How to Create a Social Media Marketing Strategy in 8 Easy Steps

By Evan LePage

Social

Image via Will Scullin under CC BY 2.0

A social media marketing 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. Every post, reply, like, and comment should serve a purpose.

The more specific your strategy is, the more effective the execution will be. Keep it concise. Don’t make your plan 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 strategy of your own.

Bonus: Get the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

How to create a social media strategy

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

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

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

Each of your goals should be:

This is the SMART framework, and it’s an important way of making sure your goals actually lead to real business results, rather than just lofty ideals.

Track meaningful metrics

Keep in mind that while vanity metrics like retweets and likes are fun and easy to track, it’s hard to prove their real value for your business. Instead, focus instead on targets such as leads generated, web referrals, and conversion rate.

For inspiration, check out our posts on the social media metrics, social ads metrics, and social video metrics that matter to your business.

You may want to track different goals for different channels, or even different uses of each channel. For example, Benefit Cosmetics focuses on achieving brand awareness through its paid social campaigns, but measures acquisition and engagement for organic social posts.

Make sure to align your social media goals with your overall marketing strategy. This will make it easier for you to show the value of your work and get executive buy-in and investment.

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

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 is key to creating content that they will like, comment on, and share. It’s also critical for planning how to develop your social media fans into customers for your business.

Try creating audience personas. These allow you to think of your potential fans, followers, and customers as real people with real wants and needs. And that will allow you to think more clearly about what to offer them.

Gather real-world data

Don’t make assumptions. For instance, you might instinctively think that Facebook is a better network for reaching Baby Boomers than Millennials, but the numbers show that Millennials still outnumber Boomers on the platform.

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

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

Check out our guides to using analytics for Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, LinkedIn, Snapchat, and Pinterest.

Step 3. Research the competition

Odds are, your competitors are already using social media—and that means you can learn from what they’re already 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 some social media targets of your own.

This analysis will also help you spot opportunities. For example, maybe one of your competitors is dominant on Facebook, 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.

Engage in social listening

Social listening is another way to keep an eye on the competition. Here’s how to use Hootsuite streams for social listening and monitoring competitors:

As you track your competitors’ accounts and relevant industry keywords, you may notice strategic shifts in the way competitors use their social accounts. Or, you might spot a specific post or campaign that really hits the mark, or totally bombs. Keep an eye on this information and use to it evaluate your own goals and plans.

Step 4. Conduct a social media audit

Evaluate your current efforts

If you’re already using social media tools, you need to take a step back and look at what you’ve already done and accomplished. Ask yourself the following questions:

Once you gather all this information in one place, you’ll have a good starting point for planning how to improve your results.

We’ve created a social media audit template that you can follow for each step of the process.

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. It may be a valuable account that just needs a strategic redirection, or it may be an outdated account that’s no longer worth your while.

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 meaningful business goals

Asking these tough questions now will help keep your social media strategy on track as you grow your social presence.

Look for impostor accounts

During your audit process, you may discover fraudulent accounts using your business name or the names of your products – that is, accounts that you and your business don’t own.

These imposter accounts can be harmful to your brand (never mind capturing followers that should be yours), so be sure to report them. You may want to get your Facebook and Twitter accounts verified to ensure your fans and followers know they are dealing with the real you.

Step 5. Set up accounts and improve existing profiles

Determine which networks to use (and how to use them)

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

For example, 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.

It’s a good exercise to create mission statements for each network. These one-sentence declarations will help you focus on a very specific goal for each account on each social network.

If you can’t create a solid mission statement for a particular social network, you may want to reconsider whether that network is worth it.

Set up (and optimize) your accounts

Once you’ve decided which networks to focus on, it’s time to create your profiles—or improve existing profiles so they align with your strategic plan.

In general, make sure you fill out all profile fields, use keywords people will use to search for your business, and use images that are correctly sized for each network.

Here’s a quick overview of how to get your social media profiles into tip-top shape:

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 social network.

Bonus: Get the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

Step 6. Find inspiration

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

Social network success stories

All of the social networks feature success stories that highlight how brands are using their tools effectively. You can usually find these on the business section of the social network’s website.

(For example, take a look at the Facebook business success stories.) These case studies can offer valuable insights you can apply to your own goals for each social network.

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.

Our favourite social accounts

We’ve compiled some lists of our own highlighting businesses we think are doing a great job on social. Check them out for inspiration:

For example, @TescoMobile is a perennial favorite for its fan interactions on Twitter.

Notice that each of these accounts has a consistent voice, tone, and style. Consistency is key to helping your followers understand what to expect from your brand, so they know why they should continue to follow you and what value they can get from your social accounts. It also helps keep your branding consistent even when you have multiple people working on your social team.

Create a social media style guide to document all of your decisions about voice, tone, and style.

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 existing 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’ll spend interacting with the audience (although you need to allow for some spontaneous engagement as well).

Create a 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 ensures your posts are spaced out appropriately and published at the optimal times.

Plot your 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. For example, you might decide that:

Placing these different post types in your content calendar will help ensure you maintain the ratio you’ve planned. If you’re starting from scratch and you’re simply not sure what types of content to post, try the 80-20 rule:

You could also try the social media rule of thirds:

Once you have your calendar set, use scheduling tools or bulk scheduling to prepare your messaging in advance rather than updating constantly throughout the day. This allows you to craft the language and format of your posts rather than writing them on the fly whenever you have time.

Step 8. Test, 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.

Track your data

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 social media followers, email list, and website visitors whether you’re meeting their needs and expectations on social media, and what they’d like to see more of. Then make sure to deliver on what they tell you.

In the social sphere, things change fast. New networks emerge, while others go through significant 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 look at regularly and adjust as needed. Refer to it often to keep you 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 social team know, so they can all work together to help your business make the most of your social media accounts.

Bonus: Get the step-by-step social media strategy guide with pro tips on how to grow your social media presence.

Bonus: Download our social media strategy template

Does this all feel a little overwhelming? The truth is that building your social strategy is a substantial job. It should be, since it’s such an important document for your business. But it doesn’t have to be complicated.

We’ve created a template to guide you through the whole process of creating you social media marketing plan. Download it here.

Once you’ve mapped out your social media marketing plan, use Hootsuite to schedule all of your social media posts, engage with your followers, and measure performance.

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