Creating a Social Media Strategy

Building a Strong Online Presence

Creating a Social Media Strategy - Building a Strong Online Presence

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Try to avoid just chasing followers.

Unless you've been hiding under a rock for the last few years, you'll have noticed that social media is now one of the most immediate and powerful ways you can connect with your customers. 

Once the preserve of internet "geeks" and students, pretty much everyone now is using social media. According to NextAdvisor and Pew Research, 43 percent of Americans over the age of 65 are regular users of social media, which means that even your grandmother may be at it. 

So, whoever your customers are – be they retirees, baby boomers, Gen X or Gen Y, there's a good chance that you can reach them through social media. And if you're not doing this, you can guarantee that your rivals will be. 

A strong social media presence is essential if you want to compete in today's marketplace. But simply creating a profile on social networks and posting the occasional message isn't enough to build your following. You need a strategy.  

In this article, you'll discover the value of a social media strategy and learn what steps you should take to build a successful social media presence.

What Is a Social Media Strategy, and Why Do You Need One?

To make sure that you get the most from social media, it's important to know what your goals are and how you're going to achieve them. To bring these together, you need to develop a well-thought-through strategy.

The right strategy will boost brand recognition, improve brand loyalty, reduce your marketing costs, and give your company a more competitive online edge. Just look at what a well-planned strategy can achieve:

Case Study – A Successful Social Media Strategy

In 2009, when the Ford Motor Company™ was preparing to launch its redesigned Fiesta™ in the U.S., it hit upon a novel marketing method. Instead of spending tens of millions of dollars on a typical campaign, it lent 100 new cars to people with large social media followings. 

Over six months, the recipients posted more than 60,000 items about their cars. These posts generated millions of clicks, including 6.5 million views on YouTube™. Ford also gained 2.5 million new Facebook™ and Twitter™ followers during the promotion. More importantly, the buzz generated among millennials (16- to 24-year-olds) created a pre-launch brand awareness of 37 percent, creating 50,000 new sales leads, prompting 35,000 test drives, and leading to more than 23,000 sales. 

By engaging with its most social consumers, Ford turned their content into value for its brand. But the company didn't just hand them the cars and leave them to it – it drew up a detailed social media strategy first, to make sure its campaign would be a success. 

A good social media strategy should incorporate your marketing objectives, a description of the social tools you plan to use to achieve them, and metrics for measuring your progress toward them. The more specific your plan, the more effective it is likely to be.

Follow our eight-step plan to draw up a social media strategy that will work for you. 

How to Create a Social Media Strategy

There's no one-size-fits-all approach to using social media successfully, but some basic principles apply across all platforms, brands and audiences. This eight-step plan will help you maximize the return on your investment in social media.

Step 1: Determine Your Social Media Goals

The first step in developing your social media strategy is to determine what your goals are. Maybe you want to increase brand awareness. Or, perhaps, you want to build relationships with customers, drive traffic to your website, market your products, or share special offers. 

Select two or three priority goals and focus on how you're going to use social media to achieve them. 

Whatever your goals, make them SMART: specific, measurable, attainable, realistic, and time-bound. Decide how you will measure success. For example, if you want to generate more sales leads, specify an increase of 25 percent. If you want to build awareness of your organization or brand, set a target number of posts each day or week, and determine how many likes, shares or comments you want each to receive.

Step 2: Assess Your Organization's Current Social Media Status

If your business is already using social media, use the goals and parameters you defined in Step 1 to analyze how well it's working for you at present. Are you achieving your goals? If so, you might want to consider setting the bar a little higher. If not, now is the time to work out why.  

Think about the platforms you're using. You don't need to be on every single one, especially if you have limited time to spend on social media. It's far better to find out where you're getting the best results, and focus your efforts there. 

Next, consider whether your posts are meeting your objectives. Are you connecting with your target audience members, or do they ignore your posts? Use analytics to review the traffic for your posts and sites, and determine which types of content get the most and the least.

Step 3: Know Your Audience

To make a connection with your audience, you'll need to build up a clear picture of who its members are, where their interests lie, and what activities they like to do. 

Start by defining your ideal customer. Who are you trying to reach through social media? What are their demographics (age, interests, occupation, income, likes, dislikes, and motivations)? 

The more precisely you can define your ideal customer, the more targeted your strategy will be, and the better the results will be. You'll also be able to use this information to determine which social media platforms to use, and what kind of content and activities to invest in.

Step 4: Choose the Right Channel

You will have already started thinking about which platforms to use in Step 2. Now, consider whether they match your audience profile. 

Facebook will give you the widest potential reach. However, if you provide services for business professionals, you might want to develop a presence on LinkedIn™, while Pinterest™ or Instagram™ might be more promising if you're in interior design, fashion or another "lifestyle" industry. 

To find out which social media site is likely best for you, check the statistics published by organizations like the Pew Research Center. The Center's most recent research revealed that, in September 2014, 58 percent of American adults over the age of 18, who have access to the internet, use Facebook, 23 percent use LinkedIn, 22 percent use Pinterest, 21 percent use Instagram, and 19 percent use Twitter. 

More granular statistics are also available. For example, LinkedIn is used by more men with a graduate-level education than other sites are.

Step 5. Plan Your Content 

It was almost 20 years ago that Bill Gates wrote his "Content is King" article. Without great content, you won't hold your audience's interest, however many social media sites you join or posts you publish.

Your content needs to reflect your company's overall voice and market, but it should also be tailored to the platform you are putting it on. From online culture to the number of characters in a post, each type of social media has its own specifications and requirements. 

Think about how you want to position your brand. Do you want to educate or entertain your audience? Will your customers respond to a blog post or a white paper, or would a picture or infographic be more compelling? 

The people you're targeting are most likely inundated with content from your competitors and other companies. Make sure that yours adds value and rewards them for taking the time to read it. Always aim to produce content that is relevant, engaging and worthy of their attention. If you wouldn't take time out of your busy day to read it, neither will they!

Bear in mind that there are multiple theories about what works best. It's worth looking at what successful competitors are doing with social media – what platforms they're using, how often they post, what tone of voice they use... Study their habits and adapt them for your organization. But don't just trust your instincts on this: put different types of content to the test and see what receives the strongest response. 

Take inspiration from brands such as Taco Bell™, Starbucks™ and KLM Airlines, which have all built up huge social media followings, but remember that their customers may be different from your own. What works for them might not work so well for you. The key is to keep experimenting with different types of content and observing what happens.  

And no matter which type of content you choose, remember that, in social media, your audience expects to engage with you. Remember what made Ford Motor Company's promotion such a success – if you get your social media strategy right, your audience will generate content for you, making it all the more compelling for others.

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Step 6. Decide When and How Often to Post

Deciding when to post is highly subjective: there is no perfect time that works for every organization. Let your audience drive when you post. Observe their online habits and figure out when they are most active, and likely to be interested in engaging with you. If your audience is global, you may want to schedule posts throughout the day to hit the relevant time zones.

You'll also need to decide how often to post. If you post too often, you risk "spamming" your followers and driving them away. If you don't post often enough, someone else might grab their attention, and you could lose business. 

The best way to determine the right frequency is through trial and error. If you post 15 times a day and lose followers, dial back the number of posts. Conversely, if you only post once a day and don't gain followers, post more often. The key is consistency: posting randomly can make you seem disorganized or unreliable.

One way to organize your posts is to create an editorial calendar, which you can use to schedule posts and track details, such as deadlines, network, content type, keywords, titles, and status. You can create a simple calendar using Microsoft™ Excel. The more detailed your calendar, however, the more cohesive your social media strategy will be.

Step 7. Plan Appropriately

Implementing a social media strategy takes time and effort, so, unless you have plenty of time to spare, consider bringing in someone to help you. 

The task of implementing, and maintaining, your social media presence could be the responsibility of a designated social media manager, or a group effort by your team. But whoever you involve, make sure that they understand what kind of online presence you are trying to establish, and give them the training they need to create posts and status updates in your house style. 

If blogging is part of your strategy, make sure that your posts are professionally written and edited – otherwise, you risk letting your brand down.

Maintaining an online presence is about more than simply making scheduled posts – it's about building relationships, too – so make sure that you allow sufficient time for checking and responding to comments from your followers. 

Step 8. Measure Your Progress and Adjust Your Strategy Accordingly

Creating your social media strategy is just the beginning. 

Social media is a fast-paced arena. What's trending today will be history tomorrow, so it's vital that you constantly assess and re-assess how your strategy is performing. 

Measure progress toward your goals using on-site analytics such as Facebook Insights, to identify how individual posts are performing, but resist the temptation to concentrate all your efforts on chasing followers, likes and shares. High levels of engagement are good, but keep your strategy focused on how your activity relates to your business goals

Engagement will tell you how well your content resonates with your audience, but it is not enough to put money in the bank. Look for ways to measure how many of your leads came from social media, for example, or how many customers saw your sponsored Facebook ad and clicked the link to your company website.  

Also, consider how to measure the return on your investment. Doing this with typical financial metrics is more difficult than it may seem, because the benefits of social media are often intangible. Instead, focus on more qualitative metrics that relate to your overall goals. For instance, if you want to build your brand, monitor various types of engagement, such as people downloading your content or signing up for your newsletters.

Rapid changes in the market, and in social media itself, mean that your strategy needs to be flexible. If you find that something isn't working for you, change it. If a new trend emerges, investigate whether it will work for you, too. Be ready to adapt and adjust your approach at a moment's notice, by checking in regularly to see what's going well and what isn't, and then reworking your strategy accordingly. 

Key Points

Being successful on social media involves more than just posting content; it requires a well-thought-out strategy that links your online activities to your business goals. 

To devise a strategy, start with your goals and assess whether your current social media efforts are moving you toward them. Think about your target audience. Who are they? What are their priorities and interests, and which social media platforms are they most likely to be active on? 

Invest time in thinking about the content you're posting. Is your goal to educate or entertain? Are your posts engaging with your audience or just pushing information at them? Study your audience to determine when and how often to post updates. 

Finally, having created a social media strategy, keep it flexible. Revisit it regularly to see if it's still getting the results you want, and keep your social media presence alive. 

Apply This to Your Life

Take a few minutes to study your social media presence and your current interactions with your followers. 

  • If your current social media presence is limited, survey your customers to find out how they like to use social media, and use that information to structure your strategy.
  • Make sure that interactions are two-way, and not just you pushing information "out there." Think about how you can give people an incentive to engage with you on social media, and put it to the test.
  • Study how quickly your company responds when someone does post on your site. Set a target response time for all interactions and make sure responses are personal, not automated or generic. 
  • Look at the kind of comments people post on your site. Are they positive or negative? Think about what you can do to reward, and encourage, compliments. Consider also how you can turn a complaint into an opportunity for boosting brand loyalty and building a reputation for excellent customer service.