Coming up with a social media strategy in 2017 isn’t easy. You need to be time and cost efficient (it’s so easy to plug thousands into Facebook ads – not sustainable). You need to rise out of the noise, pay attention to what each social channel is doing – it changes almost weekly. At the same time you need to be creative, thoughtful and in tune with each audience, across each channel.
In this guide I want to run you through the best way to create a social media strategy, plan, outline, whatever you want to call it, that is measurable and effective. I’m not into vanity metrics. So here, we’ll look at how to create a plan that is easy to implement, thinks about the audience and aligns with a strict outcome of what you want to achieve.
All hail the current social media landscape
First, here are a few things I think are key to remember in the current social media landscape:
- People rarely follow new accounts on Twitter or Instagram today
- Even when a page has lots of “fans” only a tiny percentage of them see its posts. Research from Social@Ogilvy suggests that for Facebook Pages with more than 500,000 likes, organic reach could be as low as 2%.
- Most of the social channels are becoming replicas of each other – but how audiences use them still widely differs. An example is the popular “story” video format. On Snapchat and Instagram this is crazy popular, on Facebook the same feature is available yet no one uses it.
- There is so much more to social media today than sharing alone. There are micro-communities, influencers, ephemeral users (those who read but never post), advertising and “dark social” – the sharing of link and posts that happen off the radar.
- A large audience does not equal high sales, high influence or even brand love or awareness in today’s social landscape.
This sums up as:
- People don’t want to follow you
- Channels don’t want people to see your posts in their feed (for free)
- Content needs to activate an action if it is to rise above the noise
- Each channel and audience needs a different strategy, to be effective
This isn’t negative. Many brands are still doing great things on social media. You just have to think about it differently. Don’t create a social media strategy: create a social media strategy from within the noise.
Social Media Strategy Outline
Here’s exactly how I’d go about creating a social media strategy from within the noise.
Step one: What are you trying to achieve?
In this post on social media metrics I look at three key reasons why you might want to use social media:
- Create brand awareness on social media
- Reach an existing or potential audience through social media
- Use social media as a lead funnel
Of course there are many other reasons you could think of. But at the start of any social media plan you need to know or ask: why do we want to use social media?
If the answer is “we should be on it” you can’t move on to step two. There needs to be a better reason for using it otherwise you’ll never achieve a clear strategy. Without a clear strategy, you’ll be hooked on vanity metrics and will end up wasting valuable time, money and resource that could be spent elsewhere.
Once you know your key business objective, you can break this down into the sum of its parts. For example if you begin digging deeper into “we need to create brand awareness” you may find other key business problems such as:
- People love us when they find us, but they don’t find us in the first place
- We’re not seen as a big enough player so we miss out on big contracts by default
- Customers email us amazing feedback but they never really share it online
- Our website receives minimal visits
- We have loads of useful content and industry leaders on our team but we haven’t been able to channel this outside the company or the customers we’re already speaking to.
Step two: How will you achieve it?
This is where you need to link up the business objective (step one) with some of the things you could do to rectify the issue. This is usually the part that changes most throughout a social media strategy. Some of these initial ideas may fail and you’ll want to double down on the ones that succeed but first, you have to come up with 4-5 things to try.
In the example above, you might decide to try:
- Actively locating and following our target customer base
- Ensuring we join in on conversations and help out any potential customers online
- Sharing case studies and work that we do to show the wealth and breadth of our expertise
- Get more customers talking about us online through referral systems and rewards
- Use social media to direct more traffic to the website
- Share content, quotes and materials from our industry leaders
Step three: Who do you need to reach?
This is where you identify who your audience is. Everything from their potential job title, to their age, what they’re into and brands they already use and love.
There are plenty of great guides out there on persona development including this guide from Buffer and this one from Hubspot. The process is pretty standard and similar across industries so I’m not going to try to reinvent it here. I can usually get a good idea of a customer persona in about half an hour – it shouldn’t take long.
Build a profile of your audience and hold it in your mind – it’s going to be really important in this next step.
Step four: What channels are your audience on and how do they use them?
This step is the part of the social media strategy where you choose the channels where your audience hangs out and most importantly – how they do things while they’re there.
There’s a great social survey here from Born Social that I like to refer to when I’m working out how and why people use different channels. For example, their findings discovered that people use Pinterest sporadically, often when planning a wedding, party, designing a new website or working on a project, but not day-in, day-out. On the flip side, 92% of people in the UK have a Facebook account and as a result, almost everyone uses Facebook as a media and sharing channel.
Think about your audience and where you would find them. Are they already selecting a specific channel to ask questions or make enquiries on your service or product?
This is where I’d also do a competitor audit. Take 2-3 of the biggest names in your industry, or the companies you identify most with, and check out their social followings. What are they doing on each channel? How many followers have they got? Are people contacting them? What is their response time like? (On Twitter this is particularly easy as you can search to:handle e.g. to:bethgladstone and see a list of tweets sent to the user).
The key here is to ensure that you don’t use the same posting schedule and content across all channels. Here are a few things to remember about the current social media landscape:
- Most channels (but Facebook especially) prioritises video content over text and image posts.
- Most channels prioritise natively uploaded video (again, especially Facebook) over say YouTube links and Twitter and Instagram have length caps on uploading video (2 minutes 20 for Twitter, 60 seconds for Instagram).
- There are different dimensions for images which work best across each channel and should be adhered to wherever possible – this post lists them all.
- The times and days people use each channel differs. Part of your strategy should involve researching the time your audience is most online on each channel and creating a posting strategy to suit.
- Each channel has different algorithm rules on posting. For example, Instagram is seen to reward users who post regularly – at least once per day, by showing the posts to more of their audience. Yet on Facebook you can be penalised for having a series of low-performing posts in a row so it’s often best to only post your “best of the best” content.
Here’s an example of what a social media strategy might look like for part four:
Step five: What content will you use?
The first four steps are all about imagining your ideal social media strategy. The fifth step is about working out how you’ll get there. If you don’t have any resource or budget to create video content, there’s no point putting it in your strategy.
Here, I’d do a review of what’s available including:
- Resource for images, graphics, brochures, PDFs and infographics
- Content already available on the website – case studies, blogposts etc.
- Brand guidelines
- Any video content already available
- Customer or client testimonials
- Image libraries
- What things look like behind the scenes – office space, headshots, company setup and so on.
Considering all of these aspects will help you to create your social calendar. Sometimes, I’ll find a company already has a ton of content, they just need a plan to push it out to their audience. Other times, a company needs additional help with blogging, video and photography to fuel their social media channels.
Step six: How will you measure?
Lastly, you need to work out a plan for measurement that ties back in to your original goals. Here’s an example:
Business problem: Create brand awareness on social media
Social goals: Use social media to direct more traffic to the website. Follow and target customer base. Share more content from inside the company.
Measurement: No. of website referrals from social media. Number of followers (and demographic of followers). No. of posts shared. No. of clicks on posts.
Pop all of these into a spreadsheet, compare the figures month-on-month and analyse what went well and anything that went wrong. Social media is often a case of trial and error until you hit the sweet spot. Test different campaigns, link everything back to your business goals and always focus on your audience and their needs.
That’s how I plan social media strategy for the brands and companies I work with. It’s simple, effective and it produces real business results. To find out more email me on email@example.com or send any questions to me on Twitter @bethgladstone.