The 4 Steps of Social Media Marketing

by Brian Carter May 14th, 2009 

Disclosure: Brian is a cofounder of the pay per tweet twitter marketing service, TweetROI.

A bit egotistical of me to call them THE 4 steps of social media marketing but HEY big claims, big prizes- if I'm wrong, you'll tell me in the comments, right? :-)

Fuel Interactive's 4 Steps of Social Media Marketing

Anybody who's tried to do social media marketing, or tried to conceive social media marketing programs and sell them knows that this young industry has faced some big new questions, including:

  • Can we be confident about getting an ROI right away from social media?
  • What KPI we should use or do we need a custom set of metrics for each effort?
  • Should we measure social media like direct marketing or PR?
  • How long does it take to get traction and results? What kind of results can we expect?
  • Which of the hundreds of social media sites should we be on?
  • Is there a standard way to do social media marketing, or does every campaign have to be completely custom-designed?

Social media has been hard for people to wrap their minds around, because it's a mix of previous paradigms. It's like:

  • PR: Social Media builds awareness and can require reputation management
  • In-person networking: Social Media is conversational
  • Online direct marketing/advertising: Social Media can be measured and optimized

It took our agency, Fuel Interactive, a while to create a framework for social media marketing that puts all of this together and answers a lot of the questions. I call the result "The 4 Phases of Social Media Marketing". Of course, "steps" is sexier in a blog post title. 😉

Fuel Interactive's 4 Steps of Social Media Marketing

One: Strategy and Planning

Traditionally in PR, if you want to raise awareness and project your brand into the marketplace, you need solid, well-conceived branding. If you haven't already done that, we (in partnership with The Brandon Agency) provide that as part of the social media marketing process. Even if you do have a brand plan, there are still unique questions to consider about how to convey that brand in social media.

Planning also includes choosing the best social media platforms to invest time in, and strategies to virally accelerate participation and results.

Two: Developing Presence

You can't engage people in social media if you're not participating, so you need Twitter profiles, Facebook Pages and Groups, etc. Phase two is about building these profiles and enriching them with existing assets like photos and videos.

This is a phase that many companies jump into without the planning of phase one and without the relationship building of phase three, and the unfortunate result is stagnant, neglected, impotent social media profiles. This approach could doom your social media efforts because ultimately the people who decide where the marketing budget go won't see the value... because you didn't create any. Make sure that what you build here helps people want to engage with you in phase three.

Three: Engagement and ORM

Part of this that needs to be figured out in phase one by the business owner is: who is doing the engagement? Your agency? Your own people? How much time do they have to devote? Can they do it several time a day, rather than once a week? If it's a mutual effort, work out the logistics- cotweet is a killer solution for co-managing Twitter engagement.

For ORM (Online Reputation Management), you need a social media monitoring solution (like Radian6, for example), someone to monitor that, and a plan for responding. Some responses will be like the above typical engagement, but others will be brand-threatening emergencies that require special consideration and the involvement of PR experts and company decision makers.

Phase three is where all of this relationship-building and reputation management happens. The only way to accelerate the influence you get from phases two and three is to co-opt the power of existing influentials. You can do that with viral acceleration plans like blogger involvement or a pay-per-tweet platform like tweetROI.

Four: ROI Offers

Once you've built strong relationships with your fans and followers on your social media platforms of choice, you can think about sending offers, discounts, specials, etc. to them. The reason to wait is that the nature of social media is more personal, more networking-oriented. I've written elsewhere that social media is like a big conference- a lot of people never go to the exhibiter's hall because they don't want to be sold to. But if they're hanging out with you at the bar, after they strike up a friendship, they'd be open to hearing about what your company markets.

Certainly, Dell went straight to the discount offers on Twitter and made $1m in 2008 doing that. But they already had a strong, well-known brand, and an offering that fits most Twitterers (they all use and need computers). The average business does not have that kind of notoriety or brand trust. You need to build it through the first three phases above.

It's All Crystal Clear Now, Right?

By no means. Social media campaigns still need to be designed, fit your brand, use metrics meaningful to your tactics and goals, and be accelerated by creative viral strategies. There's a lot you need to think about before these four phases will get you where you want to go.

At this point in the social media industry's evolution, unless you have experience and skills in PR, advertising, marketing, strategy, analytics, and social media engagement, I'd suggest you do all this in partnership with social media experts. Partner with them until you've made it through the first year of your social media marketing, and then you may have a clear enough plan, enough experience, and confidence to take it from there.

Check out my follow-up post: The 6 Spheres of Social Media Marketing for more details and a clearer map of the process.

Brian Carter

CEO of FanReach, Brian Carter has been an Internet Marketer, speaker, and social media trainer since 1999. Brian has been quoted and profiled by Information Week, US News & World Report, The Wall Street Journal, and Entrepreneur Magazine. He is the author of the book How To Get More Facebook fans. He is both an adwords consultant and a facebook consultant. Check out his his free Facebook Marketing 101 course, and the full FanReach Facebook Marketing and Advertising course.

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25 Responses to “The 4 Steps of Social Media Marketing”

  1. Cool Gifts says:

    Nice break down. It's seems like there should be more than 4 phases, but you did a great job of explaining each phase. It's nice to see it presented this way. I think a lot of people just write "social media" in their biz plan and move on. Big mistake.

  2. Ruud Hein says:

    Each step will have sub-steps etc. etc. but in general I think the outline is pretty good.

    It doesn't need to be complete either, right? As long as it gets someone to think "welll…. we should also…", Brian's goal has been achieved :)

  3. Wow, you make it sound so simple when you lay it all out like that. We all know that social marketing is a lot of work and requires consistency and patience. I try to spend about an hour a day on social media to build my blog's brand. Thanks for the solid post.

  4. And i've been stressing about media marketing – it all sounds simple now! One of the biggest difficulties is the time it takes to see a ROI – with new media the paybacks take a while but they do come if you follow the steps (like the ones you discussed above)

  5. […] The 4 Steps of Social Media Marketing | Search Engine People | Toronto […]

  6. […] articles on the topic, many businesses still don't know where to start. Take a look at this very broad overview of social media marketing which should help put different tactics into a broader […]

  7. Hey Brian,

    You guys have clearly thought carefully through your system here, and I like the clear-cut approach. I'd also offer that in addition to using monitoring for online reputation management, it's an important part of gathering intelligence in your first two phases, even if you're not participating actively in social media yet. From knowing how your brand is currently perceived to understanding the competitive landscape, social media monitoring is really an ongoing and consistent foundation for strategy in our eyes.

    Thanks so much for the mention.

    Amber Naslund
    Director of Community, Radian6

  8. EH says:

    These steps are an excellent general process for businesses to follow. I think the main one that gets skipped over or forgotten is engagement and relationship building. It makes such a bad impression for the customer if they ask a question or leave a post on your business profile that never gets responded to. It's called "social" media for a reason…you've got to be social and interact with your customers. Great post!

  9. Bob says:

    It all starts with branding, doesn't it? Social media marketing and in-person social networking both require a strong "you" brand. You can't show up at a formal wedding in a swimsuit (bad branding). A great fitting tux will get you into conversations you wouldn't have gotten into without it.

    Accordingly, good branding will gain you acceptance online. Nice website, good marketing, financial investment made on branding…looks and image rule online too!

  10. Tim Kilroy says:

    Thinking os SMM as a phased approach is terrific, and very difficult to explain to clients. SMM is not typical direct marketing, but rather relies on the evolution of trust before the ROI begins. This is in direct opposition to PPC, where the benefot is fast, immediate and directly measurable. SMM is more nuanced and is more influence based than direct based. This was a completely terrific article.

  11. […] Carter shares the 4 steps of social media marketing. I think step 1 is that you do not talk about social media […]

  12. Search engine's usage is far way more than social media use. Plus traffic from search engines are more sustainable and longer term, while social media traffic is more sporadic.

  13. Synchronium says:

    Hmm. I might be tempted to give social media marketing another go. So far, all it's done is make me feel good rather than generate any income.


  14. Most of the traffic I get from my Social media efforts are more people that I already know from my network. They are much more likely to do business with me. The search engine traffic is much harder to win over. In real estate, referrals from friends or friends of friends continue to be the best source of new business….which is what we are all in search of.

  15. Adam Henige says:

    I completely agree with the point that too many organizations jump into establishing presence with no forethought. The wasted resources on social media due to this is likely astronomical.

  16. begamo says:

    It's good that we don't take Social Media Marketing hit and miss thing. These 4 steps will help not to waste time and effort.

  17. Jean-Paul says:

    Great post Brian,

    Developping an online presence requires time and consistency, also the ability to be able to turn data into intelligence and use them properly.
    In this point, you explain in 4 simple steps a way to reach success with social media.


  18. Disregarding Social Media is becoming increasingly difficult, and this post serves to illustrate just how to go about it. Definitely worthwhile reading if you are serious about creating or maintaining an internet presence.

  19. […] case you wonder how this relates to my blog post about the 4 phases of social media marketing, the 4 phases all happen outside of your website, so they apply only to the outer three spheres. […]

  20. Wow Brian, this really breaks down the simple power of what Social Media Marketing really is and what potential can be had when you get focused with these 4 Steps of Social Media Marketing.

    I look forward to reading more of your work!


  21. woody says:

    One channel that I would like to mention under social media marketing strategy is through web comments. For eg companies uses tools like "commentino" (with the help of their writers) to market their business/products in right forums. Writers posts web comments keeping forum discussion intact and coherant. This also give choices of business/products to forum participants. For commentino follow link

  22. Richard Fobs says:

    Great article, your outline sure did gives me a sense of direction on how to start social media marketing. I know its not that easy, but atleast I do have your tips to help me with.
    .-= Richard Fobs recently posted: Twitter- Top Twitter Tools Exposed &amp Explained at Lightning Speed by Zebolsen =-.

  23. Hayne says:

    I think the key for "step Two: Developing Presence" is that you have to understand and be a genuine part of social networking. It's dangerous to engage in it just because everyone else is.
    .-= Hayne recently posted: Wedding venue Kent =-.

  24. Kevin Warhus says:

    Really great article. I think you are dead on! So much of marketing is taking the time to understand your audience and put yourself in their shoes. Going above and beyond to find creative ways to engage those fans really pays off at the end of the day. With social media ROI, the return is only as good as what you invest.

  25. Walter says:

    In think the engagement phase (step!) is possibly the most difficult in many ways, as some companies don't realise that it takes long term effort to keep that engagement.