As of 2021, more than half of the world’s population uses social media.
With so many users, social media is now the perfect place to get in front of a large audience and grow your brand. It’s no surprise brands are investing more in building their social media following. According to Statistica, spending on social media marketing has been on the rise since 2015, and currently, brands spend close to 15 percent of digital marketing budgets on social media marketing.
However, building a social media following from scratch is not so easy for growing businesses and entrepreneurs. You’d find yourself competing with larger and established brands for users’ attention. Not only that, it’s hard to stay visible in the midst of the ocean of content published daily. You also have to learn how to use and master different platforms.
To help you beat the odds, we’ve compiled some of the best practices from social media experts. Read our guide to learn how to build a social media following and stand out in a crowded space.
Go where your audience hangs out
Knowing which platform to focus on is very important because there are many social media channels, and you have limited time and resources. If you have too many social media accounts, you might risk spreading yourself thin. For optimal results, identify and prioritize platforms your target audience uses.
Hailley Griffis, Head of Public Relations at Buffer, suggests focusing on “one or two social networks … where you know your audience hangs out. That is much more manageable than trying to build a following across multiple platforms.”
Say you sell productivity software to brands; your audience would most likely be on LinkedIn. Most company execs and decision-makers use the social media platform to network with other professionals. If your brand focuses on consumer goods, Instagram might be a great place for your brand, as a visual focus makes it easy to show off goods like clothes and furniture.
Look at your customer demographics such as gender, marital status, and age. For example, if you sell to Gen Z customers, you might want to get on TikTok, as 25 percent of users are in their teens.
Also, you can send out a survey to your customers to find out which channels they prefer.
Set specific social media goals
Before you get started on any social media channel, identify your social media goals and create a plan to achieve them.
“If the overall business goal is to obtain more customers or … increase overall brand awareness through a specific channel, then you can devise a strategy to achieve that specific goal,” says Codi Dantu-Johnson, Social Media Strategist at Mini Media Marketing.
Social media goals can only be achieved when they are specific and connected to a larger business goal. For example, if your goal is “building a following,” it would be hard to implement because it is not clear enough. A better social media strategy would be: “Grow our social media following 30% in one year, to reach more people that would be interested in our product and/or service,” says Dantu-Johnson.
You also need to define the metrics that will determine success. “If it’s awareness, maybe you’re measuring mentions, impressions, views, likes, and shares,” says Dantu-Johnson.
Engage with your followers
Engagement is a two-way street. Just like a friendship, customers won’t be motivated to engage with your brand if you never interact or respond. Engage your followers on social media to maintain the relationship and learn more about your customers.
“If you’re going to commit to building a following, engage with your audience. It’s not recommended to post once a week, and then never return,” says Dantu-Johnson.
Engagement is easier when you stop seeing followers as fans and start perceiving them as supporters, says Ashley Agbetola, social media expert and podcaster.
Use a social media listening tool such as Hootsuite to find opportunities to interact with your followers. You can use the tool to follow relevant topics, brand mentions, and related hashtags.
Make a habit of replying to customers’ comments within a specific timeframe. Data from the 2020 Sprout Social Index show that 79% of customers expect brands to respond within 24 hours. Followers are more likely to appreciate a quick reply than one that comes in days after they comment. Like and reshare relevant content from your followers on your page.
A lot of content is shared every day (as many as two million posts are shared daily on LinkedIn, and that’s just one platform). It’s no surprise that old content gets obsolete fast. The only way to stay at the top of your followers’ feeds is to “be consistent, keep posting, keep sharing,” says Agbetola.
There’s no hard-and-fast rule about how often you should post on social media. How often you publish content also depends on the time and resources available to you, so it’s best to determine a cadence you can handle and stick to it. You can then adjust your posting schedule as time goes on.
Also, use a social media content calendar like Buffer to plan content, schedule posts ahead of time, and stay organized. It also helps to include a caption for each post so you are not scrambling for ideas minutes before the post goes live. Use technology like Copy.ai to write your instagram captions quickly!
Don’t buy followers
“Never buy followers,” warns Dantu-Johnson. She points out that buying followers is “the worst thing you can do for your brand. It’s inauthentic, lazy, and doesn’t give your audience a sense of trust.”
Buying followers does more harm than good because you could get penalized. Platforms like Instagram clearly discourage and penalize social accounts with fake followers. Also, you can’t measure the engagement you are getting because it’s not accurate. You won’t achieve your business goals because the likes and comments are coming from people who don’t really care about what you are doing.
Engagement pods—groups where people share their posts for other members in the group to like, share and comment, are no better. Blake Emal, Chief Marketing Officer at Copy.ai, warns that “engagement pods do not give you any real business benefit whatsoever.”
Instead of acquiring artificial followers, take the long road and try organic ways to grow your page.
Optimize your page to be more visible. Ensure you complete your social bios and about us pages and include relevant links, keywords, and hashtags.
John Espirian, a B2B content writer and a LinkedIn consultant, uses keywords and branded hashtags to create a well-optimized social media profile on LinkedIn.
Work with brand advocates/influencers to promote your products to their audience. You can work with micro-influencers (anyone with 10,000–50,000 followers) who have a particular area they focus on and a high level of engagement.
Copy.ai works with copywriter Jacob McMillen to promote our products to his followers, who are mostly writers.
Promote your social media posts using ads. Social media ads are relatively low cost (it costs $0.50–$2.00 to promote a tweet), and they help you reach a wide audience.
Have some fun
Your followers use social media to connect and interact with each other informally. So it’s okay to have some fun and put a smile on your followers’ faces. Building a social media following doesn’t mean you have to be boring.
“Have fun, take risks, and be authentic,” advises Pat Timmons, Social Media Coordinator at Webflow. “The most success on social for brands comes from the willingness to spark joy in the feeds of their consumers. If you are not having fun with the people who are rooting for your brand every day, you are missing out on a golden opportunity to build trust with your customers on a deeper level.”
Social media newsletters, Twitter hashtags, and TikTok audios are great places to identify trends. Before jumping on any trend, take time to filter through content and find what is right for your brand and relevant to your audience.
Duolingo is a brand that has “embraced fun and risks.” The social media team at Duolingo is quick to put a creative spin on trends. They are not afraid to use self-deprecating jokes, create memes or engage in banter with their followers.
Think of how you can infuse a bit of your brand personality into a trend instead of copying it. Copying doesn’t feel authentic, and followers can sniff it from a mile away.
“Be you. There is nothing more annoying than brands copying another brand’s style and flow of posts. Be authentically you; you will attract more followers and customers that way,” says Dantu-Johnson.
Know what works for each platform
Although there are general principles that will help you succeed on any platform, each social media channel has secret strategies you can use to build a social media following from scratch. Learn what each platform requires and adjust your strategy to suit its requirements.
Instagram: Use reels
“We’ve seen a lot of success with Reels. Instagram also seems to be featuring Reels a lot more now. They can be a really powerful format for content,” says Griffis. “We’ve worked with content creators and small businesses (our target audience!) to create really successful Reels in the past.”
If you are not a pro at reels and are just trying it out for the first time, Griffis suggests collaborating with content creators and your target audience to create them.
Buffer collaborated with Lissette Calveiro, influencer coach, to create a reel debunking social media myths. The reel was a hit with over 10,000 views.
Twitter: Tweet a lot and analyze what works
Not sure what to tweet? Emal recommends letting “quantity become quality over time, instead of expecting quality right away.” This strategy involves tweeting “an insane amount” of engaging content several times a day and identifying what Twitter followers care about.
Experiment with short-form posts first, and then move on to making a sequence of tweets (also known as threads) when you’ve figured out what piques your followers’ interest.
Julian Shapiro, founder, and investor is known for his insightful and engaging Twitter threads in which he shares ideas and actionable advice.
Look out for engagement metrics such as likes, comments, and retweets. These are signals that your followers are interested in what you are sharing.
YouTube: Optimize for search with popular phrases
YouTube is as much of a search engine as it is a social media channel. Ensure you use keywords in your videos the same way you would in your website for Google.
“One thing I love about YouTube is that it is a true search engine. So I would highly recommend doing some research on what phrases are popular that relate to your topic/business, and incorporate that into the titles of your video/videos,” says Agbetola.
For example, someone looking for exercises is very likely to type in “ab exercises.” Notice how Bob & Brad, a physical therapist duo, included the exact phrase into the title of their video? Their video shows up right on top of the feed.
TikTok: Use popular sounds in your videos
“TikTok … is your own game played by your own rules,” explains Agbetola. “The only rule I would stick to using [is] popular sounds. It serves almost like a hashtag but with better reach.”
TikTok’s algorithm considers video information such as sound when recommending content for users’ feeds. If you use a popular sound, it increases your chances of showing up on people’s screens.
To discover trending sounds, click on the “+” icon that you use to start creating videos. Then tap Sounds at the top of your screen, and a list of popular sounds will appear.
Want to know how to build a social media following? Focus on community
Building a social media following is a great way to increase brand awareness, improve sales, and become influential. But just increasing your follower count won’t give you a strong community of loyal supporters and brand advocates.
Don’t just focus on numbers; nurture relationships with your existing followers while building relationships with new followers. Provide valuable content that helps them and interact with them as you would your friends. In no time, you’ll have a network of people spreading the word about your brand.