Skip main navigation

New offer! Get 30% off one whole year of Unlimited learning. Subscribe for just £249.99 £174.99. New subscribers only. T&Cs apply

Find out more

An introduction to social media marketing in 2021

We take a deep dive into what social media marketing looks like in 2021, and how you can make a start in it.

C3400fcf 08d4 42fe 974f E3c7a501664e

Social media is a huge part of our daily lives, whether we like it or not. A study by Global WebIndex shows that over half of the global population have social media accounts, and over 70% of the UK population are active social media users. 

Throughout the pandemic, we’ve been spending even more time on social media, which is unsurprising due to the amount of time we’ve been spending indoors. Research from eMarketer found that Americans spent 7 more minutes a day on social media in 2020 compared to 2019, reaching a grand total of 82 minutes.

With these statistics in mind, it is clear that social media marketing is a vital digital marketing tactic, and one that’ll only continue to grow with possibility as time goes on. In this article, we’ll be discussing the what, how and why of social media marketing so that you can transform your approach to digital marketing and harness the power of social media.

What is social media marketing? 

First of all, let’s discuss what social media marketing actually is. It’s described as a collection of applications, platforms and websites in an online community that allows the creation and sharing of content, information and contacts. In more simple terms, it’s the use of social media platforms to drive traffic to your website.

There is a wide range of social media tools that are used within the field, from forums and blogs to social networks and wikis. The primary role of those who work in social media marketing is to organise and run marketing campaigns over social media platforms through publishing content, engaging with followers, and checking social media analytics to analyse success; as well as running social media advertisements.

You can improve your digital skills and learn about social media in our course Digital Skills: Social Media by Accenture. Alternatively, you can check out our fantastic range of social media courses and find something that suits you.

The types of social media marketing

Social media marketing can be a very broad role, given the amount of social media platforms that are out there. Each social media platform works differently and appeals to different kinds of content and different target audiences, so your social media marketing strategy must consider this. 


Having a Facebook page is one of the best free ways to use social media marketing. With over 2.7 billion monthly active users, it is the most popular social media platform out there, making it a must for any social media marketing strategy.

That’s not the only thing Facebook has to offer, however. As well as being able to create a Facebook business page to help develop a brand identity, companies can also use Facebook advertisements to bring more people to their page, create promoted posts, and use Facebook for a range of other marketing tactics.

People of all ages use Facebook, making it the ideal place to target different audiences. However, the largest demographic of users are between ages 25 and 35. As of 2021, 56% of users are male, making it a pretty even split between men and women.


Another very popular social media network is Instagram, which is another great place to advertise your company. Oberlo estimates that 71% of US businesses are currently on Instagram, demonstrating how popular and successful it is as part of a marketing strategy.

Many companies use Instagram as a kind of catalogue of their products, where they share images that fit their brand aesthetic, as well as sharing photos from their customers using their products – this is called ‘user-generated content. Alternatively, companies can use Instagram to raise awareness about their brand, hold competitions that gain more followers, and create sponsored posts. 

Whether you want to create a fun brand narrative on Instagram stories, partner with an influencer to target a particular audience with your products, or spread your brand’s message, Instagram has a great range of features and tools that can help you.


You might be surprised to learn that YouTube actually has more active monthly users than Instagram, making it a fantastic place to gain supporters. Although Instagram is a much better place to advertise your brand using images and short-form content, YouTube could be a great option if you’re creating longer videos.

Other than making videos on a Youtube channel, companies can pay to advertise through YouTube and use influencer marketing strategies. It’s very common for influencers to create sponsored videos where they use or talk about a certain brand in their videos, so this can be a great opportunity to target a specific demographic. 

YouTube advertising is managed through Google. To create a campaign for YouTube, you will need to set up a Google AdWords account.

Other social media platforms

  • LinkedIn. The most professional of all social media platforms, LinkedIn can help businesses build credibility, hire talented employees, connect with customers and create a professional online presence.
  • TikTok: The fastest growing social media platform ever, and proving extremely popular with Gen-Z audiences, TikTok can be used to gain followers through tactics such as influencer marketing and posting short educational videos.
  • Snapchat: Also appealing to younger audiences, Snapchat can be a good way to spread brand awareness, for example, by posting real customer stories or videos about business operations.
  • Pinterest:  Pinterest has nearly 500 million users and favours image content similarly to Instagram. Customers frequently buy directly off Pinterest, so it’s a good place to advertise products.

Why is social media marketing so effective?

As we discussed at the beginning of the article, over 50% of the world’s population use social media platforms. What’s more, they spend an average of 2 hours and 25 minutes a day on them. These figures mean that using social media as part of your digital marketing strategy allows you to target an enormous audience with relative ease. By failing to be active on social media, you could be missing out on thousands of supporters. 

One example of the effectiveness of social media is when Vodafone created a new product line to attract an audience of age 16-24. In our open step about social media investment, the Institute of Data and Marketing states that when Vodafone invested in influencer marketing, their content was viewed over 31 million times on social media, and they went from 0% to 31% awareness from their target audience.

What are the benefits of social media marketing?

There are many benefits of social media marketing, but its primary purpose is to drive brand awareness and traffic to your website.  This ultimately leads to more followers, more customers and more business success. However, there are some other benefits of social media marketing worth mentioning, which we’ll detail below.

Social media marketing lets businesses:

  • Reach large audiences for a small price
  • Keep up with competitors
  • Sell products and services on the platform
  • Target specific audiences using demographics and hashtags
  • Create a sense of community
  • Have direct contact with followers and provide customer support 
  • Analyse brand sentiment

How to get started with social media marketing

There is a lot to learn in the world of social media marketing, and there are many perspectives to consider. To break it down for you, we’ll be discussing what a social media marketing strategy is, how to create a strategy, planning your content, and how to engage followers. 

What is a social media marketing strategy? 

It’s one thing to create a few social media accounts, but if you really want to take your business to the next level, you need a social media marketing strategy. This will be your master plan for your social media content, including your content guidelines, what kind of content to post, marketing campaigns, and how to engage with your audience.

How to create a social media marketing strategy

There are a few things you will need to consider before you start working on your social media marketing strategy. IDM provided some tips on their open step about creating a campaign strategy, and many of these are relevant to creating an overall strategy. These tips include:

  • Consider business goals. What are the main goals of your business and how will your social media strategy help you reach those goals?
  • Think about campaign objectives. What are your specific objectives for your next campaigns? Are you trying to sell something, create a community, build awareness? Learn how to Create a Social Media Marketing Campaign in our course by the University of Leeds.
  • Define social media objectives. Do you have specific social media goals you want to reach, like a certain amount of followers or a specific engagement rate?
  • Decide on a target audience. Who is your target audience on social media and for your next campaign? Think about their age, gender, location, interests, attitudes, and what kind of content they generally engage with.
  • Pick your channels. Which social media channels do you want to focus on, and does each one need a different strategy? Do you want to use any social media platforms for a temporary campaign, or do you want to build long-lasting communities?

For more information about how to create a successful social media marketing strategy, you can try our How to Create a Social Media Strategy ExpertTrack by IDM, where you will learn the basics of social media strategy, how to develop content, and how to run social media campaigns

Engaging your social media followers

It’s important to think about how your content will inspire, incentivise or motivate your followers to become customers, where they buy your products or services. They suggest that there are three main things to think about when it comes to engaging followers:

  • Self-expression. Your followers should be able to interact with you and your content, and express themselves through commenting, sharing, and features like polls.
  • Personalisation. Your target audience should understand how your brand interacts with their lives, and it should be simple to do things like embed video content into their own site.
  • Community. It’s important for your followers to be able to have conversations with each other and share information with their friends. You can encourage this kind of community by posting content that gives them opportunities to connect.

How to plan your social media content

There are 6 main things to include in your plan:

  1. Key themes and messages. Decide on your overall message and think about whether you want your key message to stay the same each day or develop and create a narrative arc.
  2. Dates and times. On your calendar, make a note of all the different dates and events that might have an impact on content (for example, Pride or International Women’s Day). You might also want to split each day into different time periods, or time zones if you’re working with an international audience. Then you can figure out the best dates and times to post content.
  3. Platforms. When you have your suitable time slots, you can decide which social media platform is most suitable for each slot, and what kind of content makes sense for that platform. For example, you might post a blog on Facebook but a product photo on Instagram.
  4. Content type. On your plan, plot out the different types of content you’ll be posting, from interviews and promotions to videos and articles. When everything is laid out in front of you, you’ll be able to see if you have a good balance of different content formats.
  5. Specific post copy. It can be useful to plan out the wording for your posts, so that when they go live, it’s a quick and simple process. If you don’t write specific wording, you could give an idea about the direction of the copy, for example, “Preparing for launch of new product”.
  6. Accompanying assets. Add any additional materials such as images, videos or links to the plan, so you can easily access everything you need and are able to share the content with other team members.

Top tips for social media content

We’ll finish off with some extra top tips to consider when posting content on social media as part of your marketing strategy. These include:

  • Use numbers and statistics to increase engagement
  • Add subtitles or captions to videos to cater for everyone
  • Tell stories using interviews and thought pieces 
  • Ask and answer questions using polls and surveys
  • Add links to your posts where relevant
  • Use a mix of media – images, videos, graphics, gifs

Final thoughts 

Social media marketing is one of the most essential tools in any marketing strategy, and is at the forefront of any digital marketing campaign. With such a high number of people on social media at any one time, knowing how to structure a social media marketing campaign has never been more important. 

So if you’re looking for a greater audience reach with a much higher possibility of conversions, then a social media marketing campaign is one of the best ways you can do this.

Related stories on FutureLearn

FutureLearn - Learning For Life

Reach your personal and professional goals

Unlock access to hundreds of expert online courses and degrees from top universities and educators to gain accredited qualifications and professional CV-building certificates.

Join over 18 million learners to launch, switch or build upon your career, all at your own pace, across a wide range of topic areas.

Start Learning now