Social media marketing is an integral part of modern digital marketing strategies. It involves leveraging social media platforms to connect, engage, and interact with an audience to achieve specific business objectives. These platforms serve as powerful tools for building brand awareness, driving website traffic, generating leads, and, ultimately, increasing sales.

What is social media marketing?

Social media marketing (SMM) involves utilizing social media platforms to engage with target audiences, enhance brand recognition, boost sales, offer customer service, and direct traffic to brand-owned websites via social media posts. 

This marketing discipline can be broken into two main tactics: Organic social media marketing involves sharing quality content on social media platforms, engaging in conversations with followers, and monitoring performance and effectiveness; the other main approach to social media marketing is the utilization of paid campaigns.

social network users
A chart showing social network users worldwide, 2023 to 2025. (Subscribers only)

What is paid advertising on social media?

Paid social media is a form of digital advertising that requires a budget to promote content, products, or services on social media platforms. Businesses of all sizes can pay to reach social media users based on targeting parameters—including interests, behaviors, demographics, and more—as an effective way to achieve business goals, whether that’s generating awareness, traffic, leads, or conversions. 

All of the major social media platforms offer paid social media ads, incorporating photos, videos, and links in different formats and ranging in price depending on the campaign objective.

How much is spent on social media paid ads?

US social network ad spend will increase 13.5% in 2024 to reach $82.88 billion, per an October 2023 eMarketer forecast. That growth will slow in the coming years, reaching 8.5% in 2027, the end of the forecast period.  

US social network video ad spend (which will make up 55.2% of total social network ad spend) will increase 21.2% to reach $45.75 billion in 2024.

Cost of paid ads on social media

The cost of paid advertisements on social media platforms can vary widely depending on several factors, including the social media platform, type of ad, target audience, and bidding strategy. Advertisers can be charged based on the campaign objective too, from impressions (CPMs, or costs per thousand), acquisition, or clicks.  

TikTok is providing less expensive ad rates than competing platforms, with a CPM from video advertising almost half that of Instagram Reels, a third less than Twitter, and 62% less than Snapchat, per 2022 data from marketing agency VaynerMedia and reported by the Financial Times. 

If TikTok can continue to keep its CPM prices low, it will be able to gain ad spend from other social media platforms like Meta, Snap, and X (formerly Twitter).  

Social search advertising is growing

Search advertising on social media isn’t new, but it hasn’t been the top strategy for advertisers and marketers. However, consumers are increasingly using social platforms as their search engines. For example, on TikTok, the number of searches by a typical US user on an iPhone went from 18 in August 2022 to over 100 in January 2023—a more than 455% increase, according to an April 2023 report from app data firm Measure Protocol as cited in eMarketer’s Social Search Is Taking Off report. Overall, 74% of US TikTok users search on the app.

This creates an opportunity for placing search ads that can help with business goals, such as:

  • Introducing consumers to products and brands they may want to purchase
  • Helping consumers learn about new brands through ads featuring how-tos or tutorials
  • Highlighting people/small and medium-sized enterprises to follow or get to know

where US adults start their online product searches
A chart showing where US adults start their online product searches, February 2023.

Are social media ads effective?

There are a number of factors that impact if a consumer believes social media ads are effective. In June 2022, eMarketer surveyed 2,223 US social media users on the factors that most affect their trust in social platforms and how those factors impact their decision to engage with ads or sponsored content there

Strong majorities of the respondents felt that the same three factors that most affect trust: security (whether a platform protects user privacy and data), community (whether a platform provides a safe environment to participate or post), and legitimacy (whether a platform shows deceptive content).

Notably, users felt these trust factors were more likely to impact whether they engage with ads on social media than factors directly tied to the quality of their ad relevance or ad experience.

For many advertisers, the effectiveness of social media advertising has tended to outweigh crises of user trust surrounding social platforms. Trust concerns haven’t always led advertisers to actively pull back on their social ad spending. And when they have, they’ve done so only temporarily. Past boycotts have often been short-lived before advertisers quietly returned to platforms. But the study suggests that advertisers do need to consider the state of user trust in their ad spending decisions. They should prioritize data privacy in both their own internal policies and in their advertising decisions.

what affects us social media users' trust in social media platforms
A chart shows what most affects US social media users to trust in social media platforms, June 2022.

Rise of the creator economy

The creator economy is an ecosystem involving creators, audiences, digital platforms, marketers, and agencies, interconnected through the exchange of content, money, or goods and services. This social commerce landscape is continuously changing, and, more importantly, expanding. It can tap into sectors from social media to livestreaming, content creation, influencer marketing, merchandising, AI, and even financial services. A March 2023 estimate from Citigroup valued the creator economy at $65.2 billion in 2023, potentially growing to $74.0 billion in 2024, as cited in eMarketer’s Creator Economy Explainer report. 

Instagram, TikTok, and YouTube are still the top platforms in terms of both usage and where creators make money, per the Creator Economy Explainer.

  • Instagram: Due to its wide consumer and brand audience, Instagram is the leading platform for influencer marketing. The potential for high-paying partnerships—motivated in part by services like Hashtag Pay Me, where influencers of any size following can charge brands up to 200% more for content on Instagram than on TikTok—will help it retain its lead.
  • TikTok: This social media platform is the go-to for young, video-first creators, and is especially beneficial for creators that have had a hard time building a following on Instagram or YouTube. TikTok’s Series feature also gives creators the opportunity to paywall premium content.
  • YouTube: The OG creator platform can offer long-form video as well as Shorts for creators looking to monetize their views. YouTube’s usage of generative AI can also assist in gathering ideas, insights, and outlines to speed up the content creation process.

About 44% of advertisers plan to invest more in creator content in 2024, according to the Interactive Advertising Bureau’s Creator Economy Opportunity report. The report also states that over 90% of advertisers believe creator content is a high-quality ad channel. 

Why is this important for a future social media marketing strategy? The creator economy/creator marketing and influencer marketing are similar, in that they both use social media to share content and connect with specific audiences. eMarketer projects 82.7% of US marketers will use influencer marketing in 2024.

The impact of influencer marketing

eMarketer defines influencer marketing as involving a celebrity, content creator, subject matter expert, or public figure who endorses a brand’s product or service to drive social proof. In addition to paying for a social media ad, businesses can also pay an influencer to promote products, services, or messaging. This can result in a more authentic, less polished means of advertising, which has its advantages: The content is less noticeable as an ad, which can increase engagement. Plus, influencers have a direct line to their audiences and are able to set trends that those audiences can follow. 

Despite paid social spending growth slowing down, influencers are set to play an increasing role in driving social ad investments going forward. In fact, 90% of influencer marketing campaigns include paid media, per marketing agency The Influencer Marketing Factory.

eMarketer forecasts advertisers will spend $5.89 billion on influencer marketing in 2024, a 14.7% increase YoY. (The forecast excludes paid media.) In 2023, US influencer marketing spend grew more than three times faster than social ad spend, and it will maintain its lead through 2025.

Generative AI and social media

Generative AI refers to the use of AI to create new content, like text, images, music, audio, and videos. As social search gains traction, so are social media platforms wielding generative AI as a tool for ad strategies and chatbots. 

Generative AI chatbots are software systems that use natural language processing and machine learning algorithms to create human-like responses to simple text or visual prompts, as defined by eMarketer. Here are some examples of how major social media platforms are integrating generative AI:   

  • Snapchat: Snap’s My AI chatbot features include the ability for users to send AI-generated “Snaps” instead of just text queries, get recommendations for restaurants on Snap Map, and incorporate the chatbot into direct messages and group chats—available to all Snapchat users. In addition, more than two-thirds of users report engaging with Snapachat’s AI-generated AR filters, or Lenses, on a daily basis, according to Snap as cited in eMarketer’s Snapchat Partner Summit 2023.
  • TikTok: In May 2023, TikTok launched the chatbot Tako in a limited test run in the Philippines. TikTok’s Tako could open doors for more user engagement and content discovery. The bot, which can be found on the right-hand side of the app, can answer users’ queries about videos and suggest new content based on their interests.
  • Meta: In late 2023, Meta rolled out its first generative AI-powered features for ad creatives in Meta’s Ads Manager, with global rollout to be completed in 2024. Meta says these features will maximize the productivity, personalization, and performance for all advertisers.
  • Instagram: Instagram’s chatbot will allow users to choose from 30 AI personalities, answer questions, and give advice, according to The Verge as mentioned in eMarketer’s Generative AI Chatbots in Social Media report. Aside from a potential AI chatbot, Instagram has plans to let users play with generative AI to create “stickers,” edit photos, and more

Social media marketing trends and predictions

The continued dominance of video content, particularly short-form videos on platforms like TikTok and Instagram Reels, underscores the importance of visual storytelling. Social commerce is on the rise, with platforms increasingly integrating shopping features, enabling users to make purchases directly within the app. The emergence of new social media platforms catering to niche audiences, coupled with the growing influence of AI and chatbots for personalized user experiences, suggests that adaptability will be paramount for effective social media marketing strategies in the future.

social media platform that delivers highest new customer acquisition
A chart showing social media platforms that deliver the highest new customer acquisition and revenues for their brand according to retailers in North America, August 2023. (Subscribers only)

TikTok’s impact grows

TikTok has not only been winning over Gen Z, but collecting trophies in other categories. eMarketer data found that adult TikTok users in the US will spend 54 minutes per day on the platform in 2024, compared with 35 minutes from adult Instagram users. TikTok has also been evolving beyond just a social media platform—74% of Gen Z users use it as a search engine, and 51% favor it over Google, per a survey from Her Campus Media. TikTok also dominated the social commerce space in 2023. TikTok Shop—its official ecommerce marketplace—launched in September 2023 and is spending big to build out its own logistics network to boost appeal to both buyers and sellers.

Gen Z gains influence

In a September 2023 survey, eMarketer found that 39.0% of Gen Zers use social media as a discovery channel to buy clothes. Nearly three-quarters (73.0%) of Gen Zers who discover new brands or products on social media use TikTok to do so, compared with the 69.7% who use Instagram, per the survey.

The correlation between Gen Z and social media is evident: Users ages 18 to 24 spend more time on Instagram, TikTok, and Snapchat than any other age group, according to a September 2023 eMarketer forecast. Gen Zers gravitate to TikTok and Snapchat, leading the age group penetration by at least 20 percentage points. Gen Z is also expected to be the leading age group on Instagram by 2024. 

Marketers need to understand how Gen Z uses TikTok and Instagram so they can align their strategies—both paid and organic—with usage patterns. Gen Zers use Instagram for watching Stories and sending DMs, but TikTok is their preferred social media platform for various forms of video content, per eMarketer’s July 2023 survey.

The rise of private social media networks

The pandemic spurred interest in private social media, which has seen continued growth over the past couple of years, according to a report from Trust Insights. Discord in particular has been climbing the ranks as one of the top social media platforms among US Gen Zers, reaching 51%, per a December 2023 Comscore Media Metrix data. Chat platforms like Discord, Telegram, and Geneva are offering influencers a way to connect with a specific community for engagement. These platforms also allow direct interaction with a creator or brand, which can increase follower outreach and foster a close community. Although marketers can’t advertise on these private social platforms, collaborating with influencers can help brands gain trust from their target communities. Social listening on these private social media platforms can be especially useful for marketers to guarantee audiences will be reached. 

Decentralized social media platforms 

User decline on X (formerly Twitter) will potentially quicken in 2025 with a nearly 17% drop in US users compared with 2023, eMarketer predicts. Decentralized social media platforms like Bluesky, Mastodon, and Steemit are seemingly more attractive to users thanks to X’s content moderation policy changes and lack of user autonomy. Marketers won’t be seeing any significant audiences or ad offerings on these platforms yet, but they should stay vigilant to see how creator-fan relationships could unfold on an evolving decentralized platform.  

Benefits of social media marketing

Here are a few ways that a social media marketing strategy can help your business.

Increased brand awareness: Social media can help businesses reach a wider audience, increasing brand awareness on a potentially global scale. Consistent presence and engagement can significantly enhance brand recognition.

Targeted advertising: Social media platforms offer advanced targeting options based on demographics, interests, behavior, and more. This precision allows businesses to reach their ideal audience, ensuring that marketing efforts are more efficient and effective. 

Connecting with younger buyers: For some companies, connecting with younger buyers can be a challenge. As the number of young decision-makers increases, social media’s importance in marketing strategies is growing. Per eMarketer’s B2B Social Media Marketing report, “more than 100 million people in the US will be TikTok users in 2024, and adult users will spend almost an hour per day on the platform.” Marketers should be aware that younger audiences use TikTok for multiple purposes—including as a search engine, social networking tool, and research aid.

Content distribution: Sharing valuable and relevant content on social media helps establish thought leadership and authority within an industry. YouTube is a good platform to share expert opinions, in addition to educational and thought leadership content. Why YouTube? “A July 2022 survey by the Content Marketing Institute found that 65% of B2B marketers worldwide who used social media platforms in the previous 12 months had used YouTube organically,” according to the B2B Social Media Marketing report.

Influencer collaboration: Influencers, similar to thought leaders, can be considered trusted experts in their given field, which can help persuade their audiences to buy the products they endorse. Marketers can expand their reach by partnering with social media influencers. They can sponsor posts or involve influencers in webinars and events. To give an idea of how significant influencers are, 1 in 3 Gen Zers have made a purchase from an influencer-founded brand in the past year, followed by millennials (29%), per a November 2023 Morning Consult survey cited by LinkedIn.

Customer insights: Social media interactions and feedback provide useful information about what customers like, what problems they have, and how they feel. This data can help improve products and marketing strategies. According to an August 2022 survey by GoodFirms, 46.5% of worldwide social media users contact B2B companies via social media, and 69% will share their negative customer experiences on social media or online review platforms. 

Social media marketing platforms’ 2024 stats

There are a number of social channels marketers can use to reach their target audiences, including: 

Facebook

Facebook is one of the largest social networking platforms worldwide, with billions of users. It offers a wide range of features, including personal profiles, business pages, groups, and advertising options.

  • Users: 107.8 million users in 2024 (US), per a May 2023 eMarketer forecast
  • Audience: Best used to target Gen Xers and millennials
  • Ad revenues: $32.55 billion (US) in 2024, per an October 2023 eMarketer forecast
  • Forecasts: See more of eMarketer’s Facebook forecasts (Subscribers only)

Instagram

Instagram is a photo- and video-sharing platform known for its visual content. It’s particularly popular among younger demographics and offers features like Stories and IGTV.

  • Users: 140.3 million users in 2024 (US), per a May 2023 eMarketer forecast
  • Audience: Gen Zers and millennials are the top audiences to target for this platform
  • Ad revenues: $30.14 billion (US) 2024, per an October 2023 eMarketer forecast
  • Forecasts: See more of eMarketer’s Instagram forecasts (Subscribers only)

X/Twitter

Twitter, now known as X, is a microblogging platform where users share short text-based messages. Its known features include real-time updates and conversations.

  • Users: 51.6 million users in 2024 (US), per a May 2023 eMarketer forecast
  • Audience: Gen Zers and millennials are the top audiences to target for this platform
  • Ad revenues: $1.04 billion in 2024 (US), per an October 2023 eMarketer forecast
  • Forecasts: See more of eMarketer’s X forecasts (Subscribers only)

TikTok

TikTok is a short-form video platform where users can create and share entertaining video content. It gained rapid popularity for its viral challenges and trends.

  • Users: 107.8 million users in 2024 (US), per a May 2023 eMarketer forecast
  • Audience: Focus on Gen Zers as they are the prime audience for TikTok, followed by millennials
  • Ad revenues: $8.66 billion in 2024 (US), per an October 2023 eMarketer forecast 
  • Forecasts: See more of eMarketer’s TikTok forecasts (Subscribers only)

LinkedIn

LinkedIn is a professional networking platform focused on career development, business connections, and job searches. It’s the social platform of choice used by professionals, businesses, and recruiters.

  • Users: 78.6 million users in 2024 (US), per a May 2023 eMarketer forecast
  • Audience: Millennials are the top users, but Gen Xers and Gen Zers are close behind
  • Ad revenues: $4.56 billion in 2024 (US), per an October 2023 eMarketer forecast 
  • Forecasts: See more of eMarketer’s LinkedIn forecasts (Subscribers only)

YouTube

YouTube is a video-sharing platform where users can upload, view, and share videos. It is a significant platform for video content creators and marketers.

  • Users: 241.8 million viewers in 2024 (US), per a September 2023 eMarketer forecast
  • Audience: Millennials and Gen Zers are neck and neck as the top audience
  • Ad revenues: $8.17 billion in 2024 (US), per an October 2023 eMarketer forecast
  • Forecasts: See more of eMarketer’s YouTube forecasts (Subscribers only) 

Snapchat

Snapchat is a multimedia messaging app known for its disappearing messages, Stories, and AR features. 

  • Users: 93.8 million users in 2024 (US), per a May 2023 eMarketer forecast
  • Audience: Gen Zers are the majority audience for Snapchat, followed by millennials
  • Ad revenues: $2.09 billion in 2024 (US), per an October 2023 eMarketer forecast 
  • Forecasts: See more of eMarketer’s Snapchat forecasts (Subscribers only) 

Pinterest

  • Users: 87.4 million users in 2024 (US), per a May 2023 eMarketer forecast
  • Audience: Millennials and Gen Zers are the top Pinterest users
  • Ad revenues: $2.52 billion in 2024 (US), per an October 2023 eMarketer forecast 
  • Forecasts: See more of eMarketer’s Pinterest forecasts (Subscribers only) 

Reddit 

  • Users: 56.7 million in 2024 (US), per a May 2023 eMarketer forecast
  • Audience: Millennials take the lead as the top users 
  • Ad revenues: $56.7 million in 2024 (US), per an October 2023 eMarketer forecast
  • Forecasts: See more of eMarketer’s Reddit forecasts (Subscribers only) 

How to create a social media marketing strategy

  1. State a goal and determine KPIs

Many businesses embark on a social media journey without a comprehensive understanding of their purpose or specific objectives. Defining your goals and identifying KPIs are crucial steps toward ensuring a thoughtful approach to leveraging social media and maintaining focus when developing your strategy in greater detail. Setting goals serves as a vital initial step in any social media marketing strategy.

When formulating a social media strategy for your business, it’s essential to start by aligning your social media goals with your overall business plan. While the desire for rapid follower growth is common, it’s important to maintain realistic and achievable objectives. This will make it more likely that you will actually meet your goals and feel motivated to keep meeting them in the future.

Examples of social media goals:

  • Increase audience/followers
  • Achieve a specific number of visitors via social media campaigns
  • Measure brand engagement through likes or audience shares
  1. Understand your target audience 

Identifying your social media target audience is crucial for success—otherwise you’re essentially shooting in the dark with hopes to attract anyone, which won’t help generate qualified leads. Talking to the right people and targeting the right audience can save you money; it can also lead to interactions with users who will read, comment, like, and share your content.

  1. Choose the right social media platforms

Using all your resources on every social media platform may seem attractive, but it can waste time and resources. Identify the most suitable platforms for your brand and select the appropriate content to expand your social media audience.

Many businesses benefit from using Facebook, X, and Instagram. However, not all businesses need to use Pinterest or YouTube—the decision depends on their content and target audience. TikTok, on the other hand, is where consumers go to find product recommendations and shopping inspiration, as well as entertainment

Alternatively, LinkedIn can prove highly valuable for attracting current and potential employees, B2B investors, and prospective partners, but it might not be the primary social media channel for reaching your customers. If you’re not sure which channels to start with, ask your current users where they spend most of their time online.

  1. Create a social media posting calendar

Maintaining consistency is a fundamental element of effective social media marketing strategies. Regular posting is essential to ensure that you remain in the forefront of your consumers’ minds. Utilizing episodic content is an excellent method to keep your audience engaged and craving more. It’s worthwhile to invest time in brainstorming unique (generative AI can help) content series that will captivate your consumers. Creating a social media calendar can help map out the content you want to post based on the day, type of content, hashtags, links, and even certain holidays relevant to your industry.

  1. Allocate budget for social media advertising

When dealing with social media, the competition remains fierce. Trying to break through the clutter and connect with your intended audience organically can seem daunting. This is why numerous companies opt for social media advertising. While that means allocating extra budget, the payoff is substantial. If your intended audience consists of adult Gen Zers, then it would be beneficial to use social media advertising since that’s what they pay attention to.

role of social media in the purchase journey
A chart showing the role of social media in the purchase journey of consumers worldwide, August 2023. (Subscribers only)

Top social media marketing tools

There are myriad social media tools available to help businesses and individuals manage their social media presence more efficiently, analyze performance, and create engaging content. Here are some of the most common social media tools:

Hootsuite is a versatile social media management platform that allows users to schedule posts, monitor engagement, and manage multiple social media accounts from a single dashboard. It offers in-depth analytics and reporting, making it easier to track key performance metrics and measure the impact of social media campaigns.

Buffer is a user-friendly scheduling tool that simplifies the process of planning and publishing social media content. It supports various platforms, provides content recommendations, and offers detailed analytics to optimize posting times and content strategy.

Sprout Social combines scheduling, engagement, and analytics into one platform. It offers a unified inbox for managing social interactions, in-depth reporting, and audience targeting features to enhance engagement and foster meaningful connections with followers.

Canva is a popular design tool for creating eye-catching social media visuals, including graphics, infographics, and posts. It offers templates and design elements that make it easy to create visually appealing content, even for users with limited design skills.