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The No-Nonsense Guide to Building a Social Media Strategy

Need a clear and easy path for navigating social media strategy? You’ve come to the right place.

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GUIDEThe No-Nonsense Guide to Building a Social Media Strategy
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A good social media strategy is the difference between making some noise and getting lost in it.

Social media is a complex and multifaceted realm. There’s an assortment of different platforms (which is expanding through the rise of niche networks), an expansive array of content formats, a lengthy list of best practices, and an ever-evolving set of the latest trends to keep up with. And, on top of that, every brand under the sun is on social media competing for attention and engagement.

In such a dynamic setting, it’s crucial to develop a clear strategy to guide your initiatives. Attempting to leverage social media without a well-defined strategy is like trekking through a dense forest with no compass: you’re liable to get lost — or, at the very least, you’ll struggle to find the most profitable path.

With a concrete social strategy in place, your efforts will be more decisive, efficient, consistent, and, ultimately, effective.

In the following guide, we’ll cover the essential elements you need to create a robust social media strategy, including goals, research, planning, helpful tools, and more.

Define your goals

The legendary Yogi Berra once said, “If you don’t know where you’re going, you’ll end up someplace else.” 

While this paradox was meant to be comedic, the notion rings true for both business and life in general — which is why goal setting is the first step toward building a social strategy.

Business goals are the foundation of any social media strategy. If you lack clarity in your objectives, your strategy will be baseless.

So, let’s begin by reviewing six common goal categories you may choose to pursue:

  • Awareness: positioning your brand in front of your target audience to establish familiarity 
  • Traffic: driving users to your website and/or social profiles to take further action
  • Engagement: spurring audience interaction to build trust and nurture relationships
  • Sentiment: shaping the public perception of your brand to win your audience over
  • Conversion: capturing subscribers, leads, and purchases to fuel your bottom line
  • Customer experience: turning your existing customer base into loyal supporters of your brand

Note how these categories are aligned with the stages of the marketing funnel. So, for brands, the question becomes: which segments of the marketing funnel will we prioritize in our social media efforts?

Tip: The modern marketing funnel goes beyond the traditional stages of awareness/consideration/conversion to include loyalty and advocacy after the sale. In other words, happy customers can be one of your brand’s most valuable assets.

S.M.A.R.T goals

Once you’ve considered your overarching goal categories, you’ll then need to dig deeper by developing S.M.A.R.T goals within those categories.

A S.M.A.R.T goal is:

  • Specific: replacing general concepts with quantifiable outcomes
  • Measurable: using objective metrics that can be tracked
  • Attainable: setting ambitious, but realistic aims
  • Relevant: understanding how the goal ties into the bigger picture
  • Time-bound: using dates and deadlines to stay accountable

To demonstrate, here’s an example of a S.M.A.R.T goal within the Traffic category:

“Reach 5,000 unique visitors per month from social channels by February 2021.”

With your goals in place, the next step is to prepare to reach them — and that starts with a combination of thoughtful reflection and diligent research…

Understand your target audience

To resonate on social media, you need to know who you’re talking to.

This involves identifying, researching, and listening to your target audience to craft content and messaging that’s relevant to them.

In the marketing world, customer personas are a primary method for defining target audience segments. A customer persona is essentially a fictitious character that you create to represent key traits/characteristics found within your audience.

A complete customer persona will include a detailed profile, with information such as:

Demographics:

  • Age
  • Gender
  • Location
  • Occupation
  • Income
  • Marital status
  • Education

Psychographics:

  • Personality traits
  • Values
  • Attitudes
  • Interests
  • Behavioral tendencies.

Having these detailed profiles on-hand will allow you to tailor your content accordingly, maximizing its relevance and effectiveness. But, one potential pitfall with customer personas is the temptation to create them based on intuition (rather than data). This results in a set of personas that reflect who you want your audience to be — instead of who they actually are. The solution? Audience research.

Audience research

Unless your company just launched, you already have a rich source for audience data: your existing customer base. To learn more about them, implement surveys at various touchpoints (eg email, checkout pages, etc). You should also be carefully analyzing your brand’s online reviews, customer service logs, and CRM data to glean insights about their preferences and challenges.

If you already have a social media following, you can use the built-in analytics tools on each platform (Instagram Insights, Twitter Analytics, etc) to assess your audience’s demographics and interests.

Brandwatch Social Panels is another way you can learn about your target audience – it helps brands listen to the conversation from specific groups of people and learn about their interests, needs, and opinions.

You can also use public forums like Quora to see the questions people are asking about a particular topic, as this will often indicate what they’re struggling with. Remember, your goal should not be to simply know who your audience is — but to understand what delights them and, perhaps even more importantly, what their biggest pain points are.

Tip: For additional insight, check out your competitors’ online reviews to see what their customers are saying (as they’ll likely have a lot in common with your audience).

Study the competition

When formulating a social media strategy, you don’t have to completely ‘reinvent the wheel’ from scratch. Observe what other brands in your niche are doing (and what’s working for them) to get a lay of the land and guide your own strategy. You can try to beat them at their own game by doing it even better or find underutilized areas to capitalize on.

Put together a list of 5-10 of the top competitors in your space. If you need help, head over to Google and enter search terms related to your products/services. The results on the first page will likely be from the leaders in the field.

When assessing your competitors, here are some key questions to be asking:

  • Which social channels are they most active/popular on?
  • What types of content are they posting? (video, images, stories, paid ads, etc)
  • How much engagement are they getting on various channels/content types?
  • What tone and aesthetic do they use in their content?

A competitive analysis should not be done with the intent of copying what others are doing. Rather, you should be taking note of general principles, tactics, and trends you see, but with the end goal of determining how your brand can make its own unique splash in the space.

Tip: You can view the ads that your competitors are running on Facebook by visiting their page, clicking ‘See All’ in the Page Transparency section, then selecting ‘Go to Ad Library.

To learn more about diving deep into competitive intelligence, you can read our dedicated guide here.

Focus on the right channels

Now it’s time to move forward from preparatory considerations into tactical planning. Once your brand’s customer personas have been established and a competitive analysis has been performed, the results of both can help inform the decision of which platforms to concentrate on.

Factors to weigh include:

  • Where your audience is spending time (think back to your customer personas and competitive analysis)
  • The differences between platforms
  • Your industry
  • Your goals.

To elaborate, here are some key highlights of the leading networks:

Facebook

The largest network with over 2B users. Organic reach has declined, but paid ads offer powerful targeting, and Groups can be used for community-building. Virtually, every audience segment is on Facebook, but younger demographics are now gravitating toward Instagram.

Instagram

A highly visual platform, increasingly favored by Millennials and Gen Z. Great for growing an engaged following, showcasing products, and partnering with influencers. Primary content formats are images and short videos. 

Twitter

Runs primarily on short text-based updates (tweets), making it great for brand voice, activism, humor, announcements, and thought leadership. Suitable for both B2C and B2B.

LinkedIn

For B2B brands, LinkedIn is a must. As the premier professional networking site, it’s the leading option for sharing business and career-related content. In addition to posts, you can also publish articles directly on the platform, further enhancing its potential as a content marketing channel.

Pinterest

Like Instagram, Pinterest is inherently visual, with images as the main content format. The core demographic is women (aged 25- 54) and the platform is particularly appealing for ecommerce brands, with 89% of users turning to Pinterest for purchase inspiration.

Snapchat and TikTok

With short, ephemeral (disappearing) video clips and a highly engaged young user base, these platforms are promising options for brands looking to connect with Gen Z in creative ways. 

With your primary channels selected, the next step is to outline a plan for publishing consistent, compelling content to engage your audience within each channel.

Create a content game plan

Content is the lifeblood of social media, which is why everything we’ve covered so far has been leading up to this critical section. 

At this point, you’ve now compiled a substantial set of useful information to help inform/guide your content creation:

  • You’ve pinpointed your goals, which should influence the content types/formats you use (e.g. branded images for awareness, stories and polls for engagement, product images and demo videos for conversion, etc).
  • You’ve defined your customer personas, which should influence your messaging (e.g. speaking in a relatable way, celebrating the things they love and calling out the pain points that bother them).
  • You’ve assessed the competition to see what tactics they’re using, what’s working for them (and what isn’t), and how your brand can differentiate itself.

Now, by tying the above concepts together, you can develop a series of content “buckets” to categorize the content you want to publish. These buckets will bring organization, focus, and clarity to the otherwise hectic endeavor of trying to determine what to post on social media.

To demonstrate, here’s a hypothetical content bucket for a fitness app company:

Brand voice 

It’s okay, and even beneficial, to have a diverse array of different content buckets. But one unifying aspect that should be the same throughout all your buckets is your brand voice. Maintaining a consistent voice across social posts and channels is key to establishing a brand identity.

So, ask yourself, “if our brand was a person, what would it sound like?” Would it be bold, quirky, playful, inspirational, dramatic, thoughtful, professional? ...the list goes on. And you don’t have to select just one tone. Rather, you can compile a collection of adjectives to paint a more holistic picture. 

Scheduling

Lastly, you should implement a content calendar to stay on top of your posting activities. In addition to the day of the week, your publishing calendar should also take optimal social media posting times into account. You can put your calendar together manually, but it’s advisable to use a social media scheduling tool to streamline the process. 

Leverage helpful tools

We know what you must be thinking at this point. That with all these different social media channels, target audiences, SMART goals, and strategies, you’ll have to be on social media around the clock just to keep up. Nope!

There’s an abundance of social media tools out there to make your life a whole lot easier—and you really should take advantage. 

These could include tools that help with:

  • Scheduling tools
  • Social media inbox management
  • Photo editing
  • Performance monitoring
  • Benchmarking
  • Content ideation.

Analyze and refine

With the concepts and guidelines above, you now have everything you need to create a clear, robust social media strategy for your brand. As mentioned previously, having this strategy in place will allow you to be more decisive, efficient, consistent, and, ultimately, effective on social media. 

That being said, you shouldn’t take off your ‘strategist hat’ the moment you complete your initial strategy document. Rather, once you begin acting on your strategy, you should periodically review your performance to learn from your successes and identify weak areas to improve.

When assessing your social media performance, the truth is in the data — which means you’ll be digging into your KPIs and other metrics. Need some help? We’ve got you covered! 

For further reading, be sure to check out our guide on How to Measure Your Social Media ROI.

To inspire you

The following strategy is a hypothetical example for a fictitious fitness app company.

Example:
Goals Awareness: 15k new followers by April 2021 AND Conversion: 5k new app downloads by April 2021
Customer personas Motivated Martin: male, age 30-38, urban area, corporate job, feels like he’s falling out of shape in his 30’s and is eager to reverse that. AND Busy Brenda: female, age 28-35, suburban area, middle income, struggles to find time for fitness, balancing work, young kids, etc.
Primary platforms Instagram, Facebook
Brand voice Upbeat, motivational, understanding, with a dash of humor

Final thoughts

Now you know exactly what it takes to stand out and how to make social media work for your business. 

You know the ins and outs of SMART goals, psychographics, content game plans, and brand voice—all invaluable when it comes to building a following with scroll-stopping social media content. 

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