I've worked with hundreds of businesses and trained thousands of individuals in social media marketing, and one of the biggest mistakes that I see from companies of all sizes is a failure to plan.
Many businesses hear about Facebook and Twitter and jump in, without spending time upfront identifying their strategy or creating compelling content. The key to success in social media is building a solid plan. Since social media is "free," most businesses don't spend the appropriate time planning or working out a creative execution.
The reality is that success in social media marketing is more difficult now than it was in the past. An average person on Facebook is connected to 130 people and 60 pages, groups, and events. That means that you have to break through the noise of 190 other connections in order to get noticed. The reality is that most businesses don't break through and most of their posts go completely unnoticed by their fans.
After training companies for many years, I created a social media planning method to help businesses approach social media strategically and avoid major pitfalls. By following this strategic planning method, you will create a social media plan that really gets results – I've seen this system work again and again for my consulting and training clients.
Listening. Listen to what people are saying about your company, industry, and competitors. Many of my social media students say that this stage was the most insightful stage of their plan building. Take time to follow some of the people in your target audience and learn what they talk about and how your product or service plays a role in their lives. Conversations can be monitored across social media sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, discussion forums, etc.) using free tools.
Marketing strategies. Before you dive in, spend some time to clearly understand what it is that you really want to achieve. If you don't know your goals, you will have trouble proving the ROI of your social media marketing. Also, be sure to link your goals to a potential call to action. A call to action is an action that someone can take to bring them into a funnel that ultimately leads to a sale. A call to action may be to sign up for a newsletter or call for a consultation.
Target audience. Know in detail your target audience and who you are trying to reach. Be as specific as possible, as this will help you develop more meaningful content. Many businesses fail to specifically define their audience. If you try to reach everyone, you will end up reaching nobody.
Content. Content is one of the most important areas of your social media marketing plan. What will you talk about that will engage and inspire your target audience? What is it that will entice people to connect with you on social networks? The content is probably the most important part of your social media plan, since it is what you will actually talk about and post on social networks. Many people just join social media sites and start posting, without spending time upfront to develop their content plan. I recently read a blog post titled "Content is the Most Important Part of Social Media Marketing." This would be like saying that the commercial is the most important part of television advertising. It should be obvious, but sometimes it isn't.
Tools. What are the right social media tools for your business? LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook? Which tools best match your strategy, audience, and content? Many businesses start with the tools (i.e., I want to get on Facebook) without understanding what they want to achieve and who they want to reach. The key to success in social media is to look at what you want to achieve, who you want to reach, and determine which social media sites provide the biggest and best opportunity for your content.
Implement and execute. Execute with excellence. When you start actually executing your social media marketing plan, be sure that you are adopting best practices in the creation and management of your accounts. Don't just start posting - take some time to familiarize yourself with the audience and the social network to be sure that your postings make sense for the medium.
Track and measure. Tracking is vital to the long-term success of your social media marketing program. Not only will it help you prove ROI, but it will show you what is working and what isn't working. Be sure to spend time tracking your efforts and measuring your success so that you can justify the use of time/money/resources. This will help you determine what is and isn't working in your strategy.
Adjust. Refine your strategies and tactics based on what you learn. Social media is an art and science, so it is important to plan to track and adjust upfront. Test posting different types of content or posting your content in different ways. For example, do photos drive more interactions than text posts? Can you get better results posting a question vs. a comment? Successful social media efforts should constantly be improved and enhanced.
Wrapping It Up
The reality is that most businesses fail to plan for social media marketing because it is free and easy to get started. The problem is that success and business results are more difficult to achieve. Using this system will help you approach social media marketing strategically and build a real plan that gets results.
This column was originally published in SES Magazine, May 2011.