What Is Social Network Marketing?

Definition & Examples of Social Network Marketing

Vlogger helping a company with social media marketing
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Social network marketing is any form of marketing that takes place on social media platforms. This marketing strategy can play out in many different ways, from formal advertising campaigns to informal customer engagement.

Keep reading to learn the basics of social network marketing, examples of popular platforms, and some potential drawbacks to be aware of.

What Is Social Network Marketing?

Given the popularity of social media, social network marketing is a broad category of marketing. Anytime a business uses social media, it could be considered a form of social network marketing. This form of outreach could take place on any social media platform, whether it's Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, or anything else.

Social network marketing is also varied due to the varied nature of marketing. Marketing outreach can take many different shapes—from outright advertisements to more subtle ways of building a relationship with potential customers. Social network marketing can similarly be straightforward ads for products or services, or it can be a means for a business to develop relationships.

How Does Social Network Marketing Work?

When successful, social network marketing helps a business:

  • Increase referrals or sales leads
  • Build word-of-mouth reputation
  • Increase sales of products or services
  • Provide a means of feedback
  • Develop a reputation as an expert or thought-leader
  • Drive traffic to a business website or blog
  • Develop new products or services
  • Keep people informed about special events, sales, and other newsworthy events
  • Provide customer service

What Are the Most Popular Social Media Platforms?

Social media is a relatively new technology, so platforms and popularity are constantly in flux. However, it is possible to gauge the popularity of platforms as a point-in-time measurement.

According to a Pew Research survey in 2019, the most popular platform was YouTube, which was used by 73% of U.S. adults. Here are the adult usage stats for the nine platforms included in the survey:

  • YouTube: 73%
  • Facebook: 69%
  • Instagram: 37%
  • Pinterest: 28%
  • LinkedIn: 27%
  • Snapchat: 24%
  • Twitter: 22%
  • WhatsApp: 20%
  • Reddit: 11%

Not All Social Media Platforms May Be Suitable for Your Business

If you're just starting out with social network marketing, you shouldn't feel the need to use all of them at once. Even if your business had the money to hire a marketing firm or develop an in-house social media team to engage in all those platforms, it wouldn't necessarily be a good idea because of the differences in users.

The best social media platform for a business to use will depend on its strategy. Certain strategies work better on certain platforms. There are demographic differences between the platforms, as well.

Just as with any other type of marketing, small businesses need to focus their social network marketing efforts (and dollars) on reaching their potential customers. There's no point in spending time and money on promoting your business on a social network that your customers don't use.

Pros and Cons of Social Network Marketing

Pros
  • Cheap

  • Direct engagement with customers

  • Able to learn more about customers

Cons
  • Time-intensive

  • Direct advertising is less effective

  • Increases risk of public criticism, hacks

Pros Explained

  • Cheap: Compared to other forms of marketing, social media is very inexpensive. It is free to create accounts and post on most—if not all—platforms. Those free posts have the potential to reach an audience that will (hopefully) share the message with other members of the social media community. There are also various paid advertising options to ensure that your message will reach an audience. Facebook, for example, offers comprehensive options for ad targeting, such as the ability to target members that reside within a specific geographic radius.
  • Direct engagement with customers: Social networks allow the business to engage the target audience and develop interactive relationships with customers. Instead of putting out a message and hoping an audience sees it, you can engage directly with people—commenting on their posts and starting conversations.
  • Able to learn more about customers: As you communicate and engage with customers, you'll learn more about your customer base. Many people put personal details on their social media profiles, including information like tastes and preferences that are relevant to businesses.

Cons Explained

  • Time-intensive: The main problem with social network marketing from a business perspective is that it can be incredibly time-consuming. Social media marketing campaigns are not one-shot affairs; they need to be nurtured over time. While big businesses have been using this type of marketing effectively, they have the resources to task large numbers of staff with managing social media marketing campaigns. Many small businesses lack these resources.
  • Direct advertising is less effective: Businesses using social networks obviously want to sell their products or services. However, blatant advertising is fairly easy to spot on social media. Overt attempts to make a sale won't be as effective as more subtle forms of promotion on social media. To use social network marketing effectively, businesses have to be perceived as members of the social media community. Original content and audience engagement could help to this end.
  • Increases risk of public criticism, hacks: Given the community nature of social media, businesses must be aware of the PR risks. A public social media page can face an onslaught of negative postings by customers, ex-employees, or competitors (whether true or false). Hackers could target your page to spread misinformation or sow chaos. Either situation can make it difficult to manage your company's reputation. Even a harmless posting can turn into a public relations disaster. For example, in 2012, McDonald's tried to engage with the social media community by posting a tweet under the hashtag "#McDStories"—customers responded by posting horror stories of poor McDonald's experiences with the same hashtag, drowning out the original marketing content with negative publicity.

Key Takeaways

  • Social network marketing is the use of social media platforms to conduct business marketing.
  • Given the diverse nature of social media platforms, social network marketing can refer to a wide range of strategies.
  • The best social network marketing comes across as organic, and it effectively targets the customer base on the platform they use most often.

Article Sources

  1. Pew Research Center. "Social Media Fact Sheet." Accessed July 31, 2020.

  2. Facebook. "Ad Targeting." Accessed July 31, 2020.

  3. Forbes. "#McDStories: When a Hashtag Becomes a Bashtag." Accessed July 31, 2020.