A social media strategy is a summary of everything you plan to do and hope to achieve on social media. It guides your actions and lets you know whether you’re succeeding or failing.

The more specific your plan is, the more effective it will be. Keep it concise. Don’t make it so lofty and broad that it’s unattainable or impossible to measure.

In this post, we’ll walk you through an eight-step plan to create a winning social media marketing strategy of your own.

Bonus: Get a free social media strategy template to quickly and easily plan your own strategy. Also use it to track results and present the plan to your boss, teammates, and clients.

How to create a social media strategy

Step 1. Choose social media marketing goals that align to business objectives

Set S.M.A.R.T. goals

The first step to creating a winning strategy is to establish your objectives and goals. Without goals, you have no way to measure success and return on investment (ROI).

Each of your goals should be:

  • Specific
  • Measurable
  • Attainable
  • Relevant
  • Time-bound

This is the S.M.A.R.T. goal framework. It will guide your actions and ensure they lead to real business results.

Here’s an example of a S.M.A.R.T. goal:

“We will use Twitter for customer support and lower our average response rate to under two hours by the end of the quarter.”

Track meaningful metrics

Vanity metrics like number of followers and likes are easy to track, but it’s hard to prove their real value. Instead, focus on things like engagement, click-through, and conversion rates.

For inspiration, take a look at these 19 essential social media metrics.

You may want to track different goals for different networks, or even different uses for each network.

For example, if you use LinkedIn to drive traffic to your website, you would measure click-throughs. If Instagram is for brand awareness, you might track the number of Instagram Story views. And if you advertise on Facebook, cost-per-click (CPC) is a common success metric.

Social media goals should align with your overall marketing objectives. This makes it easier to show the value of your work and secure buy-in from your boss.

Screenshot of chart showing how social media goals should align to business objectives

Start developing your social media marketing plan by writing down at least three goals for social media.

Step 2. Learn everything you can about your audience

Create audience personas

Knowing who your audience is and what they want to see on social media is key. That way you can create content that they will like, comment on, and share. It’s also critical if you want to turn social media followers into customers for your business.

When it comes to your target customer, you should know things like:

  • Age
  • Location
  • average income
  • Typical job title or industry
  • Interests
  • etc.

Here’s a simple guide and template for creating audience/buyer personas.

Get to know your fans, followers, and customers as real people with real wants and needs, and you will know how to target and engage them on social media.

Gather data

Don’t make assumptions. Think Facebook is a better network for reaching Baby Boomers than Millennials? Well, the numbers show that Millennials still outnumber Boomers on the platform.

Graph showing Facebook users by generation
Source: PEW Research Center

Social media analytics can also provide a ton of valuable information about who your followers are, where they live, and how they interact with your brand on social media. These insights allow you to refine your strategy and better target your audience.

Jugnoo, an Uber-like service for auto-rickshaws in India, used Facebook Analytics to learn that 90% of their users who referred other customers were between 18- and 34-years-old, and 65% of that group was using Android. They used that information to target their ads, resulting in a 40% lower cost per referral.

Check out our guide to using social media analytics and the tools you need to track them.

Step 3. Know your competition

Odds are your competitors are already using social media, and that means you can learn from what they’re doing.

Conduct a competitive analysis

A competitive analysis allows you to understand who the competition is and what they’re doing well (and not so well). You’ll get a good sense of what’s expected in your industry, which will help you set social media targets of your own.

It will also help you spot opportunities.

Maybe one of your competitors is dominant on Facebook, for example, but has put little effort into Twitter or Instagram. You might want to focus on the networks where your audience is underserved, rather than trying to win fans away from a dominant player.

Use social media listening

Social listening is another way to keep an eye on your competitors.

Do searches of the competition’s company name, account handles, and other relevant keywords on social media. Find out what they’re sharing and what other people are saying about them.

Pro tip: Use a social media management tool like Hootsuite to set up listening streams to monitor relevant keywords and accounts in real-time.

As you track, you may notice shifts in the way channels are used. Or, you might spot a specific post or campaign that really hits the mark—or totally bombs.

Use this kind of intel to inform your own social media marketing strategy.

Bonus: Get a free social media strategy template to quickly and easily plan your own strategy. Also use it to track results and present the plan to your boss, teammates, and clients.

Get the template now!

Step 4. Do a social media audit

If you’re already using social media, take stock of your efforts so far. Ask yourself the following questions:

  • What’s working, and what’s not?
  • Who is engaging with your?
  • Which networks does your target audience use?
  • How does your social media presence compare to the competition?

Once you collect that information, you’ll be ready to start thinking about ways to improve.

We’ve created an easy-to-follow social media audit guide and template to walk you through each step of this process.

Screenshot of a social media audit spreedsheet for building an effective social media strategy

Your audit should give you a clear picture of what purpose each of your social accounts serves. If the purpose of an account isn’t clear, think about whether it’s worth keeping.

To help you decide, ask yourself the following questions:

  1. Is my audience here?
  2. If so, how are they using this platform?
  3. Can I use this account to help achieve my goals?

Asking these tough questions will keep your strategy focused.

Look for impostor accounts

During the audit you may discover fake accounts using your business name or the names of your products.

These imposters can be harmful to your brand—never mind capturing followers that should be yours.

Report them.

You may want to get your Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram accounts verified to ensure your fans know they are dealing with the real you.

Step 5. Set up accounts and improve profiles

Decide which networks to use

As you decide which social networks to use, you will also need to define your strategy for each.

Benefit Cosmetics’ social media manager, Angela Purcaro, told eMarketer: “For our makeup tutorials … we’re all about Snapchat and Instagram Stories. Twitter, on the other hand, is designated for customer service.”

For reference, here’s how other small and medium-sized businesses are using social tools to communicate with customers. Notice that Facebook and Instagram outrank even email for this purpose.

hart showing how small business use social media to communicate with customers
Source: eMarketer

Pro tip: Write out a mission statement for each network. A one-sentence declaration to keep you focused on a specific goal.

Example: “We will use Twitter for customer support to keep email and call volumes down.”

One more: “We will use LinkedIn for promoting and sharing our company culture to help with recruitment and employee advocacy.”

If you can’t create a solid mission statement for a particular channel, you may want to ask yourself if it’s worth it.

Set up your profiles

Once you’ve decided which networks to focus on, it’s time to create your profiles. Or improve existing ones so they align with your strategy.

Pro tip: Use high-quality images that follow the recommended dimensions for each network. Check out our always-up-to-date social media image size cheat sheet for quick reference.

We’ve also got step-by-step guides for each network to walk you through the process:

Don’t let this list overwhelm you. Remember, it’s better to use fewer channels well than to stretch yourself thin trying to maintain a presence on every network.

Step 6. Find inspiration

While it’s important that your brand be unique, you can still draw inspiration from other businesses that are great on social.

Social media success stories

You can usually find these on the business section of the social network’s website. (Here’s Facebook’s, for example.)

Case studies can offer valuable insights that you can apply to your own social media plan.

Award-winning accounts and campaigns

You could also check out the winners of The Facebook Awards or The Shorty Awards for examples of brands that are at the top of their social media game.

For learning and a laugh, check out Fridge-Worthy, Hootsuite’s bi-weekly awards show highlighting brands doing smart and clever things on social media.

Your favorite brands on social media

Who do you enjoy following on social media? What do they do that compels people to engage and share their content?

National Geographic, for example, is one of the best on Instagram, combining stunning visuals with compelling captions.

View this post on Instagram

Photo by @stevewinterphoto | This is a rare image of a wild Sumatran tiger, the only tiger with a mane. Sumatran tigers evolved differently: living on an island, they had to adapt to limited prey and are about half the size of the Bengal tiger. Tigers are an endangered species that need our help in a big way! There may be fewer than 4,000 individuals left in the wild. My tiger work for @natgeo magazine over the past 20 years has taken me to wild places like India’s tiger reserves, Myanmar, Thailand, and Sumatra. The threats facing this iconic species are poaching, deforestation, and an increasing body-parts trade. When the demand for wild and captive tiger parts stops, so too will the poaching of this beautiful cat. When the buying stops, the killing will too. #WildAid

A post shared by National Geographic (@natgeo) on

Then there’s Shopify. The ecommerce brand uses Facebook to sell themselves by showcasing customer stories and case studies.

Ukeleleria | #Shopify1Million

🇲🇽Cancun 🇲🇽Say it louder for the people in the back, Ceci: "You should never be afraid of failure" 👏Turning passion into purpose, Ceci is powered every day by a true love for what she does. It's what motivated her to start Ukuleleria, and it's what kept any doubts away through all the ups and downs. Let's show Ceci some love with 💚 in the comments.

Posted by Shopify on Monday, January 27, 2020

And Glossier is a great example of superior customer service on Twitter. They use their 280 characters to answer questions and solve problems—fast.

Notice that each of these accounts has a consistent voice, tone, and style. That’s key to letting people know what to expect from your feed. That is, why should they follow you? What’s in it for them?

Consistency also helps keep your content on-brand even if you have multiple people on your social media team.

For more on this, read our guide on establishing a compelling brand voice on social media.

Ask your followers

Consumers can also offer social media inspiration.

What are your target customers talking about online? What can you learn about their wants and needs?

If you have existing social channels, you could also ask your followers what they want from you. Just make sure that you follow through and deliver what they ask for.

Step 7. Create a social media content calendar

Sharing great content is essential, of course, but it’s equally important to have a plan in place for when you’ll share content to get the maximum impact.

Your social media content calendar also needs to account for the time you spend interacting with the audience (although you need to allow for some spontaneous engagement as well).

Set your posting schedule

Your social media content calendar lists the dates and times at which you will publish types of content on each channel. It’s the perfect place to plan all of your social media activities—from images and link sharing to blog posts and videos. It includes both your day-to-day posting and content for social media campaigns.

Your calendar also ensures your posts are spaced out appropriately and published at the optimal times.

Determine the right content mix

Make sure your calendar reflects the mission statement you’ve assigned to each social profile, so that everything you post is working to support your business goals.

You might decide that:

  • 50% of content will drive traffic back to your website
  • 25% of content will be curated from other sources
  • 20% of content will support lead-generation goals (newsletter sign ups, ebook downloads, etc.)
  • 5% of content will be about your company culture

Placing these different post types in your content calendar will ensure you maintain the right mix.

If you’re starting from scratch and you’re not sure what types of content to post, try the 80-20 rule:

  • 80% of your posts should inform, educate, or entertain your audience
  • 20% can directly promote your brand.

You could also try the social media rule of thirds:

  • One-third of your content promotes your business, converts readers, and generates profit.
  • One-third of your content shares ideas and stories from thought leaders in your industry or like-minded businesses.
  • One-third of your content is personal interactions with your audience

Pro tip: Once you have your calendar set, use a scheduling tool to prepare messages in advance rather than updating constantly throughout the day.

We might be biased, but we think Hootsuite is the best social media scheduler. You can schedule posts to every network and the intuitive calendar view gives you a full picture of all your social activity each week.

Here’s a quick video overview of how scheduling works in Hootsuite’s post composing tool.

Step 8. Evaluate and adjust your strategy

Your social media strategy is a hugely important document for your business, and you can’t assume you’ll get it exactly right on the first try. As you start to implement your plan and track your results, you may find that some strategies don’t work as well as you’d anticipated, while others are working even better than expected.

Look at performance metrics

In addition to the analytics within each social network (see Step 2), you can use UTM parameters to track social visitors as they move through your website, so you can see exactly which social posts drive the most traffic to your website.

Re-evaluate, test, and do it all again

Once this data starts coming in, use it to re-evaluate your strategy regularly. You can also use this information to test different posts, campaigns, and strategies against one another. Constant testing allows you to understand what works and what doesn’t, so you can refine your strategy in real time.

Surveys can also be a great way to find out how well your strategy is working. Ask your followers, email list, and website visitors whether you’re meeting their needs and expectations, and what they’d like to see more of. Then make sure to deliver on what they tell you.

Social media moves fast. New networks emerge, others go through demographic shifts.

Your business will go through periods of change as well.

All of this means that your social media strategy should be a living document that you review and adjust as needed. Refer to it often to stay on track, but don’t be afraid to make changes so that it better reflects new goals, tools, or plans.

When you update your social strategy, make sure to let everyone on your team know. That way they can all work together to help your business make the most of your accounts.

Social media strategy template

Bonus: Get a free social media strategy template to quickly and easily plan your own strategy. Also use it to track results and present the plan to your boss, teammates, and clients.

What’s next? When you’re ready to put your plan into action, we’re here to help…

Save time managing your social media strategy with Hootsuite. From a single dashboard you can easily:

  • Plan, create, and schedule posts to every network
  • Track relevant keywords, topics, and accounts
  • Stay on top of engagement with a universal inbox
  • Get easy-to-understand performance reports and improve your strategy as needed

Try Hootsuite for Free