Social media has become a powerful force in today’s society, gaining more and more traction as it garners interest from multiple generations. Grandparents are sending Facebook friend requests, parents are (attempting) to incorporate emojis and new-age slang in to their digital vernacular, and millennials are glued to their screens 24/7. While this modern phenomenon is casually embraced by most individuals, it has completely different implications for business owners. Get on board or get left behind.
More and more business owners are feeling the pressure to start engaging in social media. I hear it time and time again:
“Social is the place to be.”
“Social media is the future man!”
“In this day and age, you need to be on social media.”
Everyone thinks they need to “be on social media” but that’s only half the battle. Being on social media is the easy part; it only takes a few minutes. Just set up your profiles and voila – you’re there! Utilizing social media properly requires strategic efforts and a well-rounded game plan.
This leads to the first key point: social media is nothing more than a communication channel.
Social Media as a Communication Channel
As mentioned above, social media is a communication channel, similar to telephone, radio, magazines, and television.
Like any communication channel, there is a source, message, and receiver.
- The company is the source
- The social media posts are the messages.
- The prospects and customers are the receivers.
Social media also incorporates feedback (a response from the receiver to the source).
So, why is all of this important?
It’s easy to get lost in the hype of social media and neglect it’s basic functionality as a communication tool. Many companies simply create social media profiles and start blasting out messages. Let’s make one thing clear before we move forward: SOCIAL MEDIA IS NOT ADVERTISING. The goal of social media is to create mutually beneficial interactions between a brand and its following.
Social media is a conversation and, like any conversation, it can be engaging, boring, exciting, frustrating, and so on…
The purpose of social media is to send the right messages to the right people in the right places at the right times. Right?
So, now we know the purpose of social media, let’s focus on some goals.
The Goals of Social Media
Before you even consider building a social media presence, you need to have a goal in mind. What are you trying to achieve? You need to know the “what” before you figure out the “how.”
We all know that the ultimate goal of any business is to make more money, but that’s far too broad, especially in the world of social media where measuring a direct ROI can be difficult. Create a specific goal (or goals) so you can align your efforts with your desired outcome.
Different businesses will have different goals and, therefore, different social media strategies. Here are a few common goals and considerations:
Increase Brand Awareness
Social media can be used to make more people aware of your brand. Many great companies fail due to a simple lack of exposure. Social media gives you the opportunity to get your brand in front of more people.
Strengthen Brand Identity
Social media gives you the opportunity to define your brand’s personality, values, and culture. Whereas standard advertising is generally focused on value propositions, social media is far more interactive. In this aspect, companies can become more lifelike as they are personified by traits such as humor, intellect, creativity, etc.
Share Brand Updates and Promotions
Social media can be used to keep your audience educated on important company updates, such as company milestones, events, new product lines, promotions, etc. Keep in mind, you are writing for your audience – not yourself. While you may be excited about the new desk chairs you got in the office, does your audience really care? Focus on sharing updates that add value to the customer.
Attract New Customers
Social media can be used to spread messages to the right customers. This should not be approached the same as traditional advertising, but the ultimate goal is the same. Companies may also leverage their existing customers to engage with new prospective customers. For example, a frozen yogurt shop may encourage Facebook check-ins from current customers in order to gain exposure to new customers.
Attract New Employees
Some companies use social media to attract new employees. This may be achieved by shining light on the company culture. For example, an advertising agency competing for fresh talent may showcase office parties, tight-knit groups of employees, and other perks.
Increase the Value of Existing Customers
Companies can use social media to increase the lifetime value of existing customers by showcasing new products, rewarding return customers, and continuing to interact with their existing customer base. For example, a clothing company may share new product lines as they are released.
Gather Feedback and Interact With Customers
As mentioned above, the social media communication channel allows for feedback: for better or for worse. Companies can collect both positive and negative feedback from customers on social media. For example, a music shop may ask customers about which brands they’d like to see carried in-store.
Provide Customer Support
Social media can be used to provide customer support, however this should be approached cautiously. When a brand provides support over social media, the interaction is not private (such as email or phone support), therefore the brand will be held to even higher standards.
It’s important to clearly define your brand goals and work within the limitations of those goals. For example, if your goal is not to provide customer support via social media, don’t make exceptions.
When choosing your goals, be realistic.
For example, BMW obviously wants to attract new customers, but are they going to do so on social media? Maybe – but the chances of getting someone to make a five-figure purchasing decision in between watching cat videos is pretty slim. That said, they may be able to share promotions with warmer leads or engage with existing customers.
You should also consider the resources you have available.
For example, a local electronics shop may want to provide customers with support via social media. Before committing to this goal, they would need to make sure they have a dedicated support person (or team) that is capable of handling the task.
Start thinking about what you are trying to achieve. If you are struggling to come up with feasible goals, you can analyze your competition and see what is working well for them.
The next step is planning content.
The Role of Content in Social Media
One of the most interesting and disruptive impacts of social media is how it has shifted the role of companies. As companies look for creative ways to engage with their audiences, they are starting to take on the role of “content creators.”
Companies are telling stories, creating different types of media, and engaging with customers in a whole new way.
Chipotle is telling stories about their values and sourcing processes.
Nike is creating inspirational videos promoting fitness and persistence.
Kraft is creating and sharing recipes.
Countless companies are creating niche-related blogs.
While this new form of interaction is far more interactive than traditional advertising, it also means more work for companies. Companies now have to focus on creating compelling content, a task previously reserved for entertainers, media outlets, and publications. So, how did this happen?
Customers have a lot of power when it comes to social media. They get to choose whether or not they follow and interact with a company. Essentially, this means that companies have to raise their standards and earn the attention of their audiences. You may be forced to watch TV ads, but you can unfollow a brand with the click of a button. This reinforces the previous point that social media is not advertising and shouldn’t be approached as such.
There are only so many times that your audience wants to hear about how awesome your product is. People generally do not enjoy advertising and they certainly won’t subscribe to it. For that reason, companies need to find related interests to keep their customers engaged.
Let’s use a nutritional supplement company as an example. Traditional advertising would focus on product features and lifestyle benefits. Content marketing takes things to a different level by focusing on the underlying interest: fitness. While a fitness enthusiast may be able to tolerate a couple of ads about protein powder, they could probably read articles about nutrition and exercise for days. A brand that provides valuable content is facilitating a mutually beneficial interaction that will pay off in the long run.
Think about this example further by minimizing it down to a one-on-one human interaction. Who are you more likely to take a nutritional supplement recommendation from: the person at the gym who won’t shut up about their life-changing MLM supplement line OR the person at the gym who is always giving you pointers and helping you out? Rhetorical question.
People don’t like being “sold.” Companies can provide value to prospective customers through the distribution of valuable content. This content builds trust and rapport that can be used to make the sale at a later point.
Hopefully, you are sold on the magic of content marketing at this point because your next step is creating a content plan.
What type of content are you going to provide to your audience?
As you begin thinking about the answer to this question, keep three things in mind:
- Your content should be used to help achieve your social media goals
- You need to actually be able to generate the content you want
- Your content should be created with your audience’s needs in mind
Here are a few types of content you may consider:
- Blog Posts
- How-To Guides
- Basic Graphics
- White papers
Every single brand has the ability to create captivating content within their niche. If you don’t know what to create, just ask your customers.
Here are some examples to get your creative juices flowing:
- A dentist might create a blog post on tips for a whiter smile.
- An air conditioning company may create a how-to guide for lowering energy bills.
- An upbeat clothing line may share graphics with inspirational quotes.
- A restaurant may share photos of their weekly specials.
- A solar panel company may create an infographic showing the financial and environmental benefits of using solar energy.
- A credit card processing company may create a white paper sharing case studies and industry statistics related to processing fees.
- A local electronics store may create videos showing cool tech setups.
Once you have a general idea for the type of content you are going to create to achieve your goals, it’s time to start putting together a plan.
Creating The Plan
The goal of creating a plan is to add structure to your efforts. You already have your goals in mind and you’ve thought of some “value-add” content to share with your customers. Now, you need to organize everything and prepare to execute your strategy.
Voice and Guidelines
First things first, you need to choose a voice for your brand. Essentially, you are creating a brand personality and you want this personality to be consistent and reflective of your brand.
Is your brand funny? Creative? Inspiring? Serious? Adventurous?
Decide how you want people to view your brand and start building a personality to match it. This personality should resonate well with your target audience. For example, humor may not work well for a healthcare company, whereas it could be successful for a local bar.
The best way to start building this personality is by pretending you are having a conversation with your ideal customer. How would you interact with them? What type of language would you use? Start making notes with the goal of sculpting a brand personality.
You will also want to create some guidelines. For example, you may be humorous but NOT sarcastic, inspiring but NOT cheesy, educated but NOT pretentious. You can have a list of do’s and don’ts such as:
- DO make the customer feel important
- DO use vivid imagery
- DON’T get involved with controversial topics
- DON’T respond to negative comments (trolls)
These guidelines will be applied to all of your content and used to portray a consistent brand image.
Once you build a personality, make sure you have a social media writer/manager who can encompass that personality.
The next step will be finding a home for your new personality (aka choosing social media channels).
Choosing Social Media Channels
As discussed earlier in the article, many business owners make the mistake of just trying to “be” on social media. As you know by now, that is not the goal. Your goal is to act purposefully and choose your channels strategically. The simplest way to do this? Go to where your customers are.
Focus on the general demographic of a given social media site. If you’re unfamiliar with certain sites, just do the research. Here are some examples of actionable social media demographic data:
- Pinterest is female dominant
- Instagram has a large millennial user base
- LinkedIn has a higher concentration of professionals with higher salaries
What can you do with this information? Well, you can assume that if you run a women’s apparel shop, Pinterest may be a better starting point than LinkedIn. Conversely, if you run a B2B consulting agency, LinkedIn may be a better fit.
There are a few other things you should consider as well:
What are the BEST options? Let’s say you know your audience can be reached on Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Google+. It can be difficult to launch a social media strategy across all four networks at once, so you should focus on the best options. This leads to the next consideration?
Which network do you have the resources to conquer? We touched on this point in the content section above. Do you have the resources to thrive on a certain social media site? For example, you may be considering YouTube and Instagram as channels to promote your business. If you can create stunning graphics and mediocre videos, concentrate your focus on Instagram. Less is more and the last thing you want to do is dilute your efforts.
Choosing Posting Frequency
Once you’ve chosen your channels, you will need to decide how frequently you are going to post on each channel. There are a few considerations:
The first thing you want to think about is how often it really makes sense to post on social media. Think about what customers are expecting when they decide to follow you on social media and create a plan to match that.
This will vary by brand. For example, a car insurance company may be able to get away with weekly/biweekly posts, whereas a restaurant may be able to post compelling content daily. The goal is to join the conversation. You are not trying to be overpowering or obtrusive.
People post at different frequencies on different platforms. For example, tweeting 5-10 times/day may be acceptable whereas posting 5-10 Facebook statuses can get obnoxious pretty fast. These norms may also vary by niche. Do some research within your niche and look for patterns.
Remember, you have to create every message you send out into cyberspace. Be conscious of your resources when making this decision. For example, if you know you have two hours per week to commit to social media and you can create 10 messages an hour, you know you can create a total of 20 messages/week for all of your channels. This is your max limit.
Choosing Success Metrics
By now, you’ve done a lot of the planning involved in creating a social media strategy. So, how do you know if you’ve done a good job? Metrics! That’s the cool thing about marketing – you don’t always need to be right the first time. You start with a basic hypothesis (your plan) and you allow incoming data to help you improve your efforts.
There is an endless amount of social media metrics that can be used to measure success.
Here are a few common groups of metrics:
- Audience Size (i.e. Twitter followers, Facebook page likes, etc.)
- Post Engagement (i.e. Retweets, Favorites, Shares, Likes, Comments, link clicks, etc.)
- Post Reach (i.e. how many people see your message)
- Leads/Sales (i.e. Subscribers, Revenue, etc.)
These metrics can be used as standalone metrics or comparative. For example, you may say you want to grow your audience by 100 people every month OR you may say you want to grow your audience 10% each month.
You shouldn’t try to use ALL of these metrics. Focus on the ones that are relevant to your goal.
For example, if you are focused on increasing brand awareness, you may use post reach (impressions) as your success metric. If getting customer feedback is your primary goal, you may use post engagement (comments) as your success metric.
If you are having a hard time choosing success metrics, find a competitor to benchmark against. How many followers do they have? How many likes do they usually get on a post? You can use their success to help quantify your desired results.
Once you’ve done all of your planning, it’s time to start putting everything into action. While you can choose to post all social media messages manually, using a social media scheduling tool can save you a LOT of time. Social media scheduling tools allow you to plan messages in advance so you don’t need to post manually every day.
Hootsuite is my go-to tool for most social media scheduling (with the exception of Instagram, for which I use Grum).
Start by planning a week of messages. Focus on the individual messages as well as the role they play in the bigger picture. Looking at every message on a weekly or monthly calendar can give you a better idea of the story your brand is telling to its audience.
I will generally schedule 1-2 weeks in advance. This is enough planning to save me time every day, but not too much where the messages may be irrelevant or poorly timed.
Pivoting When Necessary
Think of your first social media plan as a test. You came up with a plan and now it’s time to see how successful it was. Some people will nail it the first time, while others will struggle to find the “magic formula” for a bit. This is perfectly normal – don’t get frustrated.
Continue to compare your strategy with your results, using your success metrics as a gauge of effectiveness. Here are some things you may analyze:
- Which channels are performing the best? Does it make sense to shift focus to the more successful channels?
- Which types of content are performing the best? Graphics? Videos? Blog Posts?
- Which topics generate the most interest?
- What times of day are you getting the best responses? What days of the week?
Social Media Marketing 7-Day Action Plan
If you’ve read through this entire article (read, not skimmed), you’re ready to start conquering the world of social media. For those who prefer a more structured approach, here’s your 7-day social media action plan.
Day 1: Competitor Analysis
On Day 1 you are trying to understand the social media landscape for your niche. Your goal is to find good companies to benchmark against, analyze your customer base, and start thinking about how all of this data will play into your plan
Day 2: Goal Setting
Everything you will be doing will be focused on your main goals. The reason we are planning goals on day 2 instead of day 1 is because your research from day 1 should help you decide if your goals are feasible. For example, your goal may have been to share brand promotions, but competitor research may show that your audience doesn’t respond well to promotions.
As you set your goals, be purposeful and realistic.
Day 3: Personality
Start creating the guidelines for your brand. These will help you shape all future efforts and allow you to scale (and potentially outsource) your social media strategy. Feel free to use similar brands as comparison and focus on what resonates best with your customer.
Day 4: Content Strategy
By day 4, you should have a clear vision of your ultimate aspirations and the guidelines you will use to stay on track. Let’s call that the skeleton. Now we need to add the meat of the plan: content.
Focus on the types of content you are able to generate and align that with your customers’ interests.
Day 5: Channels/Frequency/Metrics
By this point, you should have a solid plan in place and, better yet, a vision of what your future social media presence will look like. Now, it’s time to focus on the numbers a bit. Decide which channels you will be focusing on (your competitor research should help with this) and how frequently you will post.
You should also choose a few metrics for measuring your success. These metrics should align with the goals you set on Day 2. For example, if your goal was to increase awareness of your local business, you may use post reach (impressions) as one of your success metrics. If your goal was to engage with customers, you may use comments and replies as a success metric. These metrics are important because they will help you gauge whether or not your strategy is actually working.
Day 6: Account Creation
Day 6 is the day you switch from planning to doing. Prepare to take action. It’s time to create your social media channels.
Day 7: Calendar Creation
Now that you have your strategy in place and your accounts ready to go, it’s time to start populating those profiles! You are going to create a social media content calendar. You can choose to do this in an automated software like HootSuite, or you can create an Excel file and post manually for the first month.