How to Build a Social Media Strategy that Works

Social media is one of the most powerful tools in your marketing arsenal. If you use it correctly, you can create a strong personal connection with your prospective customers. However, marketers often make the mistake of diving into social media without a clear plan. At best, this is a waste of time — and at worst, it can lead to a PR disaster.

To benefit from social media, you need to build a clear strategy that takes into account what you're trying to achieve, who your customers are and what your competition is doing.

Here are a few tips to help get you started:

Understand your goals

As with any journey, the first step in creating a social-media marketing strategy is to understand where you want to go. What is the purpose of your social media marketing efforts? Do you want to create or raise awareness of your brand? Are you looking to increase sales, or website traffic, or both? Is your goal to build customer loyalty and increase retention? These goals aren't mutually exclusive, but you should focus on one or two: If you spread yourself too thin, you're not going to accomplish anything.

Create measurable objectives

It's time to set clear objectives based on your goals. Focus on the S.M.A.R.T. strategy for goal setting to ensure your objectives are specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time based.

For example, if you're a B2B marketer looking to increase sales, you might decide that you want to generate an additional 100 online leads a month. On the other hand, if your goal is brand awareness, then you might want to increase the number of times your brand is mentioned on social media by 50 percent. In all cases, these objectives should be directly tied to your business goals, and they should be achievable. Otherwise, they're just wishful thinking. Also, make sure your objectives are time limited. For instance, you need to achieve that 50 percent growth in brand awareness within six months, not at some undefined time in the future.

Once you set your objectives, make sure you can measure them. Find the right tools to track and analyze each one, so that you can quantify your progress. Not only will this let you know when you have arrived, it will also help you to spot problems early and adjust your course if you need to.

Characterize your customers

Now you know where you're going, but you still don't know how to get there. A successful social-media strategy is all about targeting the right people with the right messages. To do this, you need to understand your audience. For instance, there's no point in targeting everyone in the 18 to 35 age group if you really want to get to upwardly mobile young professionals who are technology enthusiasts.

The best way to do this is to create buyer personas. Sit down and create a detailed profile of your ideal customer. Start by giving them a name. How old are they? What is their income? Do they have children? What do they like or dislike? What motivates them? And so on. If you have more than one ideal customer, create a persona for each.

To benefit from social media, you need to build a clear strategy that takes into account what you're trying to achieve, who your customers are and what your competition is doing.

Look at the competition

When it comes to social media, your competition can tell you a lot about what works and what doesn't. After all, they're targeting the same customers you are. If you ignore your competition, you're giving up a fantastic opportunity to learn from their successes and mistakes.

To research your competitors, start by picking three or four of the top ones. Find out which social networks they're active on, and study their content. Is it funny or serious? What kind of cultural references do they use? Do they talk about their product primarily, or do they focus on other things?

For example, if you sell snowboards, do your competitors talk about how their snowboards perform, or do they post amazing snowboarding videos that just happen to include their products? Then, see how well each competitor is doing (e.g. how much engagement — comments, shares, likes) — they get on their Facebook updates.) This will let you determine which strategies work and which ones don't.

Develop your messages

Now you have a handle on your ideal customers and your competition, it's time to start building your messages. This isn't detailed content; rather it's the top level set of key messages that you think will resonate with your customers based on the personas you have created. Choose two or three messages, then break each one down another level creating a simple messaging hierarchy.

There's nothing wrong with adopting some of your competitors' successful messaging ideas but also try to create original messages that set you apart — this will help you to create a unique brand voice. Don't be afraid to get creative as your social media presence should be exciting, not boring.

Choose your channels

Not all social-media platforms are the same. You need to choose the right ones for the products or services you're selling.

For example, LinkedIn is a good platform to target for business-to-business sales while Pinterest may be better if you're in the fashion business. Some of these channels will become obvious when you look at your competitors but see if any relevant channels were overlooked.

You should also identify influencers who can reach your target audience. Good bloggers command high levels of trust in their readers and are indispensable in creating buzz around your brand. Take the time to target the most appropriate bloggers — sites such as mine, Tomoson, can help you to do this.

Build a content plan

Finally, you need to develop a strong content plan that will deliver engaging material. The content needs to align with your overall messaging and be appropriate for the channels you're using. This is more than just product information — think about how you can deliver real value to your audience. Don't just stick to one type of media — a mix of videos, guides, infographics and other styles will engage your potential customers more effectively. Also, don't think of content as something you post once. You need to have an ongoing presence on social media, and that includes delivering fresh content on a regular basis.

Read the original article on Entreprenuer.

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