Building loyalty and awareness are top priorities for any social media marketer. And for good reason. The greater your visibility, the more your brand is in front of potential followers.

By turning those fans into customers, you can create long-term advocates that spend more money and recommend you to others.

In the past, it was possible to achieve these goals through promotion and advertising. However, the rules of engagement are changing. Today’s social media users are more discerning about where they place their trust. Brands have to work harder and smarter to earn it.

In this article, we’ll look at how the social media landscape has evolved, and what you can do to grow your presence and create a community of loyal fans.

What does a good social media strategy look like?

Recent years have changed social media for better and worse. On the one hand, it’s played a critical role in bringing people together during a pandemic that forced us apart. It’s also provided a platform to speak on areas such as climate action and racial and gender equality.

On the other, it’s been damaged by concerns over privacy (see The Cambridge Analytica and Facebook scandal) and fake news.

More people than ever are using social sites, which is good news for social media marketers. But more of these people are using it to interact with friends and family. What’s more, fewer people trust what they see and hear in their feeds.

So, how do you build awareness in a landscape favored for person-to-person interaction? And how do you build loyalty when people are more skeptical?

With a social media content strategy rooted in relationships and communication.

As Neal Schaffer points out:

“…Companies still look at social media as a promotional and advertising channel rather than as a grand arena to collaborate with social media users, primarily customers and influencers, and work them through a relationship funnel to incite word of mouth marketing for your brand in social media.”

[via Smart Insights]

Edelman’s Trust Barometer study shows that trust is second only to price in becoming a loyal customer. And 70% of people say trusting a brand is more important today than in the past.

To earn that trust, word-of-mouth marketing leads the way.

infographic actions consumers take following positive and negative brand experiences

(Image Source)

Communication builds lasting relationships. You have to make social media a two-way street. Neal again:

“The social media algorithms will always favor people. It’s time to wake up to this fact and be the first in your industry to craft a radically different people-first social media strategy that is driven by the voice of your employees, customers, and influencers.”

[via Smart Insights]

More than ever, your strategy needs to embrace and engage people who have an affinity with your brand. They will help generate awareness and inspire trust.

Social selling app Depop does this by combining user-generated content with influencer Q&As.

screenshot selling app depop combining user generated content with influencer questions and answers

(Image source)

“A lot of our content on Instagram is just reposting the coolest shit that is on Depop for people to see.

At the core, that’s our strategy. And then we add a little bit of influencer marketing, we have paid marketing on top of that, and everything is interlinked.”

Yoann Pavy, Head of Digital Marketing, Depop [via MarketingWeek]

Microsoft Surface curates content by sharing its users’ art and testimonials and responding to their posts.

screenshot microsoft surface curates content by sharing users art and testimonials

(Image source)

Both of these brands involve their target audience. They actively engage with them and create content that’s for and by them.

This helps to break down the barrier between company and consumer. It shows the audience that their brands are accessible, interested in them, and—through customers, influencers, and thought leaders’ validation—trustworthy.

Regardless of which way social media networks move the goalposts, if you base your marketing strategy on relationships and communication, you’re well-positioned to get noticed and grow a loyal following.

Build a new social media marketing strategy from what you already have

Social media goals should always align with your overall business objectives. Building awareness as a goal is tied with growing the brand.

On the other hand, loyalty falls under engagement and consumer perception (how customers think and feel about your brand). Because of this, it spans two objectives:

  1. Turning customers into advocates
  2. Improving customer retention

Combining these goals and objectives will give you meaningful metrics to track.

Objective Goal Metrics
Grow the business Increase awareness and perceived value Followers, fans, shares, retweets, etc.
Turn customers into advocates Increase engagement Comments, mentions, likes, messages, etc.
Improve retention Improve consumer perception Sentiment, testimonials, reviews, customer support and service response time, etc.

Before you formulate a new plan to meet these goals, look at your existing social presence.

What are you currently doing that’s helping to build loyalty and awareness?

Start by examining existing accounts, official and unofficial, those you’re active on, and those that have fallen by the wayside.

Put them into a spreadsheet to keep them organized and consider:

  • Why are we on this social media platform?
  • Does it fit in with our social media mission statement?
  • Is our audience demographic using it?

If an account isn’t contributing to your goals or reaching your target demographic, consider dropping it. This will help free up resources for more profitable accounts.

Next, check that all social media profiles are consistent.

Are logos identical, branding the same, and descriptions and URLs present and correct? Brand consistency can increase revenue by 33%, as it connotes familiarity and builds trust. Take into account your brand messaging strategy to ensure you deploy customer-centric content that resonates.

Each profile should also be consistent with the social network. For example, Mailchimp’s avatars are the same across its social accounts. However, its tone of voice differs slightly.

On Twitter, it’s laid back to suit the B2C, creative audience segment.

screenshot mailchimp on twitter

“Helping you build your thing is our thing.”

On LinkedIn, their tone is geared more towards a professional audience.

screenshot mailchimp on linkedin

“We’re on a mission to help entrepreneurs grow with our smart, all-in-one marketing and commerce platform.”

Finally, examine how your social accounts are performing. Look at three things here:

  • Followers: Has your audience grown over a period (e.g., six months, a year, two years)?
  • Post frequency: How often do you post? Does posting more make a difference to engagement or follower numbers?
  • Engagement: How do people interact with your posts and in what number? Do certain types of posts generate more likes, comments, shares, leads, and conversions than others?

By running this analysis, you’ll be able to see which elements of your current strategy can fit into future social media marketing plans. It’ll also mean that you’re not completely overhauling your social media and risking alienating fans that enjoy your content.

Find out what the competition is (and isn’t) doing

There are two reasons to dig into how others in your niche manage their social media:

  1. Find out what they’re doing well to improve your social content marketing
  2. Find out what they’re not doing that you can do to stand out

Pick out six to eight brands that operate in the same space and speak to the same audience. Run a takedown of their accounts by asking the following questions:

  • What kind of personality or culture do they promote?
  • How many followers or likes do they have?
  • How often do they post?
  • What types of content do they post, and how do people engage with them?
  • What do they talk about? Are there important topics that you’re neglecting?
  • How many people are talking about them? Does it exceed their follower numbers?

This analysis will give you an idea of where you fit in, which social media channels are the most fruitful, and what you can do to engage your audience.

Combine this with what you’re already doing that works well, and you have a solid platform to work from.

Create and curate content that engages your audience

By this point, you’ll have a good idea of what to publish to social media sites based on your goals and internal and competitive research.

But social media is driven by trends. And these trends can change fast.

Take Clubhouse, for example. The audio-only app went from 9.6 million downloads in February 2021 to 900,000 downloads in April 2021. That’s not to say the app is over—retention among users is strong. But with Spotify Greenroom, Facebook’s Live Audio Rooms, Reddit Talk, and Twitter Spaces all offering a similar service, it’s clear that the novelty has worn off.

To keep growing, keep your finger on the pulse and continually analyze your content. As trends evolve, optimize your content to align with audience needs and expectations.

We’ve already seen how Depop and Microsoft Surface are doing this. Let’s look at some other examples of popular and engaging content to consider as part of your social media strategy.

Short-form video

A study by Wyzowl found that people share videos at twice the rate of other types of content (great for raising brand awareness). It also found that 84% of people were convinced to buy a product or service based on a brand’s video (a key step in securing loyal customers).

“Video content is the now, but short-form video content is the future.”

Jess Ostroff, Managing Editor at Convince & Convert [via Convince & Convert]

According to Hubspot, anything up to 2 minutes and 30 seconds in length is considered short-form. But videos can be much shorter than this. And they often are.

On TikTok, videos are less than 60 seconds long. On Instagram Reels, they’re 30 seconds long.

Those marketing channels are (at time of writing) the dominant players in the space. However, YouTube Shorts and Snapchat Spotlight are also worthy of attention. Naturally, what is popular will get copied in due time, which is why a differentiation strategy is critical for survival.

But regardless of the platform or how short the video is, content must always entertain.

Whether this is through helping the viewer learn something or solve a problem, like United Nations IFAD does with its informative TikTok videos:

screenshot united nations ifad tik tok video

(Image source)

Or inspiring them like Mailchimp does with its Reels:

screenshot mailchimp tik tok video

(Image source)

In both cases, videos add value. They give people a reason to watch and provide rewards (i.e. value nuggets) in exchange for their time.

Focus on what your audience wants. Ask them what they’d like to learn and how you can help. Then, create videos based on their feedback.

Live content

Live social media is not a new concept, but its role in connecting isolated people has made it more valuable than ever. Social media expert Danny Bermant explained to Smart Insights:

“I work with aesthetic clinics both in the UK and US who carry out procedures such as Botox, laser hair removal, and body sculpting. A major way in which these clinics generate revenue is through open days where patients get to see live demos of new treatment and are able to book the treatment there and then, often at a discounted price. With [COVID-19], however, such events are no longer feasible and are unlikely to be for the foreseeable future.

However, the industry has been fast to adapt and has gone virtual. Instagram live has proven to be the ideal platform, enabling housebound audiences to attend virtual demos whilst giving them the functionality to interact through asking questions and posting comments.”

Live content offers a direct and personal connection to each person watching.

Benefit Cosmetics takes advantage of this by hosting Facebook Live sessions with exclusive offers hosted by a member of its team.

screenshot benefit cosmetics facebook live session

Not only does this give fans a reason to attend, it increases FOMO. It also gives Benefit the chance to sell the product.

Fitness studio Barry’s Bootcamp engages its followers by running workout sessions on Instagram Live.

screenshot barrys bootcamp instagram live

(Image source)

The live sessions let them interact with viewers in real-time, delivering words of encouragement to keep them motivated. Following along live is, in many cases, more engaging than a pre-recorded session.

Barry’s is also able to see how many people are watching along with their reactions to class, helping them glean insights in real-time to optimize future sessions.

Bon Appétit used Zoom and YouTube to host a live stream. From their homes, members of its provided tutorials, played games, ran cooking challenges, and generally engaged its audience in food-related chat.

screenshot bon appetit zoom live stream

As well as interacting with each other and fans, the live stream brought people together in the comments to chat in real-time.

The result was over one million views, 21K likes, and 1K comments. It also helped Bon Appétit raise over $200K for World Central Kitchen.

It’s a great example of using technology that people are familiar with to engage them creatively.

Use live content whenever you want followers to share in the moment, including:

  • New product launches
  • Major announcements
  • Q&A sessions
  • Behind-the-scenes videos
  • Interviews
  • Collaborations

Purpose-driven content

Edelman’s Trust Barometer found that 81% of people rate trusting a brand to do what’s right as an important buying decision. It also found that 85% (net) of people want brands to solve their problems and 80% (net) want brands to solve society’s problems.

56% of consumers also say they have no respect for businesses that remain silent on important issues.

Social media has empowered consumers to be more vocal on social issues, and they expect the brands they follow to support them.

This doesn’t mean speaking out on every issue. But if you have an opinion on an issue and aren’t willing to speak on it or do anything to back it up, expect to be criticized.

Hotjar, Nike, Airbnb, and Ben & Jerry’s are all examples of brands that have acted on their brand purpose and used social media to react to important matters and educate their audiences.

screenshot ben and jerrys on twitter reacted on white supremacy

(Image source)

None have been met with universal praise. Often there is a backlash from people that don’t agree with a stance.

screenshot sean clancy on twitter disagrees on nfl and nike stance

(Image source)

You should expect this too. You can’t please all of the people all of the time. Staying true to your values will strengthen relationships with followers that care about the same issues. It will also earn you respect from your core target audience, which works to improve loyalty, retention, and even ROI.

While some might have seen the backlash against Nike as a public relations nightmare, the company didn’t waver. And it was rewarded for it. Ten days after the Dream Crazy campaign that prompted the hashtag #boycottnike, Nike reached an all-time high on the stock exchange and made six billion dollars.

Think about your corporate social responsibility. What matters to you and your audience? And what can you do as a business in a position of authority to educate and inform followers?

Social commerce

According to Facebook, 81% of shoppers research products on Instagram. 80% also use Instagram to decide whether to buy a product or service.

On Pinterest, 459 million people use the platform for purchase inspiration, and more than 25% of time is spent shopping.

Given this data, social media is the natural place to target online shoppers. Selling products or services directly on Instagram, Facebook Shops, or Pinterest lets you provide a complete shopping experience.

Rather than going the ecommerce route and completing a purchase on your website, social commerce lets you take users from research to checkout without leaving the app.

This seamless process taps into what shoppers want, as Maisie Tomlinson points out:

“Infiltrating social media, where consumers spend a large chunk of their day, improves the shopping experience, and shortens the process. As humans, we’re always looking for simpler ways to get what we want.

Brands want to convert customers as soon as possible, therefore why waste time sending them to your website for them to potentially leave because of user experience issues. Reduce drop-offs by selling directly from your social media post. Marketers will want to focus more on their social media reach, engagement, and the effectiveness; evolution is necessary if you want to survive.”

[via Smart Insights]

Teeth whitening company, Zimba, is a great example of using Facebook and Instagram to engage users.

screenshot zimba teeth whitening company using facebook to engage users

“Because Zimba already had a presence on Facebook and Instagram, and had already uploaded its online catalog, setting up its Shop using the Commerce Manager tool was turnkey and completely seamless.

People could then find Shops on Zimba’s Facebook Page or Instagram profile or discover the brand through Stories or ads. From there, shoppers could browse through the products, add products to their bag and place an order―all without ever having to leave the app.

With the addition of Shops, people could also message Zimba through Messenger or Instagram Direct Message (DM) to ask questions, get support, track deliveries, and more.”

[via Facebook]

The campaign helped Zimba secure 1,200 incremental orders from Shops in one month, with an average order value of 6.7% higher than orders through its website.

Social commerce makes it easy for followers to become customers, which is crucial in building loyalty.

Where does advertising fit into social media marketing?

In a utopian landscape, we’d all be able to develop and run people-first social media marketing campaigns based solely on organic content.

In reality, organic reach has declined to such an extent that success is a long game. To get quick wins, the likelihood is you’re going to have to pay to play.

organic reach across social media graph

(image source)

However, it’s important to pay and play wisely.

In the era of fake news and hate speech, social media advertising has a bad reputation. Kantar research shows that as few as 14% say they trust ads as a source to garner information about a business. And only 17% trust social media as a medium.

On the flip side, a consumer research poll by Iterable found that 58% of consumers feel positive about receiving a hyper-personalized ad.

What does this tell us?

Trust is low. But if you use data responsibly to craft targeted ads that appeal directly to sections of your audience and complement your organic strategy, it’s possible to earn and maintain it.

Use paid social media to cut through the noise when you need to promote a brand message or offer. But make sure that ads stay true to your tone and personality.

While you want your ads to get noticed to build loyalty and awareness, they should not feel pushy or intrusive.

Let’s look at some examples.


CitiGroup put ad budget behind content that highlighted its support for Paralympic athletes.

screenshot citigroup paid ad on twitter in support for paralympic athletes

This ensured the campaign would be seen beyond the company’s followers, bringing more attention to its importance. It also showcases Citi’s social good.

Promoting feel-good stories is a good way to build relationships without direct selling.


Headspace takes a more traditional retargeting approach to keep its brand front of mind for potential customers who aren’t ready to commit at the first touchpoint.

screenshot headspace traditional retargetting approach using facebook

This Facebook ad grabs attention because of its substantial offer. It’s also on-brand, which helps it stand out in an ad-heavy feed.

screenshot headspace facebook ad

The call-to-action button helps drive traffic to a frictionless landing page using Facebook Shopping; simplifying sign up. This further adds to Headspace’s “stress free” mantra.


Scribd also uses a time-tested approach, targeting people who follow similar accounts.

screenshot scribd ad targeting people who follow similar accounts

This is a great way to raise brand awareness, but consumers may see it as intrusive.

Scribd cleverly uses social proof to appeal to viewers and minimize objections. Rather than Scribd telling you how good its product is, it lets its community do the talking.

79% of people say they trust online reviews from other consumers as much as recommendations from personal contacts. As mentioned earlier, word-of-mouth marketing is the best way to earn trust.

Assess, measure, and tweak to stay ahead

Leveraging social media as a means to keep your finger on the pulse can inform your content.

Like all marketing initiatives, no matter how well strategized, measurement and optimization is key to short and long-term success.

Continuously monitoring metrics via social media analytics tools gives you insight into how campaigns are performing.

Follow Buffer’s revolving four-part testing process to optimize performance:

screenshot buffers revolving four-part testing process

  1. Set benchmarks: Look at the average engagement (clicks, shares, comments, and likes) on your posts over a set period and use this as a benchmark, adjusting as your business grows.
  2. Test (launch something new): Video, Reel, hashtag, different length of post—run with whatever you think could be successful on a platform.
  3. Check the stats: Did the test work? Compare the data against your benchmarks.
  4. Make changes: Tweak content that needs to be improved and test again.

This process helps you remain proactive with posting new content (e.g. trying a new medium) while simultaneously optimizing existing posts. It will also help you stay relevant as trends change and algorithms evolve.


Social media for business has always been about audience building. But now more than ever, it’s important to get hands-on with social media management.

Be active on platforms. Talk, listen, and respond to followers. Show you’re there for them and let the content you create reflect that.

If you can do that, you’ll earn their trust, which breeds loyalty, turning customers into advocates that help to amplify your presence.

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