Do you have a social media marketing plan for your business, or would you like to create one? Many businesses struggle to pinpoint exactly what they want to get out of social media, and how to measure whether all of their hard work is paying dividends. In this blog post, I will show you how to create an easy-to-follow, robust social media marketing strategy in 6 easy steps.
Whether you're already active on social media or are starting from scratch, a plan will help guide your activity and provide you with solid reasoning behind everything that you do, from content creation to customer interaction, to advertising, and more. You'll be able to see how you are performing, experiment to improve results, and easily calculate your return on investment.
What is a social media marketing plan?
A social media marketing plan is a comprehensive and concise outline of everything you plan to do and achieve through your company's activity on social media. Without a solid strategy, social media marketing can feel like a directionless task, and the potential for success will suffer greatly because of it.
Whereas in the past social media might have been the Wild West of your brand's marketing efforts, nowadays the sector has matured to the point where it can provide real, concrete, and measurable impacts on your business' bottom line. Social marketing must work in sync with the rest of your business strategy in order to ensure that the overall goals for your brand are being realised.
The 5-Step process
Step 1: Create social media goals
Like any good marketing strategy, the first step of a solid social media marketing is to set goals. Marking out goals provides you with a clear way of measuring success (did you meet the goals or not?) and a way to chart return on investment (is the time and money you are spending helping you to reach your goals or not?). Social media marketing can help your business reach a myriad of goals, but some of the most common include:
- Increasing brand awareness
- Driving sales or improving customer loyalty
- Increasing engagement with social media posts
- Increasing website traffic
- Improving customer service
- Increasing number of fans or followers
Big goals like the above tend not to be mutually exclusive, but you should focus on one or two at a time so that you do not spread your resources too thin, and risk not achieving anything you set out to do!
The SMART Method
The S.M.A.R.T system of goal setting (Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, Timely) is one adopted by many social media marketers, and a really good, structured way to help you make your goals a reality. Let's look at each part in turn and see how it can be applied to a social media marketing plan, along with an example for each segment:
SPECIFIC: There's no point in being wishy-washy about the goals that you set, otherwise you won't have a clear target to aim for. So be specific, e.g.: Increase web traffic to company blog via links shared bi-weekly to Facebook Page and Twitter profile.
MEASURABLE: In order to be able to know whether your social media marketing activity is actually working exactly the way you want it to, goals need to be measurable. You might be able to gauge that your plan is working, but you should also know to what degree it is working, e.g. Increase monthly blog traffic referred via social channels by 15%.
ATTAINABLE: If you try to push yourself too far, you'll only be setting yourself up for failure. So, make goals that are challenging, but realistic, e.g. Increase monthly blog traffic referred via social channels by 15% from 1.500 unique visitors to 1725 unique visitors.
RELEVANT: Ensure that your social media goals tally up to the activity that you are carrying out, otherwise frustration will very quickly set in, e.g, Driving traffic to our blog will expose audiences to our free industry insights and product guides, and encourage them to sign up to our mailing list for further updates and selling/engagement opportunities.
TIMELY: Setting yourself a timeframe in which goals should be completed will help keep you accountable, driven, and much less likely to dither when it comes to putting your plan into action, e.g. Achieve goal detailed above by end of Q4 2016.
Step 2: Create or spruce up your social media profiles
Once you have your goals pinned down, it's time to get busy making magic - and that starts with your social media profiles.
Which social networks to join
Each social network is unique. What works on one social network won't necessarily work on another, and the primary characteristics between each can vary dramatically. You don't have to be active on every major social network; the key is to focus on those which will best help you to achieve your social media marketing goals.
The demographics and audience of a social network are arguably is arguably the most important factor to consider. You've probably already got a good idea about where your customer base already "hang out", but reports like Pew Research Center's The Demographics of Social Media Users lay out concrete the data for five of the biggest social networks: Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, Twitter, and LinkedIn.
Other factors: how much time you have to dedicate to social media, and what resources you have, will help you to decide which social networks are the best fit for your company.
Optimising your social media profiles
A complete, up-to-date, well-branded social media profile gives a good first impression to visitors, highlighting your professionalism and showing people that you're "open for business." It's a good idea to refresh your social profiles periodically, but crucial to get off on the right foot, too:
- Upload cover and profile photos optimised for each social network.
- Complete bio and About sections for each social network in full, tailoring the text to each social network.
As one good example, here is a snapshot of Starbucks' social media design for its biggest social profiles, including Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Note the consistency of branding, and images that, while simple, speak to fans about what the company represents:
For a good example of a bio section, it's perhaps better to look at an independent business. Check out how thoroughly Square Peg Coffee has populated its Facebook About section, acting as a one-stop destination for all the information that customers would need to know, including location, contact details, company description, and mission:
Perform a social media audit: for yourself, and of competitors
If you already have a presence on social media, the time that you plan out a social media marketing plan is the perfect opportunity to perform a social media audit. An audit will ensure that all of your social profiles are up to scratch, and give you an insight into how your competitors are performing. Here is a checklist for you to use to perform a quick, but extremely helpful, social media audit. To keep things organised, it might help to track the information in a spreadsheet.
Your own profiles
First things first, time to make sure your own house is in order:
- Locate and make a note of all of your social profiles, official and unofficial (i.e. those set up by employees or fans - you might want to purge or merge these to avoid any confusion).
- Ensure that cover and profile photos on all profiles are up-to-date and consistent in their branding.
- Update About sections and bios with most up-to-date information and messaging, using language and tone suited to the social network in question, i.e. more laid back for Facebook compared to LinkedIn.
- Make a note of the fan/follower account of each profile, and when its last activity was recorded. If one particular account is lagging way behind the rest - even if you are still ploughing effort into it - consider whether it is worth your time to carry on with it for now, or whether your efforts are best focused elsewhere.
The profiles of competitors
Next, a chance to check out the competition and learn / borrow from their strategies.
- Locate a handful of social accounts run by your competitors, either from one social network or a variety.
- Make a note of how often they post, what they post (e.g. images, videos, text), and what kind of engagement each post receives on average in the form of likes, comments, and shares.
- Jot down the date and their current number of profile likes/followers; a benchmark to work out their growth vs yours at a later date.
- Examine their profile branding - cover photo, profile photo, tone of voice. Does it give a good reflection of the brand, its offerings, and its personality? Is it something you would like to emulate, or steer away from? More on this in the next step,
Step 3: Establish your tone of voice
Like any type of marketing, the way you speak to your audience will have a significant impact on the way they perceive you.
You may already have a good idea about what your brand's personality is like, but the following exercise - a set of questions that personify your brand - will ensure that everyone on your team - whoever might be writing your social media posts - has a consistent point of reference to work from:
- If your brand was a person, what kind of personality would it have?
- If your brand was a person, what’s their relationship to the consumer? (a coach, friend, teacher, dad, etc)
- Describe in adjectives what your company’s personality is not.
- Are there any companies that have a similar personality to yours? Why are they similar?
- How do you want your customers to think about your company?
As you can see from the examples above, the smoothie brand, Innocent, has a very clear identity across all of its marketing and interaction with customers: fun, playful, and humourous.
When you have answered these questions, you should have a firm idea about the tone of voice that your social media marketing will take, and you'll be in good stead to begin creating and publishing content. But first...
Step 4: Create a posting strategy
You could have the snazziest-looking social media profiles and the best will in the world, but without a solid content plan and posting strategy, all of your efforts may well go to waste. Rather than jumping in head-first, take some time to build a posting strategy that will knock the socks off the competition. Consider the following:
- What types of content will you be posting, and who will be responsible for creating it? Images are a given, but video content is increasingly becoming central to many brands' content strategy. Other types of content - quotes, statistics, comics, quizzes, etc. should also be considered.
- How often will you be posting, and at what times of the day? There is always debate about what posting frequency, and at which time of day, is best to post. The truth is that there is no "one size fits all" solution; the answer to these questions is unique to your business and your audience. How often you decide to post will depend on your industry, your ability to create and curate quality content, your overall reach, and the social network in question. As a very general rule - again, not concrete and applicable to all - businesses should aim to post to Facebook 1-2 times per day, 5 times or more per day on Twitter, and at least once to LinkedIn and Instagram. What time of day you post content can be determined by past history (when are your fans most engaged?) or, if you don't have any previous data to go on, by targeting your fans when they are most likely to be active on social media, e.g. before work in the morning, after work in the evening, and any time on weekends.
- How will you promote the content (both non-paid and paid strategies)? Without a large, loyal, and extremely engaged audience, posting an update and crossing your fingers in the hopes of it doing well, is not really going to work for you in the long run. With fierce competition for attention in the social media feeds of fans, posting the same content multiple time in different guises, as well as targeted, paid promotion needs to be part of your strategy.
On the subject of free exposure for social media posts, Buffer's Social Sharing Timeline (pictured above) can give you some idea as to how you might want to structure the re-sharing of posts to reach as high an audience as possible. Your schedule won't necessarily be the same, but note how much more liberal the sharing schedule is on Twitter compared to the others. The reason? Twitter's news feed is so much busier, meaning people are more likely to miss one single update the first time it is shared, so multiple re-shares are tolerated much better.
Keep track with a social media content calendar
An editorial calendar will allow you to plan for weeks - or even months - in advance, the content you will be posting to social media. This foresight will prevent you from posting randomly and inconsistently, and also allow you to build themes into the updates you post, by week, month, and season.
Of course, spontaneous posting to social media still has a place (e.g. in response to breaking news or a customer service crisis that needs addressing right away), but for the real meat and potatoes of your marketing strategy, a content calendar is very much advised.
My Premium Social Media Bundle includes a detailed social media content calendar template that be populated according to all of your needs.
Step 5: Test, experiment and analyse
As I alluded to earlier, there is no magic bullet to social media marketing success. The more you post and experiment, the more you will find out which content works best for you, what times of day to post for the best results, and how often you should be publishing new stuff. Importantly, your social marketing plan should never stay be static. Of course, do more of the things that work, but always be open to experimenting with new content types and in light of new trends, insights, and changing goals.
Rather than guess work, the easiest way to know what is working what isn't, is to use a reporting tool. Sites like Facebook, Twitter, and Pinterest all have built-in analytics that will give you a pretty good indication of your profile's performance and growth - page and post likes, audience demographics, popular posts, etc., but you might want to look into a central reporting tool - like Hootsuite or Buffer - to keep everything in one place. Other ways of measuring the success of social campaigns include the use of link shorteners to track clicks, and the Social section of Google Analytics (underneath the Acquisition menu) is very good for observing the impact of social media marketing upon your website: network referrals, most popular landing pages, and successful conversions.
A structured testing method
Sometimes the sheer amount of charts and figures can be overwhelming, so here is one way to structure social media experimentation to clearly see - one thing at a time - what is working and what is not:
- Choose what you want to test. Is it the engagement rate on image posts? Website referrals? Reach of videos? Pick one.
- Set a benchmark. After a certain period, e.g. a week or a month, check the statistics on the factor that you have chosen to test and make a note of it - this will be your benchmark for the next segment of testing.
- Try something new or double-down. Feel free to experiment with different variations of your posting strategy, then re-visit your benchmark after another set period of time to see whether your performance has improved, declined, or stayed about the same. Depending on your results, alter your strategy to optimise it and make it a regular part of your marketing plan, or try something new again.
- Did you meet a goal?
Step 6: Automate, engage, and listen
The great thing about a detailed social media marketing plan is that you can prepare the bulk of your content strategy ahead of time, then use automation tools to queue, publish and distribute your posts exactly as your schedule dictates - day in, day out. Buffer is my tool of choice - starting at under $10 per month - but there are dozens of other options out there, including Hootsuite and Post Planner.
When your posting schedule is automated, you free up time to engage with your audience. Set aside time every day to interact and chat with customers who engage with your content, to answer queries, and thank people who share your brilliant posts. As well as native notifications and active searching, tools like Google Alerts and Mention will send you an email when someone mentions your brand online, prompting you to re-share or interact.
Over to you
With a social media marketing plan established, you will feel much more confident about the task ahead, and much better prepared to reach your social media goals. Remember the six steps below and you'll be well on your way:
- Step 1: Create social media goals
- Step 2: Create or spruce up your social media profiles
- Step 3: Establish your tone of voice
- Step 4: Create a posting strategy
- Step 5: Test, experiment and analyse
- Step 6: Automate, engage, and listen
Will you use the advice above to setup your own social media marketing plan or do you have a different method? Let me know in the comments below!
Andrew Macarthy is a social media consultant and the author of the #1 Amazon Web Marketing Bestseller, 500 Social Media Marketing Tips.