Few modern-day businesses can survive without social media. After all, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and the like have become the 21st-century town hall, bulletin board and water cooler all in one. Without a social media presence, a business is missing a plethora of opportunities to engage both new and existing customers.
Still, a social media presence should be used strategically for best engagement results. It’s simple to accomplish, though, if you understand a few key concepts.
If you’re looking to nail down a tried-and-true social media plan of action and don’t have much info on where to start, you’re in the right place. This 101-level guide will start with the basics, then layer on more detailed information, to help you scale your social media program quickly and efficiently. Note: If you're short on time, click to view this blog post as a presentation—or download the guide here and customize for your own use.
WHY SOCIAL MEDIA?
Social media has taken the Internet by storm: 71 percent of all internet users are also social media users. So, what exactly is “social media”, and how does it benefit your growing business? Simply put, the largest social media platforms can be defined as online destinations for content, communication and information—but each has its nuances and unique approach to fostering its community. It’s no surprise, then, that 90 percent of brands use social media to engage with customers these days.
Facebook, for example, is an integrated networking platform for individuals to connect with each other in one place. As a result, it’s evolved into an effective lead generator for businesses to reach new and existing clients that share common interests. Sharing photos, events and information through specially-designed Facebook Business Pages is easy and effective. And, with all the data Facebook has on its users, creating targeted advertising campaigns for potential clients is far more efficient.
As an aside, it’s important to mention the relationship between social media and search engine optimization (or “SEO”). The number of times your company name is mentioned across the Internet carries significant weight with search-engine rankings (the results of your search queries in Google, Bing, etc). Hyperlinked mentions (“backlinks”) are ideal, but simply having your brand cited by a media outlet, related blog or even customers’ social media pages can impact a brand’s ability to rank higher on the results page. The higher the ranking, the more organic traffic and sales leads a company will get.
Reading or writing social media reviews and comments will influence the shopping behavior of 67 percent of consumers, according to a survey from PWC Global. Social media users don’t simply communicate with one another through written correspondence. They frequently convey messages by sharing other types content like infographics, videos and photos. Thus, diversity of content is important (more on that later).
Twitter is another powerful social media marketing tool used to share quick and focused updates, connect with your audience, learn from their experiences and connect with industry colleagues. With messages limited to 140 characters, Twitter is most beneficial when posts are frequent and informative; relevant to your company’s specific audience; and industry-relevant. Oh and don’t forget those high-volume keywords, links and hashtags for SEO.
LinkedIn, on the other hand, is a social media platform that specializes in all things “professional” as opposed to “personal.” Many companies neglect professional perceptions in their marketing efforts, but leveraging the power of LinkedIn should be an integral part of any social media strategy. After all, 50 percent of B2B web traffic that's attributed to social media campaigns originates on LinkedIn.
The platform offers a generous amount of internet real estate in the “Profile” section to show off how awesome your company, product and team is to the rest of the professional world. While not perfectly quantifiable, a strong LinkedIn presence also benefits overall search-engine optimization.
So to start, be sure that your business has its own Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn profiles. If it makes sense with your audience, you can also tack on Instagram pretty easily, since it integrates with Facebook and you can just duplicate your content automatically on both platforms. Just know that it’s an “aesthetics-first” platform—so no ugly posts allowed. Hire a dedicated member of the marketing team to manage and engage across each platform on an hourly or daily basic. Frequency is also key to scaling fast.
START WITH AN AUDIT
If you’ve already experimented with social media marketing, the next step is performing an audit (if you haven’t, skip to the next section). In order to create the best strategy, you should take inventory of all your posts to date—noting the dates and times you posted, engagement numbers, content topics, creative formats and other criteria. This will help you determine what types of posts performed the best. This knowledge will help steer the content ship in the most successful direction. However, it’s important to leave room for creative experiments if you want to grow your audience fast. So the perfect recipe will be a mix of “tried and true” (70%) and “new tests” (30%).
Once you’ve determined what previous posts performed the best, analyze the specific qualities of each post’s content. Chances are it abides by the rules of great content, including but not limited to:
- IT GETS TO THE POINT
The most popular content doesn’t leave audiences wondering about its purpose. Cut to the chase or you’ll lose potential clients’ attention.
- IT PAYS HOMAGE TO POP CULTURE
Pop-culture references have long been the source of popular content because they rely on memories, emotions and experiences that audiences share. These shared sentiments motivate audiences to share the content, as well.
- IT TUGS AT EMOTIONS
Great social-media content tugs at audiences’ emotions. As with most marketing efforts, inciting emotion also drives audiences to action, whether it is making a purchase or sharing a message.
Of course, the data around engagement metrics for your audience and content formats will be the most significant driving force for your macro Social Media Strategy plan. But understanding what's working on a mass scale, and gathering new ideas for your "new tests" will help you stay on top of social media trends.
SIZE UP THE COMPETITION
Not only is it important to understand what social media posts have been most successful for your company in the past, it’s also useful to know what social media initiatives your competitors are currently embracing—the ones that are clearly working for them. That being said, answer these questions:
Once you do this basic “benchmarking analysis,” the next step is to choose a few content categories you can produce right away. What is content, you ask? Content is information. It can come in the form of visuals (illustration, video, photo, graphics) or text (blog post, white paper, press release, etc), or a combination of both. It’s essentially the carrot that you dangle over the world wide web to entice someone to click, learn more, and eventually purchase.
Most successful social media campaigns utilize content from the following popular categories, often linking to additional related content on blogs, YouTube channels, et cetera:
- Live Events are video conferences, webcast streaming, tweet chats, or the like that involve real-time engagement between audience members and hosts.
- Quotables are simply pull quotes overlaid on a photo or illustration that are relevant to your audience or industry.
- Original Illustrations / Infographics / GIFS are on-brand, custom creative assets created by designers that represent a specific campaign.
- Reposts (or ReShares, ReTweets, etc) of valuable content from credible sources is an easy, low-cost way to align yourself with other authoritative people or brands and help boost your own brand’s authority.
- Original Video Content is pre-recorded, often produced or edited video segments that are uploaded or streamed to audience for them to view when it's convenient for them.
- User Generated Content (“UGC”) is a creative asset, blog, presentation, etc that a member of your company's community produces that you then get permission to distribute across your channels.
- Original Photography is a popular format for content on Instagram—and many of the most successful Insta-famous accounts simply use their smartphone to shoot beautiful vignettes.
- Influencer Collabs / Partnerships is rapidly increasing in popularity. Brands and influencers can combine audiences for double the impact.
COMMIT TO GROWTH GOALS
After you've completed the steps above, you should begin to evaluate your social media marketing goals. What do you primarily want to accomplish? Are you looking to drive traffic to your website, to increase your social media following or to boost purchases? The types of social media content you share might vary based on your goals. Plus, without identifying your goals, you will not be able to measure your success.
As you begin to execute your first social media campaigns, you should plan for and schedule a variety of engaging posts that meet your various goals. For example, you might schedule a variety of Quotables, Videos and Infographics to bolster different types of engagement and test each platform's audience.
As you start to align on content marketing and social media campaign goals at your company based on overall marketing and growth goals, you can evaluate the performance of each post after it is published on various platforms. Did the Quotable work better on Twitter, while the Infographic receive the most engagement on LinkedIn? That will offer insights into what content your audience wants to consume.
Pay particular focus to social media posts’ engagement rates (likes, comments and shares) such as link clicks, sales conversions and audience interactions. As you observe the results of each social media campaign, you can revise your strategy to further improve future results.
DETERMINE YOUR AUDIENCE SEGMENTS
Facebook, as you may recall, was involved in a widely-publicized scandal involving user behavior data. What did we learn from all that drama? The platform—as well as Instagram, LinkedIn, Twitter and the up-and-coming TikTok—collected detailed insights into how users engage with the app. This helped each platform identify more of what users like, don’t like, buy and share, so they can optimize results for their advertisers.
While all this collected data can be a bit scary for consumers, behavioral insights are a great thing for your business’ social media growth goals. Knowing what content your audience will respond to, share and promote themselves is hugely powerful in helping you create the most effective social media strategy. Perhaps you are reaching an audience you weren’t aware existed for your company, or perhaps one segment of your target audience engages with your brand on social media at night, while another audience segment is more active in the morning. You can even create "look-alike" campaigns in order to reach the "friends" and connections of your audience members, since there's a high probability they share similar characteristics, such as:
- Demographics What portion of your audience is male or female? What are their age ranges, where do they live and what is their occupation? These are just a few of the demographic details to identify.
- Use Case How is your target audience engaging with your brand, and how are they using your product or service? Answering these questions can help you determine the best social media platform to reach them.
- Psychographics What does your target audience enjoy? What are their hopes and dreams? It might sound cheesy, but if you know your market includes those who love to travel, that insight offers you the chance to emotionally reach your audience and motivate their behavior.
- Media Use What social media platforms does your target audience use most? Does your market contain business professionals you will primarily find on LinkedIn? Are they tech nerds who read a lot on Medium, or perhaps health nuts who subscribe to Thrive Global?
CHOOSE CHANNELS AND CADENCE
Now that you’ve gotten a better grasp of your target audience segments, and you’ve researched the types of content most likely to reach them, it’s time to choose the best distribution channels for your social media strategy and schedule your posts accordingly.
- Facebook users are most active and most likely to engage with your brand at 7 a.m. and 4 p.m.
- Twitter users flock to the platform at 10 a.m., 11 a.m. and 2 p.m.
- LinkedIn users visit the social media platform most frequently at 9 a.m., 12 p.m. and 3 p.m.
- Instagram users engage with visual content on the app mostly at 11 a.m., 1 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Facebook, with its 2.38 billion monthly active users, generally reaches the largest non-specific audience, and the highest traffic occurs mid-week between 1 and 3 p.m., while engagement is 18 percent higher on Thursdays and Fridays.
Of course, the four most popular social media platforms are not the only tools available to help with your social media marketing strategies. A variety of outside platforms have been developed that can help companies further promote their brands through social media, including:
- HubSpot can help brands with blog management, and posts can be created that better engage with social media audiences.
- MailChimp is a popular tool to help brands manage their mailing lists for further content sharing.
- BuzzSumo offers valuable content insights so brands can better plan their social media strategies.
- AirTable is a valuable project management tool that can help companies plan their overall content strategies, including scheduling and tracking social media campaigns.
- Beautiful.ai is a free "design-a.i." presentation software that allows you to create stunning visuals that audiences will want to share using social media.
MAKE SOME FORECASTS
Social media forecasting is much like weather forecasting or stock forecasting. You must take into account a variety of data sets, and analyze it to determine the most likely course of action should the circumstances repeat (which they do, more often than not).
“Social media can provide suppliers cues signaling whether a campaign has the potential to be a hit or a miss in specific markets,” Walton College of Business’ Annibal Sodero explained. “We have consistently found that positive, neutral, and negative sentiments conveyed by social media conversations can predict sales.”
Keeping constant tabs on the performance of your social media campaigns will help you forecast for future audience engagement. Be sure to analyze the monthly performance of each campaign, as well as changing market segments for each platform. After 3-6 months of consistent posting at least once a day, you will start to see patterns for what is working—which will help you forecast how future posts will perform if you apply a similar formula. Then, you can rely on hitting certain engagement numbers based on the time and day you post, category of content, messaging, creative assets, etc.
Likewise, be sure to monitor breaking news related to your product or service, and take note of trending topics and hashtags. Strategically-placed keywords and hashtags can direct clients to your products and services without paid advertisements.
“When I hear people debate the ROI of social media, it makes me remember why so many businesses fail,” VaynerMedia CEO Gary Vaynerchuck explained. “Most businesses are not playing the marathon. They're playing the sprint. They're not worried about lifetime value and retention. They're worried about short-term goals.”
With careful planning, and a little time, effort and observation, a strong social media strategy can serve as an important catalyst for growth for almost any company. So, what are you waiting for? Get started by downloading our free Social Media Strategy template.