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8 Critical Steps for Starting a Social Media Marketing Agency

Updated: Aug 25, 2022

Starting your own Social Media Marketing Agency can be a real challenge, but these 8 steps will put you on the path to success. In this post, you'll learn:

  • How to outsmart social media algorithms

  • How to grow your social media skillset

  • How to take full advantage of the best professional resources

  • How to find clients & develop your own brand


Table of Contents

 

Ask most people about the origins of social media, and they're likely to point to the tale of Facebook boss Mark Zuckerberg, coding away on the grounds of Harvard University, circa 2004.


Since then, companies like Facebook and others have revolutionized the marketing world.


The actual origins of social media are a lot more humble. Sixdegrees.com, a website referencing the 'six degrees of separation that exist between all humans, took off in 1997 as the first true social media platform. It chugged along for a short three years, making founder Andrew Weinrich a slick $125 million from early-bird tech investors who were, perhaps, a bit too early.


It's certainly plausible that Weinrich, Zuckerberg, and dozens of other innovators dreamed of, and even expected, to create a global network linking together billions. What they likely did not expect was that their technologies would, in turn, give birth to an entirely new line of work - one that would come to redefine marketing as the world knew it and become an absolute necessity for any modern business.


This is our beginners' guide to diving into the world of social media marketing or SMM. We'll be going through the ins and outs of brand identity, content scheduling, and more - so buckle up, we're in for a long ride.


But first...


Why Is Social Media Marketing So Successful?


You might wonder how exactly did this industry become quite so successful, and more specifically, how independent marketers managed to draw brands and clients from all over.


The guiding factor, it seems, is closely linked to the biggest tech revolution of the last decade - mobile computing. Take a look at the hard numbers:

  • Yearly smartphone sales have quintupled since 2010, with over 1,500 million sold in the peak year of 2018.

  • In tandem, the number of mobile network users has doubled ever since, to a staggering 5.22 billion - that's over half the world's population.


The effects of 24/7 connectivity on social media usage cannot be understated. In 2010, data firm Nielsen reported that users spent an average of 6.2 hours per month on social media - that number has now morphed into a titanic 2.5 hours... per day.


The result? Companies are now willing to invest heavily in building a robust online presence through social media channels - in 2020 approximately $40 billion was spent on social media marketing in the U.S. alone.


While it's easy to get lost in a sea of massive numbers, the simple truth driving this industry is that when it comes to building businesses online, SMM simply works.

Content written, designed, and managed by talented individuals has proven to engage and attract more customers. It has also given both businesses and individuals the right angle to engage their audiences.


The catch?


Where there's an opportunity, there is competition - and few industries have seen an explosion of newcomers in recent years.


This means to stand out, you'll need to get your basics straight.


Fortunately, we're here to help.



Step 1: Understand The Requirements

Most of us have a strong idea of what content 'works' and what doesn't on social media. When we see a meme, an informative video, or any other of the myriad forms of non-commercial social media content, our brains respond differently as compared to a brand showcasing its latest product.


Figuring out this difference is key.


Nobody wants to click on a brand simply peddling wares. The reason a brand invests in a social media marketer is to:

  • Determine which platforms to work with, and analyze their pros and cons.

  • Plan, create and execute regular content to keep followers engaged.

  • Better understand their potential follower bases.

  • Develop engaging and unique ways to showcase their products and services.

  • Craft a strong online personality and voice for the brand.

  • Track and analyze metrics of success and growth.

  • Most importantly, build trust and loyalty with users.

These seven competencies are the cornerstone of any SMM expert's arsenal and can be honed with gradual experience and constant learning.


At this stage, it's ideal to first understand whether or not this line of work is best for you. If you do resonate well with social media, are an active user in your personal life, and enjoy the challenge of crafting unique strategies for different clients, you'll be a natural fit.



Step 2: Learning the Ropes

Like everything else, social media management requires some familiarity with the tools and platforms you'll be working with. While the sheer volume of information might be overwhelming for newcomers, a good place to start would be to explore the environment you'll be in the most when it comes to SMM - the social media platforms themselves.


Create test accounts and feel free to explore all the user interfaces - you may notice that different social media platforms emphasize different kinds of content based on their general designs. While there are thousands of social media platforms out there, it's best to focus on the big eight:

  • Facebook

  • Twitter

  • LinkedIn

  • Instagram

  • Snapchat

  • Pinterest

  • Reddit

  • TikTok

99.9% Of your future clients will require at least one of these platforms, so feel free to get acquainted. Don't be afraid to post, comment, or otherwise engage with other users - this will give you a strong idea of what the average follower experiences while scrolling through their preferred apps.


Once you're familiar with the platforms themselves, it's recommended to invest some time in a course. Even if you already have prior experience with an agency or a marketing department, social media platforms are constantly evolving, making a short course well worth the investment.


Most online courses are accessible for free or cost under $20. The social media marketing course from Coursera, designed in tandem with Northwestern University and marketing guru Randy Hlavac, is a great free course to consider - it covers everything you'll need to know from basic concepts to data metrics and is updated every quarter.


However, with several modules to go through, it does require a fair amount of time to complete. If you feel confident in your skills, you can always consider a quick refresher course on YouTube to get up to speed.


Completing a certificate course also lends you credibility in the eyes of clients.


This brings us to...



Part 3: Getting Some Experience

So you've learned the basics, got a hang of the various platforms, and understood SMM terminology. Now what?


Like many career hopefuls, this is the first real test you'll have to face - bagging your first client.


It's easy to agonize over the process and lose sleep over whether your elevator pitch landed or not. However, the important thing to consider is your mindset and headspace. Consider your strengths and skills - good graphic design and writing capabilities give you a solid foundation to stand on when approaching a business opportunity in SMM. If you feel yourself lacking in these disciplines when starting out, consider investing time and effort in improving your skills.


You are unlikely to succeed at obtaining and retaining clients without having confidence in yourself first. To build that confidence you will need to set realistic, achievable, and quantifiable goals for yourself.


First off, it's best to determine any immediate opportunities for experience. Chances are that someone in your family, friend, or work circle requires personal or business social media management - so reach out and ask away. Everyone from makeup influencers to local car dealerships can see the value of a strong, dedicated social media presence, so don't be afraid to put your best foot forward and offer representation.


If you already have experience working in a marketing team, consider approaching PR, web design, and marketing firms for 'white label' work. These companies already have clients in need of social media managers, and will consider experienced freelancers to work under the label of their company - letting you further pad your portfolio and generally be paid a fair rate.


If no immediate opportunities present themselves, job boards and freelancing websites offer you a quick and hassle-free way of reaching potential clients. Sites like Fiverr are pretty competitive, with newbies forced to butt heads directly with experts.


This means that as a beginner, you will likely have to pick up a free assignment.


While this may sound like a raw deal, it certainly is beneficial in the long run. Hands-on experience is the most important time investment you can make early on and definitely invaluable. Working without the pressure of justifying a payout also leaves you free to focus on learning and implementing strategies with little consequence. All this leads to a shiny new testimonial once your work is done, and a new name to add to your portfolio.


If you're already employed, try speaking to your management about taking up social media responsibilities at your regular workplace. Since you are already aware of the product or service sold by your employer, handling the brand's social media should be easier as you will have a strong notion of brand identity going in.


Remember: your goal, in the beginning, is to learn, network, and establish credibility.


Educating Your Potential Client

Many of your potential clients may also be first-time investors in social media management for their businesses. This means that it's your job to set social media expectations and goals.


The best way to accomplish this is to go through the basic metrics used on various platforms to measure success - engagement rate, follower growth, and so on. Before signing you on, a client must understand these terms and agree with you on what your goals as a social media manager will be. This will avoid any mismatched expectations for both parties in the future.


Part 4: Pricing Your Services

One of the most ambiguous and confusing aspects of starting a new business is determining your pricing.


According to Indeed, social media managers in the U.S. make $3,168 on average each month or $16.80 per hour. Naturally, this rate has little meaning for those new to the business - although catching up with and exceeding the average will come with experience and testimonials of happy clients.


Remember to scale your rates with the level of content you produce for a social media page. Here's where those graphic design and other extra skills add up - it's much more expensive for a company to hire a manager and designer separately, so take advantage of this during your negotiations if you can.


As mentioned earlier, you may have to work gratis to rack up some experience. While this practice is an established norm in the industry, do not let a client take advantage of your inexperience - it helps to set an established period of free work, after which your services should be billable.



Part 5: Matching Your Clients' Goals

Congratulations! You've hopefully landed yourself your first SMM gig by now. Here comes the tough part - retaining those clients.

Pick Your Platforms

Generally speaking, the first thing to do is determine which social media platforms you should focus on. Nowadays, the holy trinity of Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter are touched upon by nearly every brand with a social media presence - although the amount and types of content a brand posts on each of these varies greatly.

  • Is your brand influencer-friendly? Maybe TikTok is a good direction to look towards.

  • Is the brand aiming to attract millennials? Statistically, Instagram is the first choice.

  • Does your brand need to highlight customer service queries? Twitter is the answer.

  • Do you want to engage with professionals and disseminate industry experience through your content? LinkedIn is the way to go.

Making these choices early on will help you determine how to divide your attention and time as a manager.

Ideate Around the Brand

Before devising any unique or groundbreaking social media campaigns, a manager must first develop a strong idea of the brand they're working for.


This can be accomplished by understanding what the brand has to offer. Whether it's value for money, customer choice, rare and desirable products, or specialized service.


Every brand has attributes that add up to form a unique brand voice.

A tourism business would benefit from appealing to a follower's sense of adventure and excitement, while an industrial supplier aims to be seen as reliable and steadfast. This can get quite tricky at times. Suppose a local pediatric clinic hires you to handle their social media account - are you to appeal to children or their parents?


The answer is often found by further investigating your brand, collecting opinions from possible followers, and investigating other, similar brands.

Consider Competitive Analysis

Once you've understood the general creative direction your brand should take, it's time to look over the fence and see what the neighbors are up to.


The goal here is twofold - you obtain a benchmark to compare your own social media strategies against, while learning from the pros and cons of another brand's social strategy. The process is relatively straightforward:

  • Determine and list down your brand's competitors.

  • Do a deep dive into their social media feeds.

  • Note down post frequency and their follower counts - keep updating this with time.

  • Note down post ideas and formats that work over time, and those that do not.

  • Collect examples of successful interactions with their followers (comments, polls, etc.)

  • Record all this information in a spreadsheet for easy comparison and quick updating.

While dedicated solutions such as Social Pilot can expand and streamline the process, a simple data spreadsheet should be enough to help you understand your competitors at a glance.


While it is important to track and learn from a competitor's successes, try not to directly emulate their work - this can potentially lead to significant backlash from followers.

Set Up Your Brand's Social Media Profile

You've decided what creative language to use, what social networks to spread out on, and how to avoid your competitors' mistakes - it's finally time to sign up (or log in, if your brand is already represented online.)


Remember to:

  • Use relevant keywords that help redirected people towards the brand.

  • Use consistent, hi-resolution, and correctly sized branding across each platform.

  • Provide accurate contact information.

  • Write engaging copy for the 'About Us' section on relevant websites.

It's key to communicate with the brand representatives or owners during the process - a mismanaged social media launch could prove disastrous not only to the brand but also to your reputation as a marketer.


Make Your Social Media Strategy Tick

Once you're thorough with all your data and information, then comes the bread and butter of social media marketing; your core strategies.


The best brand accounts on social media are relevant, self-aware, and maintain a balance between chasing trends and showcasing their content. Netflix US on Instagram is a great example of said balance; the brand regularly uses recently launched content in tandem with global issues - such as completing a year under quarantine or even creating secondary accounts to support social causes in a way strongly linked to their brand content.


'Selling Netflix is easy though', you may remark.


You've got a point there - not every social media manager is going to start off working with exciting or thrilling brands - everything from consultancies to banks and public offices can have a social media page these days.


A good path to follow when working with 'boring' brands is to tell the hidden stories of people - both customers and employers who interact with the products or services regularly. Taking a leaf out of the popular 'Humans of New York' page, financial services company Paypal ran a campaign that highlighted how their service touched the lives of several customers and small-business owners. The result? An engagement boost rate of over 300%.


Goes to show that people do love a good story.


Schedule Your Posts

One of the most important, invisible aspects of a successful social media strategy is time management.


Having a calendar in place allows you to spend more time focused on specific tasks rather than scrambling for content to post at the last minute. While this makes for good workplace processes, it also allows you to take advantage of the waxing and waning nature of social media engagement.


The idea is simple - people consume content in different densities at different times of the day and week. On average, most audiences are highly active on social media during the mid-week period - with Wednesdays taking the top spot between 11 A.M. to 3 P.M. As expected, most people spend the evening hours commuting back home and spending time with their families instead of scrolling on their smartphones. Weekends also see diminished social media engagement across all platforms.


Keep in mind that these are averages, and you will have to determine the right time to schedule your content depending on the lifestyles of the brand followers you hope to attract.


Post scheduling also allows you to be far more aggressive with your brand communication - giving you the freedom to post regular content while simultaneously managing, say, an engagement campaign such as regular polls, quizzes, or Q&A sessions.


As your brands and social media business begins to scale upwards, you may want to rely on a dedicated scheduling application, such as ContentCal or Loomly.



Part 6: SEO and Social Media

If you're seriously considering a career in social media management, chances are that you've already heard the term SEO bandied about. So why on earth are we mentioning it this late in this article?


Simply put, SEO has more relevance on website marketing when compared to social media branding - the story, however, doesn't end there. It begins with the mother of all SEO, Google - and specifically with Matt Cutts, a programmer once associated with Google's SEO and webspam team.


Back in 2014, Cutts uploaded a video on Youtube detailing some of the changes Google was trying to incorporate into the SEO algorithm - in which he mentioned that the search engine omits factors such as likes and followers when it came to ranking search results.


Not what anyone expected, that's for sure. While Cutts' statement threw marketing departments into a tizzy, social media analysts performed a few tests back in 2019 - and the findings seemingly contradict Google's initial claim.


While no official statement from Google has cleared the air in the last few years, it is safe to assume that social media has some effect on a brand's search results. We would suggest keeping the focus on good content - at least until Google decides to put this mystery to an end. For the curious, Microsoft's Bing has confirmed a link between their SEO engine and social media, although its 2.7% market share makes the effort not quite worth it.


In the meantime, it is important to realize that social media platforms have their own search engines as well, and while not nearly as advanced as Google, they merit some attention. This can be done by simply making an effort to report and shut down duplicate pages, and clearly label official social profiles if a brand has multiple accounts.


To learn more about SEO, we recommend the Search Engine Optimization course on Coursera.


Part 7: Developing Your Own Brand

You wouldn't hire a mechanic with a broken-down jalopy, would you?


The same logic applies to social media management - perhaps even more so as dropping follower counts and content droughts make it even easier to spot shoddy work.


While this is less important as a beginner, your aim is to eventually turn your SMM business into an entity of its own. You can use your own social media pages to highlight successes with your clients, share key insights with followers, and even showcase fun projects in the making.


There's no rulebook on how to handle your own SMM agency's work - although you will certainly want to reflect your personal interests and portfolio in your content. If you like working with and enjoy representing say, sports brands - let your social presence shine in that niche and you will attract more of the work that you're looking for.


Just like with your clients, don't worry too much about amassing millions of followers overnight.


Continue to maintain a regularly updated, structured, useful, and engaging platform for your followers.


You can also consider building a simple website once you have enough clients to showcase - highlighting your contact details and service rates.


Turn Your Social Media Marketing Gigs Into A Legitimate Business

Early on, you are likely to continue pitching and obtaining social media clientele as an individual - which is quite hassle-free and requires (in most states) no paperwork at all. At this stage, you'd be wise to focus on honing your craft and rounding up a healthy set of clients providing you with regular work.


Once that's done, you may choose to register yourself as a sole proprietor - requiring some minor paperwork and licensing fees. You'll also have to officially name your practice - which can be an exciting step forward for many fledgling social media managers.


Social media, however, happens to be a public space - and a screw-up can lead to your clients filing a lawsuit against you. In order to better protect yourself and your assets in such a situation, you might want to consider forming a limited liability company (LLC). This will protect your personal assets, though the filing fees range from $40 to $500 across the United States. It may also lend your company an air of legitimacy, which may help you land new clients.


As your work expands, you may find that client demands may begin to exceed your capacity as an individual. At this point, you may want to hire additional writers, designers, and other professionals - this is when an agency is born.


Create Meaningful Content

Creating 4-5 posts per day for each one of your clients can be extremely time-consuming, but graphic design tools like PlaceIt and Canva can save you a ton of time. In addition, you may want to consider Coursera's Viral Marketing and How to Craft Creative Content course to learn more about the science behind viral messaging. I also personally recommend the book Contagious: Why Things Catch On.


Eventually, when you have enough clients to justify hiring additional employees you can delegate the work of content creation to them; but until then make sure you afford yourself every conceivable advantage in order to stay ahead of the workload.



Part 8: Things To Avoid As A Social Media Manager

Due to the very public nature of marketing as a business, leaving in a section of this guide dedicated entirely to not messing things up seems in order.


You may have come across a few of these social media faults in your analysis of other brands - make sure you avoid these at all costs.


Fake Followers

A favorite of many social media influencers, fake followers are an absolute dead-end solution to drawing interest towards brands. Website algorithms are getting considerably better at detecting fake accounts with time, and what your clients ultimately want from you is to increase engagement with clients - which is pretty nonexistent when you're followed by tons of phony accounts.


Inconsistency

Early on in the process, you may realize that a brand strategy is turning up subpar results with time. While you may consider dropping the plan and going back to the drawing board, it's counterproductive to shoot out different ideas each week - leaving followers confused and unsure of what your brand identity is supposed to be. If you're looking for a change, give each strategy some time to breathe - then move on gradually towards your next content plan.


Spam

You may consider churning out content en masse to inflate engagement numbers and boost the 'report card' you present to your clients. Unfortunately, this will irk your followers over time, causing some of them to unfollow you. It's preferable, instead, to space out your content - quality trumps quantity, after all.


Etiquette

This one is a bit harder to understand, and may require a certain level of nuance to get the hang of. When engaging with followers through comments or private messages, most companies take the stance of a friendly, polite brand with their customer’s needs as the priority. This exists for a reason - there are more than enough fires to put out on Twitter already, and a single compromising screenshot can land you and your clients in a lot of trouble. Not everyone can be a Wendy's.



Conclusion

Being a social media manager in 2021 is harder in some ways, and easier in others compared to a few years ago.


On the bright side, great educational and analysis tools help us make more informed decisions as marketers than ever before while rising competition in the field makes it harder to stand out as each year goes by.


What's set in stone, however, is that the rapid growth of social media has nowhere to go but up. With more people joining the ranks of Instagram and Facebook, independent social media managers have ever-widening sets of clients to choose from - with several companies choosing to drop mainline advertising budgets in favor of social-media-driven strategies.


Good luck, and may you go viral.





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