Social media is no longer an optional marketing channel — it’s a necessary one.

But that doesn’t mean results are a given. When it comes to social media, you’ll either have a lot of success interacting with your customers, or you’ll see little results — and that depends on the level of effort you put into it.

For every business that has found success in social media marketing, there are at least two more spinning their social wheels with no tangible results. It’s time to change that trend.

For many, social media is simply a place to post links to content they’ve created in hopes that thousands will see it, click through, and share with their followers. So they have profiles on every network, and every network looks exactly the same; line after line of self-promotion.

This is not going to bring results. In fact, Facebook‘s algorithm now penalizes link-based content, and Instagram has made it all-but-impossible to share a link.

Half-heartedly sharing your content on social media is not social media marketing. It’s spamming.

Social marketing is a lot of work, and it takes time listening and responding. After all, it’s social, and anything social takes an investment of effort and skill.

To hone these skills, check out these resources that will help you develop the skills needed to be effective on social media. (You may want to bookmark this post so you can easily refer to it again later.) Click the links below to jump to each section of resources in this article:

How to Learn Social Media Marketing: 40 Free Resources

Social Media Marketing Blogs

Social marketing is a science involving special communication skills. And the landscape changes constantly.

One of the best ways to develop your social media prowess and to stay up-to-date is to follow experts in the field. These blogs are always fresh with actionable information you can use to improve your marketing:

1. Social Media Explorer

SME is both a strategic services agency and a blog with a bevy of social media and marketing experts. The SME blog is consistently considered one of the most insightful in the industry, and several of its authors have written popular books on several aspects of digital and social marketing.

2. Scott Monty

Monty is a marketing guru who covers a ton of subjects. However, his social media articles are always eye-opening. If you haven’t heard of him yet, check out his “this week in digital” posts — these will keep you up-to-date with all the news on social, and every other aspect of digital marketing as well.

3. Social Media Examiner

Not to be confused with Social Media Explorer, the Examiner is one of the top blogs in the world for social media. Its social media reports are filled with all the important data social marketers want, and the blog posts are filled with valuable tips, as well. If I had to pick just one social media blog to follow, this is the one I would choose.

4. HubSpot Marketing Blog

Right here on the HubSpot Marketing Blog, you can find breaking news and actionable how-to guides on every social network there is.

Social Media Publishing Templates

5. Social Media Content Calendar Template

Before you load your social media content into a publishing tool (HubSpot has one, when you’re ready for it), you’ll want to organize it all in an offline calendar. The free template linked above allows you to sort your social media content in a spreadsheet that’s designed to help you track the day, time, and social media channel on which everything you create is being promoted.

6. Social Media Calendar Templates

This social media template helps you track your social media campaigns not just by social network, but by how much engagement they get, which holidays they’re aligned with, and which ones have paid promotion behind them.

7. Airtable’s Content Calendar

Once you’ve organized your social media calendar into a spreadsheet — like the one linked to #6, above — you might also want to load this content into a project management platform so you can track its progress in real time. Airtable is one such platform to help you do that, and it comes with a content calendar format so you don’t have to shoehorn the platform around your business.

8. Social Media Image Templates

It’s well-known that visuals get more engagement on social media than just text. Get your designs off on the right foot with this collection of social media image templates.

9. Instagram Templates for Business

Instagram is the most image-focused social network out there, and because of that, not just any image will reach your audience. To cut through the crowds, use this collection of Instagram templates to create brand-aligned posts that resonate with your audience.

Social Media Marketing Ebooks

These ebooks will provide deeper information on specific networks and topics.

10. How to Use Instagram for Business

This step-by-step guide explains the reasons to create a business Instagram account and how to execute on Instagram to drive results.

11. A Visual Guide to Creating the Perfect LinkedIn Company Page

If you’re building a company page for the first time, or trying to upgrade your page, this guide will show you exactly how to do everything from crafting an engaging company description to creating an eye-catching banner image.

12. How to Attract Customers with Facebook

This multi-page ebook will show you how to use Facebook to drive real business results for your organization.

13. How to Get More Twitter Followers

HubSpot partnered with the experts at Twitter to provide actionable tips for social media managers starting new accounts to build a following, and fast.

14. The Beginner’s Guide to Social Media

Here’s an amazing guide from Moz. The 12 chapters in this book are filled with valuable information that every marketer absolutely needs to know. Bookmark this guide, you’ll refer to it more than once.

15. How to Create High-Quality Videos for Social Media

Like images, videos drive a ton of engagement on social media. And although the idea of shooting a quality video for your social channels sounds daunting, it’s actually easier than you think. Grab the free guide above to learn how to quickly turn your office into a production studio.

Social Media Marketing Courses

16. Developing an End-to-End Instagram Marketing Strategy for Your Business

This free course in the HubSpot Academy will teach you how to stand up an Instagram marketing strategy in just 95 minutes. The course consists of 3 lessons, 13 videos, and 3 quizzes.

17. Putting Social Media to Work for Your Coaching Business

Even consultants need consultants to learn how to, well, be a consultant. The free Udemy course linked above will teach you how to use social media to market your business as a coach or consultant in your industry.

18. Developing an End-to-End Facebook Marketing Strategy

Opposite the Instagram marketing course linked in #16, above, take this hour-long course to learn the basics of Facebook marketing.

19. Social Media Influencer Course

You’ve probably heard of influencer marketing — it’s particularly common in the context of social media. Take this course by Captevrix to learn how to work with an Influencer who resonates with your audience to promote your brand.

Social Media Marketing Videos

Videos are my second favorite medium to learn, behind books. Being able to glean from the brightest minds on any subject as if you’re face-to-face is powerful. These videos will give you valuable insights, just how to do social media, but you’ll get insights into the why and what as well.

20. The #AskGaryVee Show

You can’t talk about social media without talking about the speaker, author, and social expert Gary Vaynerchuk. On the Gary Vee Show, he takes questions from his audience and answers them as only he can. If you have a burning question on social media marketing, send it to him.

21. TED Talks: Social Media Marketing

If you aren’t in love with TED, you might want to check your pulse. This is a playlist of videos from TED Talks on social media. There may not be that much actionable advice in these videos, but if you want to become an expert on social media, these videos will give you insight into the deeper subject like “the hidden influence of social networks.”

22. Learn Social Media Marketing

If you’re really new to social media, and you want to learn through a structured lesson experience, consider Lynda’s massive library on social marketing courses.

23. Free Social Media Certification

HubSpot Academy has a breadth of video courses across inbound and digital marketing. Their free social media course is an eight-step video curriculum that teaches you the fundamentals of managing a social media campaign for your business. It also earns you a fresh Social Media Certification.

Social Media Podcasts

If you like to learn while you chill, work out, or commute to and from work, podcasts are one of the best ways to do it. And these podcasts will help you develop your social media expertise.

24. Social Media Marketing Podcast

Michael Stelzner, from Social Media Examiner, brings you success stories and expert interviews from leading social media marketing pros.

25. The Social Toolkit

If you like to stay up-to-date on digital tools, apps, and software for social media marketing, this is the podcast for you.

26. The Social Pros Podcast

Every episode of the Social Pros Podcast shines the light on real pros doing real work for real companies. You’ll get insights from Jay Baer of Convince and Convert when you tune in.

Slideshows & Infographics About Social Media

If you’re a visual learner, these slide decks and infographics provide great ways to learn social media.

27. The B2B Social Media Palette

This SlideShare walks you through the channels and tools you’ll need to be most effective at B2B social media marketing. Sometimes, success can be found by using the right tools and channels for the right audience.

28. The Complete Guide to the Best Times to Post on Social Media

Timing is very important when it comes to social media. Post it the wrong time, and your update can go completely unnoticed because of the flood of updates in your audience’s feeds. Being able to master the timing of social media is critical to effective marketing.

29. 58 Social Media Tips for Content Marketers

This slideshow is from the folks at Content Marketing Institute. This deck shows the proper methods for promoting your content over social media. This is a must-read for any social marketer who wants to use those channels to promote content.

30. The Best and Worst Times to Post on Social Media

Again, timing is everything. This infographic lays out the best and worst times to post on each major network. You should save this infographic for referencing when you schedule your social media posts.

Social Media Marketing Books

Books are my favorite way to learn. Many experts agree that if you read a book a week, on your area of expertise, for 5 years, you will have the equivalent of a Ph.D. on the subject. That may or may not be true, but reading books from the experts definitely doesn’t make you a worse marketer. Here are some books to get you started.

31. The B2B Social Media Book

This book covers the specific application of social marketing to B2B companies, to leverage social media to drive leads and revenue.

32. The Art of Social Media: Power Tips for Power Users

You’ve got to read this book by the legendary former Chief Evangelist of Apple, Guy Kawasaki. He’s one of the pioneers of social and content marketing, and this book is filled with expert advice from one of the best.

33. The Tao of Twitter

This book is supposed to be for busy marketers who need to get the basics of Twitter down quickly. It shows you how to connect and start creating meaningful connections in less than two hours.

34. The Ultimate Guide to Facebook Advertising

Facebook is one of the most effective advertising and PPC platforms available. You can target a plethora of metrics, allowing you to drill down and advertise to a very specific audience. This book will show you how to optimize your Facebook ads.

35. Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World

Gary Vaynerchuk gives insight into how he uses a conversational, reactionary approach to engaging his audience. He gives concrete, visual examples of great social marketing, as well as not-so-great ones.

36. The New Rules of Marketing and PR

David Meerman Scott’s book on digital marketing is an international bestseller, and worth every penny. Some argue that it should be required reading for any marketer — and in this marketer’s opinion, “Just read it.”

37. Likeable Social Media

Dave Kerpen claims the secret to viral social marketing is to be likable. When someone likes you, they’ll recommend you. But being likable on social networks is easier said than done. This book will help you crack that code.

38. Social Media Marketing for Dummies

One of my mentors taught me to read children’s books on a subject if I just couldn’t grasp a concept. That principle gave way to movements like “Explain It Like I’m 5.” And, sometimes you just need it broken down like you’re, well, less than an expert on the topic, to put it gently. If that’s you, this book is valuable. Go ahead and buy it — we won’t call you dummy.

39. Contagious: Why Things Catch On

This book by Jonah Berger provides a strong foundation to understand how content goes viral — and how to create ideas on social media that are so catchy, your audience won’t be able to help but click them.

Now that you’ve reviewed the top social media marketing resources, it’s time to create your action plan for getting out there and actually doing it.

1. Go where your customers are.

You don’t have to be on every network. It’s a common mistake when starting out to overextend across platforms. If you’re running short on marketing resources, identify which platform (or two) your audience is most likely to be found and then double-down on creating meaningful content and experiences on that platform. You can always expand your efforts into different platforms later.

2. Be helpful. Period.

Audiences watch TV to be entertained, get informed, or unwind, not to view commercials. The same is true for social media users. Chances are, if you do nothing except promote yourself, you won’t get far with social media because signing into social media is not indicative that they’re ready to be sold to.

So how do you meet audiences on their turf in a way that’s earns you meaningful awareness and engagement? The 80/20 Rule.

This “rule” states that successful social media marketing means providing something for the audience 80% of the time and promoting your brand 20% of the time. If your audience is hungry for your content, they’re much more willing to also accept promotional messaging as long as it’s not too overwhelming or obtrusive.

3. Set realistic and measurable goals.

If you begin your social media marketing efforts with no destination in mind, you may find yourself floundering. Get clear on what you need from your efforts so that you can set goals and measure your progress towards them.

For example, you might be using social media to increase your brand awareness, which means you’d look at your posts’ reach and how your audience is growing. On the other hand, if you want to drive traffic from your website, you might measure click-throughs.

It’s important also to begin with a benchmark so that you can set realistic goals. Shooting for the moon is nice, but you’ll also want to measure against achievable milestones to gauge performance and make accurate (within reason) predictions for strategic planning.

4. Maximize your existing resources.

Sit down and decide on a publishing schedule that is appropriate for the network you’ve chosen and the resources you have for content creation. Creating content can be arduous, even if you choose just one or two platforms, so it’s important not to overtax your resources. Instead, consider ways that you can utilize, adapt, and repurpose existing content to make your resources stretch even further.

5. Have conversations.

Don’t forget the “social” in “social media.” Social media marketing isn’t about broadcasting; it’s about communicating. By interacting with your audience online, you can increase brand awareness by increasing engagement. In addition, this engagement tends to be more memorable and delightful than non-personalized interactions.

6. Listen to your audience.

Customer feedback, direct mentions of your brand, and even industry chatter can all inform your social strategy. By listening to the conversations your audience has on social media, you can come up with new ideas for content based on real-time industry trends, shifting your social media marketing strategy to fit their needs. Social listening tools such as HubSpot and Sprout Social can streamline this process and lead to amazing insights.

7. Don’t get trapped by #followback loops.

You may notice trends such as #followfridays as you’re establishing your platform. It may be tempting to participate, but these follow chains can often lead to a large audience of unengaged followers who aren’t interested in your brand. This isn’t an ideal way to grow. The best thing you can do is check out these follow trains and see if there are any individuals that you or your business wants to follow based on their perspectives rather than simply as a reciprocal act of increasing numbers.

8. Focus on quality, not quantity.

This tip can be applied to so many things in the social media space:

  • Quality, not quantity, of followers
  • Quality, not quantity, of posts you create
  • Quality, not quantity, of promotions

The fact of the matter is, even though it may seem like slow growth over time, quality matters on social media and will drive more meaningful results and better ROI, which is the foundation of successful social media marketing.

9. Never copy/paste the same message into every social profile.

If you’re on multiple platforms, it’s best to adhere to best practices for that specific platform. While it may be tempting to create the same message and promote the same way to save time, this can actually hurt the experience for social media users. Each platform has different native browsing behavior, image thumbnail formats, character counts, best practices for hashtags, and more. For optimal experience (and performance), understand what works best on each social media channel and tailor your messaging to fit.

10. Never stop learning.

No matter how many social networks you set out to master, or how long you work in the social marketing field, there is one secret that will ensure you’re successful: Never stop learning.

Social media constantly changes, so it’s impossible to master this topic with a once-and-done approach; it requires continual education.

The list above is massive, I know, and there’s no way to consume all these resources in the next week. But if you set yourself to learning every day, every week, every month, every year, you’ll eventually be the one writing the books that help others learn social marketing.

It all begins with learning.

Editor’s note: This post was originally published in April 2019 and has been updated for comprehensiveness.