Social media has long since gone from a fun way to check in with friends, to the way we connect with just about anyone. At this point, just about all new businesses have a social media presence. However, not every business has a social media strategy. A social media strategy can make all the difference between wasting time and making money or growing your brand.

A good social media strategy should be simple and easy to understand by everyone on your team. It should serve your business objectives. There should be clear goals, and each effort you undertake should contribute to those goals. Sometimes it’s even fun.

Once you’ve enacted your social media strategy, you should constantly audit your results and iterate your processes to make sure that you’re maximizing your effectiveness.

A social media strategy should be a living breathing thing. You won’t dump this process once you’ve launched your presence on a new channel. Ideally, you’ll revisit it regularly.

What Are Your Goals?

A social media strategy should be goal-based. Otherwise, what are you trying to do? Whether you realize it or not, you’re likely already employing several goal-based strategies to your social activities, even if all you’re doing is posting occasional updates and responding to mentions and inquiries from customers.

So, what are your goals? What do you want to accomplish through social media? Let’s walk through some common goals.

Traffic – This is a relatively simple proposition. You post something, people click on a link and visit your site. You can look at how your content gets engaged with on social, as well as through web analytics. Are your efforts moving the needle? If not, this may be a signal that you’ve got to swap out the imagery or copy that you’re using to accompany your post, or perhaps it’s an indication that the quality of the stuff you’re linking to is not compelling enough to be shared or engaged with. Everything is a sign. Experiment, learn, change, repeat.

Brand Awareness – You can create wider awareness of your products and services, or just your overall brand. This is an outreach goal. You’re trying to grow by reaching people who don’t know you yet, and to further cement your reputation among people who do know about you. You can do this by crafting a distinctive online presence, or simply by being informational. You can drive traffic to your site using links, or you can just create content that is native to the platform. What kind of brand are you? Let your efforts reflect your brand identity.

A Quick Aside:
With social media, one thing that’s important is to consider how information spreads. Not every tweet or status update needs to be a homerun, but before you send out your update, decide how far you want it to go. Do you want people to see it, nod inwardly and go on with their day? Or do you want them to share it? What would you share? Would you share the update you’re about to make? Why? Developing awareness of your brand on social media will be crucially connected to how you answer those questions.

Customer Service – Social media is one of the places where your customers can interact with you directly on an equal footing. Whether you’re purposefully engaging your following by asking for their feedback on your product or service, or you’re simply responding to their inquiries or concerns, fans reward brands that respond quickly and in a friendly way to their needs. Search out opportunities to provide customer service by monitoring brand mentions (a simple search for your brand or product, or you can seek out any range of social listening tools).

Reputation – This is a vague category that’s sort of PR and sort of branding. You can use social media as an avenue to deliver news about your products, or you can even use it to reach out to influential press or individuals. This goal encompasses anything that can amplify your reach and solidify your reputation as a leader in your field.

Sales – Here, you’ll focus on calls-to-action and make big asks of your customers. Social sales can be hard to get right, so you’ll probably need to experiment quite a bit with both organic and paid social promotions. Some products don’t lend themselves to sales on social media, and for those, you should consider your social presence as a means to nurture existing leads as well as to perhaps entice people ever further down the sales funnel to making a purchasing decision.

If you’re a more traditional brick-and-mortar business, you can think of this goal as being advertisements as well as news about new or ongoing promotions.

Other Cross-Departmental Goals – Be sure to consider the ways that social media could help out with functions such as HR, traditional or other digital marketing efforts, product R&D and beyond.

Who Are You Trying to Reach?

You’re wasting your time if you’re trying to be all things to all people. Who is your audience? Having 5,000,000 followers might sound cool, but what’s the point if they’re not doing anything for you?

If your audience is your current customers and your future customers, you have to come up with ideas to serve both. Your current customers and future customers may have different characteristics, but they’re both aligned on the shared interests and values embodied by your brand.

Who are the people who are giving you money for your products or services? That’s who ‘these people’ are. Who are the people who are giving your direct competitors money? That’s also who ‘these people’ are. Who are the people who might one day need what you offer? That’s also who ‘these people’ are. So how do we find them online?

What social media channels are these people using? Start doing some competitor research to see what type of engagement competing brands are getting from customers on each platform. Are they getting much traction? If you have an objective sense that your competitors are doing well content-wise, and yet they’re not getting engagement, then that might be an indication that your audience is underrepresented on that platform. You’ll have to look at many competitors in order to confirm this.

Do you have the kind of product that people talk about? Is it something that people look at, write reviews about, take pictures of? You’re looking for any place where people gather to do any of those things so that you can observe their community and learn more information about them.

Are there forums, blogs or specialty sites dedicated to discussing your product category?

Is your neighborhood a crucial part of your brand?

The answers to all of the above questions will help you form a basic plan for targeting your social media growth efforts. You need to develop at least one user persona for your typical customer.

  1. What does this person want to know more about?
  2. What social media platforms does this person use?
  3. What type of content does this person engage with?
  4. Where does this person live?
  5. How old is this person?
  6. What are this person’s values?
  7. Will this person grow with your brand? Will they grow out of your brand?

You can gather data using Facebook Insights, Google Analytics, Twitter Analytics, a variety of social monitoring and competitive research tools — all to gain a deeper understanding of who exactly this person is.

What you will do with this information is create content that gives them exactly what they want. Then you will distribute that content across only the appropriate channels. The content, customer, channel and goal should all be in perfect alignment.

What Channels Are You Going To Use?

Some brands fit better on some platforms than others. Some businesses don’t lend themselves easily to Instagram or Snapchat or Twitter, for instance. The emphasis here is on ‘easily’, as with enough creativity, you can figure out how to establish a compelling presence on each of these networks. However, the question is, does your presence on any one of those serve any of the goals that you have defined? If not, it may not be worth the effort. Your customers may be more likely to use one service over another. If they’re not there, and you don’t see a given social channel as a viable platform to advance your brand’s needs, don’t bother.

Just be sure that the reason you choose not to engage on a network is that it doesn’t contribute to your bottom line, and not out of laziness.

Facebook has over a billion active users. Unless your customers are post-Millennials, they are likely very active on Facebook. Nearly every demographic has strong representation across Facebook. The newsfeed is a perfect distribution channel for efforts contributing to any one of the goals you define.

Factor in Facebook’s potential as an advertising platform, with its sophisticated targeting abilities, and it’s clear why so many businesses are using Facebook to connect with customers. A brand’s Facebook page is a perfect place to keep fans updated about what’s going on in your universe. The messaging-style really varies from page to page, and it’s really up to you how you want to present yourself, as there is a lot of diversity in approaches taken by brands on Facebook.

Facebook video has been a massive success for businesses in recent months and something you should certainly utilize if you have the resources. The massive reach of Facebook and the rich immersive experience of watching a video make this fertile ground for brands willing to experiment with channels other than Youtube.

Twitter has fewer users than Facebook, but those users definitely talk a lot. There’s a decent chance that someone is talking about your business, or at the very least, talking about something related to your business. You can search for mentions of your brand, or keywords related to your business, and jump into a conversation with your current or future customers.

Twitter is also a place for reacting to the news of the day or what’s happening in culture. If you have the confidence to get involved in a conversation with the unwashed masses, Twitter provides many opportunities to do so. If you’re not reaching out directly to your customers or potential influencers, but instead sharing your own point of view, try to be funny or interesting. Not many brands will have success with sales on Twitter, and unless you’ve got some really noteworthy news, chances are it’s just going to sink to the bottom of every one of your follower’s timelines and fade into the digital graveyard of forgotten tweets.

LinkedIn is great for B2B brands. It has an active network of professionals who are looking for tips, tools, products, opportunities and news to advance their careers. LinkedIn is a place to assert your domain expertise. Try to make sure that your LinkedIn updates provide actionable information to the people who follow you. If you post an interesting update, it may get syndicated to one of LinkedIn’s Pulse channels, which are networks of feeds curated by LinkedIn comprised of top performing content across their platform. If you want to be a thought leader, or if your primary customers are professionals or other companies, LinkedIn will help you accomplish your goals.

Pinterest has a reputation as being a place for moms and brides-to-be, but it actually serves a very unique role in the social media ecosystem, and can be a strong place for many brands to get a footing. For one thing, Pinterest represents a significant research opportunity for brands. You can browse Pins for keywords related to your business and get a huge amount of insight into the content people relevant to your brand are interested in. A lot of trends become apparent on Pinterest before they do elsewhere, which can help you stay ahead of the curve. Additionally, Pinterest is an excellent place to curate resources, content and imagery for your brand. A lot of people think of PInterest as a social bookmarking site that you can only pin pictures to, but you can actually save articles and other content as well. It’s a great place to organize content.

If you’re using Pinterest internally, think of it as a moodboard or locker for your brand. If you’re using it for the audience, think of it as a library or gallery that you can provide your customers to give them a sense of your point of view. If you’re going all in on Pinterest, you should also pin your own blog posts and content so that you can be discovered there as well.

Instagram has a lot of potential value as one of the most clearly defined platforms out there for brands. A picture and a caption. It couldn’t be more simple. Restaurants, shops or brands with an artistic point of view will find Instagram a very hospitable environment for connecting with potential customers. The relatively straightforward nature of Instagram is also one of the things that makes it difficult for some brands to utilize. It’s relatively difficult to link out from the app (you can only do so in your profile, which most users won’t see).

Traditional advertising on Instagram hasn’t fully matured, though many businesses are trying it out — you can create ads through the Facebook ads manager. However, Instagram has a thriving marketplace of influencers willing to market your brand for you to their devoted following. This can be surprisingly expensive, although many brands are finding that the ROI is worth it. In particular, fashion brands have had great success with this strategy.

Snapchat may seem like an odd fit for a lot of businesses because its primary users are quite young and it’s vastly different from the other social platforms. However, over the last few months it’s been adopted by a huge number of very active users, and lots of brands are beginning to make headway there. Snapchat may actually be the first social network since Instagram to achieve widespread use across many demographics.

Snapchat can be casual or creative. The ephemeral nature of Snapchat Stories, which expire over a period of 24-hours, means that you need to constantly update your story with fresh content. It’s a lot for brands to take on, and you should consider carefully both the time and financial cost of producing content for Snapchat, as well as the potential downsides associated with not adopting a platform that is likely to keep growing. If you’re not there relatively early, it may be hard to make progress later.

Google+ had a moment because the search engine was using Google+ profiles to augment search results, but they never developed traction with users. Supposedly it’s going to make a comeback sometime this year, so keep checking back for opportunities.

Youtube  is not necessarily a social network in the traditional sense, although it is the second biggest search engine. You can incorporate Youtube as a critical asset in your content distribution strategy if you have the budget and skills to create compelling video content. You can then use annotations and SEO tricks to get your video seen in the Youtube environment, but unless you’re a highly-searched brand if you want to rack up a lot of views, you’ll likely have to post your Youtube videos to one of your social channels.

People can subscribe to your Youtube channel, but your ability to interact with them outside of simple comments is fairly limited.

Reddit is also not technically a social network, although it is certainly a bustling social marketplace for content. Much of the weird and wonderful stuff that pops up on the web and across your social feeds was initially discovered on Reddit. Once known as the front page of the internet, it’s now just another place where people talk, hangout and exchange every possible variety of information there is, from cat gifs to some of the most disturbing content you could possibly imagine.

There are over 9,000 active communities on Reddit, and without a doubt, there are at least a few that are pertinent to your brand. Browsing these communities, called subreddits, can provide you with a real wealth of information about your customers and people who might be interested in your brand. Search for your business name or for keywords related to your business and start digging.

Others – There’s established players like Vine (6-second videos), will-maybe-lasts like Periscope (live streaming video), Peach (a kind of Snapchatified TweetFaceGram that’s difficult to describe and might very well be way too cool to last, and at present lacks sufficient opportunities for most brands to worry about it), and even Slack channels that have the appearance of being social networks. The ones we’ve discussed are the incumbents, the platforms that you should focus on first, but always keep an eye out for new challengers to the throne. When you find something new, dip your toes in and see how it might be able to contribute to your goal. If you can build an audience there, put it in your social mix.

What Type of Content Are You Making?

There are seemingly as many different types of content as there are individuals to engage with it. From status updates and blog post links, to witty one-liners, infographics, ebooks, animated gifs, whitepapers, and beautiful photos, there’s a right place and a wrong place to share everything.

Different types of content are better suited to different goals, and different types of content are better suited to different platforms. Figuring out which social network your content will be native to will go a long way to ensuring your success.

If you’re not familiar with what people and brands typically use a particular platform to do, then get out a notebook, start browsing, and jot down some notes. One of the worst social media sins you can commit is to create something that doesn’t feel authentic. You’re really going to have to develop an understanding of how each of these platforms operates, what its internal logic is, what the culture is like — as it is specific to your industry or niche. Find the dominant players in your industry and observe what they’re doing that works and doesn’t work. Compare them with each other. Use this insight to guide the creation of your content and then make sure that you’re sharing it in the right places.

Failing to match your content to the right platform will make all of your hard work mean nothing.

How Are People Going to See It?

Big surprise here — people will only see you if you post, and not just a little bit, but consistently. Use this guide to build a strategy, then create an editorial calendar using either Google Calendar or social media scheduling and automation software such as Buffer or Hootsuite, or whatever other software will keep you accountable.

Develop content constantly. Look for opportunities in your business calendar to create more content, whether that’s announcing a sale, announcing a new hire, running a contest or promotion, launching a new video, or whatever it may be. Fill your editorial calendar and stick to your plan.

The biggest reason that businesses fail on social media is because they don’t post often enough. With a calendar to keep your organized, the right strategy and some hard work, you will succeed.

How Can You Make It Better?

What worked? What didn’t? Like we mentioned a few hundred years ago at the beginning of this article, social media generates a lot of actionable intelligence. Whether you’re using social media analysis tools to measure your success, or simply using the built-in tools that are available through the platforms themselves, you’ve got to look at what’s connecting with users and figure out how your efforts can better accomplish your goals.

Eventually, your strategy will form a loop. You’ll devise goals, you’ll figure out who it is that can help you accomplish those goals, you’ll figure out what channel you can find them on and what type of content will lead them to help you to accomplish your goals, you’ll be methodical and organized in how you post, and then you’ll revise your approach to form better goals.

The whole process will transform itself. As your goals change, so must your processes. When you’ve established some confidence in your ability to ideate, design and execute a strategy, you can begin to create metrics-based goals. You’ll have a serious enough understanding of the data to determine the KPIs that will let you know whether or not the interactions you’re getting with your audience will move the needle on your goals or not.

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