The Serious Business of Social Media Strategy

Social media is almost as old as the internet, and yet so many companies are still not taking full advantage of the available platforms for their business’s marketing plans.

Some are still pretending that social media doesn’t exist.

Others spread themselves too thin, jumping on every new platform without taking the time to plan their strategy.

Still others just seem confused and unfocused, treating all of social media as a pushy, one size fits all soap box.

This is getting ridiculous.

Facebook has 1.62 billion users. 78% of Pinterest users are likely to purchase an item they found on Pinterest. For some businesses, LinkedIn can be 277% more effective for lead generation than Facebook and Twitter.

Social media is big business.

And even though social media is built into the architecture of the internet, it still feels new. Social media platforms are constantly updating, evolving, and adapting with new user demographics and updated algorithms. I guarantee that this adds to the air of confusion in your marketing department.

But this is where you, the social media-savvy marketer, can come in and save the day.

As a social media stakeholder, developing a customized strategy for your social media outlets could be the tool you need to start making social media work for you.

Social Media Platforms Change Incredibly Quickly

On social, the speed of change is Warp Drive. Facebook (arguably the granddaddy of all social platforms), Pinterest, and LinkedIn all release updates to their algorithm every quarter. Twitter is experimenting with incorporating a feed-sorting algorithm into their originally stream-of-consciousness feed, as is Instagram.

And this is just the algorithms–the equations that dictate what visitors to the social sites see in their newsfeeds.

Factor in the introduction of paid ad placements, sponsored content, and new features, and you have a recipe for a constant state of test-and-pivot.

One of the strengths of using agile marketing as a framework for your marketing department is the ability to adapt your marketing plan quickly to take new factors into accounts.

Your one-year out marketing plan is not going to cut it for the social media space. If you must plan your strategy for a year in advance, set the expectation with decision makers that your social strategy is guaranteed to change in response to the adapting market place.

An example of this change is when Facebook severely limited the reach of blog posts by companies, necessitating a greater investment on the part of companies toward digital ad space.

Or, maybe an entirely new platform emerges that fits your audience. You will want to allocate time and funding to explore new platforms, test if they will work for you, and jump on them if they do. (See niche platforms like Exposure, Periscope)

After five years of working in social media marketing in different roles, from community manager to strategist, I have a rhythm that I follow when I put together a social media plan of attack.
When you develop a social media strategy, you are setting yourself up for success… and you may just become the savior of your confused marketing department.

Define Social Media Goals, Audience, Scope

When you start planning your social media strategy, it’s important to start by defining your goals, your audience, and your scope.

The first question you should ask when developing a social media strategy is why.

Too many organizations include social media in their marketing plans because they know they need some sort of social media presence, but neglect to actually learn or think strategically about the platforms. This shortsightedness means they are throwing money at social media, but not actually using it to the best of its abilities.

This is where you come in.

Set Time-Sensitive Goals
Define your goals for the year or quarter. Which goals you choose to focus on will vary depending on your particular company, industry, and existing social following.

Examples of broad social media goals include:

  • Increasing the percentage of positive reviews on Yelp
  • Driving your Facebook audience to sign up for your emails
  • Increasing the percentage of sales that are driven to your online store from Pinterest.

Your goals will determine which performance metrics you will focus and report on, as well as your future campaigns and tactics.

Identify Your Audience
Defining your audience early on in the process will save you time as you fine tune your tone and messaging. If your target audience is professionals, for example, your tone should match–even if you’re using a more informal social platform like Instagram.

This early decision will also help you determine which social media platforms to put your time and energy toward.

If you’re targeting young people with humor and lifestyle content, Snapchat is totally worth the investment.

If your audience is made up of predominantly women, make sure that your content includes visuals that are ready for sharing on Pinterest.

Determine a Realistic Social Media Scope
Finally, think about your scope. By this, I mean which platforms you will be putting your time and energy toward. While it’s tempting to jump on every single social platform, for most social media teams, this is an unrealistic goal.

It is better to do a few things well than many things poorly!

This is particularly important for small social media teams. You can’t be everywhere, so focus on those platforms where your audience is most likely to be.

When you present your strategy to a larger team or decision makers, explain your reasoning for why you want to allocate your attention on certain platforms, and which platforms you will update less frequently. Explain, too, that you will be exploring new outlets as they appear. While Ello may not be a fit for your business, maybe Steller’s visual storytelling format will work perfectly.

To get you started thinking about your audience and where they can be found, we love this Social Media 101 blog and infographic from our friends at iDigic.

social-media-101-for-business-factosocial

Analyze Past, Present, and Future

You may ask why I included “analyze” in the planning phase. Doesn’t that usually happen at the end, when you’ve actually implemented your plan?

That’s true, but I have a simple reason for including an analysis phase in my strategic planning process; to make sure I’m making progress, I need to know where I’ve been.

Look at what has worked in the past, then use this information to extrapolate and project what is possible for future growth. Seeing which tactics have worked in the past will help you better support your social media goals.

I also like to establish my goals for the future before I dive too deep in my social media retrospectives. This makes it easier for me to make sure that I look at the right metrics in both the past and the future.

It makes more sense to compare apples to apples from the very start, particularly when sharing your strategy with stakeholders who are not as familiar with the social media space. This will give you a tool for educating and setting realistic expectations.

Start Creating Content

If you’re like me, this will be your favorite part of developing a social media strategy. This stage is where you get to plan out your creative ideas.

As with any early brainstorm, go pie-in-the-sky hog wild.

Explore what other brands are doing. Dream.

Anticipate what opportunities may be coming up that you would love to tell stories about.

If you have a plan from the previous year or quarter, revisit it. Is there anything you didn’t get to do last quarter that could be adapted for this? Are there recurring events that you could experiment with?

Do whatever it takes to get really excited during the creative stage. Get all of your ideas down on paper.

Then go through and pick out the ideas that will reach your goals, enchant your audience, and are within your scope. Yes, this means you may have to leave some ideas on the table, but that doesn’t mean they are gone forever.

Social media is here to stay; you’ll have the chance to work on your other ideas later.

Engage With Your Audience

Building relationships with your audience is the bread and butter of your social media marketing efforts.

Remember: Social media is a conversation, not a megaphone. Conversations add value. Megaphones just create more noise.

While you won’t be able to plan engagement in advance, keep it in mind while you create your social media strategy. It will only improve your efforts!

One way to help you plan for increasing engagement with your audience (and your audience with you) is to find regular events to join. These can be things like weekly Twitter chats (one of our favorites is #cmworld), Instagram challenges, and unofficial “holidays” like National Coffee Day.

Plan to attend and produce content around these mini-events. Their momentum will help you keep the conversation going through the rest of the week.

This leads us to what may be the most important part of your social media strategy.

Repeat, Repeat, Repeat

Remember when I told you that your social media strategy would change – often dramatically – over the course of the year?

Social media platforms are living things, constantly evolving. Take inspiration from Agile Marketing practices and test, try, and tweak your process as you go.

As your social media audience grows, you may discover new personas that want new kinds of content to engage with. There may be a new social platform that is absolutely perfect for your business. Or, perhaps you have a new goal, like using social media to drive sign ups for your real-world events.

As you go, analyze your process.

Which posts perform well week after week? What kind of ad is driving the most conversions? Does it make sense to continue tracking the same metrics, or should you be reporting differently?

Jump on trends to create punchy, relevant content that will surprise and delight your fans. Follow stories that you are passionate about, and bring that passion to your audience.

Are You Ready?

I said it earlier: social media is here to stay. It’s well past time to give social media the respect it deserves. It is a serious and powerful tool in your marketing department, and it deserves to be treated as such.

But you know that. That’s why you’re here on MarketerGizmo!

Tell us in the comments: what goes through your head when you’re developing your social media strategy?

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Liz Millikin
About the Author:

Liz Millikin

Liz sees marketing as a never-ending puzzle to be solved. With a background in digital marketing that focused on content and social media, she believes that a passion for craft is key, but analytics are the lock. Together, they open the door to marketing that moves the needle for your business. When not writing, she can be found skiing, biking, or curled up with a book. Find her on Twitter @eamillikin.




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