry Instagram post using hashtags

 

2. But also hide them

No one wants to read a wall of blue text and number signs all clustered together. If you’re worried about all the hashtags ruining the look of your Instagram caption, you can hide your hashtags (kind of) in a comment instead of in the caption to keep your posts looking streamlined and #aesthetic.

3. Location, location, location

Geotagging is a great feature that can build engagement, but according to AdWeek, only 5% of posts include a location tag. The posts that do, however, can get 79% more engagement. This is important if you’re posting from an event or specific location. Remember the ill-fated Fyre Festival’s promo material from the Bahamas? The gorgeous location was a selling point—and to be fair, so were the models—remember to geotag.

Geotagging is also great if you want to reach an audience in a specific location, such as local businesses. Here’s Herschel Supply promoting its umbrellas for the (very apt) London weather:

Herschel Supply umbrella promotion for the London weather

 

4. Work with influencers

Influencers are an interesting category of independent workers. They’ve nailed their own voice and tone and have grown an organic audience that’s often fiercely loyal. If you think influencers would be an asset to your marketing strategy, think about whether you’d want them to post ads of your product on their accounts, or if you want to post photos of them with your product on your own account. There are perks to both. Maybe they have a much bigger audience than you and can reach more people, in which case you’d want them to post something about you on their accounts!

Working with influencers for a company's marketing strategy

 

Either way, make sure you give them clear directions about how “sales-y” you want the post to look. They’ll probably provide guidelines as well. For example, a fashion blogger wearing your shoes seems on-brand (and might not even register as an ad until you read the caption). A makeup guru partnering with a SaaS company, on the other hand, would be odd. 

Social media best practices for Twitter

1. Be mindful with your hashtags

Like Facebook, you should be selective and minimal with your hashtag use. A good hashtag will give your tweet exposure, but if you use too many, your readers’ eyes will glaze over and they’ll move on. Don’t use more than two or three hashtags, and try to work them into the tweet instead of just bunched together at the end.

2. Set up an automated Twitter schedule

Twitter is a high-volume, fast-paced network that’s always being updated. You need to be posting constantly and consistently to keep up. Some brands even post the same thing a few times a day since posts get pushed down the feed so quickly by new content. Using a tool to automate your posts is especially useful for Twitter and will free up time and resources for you. 

3. Reply to comments

The purpose and beauty of social media is that you can engage directly with people, and everyone can see the conversation. Wendy’s is a master at replying to Tweets that mention the brand:

Wendy's using social media for customer engagement by replying to people's comments

 

Make sure you’re answering questions and responding to comments. Otherwise, snubbed readers will be dissatisfied and, because these comments are public, other people will see that you don’t take the time to continue conversations. Not good. 

Social media best practices for Pinterest

1. Focus on inspiration

Pinterest is all about inspiring its users. Your Pinterest content should be geared towards this goal, rather than blatantly pushing sales. If your product is kitchen appliances, for example, share delicious recipes that users can use your product to recreate. 

2. Use the boards

Content on Pinterest is saved (or “pinned”) to boards that can be public or private and organized by theme. Create multiple, well-curated boards that’ll keep your followers scrolling. Like Instagram, you need a good eye and strong visuals to pull this off. Make sure you give your boards catchy and interesting titles—and don’t forget to give each board an attractive title image! 

General Electric makes great use of different boards:

GE using Pinterest boards

 

3. Repin content

Like Twitter, Pinterest is driven by reposts (only they call them “repins”). So don’t be afraid to branch out and repin content from other users. This will help round out your account, break up the advertisements, and boost engagement. This also takes the burden off of you in terms of continually generating new original content. 

One of our personal favorite Pinterest accounts is encircled, a small fashion company focusing on ethical and sustainable practices. Their Pinterest features their own content, as well as travel tips, minimalism, sustainable living, and inspiring quotes. Importantly, all of their repins are relevant to their brand. The result is a beautiful and engaging account that users can spend hours scrolling through.

4. Install Pin It buttons on your websites

Pin It buttons allow readers to save websites to their Pinterest. Installing Pin It buttons is an easy and effective way to drive traffic to your Pinterest, which in turn will drive traffic from Pinterest back to you. Once the button is installed, your readers will do the work for you. You’ve got a few options for what kind of button you want to use:

Pin it buttons from Pinterest

Social media best practices for Snapchat

Before there were Instagram stories, there was Snapchat. When it launched in 2011, there was no other network like Snapchat. Its popularity might have been eclipsed by Instagram and Facebook with their copycat Stories features, but Snapchat is still incredibly popular with teenagers and has an evenly split demographic.

1. Create original content

You might be tempted to reuse your Instagram content on Snapchat to save time and resources. However, most Snapchat users are also on Instagram, so why would they follow you on both platforms to see the same content twice? You have to give your audience a reason to follow you, so create content that’s original and exclusive to Snapchat. 

Snapchat content doesn’t have to be just ads either. For example, you can post fun behind-the-scenes footage, employee profiles, or sneak peeks at upcoming products. Here’s Everlane showing how their clothes get made by taking their Snapchat followers on a tour:

Everlane showing how their clothes get made by taking their Snapchat followers on a tour
Hat tip to Business Insider.

 

2. Make use of Snapchat’s built-in ad tools

Snapchat has several innovative tools for creating engaging ads. There are a wide variety of ads you can use, including the classic ads that play between stories, ads that link to your products, and ads that’ll get you on the coveted Discover page. You can even design fun filters and lenses for users to play with, creating an immersive and interactive experience. (More on interactive content here.)

3. Fine-tune your target audience

Okay. So you know you’re on Snapchat because you want to reach a younger demographic. But you can get even more specific than that. Customize your advertising so you’re getting the exact audience you want. Are you hoping to reach college students studying the sciences in California, or multilingual highschoolers in Canada? Snapchat lets you select your demographic based on age, location, preferred device, gender, language, education, income, and even marital status.

4. Be prepared to cross-promote

It can be extremely difficult to get users to notice your account if you’re relying on Snapchat alone. Advertise your Snapchat account on your other social media accounts, emails, and in real life with handy QR codes.

Social media best practices for LinkedIn

1. Be professional

The whole point of LinkedIn is that it’s a professional network. This is where being able to adapt your brand’s tone is crucial. Flashy GIFs and emojis wouldn’t be appropriate here for some brands, so this is where it’s important to know your audience.

2. Post job listings here

LinkedIn is a professional network for networking, so it’s not surprising that job hunters flock to LinkedIn. So if you’ve got openings in your company, put together a job listing and post it. It looks good because people can see you’re growing, and in addition to connecting with candidates, you can also use this to build your company brand and attract better talent over the long run.

3. Share industry-specific content

LinkedIn is a great place to post mid and bottom-of-the-funnel articles (aka articles that are more specific to your product as opposed to super high-level topics). LinkedIn users are also more likely to be looking for blog posts and articles about very specific topics. Everyone is trying to get ahead, so make sure your account has a wealth of industry knowledge and advice.

You can even get leads this way by offering downloadable goodies in exchange for peoples’ contact information:

iCIMS offering downloadable goodies in exchange for peoples’ contact information

Other social media platforms to watch

We’ve taken a look at marketing on the big platforms, but there are other social media networks you should be aware of and consider adding to your social media marketing plan.

Tumblr is a microblogging site that’s been around since 2007. Currently, there are about 200 million active blogs on Tumblr, with about 80 million posts being published daily. Tumblr’s users tend to be younger, with about 66% of users under the age of 35, and 39% under 25. Whether it’s because of its audience’s age or the nature of the platform (Tumblr popularized the “infinite scroll” feature), Tumblr users tend to be very engaged, perhaps more so than users for other social media platforms. 

Vans has tapped right into its demographic with a big gallery-style grid of posts on its Tumblr page:

Vans using big gallery-style grid of posts on its Tumblr page

 

TikTok is similar to Vine (RIP) in that it allows users to post short videos. TikTok is one of the newer social media networks with explosive growth. It’s a fresh new app that’s already surpassed the popularity of Twitter and Instagram—about 500 million users are on TikTok and, like Snapchat, it’s most popular with Gen Zers. TikTok’s advertising services are currently in beta testing, but big brands such as Apple Music, Nike, and Fenty Beauty are already on the platform.

Chipotle hops on the meme train—and manages to sneak a promotion in too—via Tik Tok:

Chipotle promotion video via TikTok

  

Up your social game with these social media best practices

Whichever platform you choose, remember that social media is a way to connect and have fun with people who are familiar with your brand and to build brand awareness with prospects too.

Don’t be afraid to let your personality shine through, and don’t just post your own stuff—repost and like your audience’s content too. Social media is a two-way street!

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