5 + 1 steps to creating a great social media strategy

Developing a great social media strategy centers around understanding your customers, or rather who you want to engage. As with all marketing, start with your goals. In social media it’s about engagement. But, engagement for the sake of engagement goes nowhere and if you’re building a social media presence for a business (rather than just for yourself) you will want that engagement to go somewhere. Ask yourself why you want all those Facebook fans? Once you’ve connected with them what do you want to do with them? Can the conversation be enough or do you need a call-to-action? If you do, how often and for what? What do you do if your “engaged” community doesn’t respond? A good social media strategy will build an understanding of your positioning and audience so that you can create tactics that will answer these and other important questions.

What’s your endgame?

Step 1: What is the goal? Why are you engaging in social media? Why do you want to connect and why in this medium? There’s a well used argument by marketers that companies need to be involved in social media just because it’s there and people are talking, but this is not a business case for action. The reality is that social media is an opportunity for conversation and just as you choose when and where to speak, which networking mixer to attend, what party to miss, which lecture to drag yourself across the bridge and into the city to hear, you need to decide how you are going to participate in social media. There is a conversation and you need to know how you’re going to listen, speak and be heard. But you can’t know that until you know why. Are you building a network of people who will tell you how much you suck? Are you willing to listen?

According to Brian Solis in his book The End of Business as Usual, brands are no longer created, they are co-created. Customers now have their own audiences and participate in the building of brands through these networks with powerful influence. Brands need to be responsive to what these customers are saying. This is a concern for customer service, production and sales, not just marketing. It’s essential that companies understand that customers do not see departments, they see brands. For this the new media conversation has changed and marketing can no longer own the social media conversation alone. Now, what is your endgame for social media? Define it! Think customer service, think connection, think outreach, think authentic conversation and think these things along with your lead gen, inbound capture responses, your marketing pitch and all of the marketing tools and tactics that are already entrenched throughout social media.

Now you’re ready to build your voice

Step 2: Positioning: Here we go into marketing best practices. Know who you are, what you do, why it matters and what you do better than anyone else. Know these and you’ll see a pattern emerge that will either guide how you position your brand, or let you know how off base you are to what you want to be so that you can reshuffle to where you should be. Branding Strategy Insider’s Branding Blog has a well written breakdown of positioning.

Step 3: Understand your target: Wait, isn’t that what positioning is about? Well yes, but here we actually want to develop a customer persona of each of your target segments. Often we are building outreach to more than one target niche. Great, understand each one. Know their differences and then create outlines for each. Once these are in place (and your strategy is complete) you can build campaigns for each segment as goals dictate.

And finally, tactics

Step 4: Be where your audience already lives. This is a great approach for all marketing outreach. Once you build your segmented customer profiles (above) you’ll have a better sense of where your ideal target customer lives. Are you targeting stay-at-home moms with school aged children? Perhaps LinkedIn is not the most ideal platform for reaching this group, but Facebook, Twitter and Pineterest might offer the connectivity you seek. Are you a B2B marketer looking to better understand your target customer’s final sale to their B2B customer? Now LinkedIn is a great choice.

Step 5: Scheduling. It’s important to post regularly and often, and always keep the conversation authentic. Be mindful that you don’t over post and don’t over-automate your posts. While scheduling software such as Hootsuite, my favorite, is a good choice there are so many more. Check out this list from SocialMedia Examiner Cindy King and her colleagues for more suggestions.

Scheduling software is a great way to map out the basics of your conversation, but remember that this is a conversation, so be sure that it’s not all you do. Your posts are just a guide to the conversation and you need to invest real time conversation participation on all fronts. You need to listen, speak, respond and learn. This conversation with your customers is a gift, their investment in your brand. Don’t miss it, don’t waste it and don’t squander the opportunity.

In addition to your postings, keep up on other conversations about your brand and your competitors. Be mindful of data from your posts and key learning that can translate into stronger engagement, better conversations, more conversions and, the thing so many marketer hate, but need, a path to your social media’s ROI or at minimum a good business case for what you’re doing.

And, just to repeat…

Plus 1 more step: Include everyone! This is so important, I’m saying it again, customers don’t see departments, they see brands, so be sure that all internal stakeholders have access to, or at minimum a say in, your social media conversations. It will be important that you create a strong social media policy (not sure how to do this? About.com and Forbes  both offer a good place to start), be sure that everyone knows what’s expected of them, and then let your trusted employees reach out. Customer service, production and marketing all have strong stakes in ensuring that your customers are happy with your brand.

Now that you have a sound strategy in place, you’re ready to start building your social media plans and outreach. Go, get in the conversation, lead it, listen to it, engage in it and find success.

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