Don’t Post Without a Plan—
Build One with These 11 Essential Elements
by Neal Schaffer
Most businesses need a structured road map to create and manage successful social media programs. But to their detriment, strategy is lacking in many organizations. In fact, a recent survey showed that creating a social media strategy is still a major concern for 83 percent of marketers.
Without strategy, here’s what happens:
Individuals from different departments tweet at will, using the company’s official handle. Some of these 140-character messages are loaded down with cumbersome language from the company’s Web copy guidelines; others are peppered with abbreviations like “u,” “r,” and “2.”
On Facebook, users who “like” the company’s page find that their newsfeeds are bombarded with promotions, surveys, and so-called news.
Meanwhile, clients are posting positive and negative feedback on both sites. Sometimes these comments receive responses from the company; sometimes they don’t.
And that’s not even taking into account what’s going on at LinkedIn, Pinterest, or the company’s blog.
Using such a scattershot approach to social media, organizations miss out on major opportunities, including engaging with potential and current customers and managing their reputations, and they may be alienating social media users as well.ca
With a social media strategy, you can know what you’re trying to achieve, what you should be doing, what you should be measuring, what the ROI of your social media program is, and how well you’re doing with it. You can standardize messaging, cadetermine how resources are used, define which tactics you will and won’t pursue, follow a road map, and stay true to your purpose through personnel changes.
Here are eleven essential components of a comprehensive social media strategy. When you use them to formulate yours, be sure to look at the implications it will have on all your internal stakeholders, and include them in the planning.
Be consistent across all channels. Most businesses already have brand guidelines (including guidelines for naming, color scheme, and imagery), and these should be applied to your social media properties. After all, branding is all about consistency, right? The challenge, though, is that most branding guidelines don’t include any guidance for the most important part of your brand in social media conversations: your voice.
Although your brand guidelines might make mention of tone and vocabulary for use in Web copy, social media will challenge those guidelines when you need to have a conversation with an average person. In most instances it’s okay to be less formal on social media channels—just make sure that your updates, statuses, comments, and so on “speak” with a unified voice. In the planning process, be sure to ask who represents the voice of your company.
Get conversations going. Although cynics might dub it a mindless vacuum, social media is really about the convergence of communication and information. Accordingly, what you share and talk about with social media users is important. Content provides the medium to help you engage in conversation—and creating content that is truly useful and shareable can have many long-term benefits for your company’s social media presence.
Keep in mind that content isn’t just about blog posts, photos, and videos. Presentations, infographics, memes, and even discussions (such as in a LinkedIn Group) are all types of content that should be considered for your social media strategy.
Share meaningful content. If you’re just talking about yourself in social media, no one wants to listen (much as in regular conversation). Your social media accounts will begin to breathe new life only when you curate content to select material that will matter to your followers, and promote that content together with your own.
If you work in a business-to-business company, this will often mean using content that you are already sharing with your current and prospective clients on sales calls, in newsletters, or during Webinars. If you work for a company that sells directly to consumers, it might mean sharing more photos and videos that show who is using your product, sharing stories about your brand that have never been publicly discussed, or sharing valuable information to nudge people into realizing they need what you offer.
And don’t forget that crowdsourcing content is also a great way of curating—especially from your own fans’ tweets about and photos of your products.
Join the right networks for your company. There are currently more than 50 social networks with more than 10 million members. You can’t—and shouldn’t—have a presence on every single one of them. Deciding which social networks to engage in, and creating internal best practices and tactical plans for each of these networks, should form a sizable part of your social media strategy.
While most companies concentrate on the more established social networks, newer ones, such as Google+, Pinterest, and Instagram, might be equally important, depending on your company.
Post strategically, not constantly. No two social networks are alike, and with limited resources, you’ll need to decide how much time you are going to spend on each platform, as well as what you’ll be doing there. (This will help you maximize your ROI for time and resources spent.) It’s also important to tweak your frequency strategy for each social network from time to time so as to maximize the effectiveness of your posting.
Believe it or not, frequent posting doesn’t necessarily make you more effective. For instance, research shows that when a brand posts on Facebook twice a day, those posts receive only 57 percent of the likes and 78 percent of the comments per post that a single post receives.
Be worthy of being followed. Think about engagement in both its proactive form and its reactive form. Most companies do well at proactively engaging with their own content—posting both new content and conversations, and sharing content and information from others. But proactively engaging with new social media users and reactively engaging with those who comment or respond to your content are just as important for creating an effective social media presence.
Try to look at your company’s social media profiles from the perspective of an outside observer and ask yourself, Is our engagement with fans worthy of being followed? Would I follow us?
Remember, engagement is a tactic to help you achieve your objectives—expanding your brand, attracting new customers, and growing your company. It is not the objective itself. And be encouraged: Sixty percent of Facebook fans and 79 percent of Twitter followers are more likely to recommend brands that they’ve “liked” or followed.
Interact meaningfully with customers. It’s official: The customer service desk has gone digital. From complaints to questions to (yes!) praise, consumers (67 percent of them, in fact) are using social media to convey their thoughts, opinions, and queries. Many companies are blowing this golden opportunity. For example, a recent study showed that 71 percent of customers who complained about a company via Twitter were not contacted by the company.
Your company needs to be prepared for listening—and responding. And listening means more than merely being on the lookout for complaints to defuse. Every engagement with a social media user is a golden opportunity, because it can give you real-time feedback on what your customers are thinking, liking, needing, buying, and more. And a meaningful interaction with a customer—a problem resolved or a question answered, for instance—can win you the type of loyalty that money can’t buy.
Regularly introduce new campaigns to engage customers. These social media campaigns should not be confused with traditional campaigns to promote new products or discounts. Again, in the social media world, you’re not speaking to or at customers; you’re speaking with them. That being the case, social media campaigns should leverage the social aspect of social media, combined with its viral functionality, to create events that trigger engagement from followers in new and exciting ways.
Think of them less as promotional marketing campaigns and more as experiments designed to better understand—and more effectively engage with—your social media followers. I suggest creating and implementing new campaigns on a regular basis, preferably monthly, with revolving themes, such as those aligned with your promotional calendar or seasonal events.
Your campaigns should be platform- and/or content-specific so you will get more precise data for future planning. Surveys, quizzes, polls, product giveaways, and crowdsourcing (of photos, videos, and other content) are all good examples of campaign types.
Take a cue from other users. There’s no need to navigate the world of social media on your own. Use the examples and successes of the users called influencers to help shape your own strategy and make it more effective. Influencers can be individual users, companies, or media outlets that (a) are a part of or serve your target demographic audience, and (b) exert influence online through reporting, blogging, and being active on platforms such as Twitter, Google+, Facebook, and LinkedIn.
You can use Website rankings, social numbers (such as the number of Facebook fans or Twitter followers), social engagement, frequency of engagement, and more to identify influencers within your target demographic group. Furthermore, Websites such as Klout (klout.com/corp/about), which scores 400 million users and analyzes 12 billion social signals each day, can provide data to help you measure influence.
At minimum, influencers provide a source for content curation, and by retweeting their content, you increase the chances that they will notice you and reciprocate the favor, thus broadening your reach in social media. Beyond merely utilizing influencers for content curation and to broaden social media reach, consider them as potential collaborators in future social media campaigns.
Recruit fans to spread the word. Brand ambassadors are current loyal customers and fans who focus on your brand in their own social networks. They can also act as an advisory board during a crisis. Harnessing and rewarding ambassadors is a very effective way to help spread the word and value of your brand throughout social media because 92 percent of people, according to Nielsen, trust recommendations from friends and family most.
Whether they are current employees, alumni of your company, or happy customers, your social media strategy should always involve looking for ways to engage—and reward—your brand ambassadors.
Be prepared to handle trouble. Given the speed at which information travels in social media and the fact that social media is now a primary news source for consumers and media people, some sort of crisis will inevitably occur. Your company needs to always be prepared for the worst (such as an attempted takeover of social media channels by fanatics and others with an agenda).
Completely integrating social media into your company’s crisis management planning is wise. According to an Altimeter Group report on “Social Business Readiness,” 76 percent of social media crises could have been diminished or averted with the proper social media investments.
Make sure that your crisis communications plan includes messaging for each of the social media channels you’ll be investing in. Beyond that, make sure that your employees are proficient at (or better yet, expert users of) the social media tools your organization utilizes so that they won’t inadvertently make a crisis worse.
In addition, try to proactively build a community of goodwill with followers of your brand. Over time, your word will become more trusted, and more brand advocates will be born, both of which will help lessen the potential negative effects of any crisis.
This list has focused on essential elements for creating a robust social media strategy primarily from a marketing perspective, but some of these elements can be easily expanded to help other internal departments achieve their social media objectives.
Regardless of how many departments use them, make sure that you address all these concepts individually in a written document so that everyone in your company—now and in the future—understands what they are and how they are meant to work together. The clearer you are, the more productive your organization’s social media presence will be.
Neal Schaffer’s latest book is Maximize Your Social: A One-Stop Guide to Building a Social Media Strategy for Marketing and Business Success. Named a Forbes Top 50 Social Media Power Influencer two years in a row, he is the creator of Advertising Age’s Top 100 Global Marketing Blog, Windmill Networking (recently rebranded as Maximize Social Business), and a global speaker on social media who also teaches as part of Rutgers University’s Mini-MBA™ in Social Media Marketing Program. To learn more: maximizeyoursocial.com.