When I first ventured onto social media networks years and years ago, I didn’t have a plan. I just knew that people said it was a good idea to be there. As a result, my LinkedIn account and Facebook fan page just sat there, doing nothing for me. When I later joined Twitter, I was a little more active on that platform, but it was still just a case of trying out this tweet and that with not much happening.
That was until I heard a Social Media Examiner podcast with Kim Garst, CEO of Boom Social, as the guest. The show’s title was “Twitter Traffic: How to Double Your Traffic to Your Content.” After hearing Kim’s ideas, I started concocting what I’d needed all along: a plan.
Since then, I’ve been steadily increasing my Twitter followers and I’ve added also tweets that direct followers to my blog posts. As a result, more and more of them are retweeting and “favoriting” tweets related to my blog posts (as planned!)
So now I’ve been refining my Twitter plan and doing research on the business potential of other social networks. That research has enabled me to help clients avoid some of the mistakes I made. Now I’m going to share some of the information and insights I’ve garnered to help you start out right or have an easier time correcting course if necessary.
Determine Your Purpose
If you’re a solopreneur, think about what you need to accomplish and if and how social media platforms can contribute to fulfilling your goals. If you’re part of a company, consider the C-suite’s goals (which will also help you in presenting your case and later in proving return on investment).
Knowing what you want to accomplish with social media will help you figure out both the appropriate networks and the tactics you’ll be using. In order to spark ideas, research how competitors and other organizations have used different platforms. There are online resources, like Social Media Examiner, that contain examples of what businesses are doing and also straightforward how-to articles (e.g., How to Use LinkedIn to Build Relationships and Generate Leads, How Small Businesses Can Use Pinterest to Grow Their Brands, etc.)
I’ve listed the most common goals for using social media below, but you can create your own goals, e.g., using social media to gain market insights, as a crisis communications channel, etc. A word of caution: don’t try to adopt all of these goals; if you try to do everything, you’re likely to end up achieving nothing. Settle for one to three goals at a time:
- Increasing sales
- Generating leads
- Building brand awareness
- Reducing marketing costs
- Increasing website/landing page traffic
- Engaging/retaining customers
- Enhancing customer service
Add a specific percentage increase/decrease and a time frame to your objective so that you have a concrete objective to work toward and against to measure progress.
Choose Your Platforms
At one point, my website designer convinced me to create a Facebook fan page. After a few halfhearted attempts to keep it current, I abandoned it. Facebook works best when you use visuals, and I prefer to focus on text, particularly back then. Plus, I almost never visit Facebook except to play Candy Crush and Papa Pear anyway, so I probably should have known it wasn’t going to be a good match.
That’s not going to happen to you. Since your first step consisted of comparing the needs and goals of your organization with the capabilities of different social networks, you probably have an idea of what platform(s) would be best for achieving the goals you’ve set. However, what you finally decide on will depend on a number of factors:
Where your target audience hangs out: Of course, it wouldn’t make sense to be on a network when your stakeholders are somewhere else. Business Insider recently published a demographic report about social networks and even shares some takeaways in this article about the report. The Pew Research Internet Project is also an excellent resource; they published a Social Media Update 2013 report.
Another option is to ask your best customers where they hang out online. They’ll likely direct you to networks where you’ll find prospects with attributes similar to those favorite customers.
Time constraints: Social media takes a lot of time. As I mentioned, I started my serious social marketing efforts on Twitter, and now I’m trying to expand my efforts to an effective use of LinkedIn. However, due to time limitations, it’s slow going. I’ll probably have to slow down my Twitter activities in order to see whether LinkedIn yields better results if I use it on a continuous rather than intermittent basis.
So, when you’re making this decision, think about the time involved. Keep in mind that you’ll being engaging in conversations with prospective customers, influencers, colleagues, friends, etc. Adding in time for conversations can be tricky, but I’ve heard you should start off with an overall estimate of at least an hour per day per social network, and that seems about right. Use all that research you did beforehand to decide where your time and efforts are best spent. You can use management tools like Hootsuite, Social Oomph, or Buffer to reduce time spent posting, but it’s still not going to be a quick task.
Select Your Metrics
How will you figure out if your plan’s working? By looking at metrics that indicate progress. Like many others, my first instinct was to look only at the number of followers I was gaining instead of whether any of them clicked through to my website or did anything that indicated interest in me or my services. So, make sure that the metrics you choose aren’t vanity metrics. That is, don’t concentrate on the number of followers instead of whether any of those followers are doing the things that further your established goals (e.g., clicking on links to your website, giving you their information, buying something). Real indicators of progress are what’s going to help you prove ROI to the C-suite or yourself.
Also, using the right metrics can help you see what’s currently right or wrong with your plan. For example, I’ve increased traffic to my website, but according to Google Analytics, people are only following the tweeted link, reading the relevant post and then leaving. So, I need to work on encouraging them to explore more of the website and/or move further along the path to purchasing my services.
Decide on Your Team and Team Process
Having a team of people contributing posts to your blog and/or social media networks helps eliminate one major obstacle to executing a social media plan: time. However, for the plan to function smoothly, everyone needs to know what and when they’re supposed to submit/post. So, draw up an editorial or content calendar that shows all of that information and whatever else you need. Even if you’re a one-person business like me, establishing what you’re supposed to be doing beforehand can save you time and frustration. Since putting together an editorial calendar and presetting a portion of my tweets via Social Oomph, things have been easier for me. Not perfect, but definitely easier.
Hubspot has a post on how social media managers can stay organized; it links to a calendar template and gives very, very useful tips.
Determine Your Brand Voice & Tone
You’ll have to adapt your brand voice to the culture of different social media channels somewhat, but you should be fairly consistent in terms of the “personality” your brand projects. If you have a social media team, establishing a certain tone up front can keep it from veering from “favorite uncle” to “edgy challenger” and beyond.
I didn’t make this mistake exactly, but I definitely did not think about how I wanted potential customers to perceive me. Although I experimented with different types of tweets, I fortunately didn’t do anything that wasn’t really me or that was really embarrassing. OK, I did share links to recipes for meals I was cooking, but it could have been way worse.
One of my favorite social media writers, Kevan Lee at Buffer, has posted excellent how-to advice about finding your social marketing voice.
Bonus Tip: Establish a Social Media Policy
I’m happy to say that I’ve always had an unwritten policy of “don’t post angry or even irritated,” which stops me from posting unfortunate “in the heat of the moment” comments about anyone whose behavior has frustrated, appalled, or bewildered me. In fact, think twice about the feelings or information you share on Twitter, Facebook, etc. should be part of everyone’s personal social media policy.
If you have employees, you most definitely need a social media policy so that they know what’s expected of them and what type of posts are out of bounds. Check out this Inc.com article on writing a policy for insights about what to include in yours.
You won’t be able to plan everything about your social media efforts. E.g., you’ll most likely have to use trial and error to discover what content type, timing, and posting frequency works for you. But the tips above can help you shorten your learning curve significantly!