Feb 26, 2014

How to Plan and Execute a Successful Social Media Strategy

If you run an online business and you haven’t jumped into the social game, you haven’t even begun to touch the potential for your success. Now more than ever, social media is a critical element to a well-planned and executed marketing strategy.

Don’t believe the naysayers that complain social media isn’t quantifiable. In a sense, that’s true – social is, by its very nature, dynamic and tough to compartmentalize. What it brings your brand, however, is priceless – a true, personal connection with your customers.

Put simply: if you sell shoes online with no social media presence, and your competitor sells equally fabulous shoes with a strong social presence, your competitor will win the race. Why? Because they’re better able to connect to their audience. These days, engagement provides the keys to the proverbial kingdom.

So how do you craft a social media strategy from scratch? I’ve simplified the process below, in 8 easy steps. You’ll also find a list of the most common mistakes companies make in social media – those are listed so you don’t have to repeat such blunders!

Step 1: Define Your Social Brand Strategy

Every company has a story to tell, based upon the tone and spirit of its brand. If you haven’t clearly defined your mission statement, your goals, and your presence as a company, that has to be first.
he next step is a bit dynamic, but so is social media. Plot out the goals you’d like to achieve through your social signals, even if they don’t seem directly related. Examples include tangible goals, like increase site traffic by 25%. Other equally critical goals are things like “increase the likability of the company brand” and “create a personal connection to our brand and customers.” The latter are really what social media does best, and this is why it’s tough to quantify. Personal engagement, however, is so critical, it’s worth taking on abstract tasks to make it a reality for your company.

Step 2: Competitive and Community Analysis

Before you spend hours and hours plotting what you instinctively think ought to be your social strategy, go first to two audiences who may know better than you do: your competitors, and your customers.

Comb through your competitors social profiles and campaigns carefully – those will tell you a lot about what to do, and what not to do. Likewise, don’t forget to reach out to your already loyal customers and see what they’re responding to – this is the heart of any social media campaign, once it launches, so it makes tons of sense to tackle this pre-launch as well.

Step 3: Narrow Your Focus

True, we learned above that social media can assist your company in any number of arenas. For the sake of your first social launch, however, it’s wise to focus on one core metric or area of improvement, and build from there.

Is it most important to build brand awareness? To increase loyalty and retention? To sell more products? Choose a focus, and build your first round of tasks around this goal.

Step 4: Determine the Metrics That Spell Success

Now that you’ve carved out a core focus, it’s critical that you define the metrics that will help you determine success or failure in the social stratosphere. This is a main reason why so many complain that social media isn’t measurable – they don’t take the time to define what that means for each campaign.

Think carefully about what your goal is, and subsequently, how you know you’ve reached it. Your focus should never be about how many “Likes” or Twitter followers you amass, but the engagement, ROI, or site traffic increases you’re enjoying. Followers are meaningless if they don’t meet your targeted goals.

Step 5: Know Your Demographic

You know who you are, what your core intent is, and how you’re going to measure success. Next, it’s essential that you create a clear map of who you are attempting to reach. What traits do you know about your current audience? Exactly who will you be attempting to engage in the social space? Think about psychographic traits of not only your current customers, but those you hope to reach as well. Understanding exactly who you are trying to reach will help you craft the perfect campaign.

Step 6: What Makes You Special?

One of the prevailing traits that the companies who are most successful in any marketing space is that they know what makes their company special. Coca-Cola isn’t about beverages, it’s about happiness. Disney doesn’t make movies, they make magic.

Put your thinking cap on, and define the one thing your brand most comprehensively represents. Is it a lifestyle trait? Is it a specific tone or vibe? Or is it something more tangible, like good health or looking stylish? If you know what makes your company stand out from the crowd, and commit to communicating this across the board, you’ll strengthen your core identity and inspire your audience to new heights. This is what separates mediocre marketing from powerhouse campaigns.

Step 7: Make it Personal

As you begin to craft ideas for social media campaigns, you’ll want to define what your voice is as a brand. The more personal in the social space, the better – people need to feel emotionally connected, and that doesn’t happen with logos, it happens with other people.

You’ll likely have several people in your organization execute social signals during your company’s lifecycle, so it’s important to define the tone, demeanor, and style of those correspondences. Inconsistency is not your friend. People respond to brands that stay true to themselves in every correspondence; especially on social networks. Map out you social media policies and personality before you execute a single campaign.

Step 8: Begin Your Social Dominance

Now that you know why you’re going social, who you are as a brand, what makes you special, and who your audience is, chances are you are more prepared to make a big social splash than any of your competitors. Now, and only now, is it time to map out a campaign or two.

Take it one social network at a time. Set up your profiles on all your chosen sites thoughtfully and carefully – again, being mindful to consistency, honoring your personal tone, and paying attention to detail. Each channel should feel distinct, yet still very much like your brand’s identity. Consider your specific reason for engaging in each channel, and honor that as well. Then, begin to formulate updates, content, promotions, and related campaign parameters for each selected channel.

Don’t forget to measure the metrics of each channel and campaign carefully, and be fearless about making calculated shifts in your strategy as needed.

There are many mistakes made over and over again by companies in taking on social media. Your last task before a full scale social launch is to learn from these common pitfalls.

Review the list below, and take them to heart – committing even one of these social sins can undo all the hard work you completed above.

1)    Avoid Talking About Yourself Too Much

Social media netizens abhor brands that do nothing but espouse their greatness. Your formula should be 1 part brand aggrandizement to 9 parts informative shares. Avoid hard sells, and present your audience with content that’s relevant to your industry and their interests.

2)     Remember One Size Does Not Fit All

Many companies treat all social channels the same. As mentioned above, it’s truly important to consider the reason you’re participating in each community, and to craft content accordingly. Seeing the same updates across multiple channels is annoying and insulting. Be creative, and treat each audience with respect.

3)    Avoid Negativity

It may be tempting to lambast your competitors in the social space, but resist this temptation – negative posts of any kind are a big turn-off. Always take the high road and focus on the positive.

4)    Don’t Ignore Your Channels

Once you officially launch a presence on any social channel, dedicate time within your organization to foster that community. Nothing turns-off social fans more than a company’s profile that hasn’t been updated in months, with comments from followers left unanswered. If you can’t afford to have real-time coverage of your social spaces, don’t do it at all.

5)    Never Solely Rely on Words to Convey Your Message

Social signals are far more likely to be shared and “Liked” if you have visual media to accompany the words. Text-only updates are fine in small doses – but pictures really do speak volumes more. Videos, all the more so.

You now have all the tools you need to craft a thoughtful, targeted, and hugely successful social media presence. Stay true to your brand at all times, be strategic and respectful to your audience, and watch how beneficial a great social media presence can be to your brand’s identity, and your bottom line.

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