Article updated: October 20, 2021
Create engaging and effective social media content
You already know that it’s important to have a social media presence with fresh, engaging content. And you know that effective social content can drive traffic to your site and convert visitors into paying customers. Hootsuite can help with scheduling, publishing, and managing activity on your content, but if you’re unsure exactly what to publish, you’re not alone.
This article is your ultimate guide to demystifying social media marketing. You’ll find everything you need to help you develop a successful content strategy—from the components of a great post, to ideas for engaging content, to social network–specific guidelines. You can read this article in any order. Just select a topic that interests you to find exactly what you’re looking for.
- Know your post anatomy
- Build the perfect post
- Curate and re-purpose existing content
- Know your networks
- But WHAT should I publish?
- Publish at the "right" time
Looking to learn the fundamentals of social media marketing? Check out your options and sign up for a free, live, interactive Social media bootcamp class. Looking for advanced training? Check out our other training and certification offerings.
There are posts, and then there are effective posts. To publish truly effective social media content, you should understand the specific purpose and value of each element of a post.
Here’s a sample post, built right in Hootsuite.
For more details and best practices for each of these elements, see Build the perfect post.
There’s no such thing as a one-size-fits-all post, so we’ve collected some proven best practices to help you achieve your social media goals. Here, we drill down into the post elements mentioned in Know your post anatomy to help you grow and engage your audience and avoid social media stagnation.
Captions and headlines
You have the choice of using a short headline, a longer caption, or both. Adding a secondary headline is a good option if you want to quickly provide more information about your content before readers scroll past your post.
- Your text should grab the reader’s attention. Try to strike a balance between being clear and intriguing. Effective headlines do the following:
- Promise a benefit or result
- Incorporate numbers, such as percentages or a "top 10"-style list
- Convey a sense of urgency, such as a need to beat the competition
- Ask a question
- Spark curiosity, such as offering new or surprising information
- Brainstorm a few options and test them out before publishing. Make sure you know how your text and graphics will look on each social network you plan to publish to, and create variations that are optimized for each.
- Aim for headlines or captions that are somewhere between 10 and 20 words (or 138-150 characters) for the most engagement potential. For length recommendations specific to each social network, see Know your networks.
Special characters and emoji
Special characters and emoji can add interest, attract the eye, and make your brand more relatable. Recent data shows that adding emoji can significantly increase audience engagement. Just be careful not to overdo it! Every emoji should have a purpose.
Besides conveying emotion and giving your brand a more human personality, emoji can be used as simple engagement tools. For example, you can add emoji to separate blocks of text, making it easier to read and skim. You can also use emoji to gather votes from your audience; for example, ask them to leave a thumbs up if they agree or a thumbs down if they don't.
- Always make sure you know the meaning behind your chosen emoji, and use them correctly. Unintentional associations can cause embarrassment for your brand, or worse. Check Emojipedia for a comprehensive list of emoji and their definitions.
- Keep them simple. Different operating systems have their own set of emoji designs. Although they’re all based on the same Unicode standards, their appearance can differ among platforms and cause confusion.
- Use emoji that align with your brand. Always try to maintain a consistent brand voice, even when your social media posts have their own tone.
- Be inclusive. You have a wide range of emoji at your disposal, so make sure to use variety to represent everyone in your potential audience. Variation options include skin tone, couple types, and family types.
If using emoji feels too risky, here are some basic symbols that can go a long way:
An arrow or pointing finger can draw a reader’s attention to a link you want them to click.
Stars or starbursts can make text pop or convey excitement or celebration.
Check marks can convey a sense of action or verification, while symbols with color associations can drive home a point.
Calls to action
Try to begin or end your posts with a clear call to action. For example, on Facebook, you might announce the opening of a new location and encourage people to comment on the post for a reward redeemable at that location. On Twitter, you could simply ask for retweets. At the very least, include a link to your website, an article, or other site.
Mentioning other businesses, organizations, contributors, and influencers in social media posts is fundamental to social networking. Promote or thank a partner or supporter of your brand to increase mutual exposure and encourage the other party to reshare your post, or reciprocate with their own. Interactions on these posts (likes, comments, and shares) can quickly increase engagement and even affect algorithms that can help push your content to the top of users' feeds.
To mention others when crafting a post in Hootsuite, just type the @ symbol followed by their username or handle. For more details about using mentions in Hootsuite and how they work with each social network, see Mention a user or Page.
- Only mention those you believe will appreciate the mention and are relevant to your post. Over-mentioning or mentioning without clear purpose can be perceived as spam.
- Target non-competitor brands, products, or people with whom you share common themes, purposes, or audiences.
- To build new social alliances, search for social network bios that contain keywords related to your post, and mention those accounts.
Hashtags are words or phrases combined together and preceded by the # symbol. You can use them to identify content, brands, themes, trends, and campaigns. They’re immediately searchable on social media as soon as you publish, so they can help make your post more discoverable and pull your brand into trending topics.
Hashtags are clickable, and anyone who clicks on a hashtag or conducts a hashtag search on a social network sees a page showing all the posts that contain that hashtag.
Here are some of the most common types of hashtags.
|Type of hashtag||Examples|
|Campaign or brand event||#MakeoverMySocial, #Digital2021|
|Product or service||#handbag, #divebar|
|Industry, group, or community||#craftersofinstagram, #LGBTQ|
|Event, holiday, or season||#nationalicecreamday, #blackfriday|
|Social responsibility||#savetheplanet, #sustainability|
- If you use a trending hashtag, make sure you know why it’s trending to avoid unintentionally associating your brand with something inappropriate.
- Don’t use hashtags that are more enticing than the content you’re sharing, or you’ll risk losing your audience with a single click.
- Don’t use hashtags to express a complete thought or point, as you would a sentence. Keep them brief and catchy.
- Recommendations for the best number of hashtags vary among social networks. For hashtag recommendations for each social network, see Know your networks.
- You can use more hashtags with Instagram, because Instagram posts often don't include links. This means that hashtags don’t compete with links against the character count.
For more great hashtag tips, see How to Use Hashtags: A Quick and Simple Guide for Every Network.
Social media is inherently visual, and visual content provides a critical engagement boost. Statistically, visual posts get consistently more clicks, shares, and comments than posts with text only.
Try using a mixture of photos, images with text overlay, and videos to enhance the value and visual appeal of your posts. You don’t need to add a visual element to every single post, but pay attention to how visuals affect audience engagement and adjust your strategy accordingly.
- Some visual elements that attract attention are people and faces, colorful, sharp, high-contrast graphics, and video.
- Try overlaying your headline on top of your image for more visibility and interest.
- If you have your own designers and photographers, use custom art rather than stock images, which tend to be generic and don’t represent your brand. If you don't have your own resources, check out our list of Best Free Stock Photo Websites.
- To ensure a professional look and avoid technical hassles, make sure your images and videos meet the requirements of the social network you’re publishing to. For more information, see Image file requirements and Work with videos.
- If you do use text with images, keep it simple and easy to read. Consider including important text in your caption as well, for accessibility. For more guidelines, see Facebook’s About Text in Ad Images.
- For accessibility, add alt text (a short description of your image). Hootsuite supports image alt text in Twitter, Facebook, and LinkedIn. Just select Edit alt text when composing a post.
- Test your images and videos on mobile devices to ensure that your visuals are clear and oriented properly.
You don’t have to create all your social content from scratch! Your organization and your entire social media community are excellent content resources. Evaluating your organization’s own content as well as media from respected external sources can uncover valuable assets. You can then re-purpose or reshare these assets to help keep your audience engaged with your own brand.
Sharing external posts is an excellent way to provide additional valuable content to your audiences, build trust as an involved and knowledgeable member of your industry, and help fill gaps in your content calendar.
Hootsuite Apps are a great way to get started curating external content. Hootsuite offers a variety of partner integrations that allow you to install and use content curation apps, right in Hootsuite. Browse the Find Content category in Hootsuite Apps to find apps that work for you.
Watch External Content Curation for Social Media for more suggestions.
- Make sure you know your target audience and the type of content that resonates with them. Adapt future content shares accordingly as you learn more about your followers.
- Show your audience that you respect their time by ensuring that the content you’re sharing provides real value. Only provide useful, quality information and resources.
- Ensure that your viewpoint on the content you share is clear. Add an introductory sentence or two, and demonstrate your expertise in your industry by offering your unique perspective.
- Build your network and your reputation by letting others know when you share their content and why you found it valuable. This is a simple way to build relationships that can benefit your organization in the future.
- Protect your brand by fact-checking content before sharing it.
- ALWAYS link to the original content source and tag their social accounts.
- For detailed information and examples about these best practices, see Content Curation: How to Do It the Right Way.
Your own organization can be a trove of content that can add value on your social channels. For example, how-tos, blog articles, press releases, printed materials, marketing presentations, and promotions all have the potential to be repurposed as social posts.
Consider breaking long pieces of content, such as brochures, into bite-sized social posts. Turn a detailed blog article into a Top 10 list. Or, reuse parts of a how-to article in the form of a Tips and Tricks post. Track the performance of this reused content to help you better understand your audience and fine-tune future content to meet their needs and interests.
For much more about repurposing internal content, watch Internal Content Curation for Social Media.
People use different social networks to accomplish different goals, and their behavior can vary significantly among social platforms. By understanding how people use each social media platform, you can adapt your strategy to suit their needs and reach more customers.
In this section, you’ll learn about the audience profile for each of the most popular social networks, the type of content that keeps them engaged on those platforms, and some specific best practices for each network.
Of course, you don’t need to use all the social networks. A little research into which social networks your audience prefers can help you target your efforts and save valuable time.
Facebook users are the largest and most diverse social media audience. In addition to personal connections, the platform offers access to a wide range of news, entertainment, and special-interest information.
Because of the vast amount of content exposed on Facebook, users spend considerable time scrolling, but only a few seconds or less viewing each post. Facebook’s algorithms also have a large influence on who even sees your posts. In the brief moments you may have to capture the attention of a user, your content must create an emotional connection or sense of intrigue.
Attention-grabbing tactics include sharing high-quality, eye-catching graphics or video, making your posts actionable (asking a question or sharing a link), and keeping content concise. Facebook is an excellent medium for referring users to your website.
Video content is becoming increasingly effective with Facebook users, leading to significantly higher engagement than posts using photos or graphics. Facebook Live videos are even more effective at engaging audiences, and Facebook prioritizes this content type in user feeds. To ensure accessibility (and to capture the attention of people who browse Facebook without sound), add captions to your video. To learn more, see How do I add captions to my Page’s video on Facebook?
Learn how to publish to Facebook using Hootsuite in Create a Facebook post.
Instagram is a highly visual platform, so any content you share should have a strong visual element. Bold and colorful photos, high-quality graphics, and short videos are effective at gaining audience attention.
For tips on creating great visuals, watch How to Choose a Subject for your Instagram Photo.
Because Instagram posts don’t include links, they’re not as effective as Facebook for driving website traffic. However, incorporating branded hashtags in Instagram posts can encourage users to adopt them and help you grow your following organically.
Make regular searches for your hashtag to find user-generated content that mentions your brand, learn more about your audience and your business niche, and grow your network. Hashtags are also essential for letting users know your geographic location, participating in trending themes, and giving personality to your brand. Feel free to be liberal with the use of hashtags in Instagram; we recommend 5-10 per post.
Because of an algorithm that exposes rotating images in multi-image posts, carousel posts can be especially effective at driving engagement. If a user doesn’t engage with a carousel post the first time they see it, Instagram shows them a different image from that post the next time.
Instagram stories are a great way to share a lot of content at once, or alert users to new posts on your newsfeed, without flooding users’ feeds. And if you’re verified on Instagram or your account has more than 10,000 followers, Instagram allows you to include links within stories, so you can drive more traffic to your website or other content pages.
Twitter’s audience is accustomed to short, sharp, informative messaging, with relatively equal focus on news and social content. Twitter posts are limited to 280 characters, ensuring that your content is appropriately concise. However, you’ll also want to ensure that your message is clear, and that you balance clarity with a tone that represents your brand’s personality.
Tweets that include video are fast becoming the best-performing Twitter content. As with other social networks, keep your Twitter videos short, simple, and clear. Twitter recommends including products and people in video content, and being strategic with logo placement. For more tips from Twitter, see Data-driven best practices for Twitter Video Ads.
As with Instagram, branded hashtags can be an effective means of increasing visibility. Unlike Instagram, however, keep hashtags to a minimum (1-2 per post), as they can distract from your main message and count against your character limit; only use hashtags that are truly relevant to your brand or message.
In addition to publishing your own content, you can also increase brand awareness and grow your audience by participating in trending conversations. Sharing ideas, opinions, and insight into your industry can help you establish yourself as a thought leader. Try the rule of thirds for tweeting: 1/3 promoting your business, 1/3 sharing personal stories, and 1/3 sharing insights from experts or influencers.
Learn how to publish to Twitter using Hootsuite in Create a tweet.
LinkedIn is a professional networking platform that should reflect your brand from a business perspective. This is the platform where you can identify yourself as a thought leader, contribute to more substantive industry-related conversations, or share content that is meaningful or motivational on a professional level. It’s also a platform where you can grow followers who may become future partners or employees.
As with other social media platforms, LinkedIn posts with visual elements have the highest engagement levels, with video content performing best. Videos hosted directly on LinkedIn, rather than on an external site, are prioritized above other content types by LinkedIn’s algorithms.
The content you share on LinkedIn should be carefully vetted and reviewed to ensure adherence to your brand standards. Keep post copy brief, and use formatting options to add bulleted lists and line breaks, making captions and content easy to read. Consider sharing links to your own research articles and industry-related blog posts, as well as company-specific news. To solidify your own reputation as an industry leader, share relevant content published by respected partners or experts whom you hold in high esteem, or use LinkedIn’s Content Suggestion feature to find content to share.
Target your audience by using LinkedIn’s audience targeting tool. You can select individuals to target based on language, location, company size, industry, job function, and more. You can also target specific audiences more casually by naming them at the beginning of a post, as if you’re talking directly to them.
Learn how to publish to LinkedIn using Hootsuite in Create a LinkedIn post.
For more LinkedIn post guidance, watch Best Practices for Sharing Content on LinkedIn Pages.
|Captions||1-80 characters||138-150 characters||71-100 characters||25 words|
|Hashtags||1-2 hashtags||5-10 hashtags||1-2 hashtags||1-2 hashtags|
|Post frequency||1-2 times per day||3-7 times per week||1-2 times per day||1-5 times per day|
For detailed guidance on how often to publish for each network, see How Often to Post to Social Media.
Variety is key to keeping your audience interested and engaged. Different post types can achieve different goals, so we recommend planning content according to four content pillars: educate, entertain, inspire, and promote.
|Educate||Educational content should spark curiosity and help readers gain knowledge. Examples of this format include tips, FAQs, Top 10 lists (use any number), and Did you know? questions. This content can be about your brand or just relevant to your brand and your audience.|
|Entertain||Entertaining content should be intriguing to your audience, as well as quick and punchy. “Entertaining” doesn’t mean you have to be funny (although humor is a great technique when done well). Examples of entertaining content include unusual stories, behind-the-scenes perspectives, and before-and-after posts.|
|Inspire||Inspiring content should be especially positive or memorable. It should have an emotional impact and drive a user’s desire to take action or alter their perspective. Examples include people-focused stories, and stories about social responsibility or community involvement.|
|Promote||Promotional content is about encouraging your audience to take the next step. Be sure to tell people what you want them to do with a call to action. Examples include shop now, enter our contest, see the link in our bio, and leave a comment.|
When you know what your content should do, you can begin planning what and when to publish. Use the four content pillars to mix up your content and ensure variety while maintaining your brand voice and facilitating engagement.
To learn how to visualize, share, and manage a calendar of balanced social content in Hootsuite, see Manage your scheduled posts. For a handy content planning template, download Hootsuite’s free Social Media Content Calendar.
The content possibilities are endless, but you can use the following list as a starting point for your own content brainstorming. See example and more ideas in Creative Social Media Content Ideas You Should Try.
If your company has a great blog that’s regularly updated, re-purposing posts for social media is an easy way to drive traffic to your brand and keep your audience engaged and informed.
Social media is a great place to promote your company’s events, like workshops, webinars, and online chats. Sharing events can be an effective way to generate excitement, engage with your audience, extend reach, and increase turnout.
Share exciting news, such as an industry award, a milestone number of customers, or an important hire. Make sure to keep it fun and engaging with a GIF, video, or graphic.
If your company gathers original data about your industry, like Hootsuite’s Digital Reports, share it on social media to reinforce your leadership and competitive advantage. You can also share relevant news, articles, statistics, and research from other industry leaders.
Showcasing real people who work at your company and spotlighting your company culture can help you build trust and a personal connection with your audience. Highlight employees through interviews or guest posts, or showcase workplace attributes that reveal the human side of your company with “behind-the-scenes” looks.
Tip: Another way to enable your employees to be a voice for your company is through the Hootsuite Amplify employee advocacy tool. Learn more at Get started with Amplify for admins.
Try getting creative with fun and new ways to photograph your product. Show products or services being used, play with backgrounds, or group them in a new way. Use visuals that stand out while still blending with your brand.
Take advantage of this very effective medium by sharing videos about your product or service. For example, show how something works, highlight a new or soon-to-be-released feature, or create an animated reel of tips and tricks.
Video posts are great, but live videos can result in even higher user engagement. Consider hosting live videos on Facebook Live or Twitter Live for launch events, product previews, and demonstrations.
Get your followers talking and engaging with you and each other by asking a question—one that can’t be answered with a yes or no. These could be just for fun, related to current events in your industry, or used to gather opinions about new products or features. Share some of the responses in subsequent posts!
Infographics are excellent attention grabbers that can serve a variety of purposes; you might create them as step-by-step guides, to illustrate market research, or to highlight sales results. Or, perhaps you have website or blog graphics that are perfect for the post you’re planning. For vertical graphics like infographics, try Pinterest for its vertical-friendly format, or divide infographics into multiple images and publish them in an Instagram carousel post.
If your company or team has job openings, let your social followers know! People who are already interested in your brand might be interested in working for your company or know someone who is.
Hosting contests and giveaways on social media is great for promoting new products or services, rewarding followers, and gaining new followers. Encourage engagement with your brand and expand your reach by requiring a comment or share to participate. Be sure to keep it simple, have clearly defined rules, and follow legal requirements. Learn more by reading How to Run a Successful Facebook Contest: Ideas, Tips, and Examples.
If you have fans or customers who’ve shared reviews or kind words on social media, you can strengthen loyalty and grow your audience by asking them if you can re-publish it (with credit) to your own social accounts. On Twitter, simply retweet to share posts that discuss your company in a positive light. On Facebook, you can share any public posts on your Page with a link.
If you identify a social media influencer whose brand aligns well with yours, look into developing a partnership with them. They can produce content that is shared on their social accounts as well as yours, creating the potential to significantly expand your audience reach.
Build relationships and expand your network and audience by sharing a shout-out about a partner you work with. Chances are, they’ll reciprocate.
Consider converting some of your best product advice, common FAQs, or top-performing content into a short list of tips. You could publish a tip per day, a top 10–style list in article form, video tips, or perhaps a weekly feature with its own branded name. Short videos are also a great format for tips and tricks.
If your post links to external content that includes a compelling or inspiring quote, use the quote as the body of your post to entice the reader to read more, and perhaps even format the quote as a graphic. Quotes can be especially powerful when they come from a known expert, celebrity, or industry leader.
Questions about what and where to publish are usually followed by, “When should I publish?” The answer is complicated because audiences and algorithms vary among social networks and industries. Fortunately, Hootsuite Analytics can take much of the guesswork out of your strategy.
The Best times to publish view in Analytics uses your previous 30 days’ posts to provide suggestions for the best times to publish. These suggestions are based on your goals, such as brand awareness, engagement, or traffic. You’ll get suggestions for publishing to your Facebook Pages, Twitter accounts, Instagram Business accounts, LinkedIn Pages, and LinkedIn profiles. Learn more at Suggestions for the best time to publish on social.
To learn about publishing on each social network and fine-tune your timing strategy, read The Best Time to Post on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
When your timing strategy is established, consider developing a content calendar to plan and stay organized. Then, use Hootsuite to help you schedule your posts. To learn more, see:
- Schedule a post
- Schedule posts at recommended times
- Schedule multiple posts at a time
- Manage your scheduled posts