One of the most common misconceptions about social media marketing is that it’s incredibly easy and effortless. After all, how hard could it be to send out a few tweets or post pictures and status updates? But while social media may take place in a casual, laid-back environment, using it as a successful marketing tool requires time, research, and careful planning. If you fail to plan, then you plan to fail.
Social media marketing can be extremely effective, but having a comprehensive strategy in place is critical to giving your social media plan the direction and guidance it needs to succeed. In journalism, writers use the Five Ws – who, what, when, where, and why – to cover all of the essential elements of a story and create a complete picture that provides all relevant information. The same Five Ws – with the addition of “How” – can also help you craft a complete and comprehensive strategy for your social media efforts.
Articulate Your Goals
First and foremost, you must be able to understand and communicate why you’re integrating social media into your marketing efforts. And no, “because everyone else is doing it” is not a good reason. What do you hope to achieve with social media? Is your goal to drive brand awareness? Increase revenue? Improve customer satisfaction? Your reasons for joining social media will vary depending on your company’s individual needs, but whatever they are, it’s important that they are discussed and agreed upon.
Determine Your Target Audience
Social media success hinges on engaging your audience and creating relationships with them. In order to determine how you’ll reach them – what you’ll say, how you’ll say it, and where you’ll say it – you need to define who it is you’re trying to reach. How old are they? What’s their education level? What do they like? Where do they live? Social media marketing is not a one-size-fits-all process; a plan to reach one demographic may vary greatly from a plan that would work for another.
Plan Your Content
You wouldn’t give a presentation to your CEO or a client without preparing; going in without a report – or at least an outline of talking points – could be disastrous. Similarly, winging it on social media is not a good idea. In your strategy, plan the type of content that you will be sharing on your networks. If your content isn’t relevant, interesting, or valuable to your followers – or worse, it offends them – cultivating a growing and engaged social media community will be extremely difficult.
Choose Your Channels
To many, “social media” is equated with Facebook and Twitter. While these two networks are the most popular, and are very viable options for many businesses, they’re not the only choices out there – and may not be the best ones for you. For instance, brands whose products have the potential to create visually interesting and appealing content may want to include Pinterest or Instagram in their social media marketing efforts in addition to Facebook and Twitter. On the other hand, a company with a B2B focus and whose target audience is business professionals or executives may prefer to make LinkedIn the focus of their efforts.
Establish a Schedule
In social media marketing, sometimes timing can be everything. Reaching your target audience can mean more than being where they are, but also being there when they are; the right content in the right place is only effective if it’s also at the right time. In other words, if your followers are most active on social media during early evening hours, great content posted in the morning may never even be seen. Use your analytics tools to monitor when the greatest amount of interaction is, and time your posts accordingly.
In addition to timing, you also need to determine the frequency of your posts. Will you post once per week? Once per day? Five times per day? Finding the right frequency can be a delicate balance; post too often and you’re likely to annoy your followers, while posting too infrequently can make them forget about you.
Create a Plan of Action
Though not always an official part of the Five Ws, the question of “how” is what ties everything together. The Five Ws have created the basis of your strategy, and now it’s time to determine how that strategy will be executed. This includes establishing who will manage the accounts in house (or if you’ll outsource your social media marketing to a marketing agency), what tools will be used to manage and monitor accounts, as well as what metrics you will use to define and measure success.