Strategic social media in three straightforward steps

If your brand doesn’t have a social media strategy then be prepared to fall behind. According to Buffer, almost half of businesses now have one. As this number grows, you can expect social media marketing to become more innovative and competitive. However, if your brand is new to social media – or you have some channels but no direction for what you’re posting – you may find it hard to dive straight into a full strategy. Especially if you don’t have the expertise to deliver one or the expense to outsource it.

A strategic social media plan can help you to get started – give you an idea of what’s working for your business and what’s not. The framework below is simple but effective. Once you’ve read this, there’ll be no excuse for a social feed littered with irrelevant posts and achieving a rock-bottom engagement rate.

1. Know what to say

Launching a social media channel or new campaign without first doing your research is much like entering a dark cave with no supplies and no idea of what awaits you. You don’t know what’s in there and when you encounter whatever is lurking in there, you are entirely unprepared to manage the situation. So, to avoid fumbling in the dark, research what your social media audience will enjoy and expect.

A screenshot of Google Analytics showing useful insights
Use your site analytics to understand your audience

Data is your friend

Whether it’s data from your website or keyword research, if you’re a digital brand, you should have data that tells you who is most interested in your products and website. Tools like Google Analytics and Google Search Console invaluable for determining how people reach your site organically. Use this insight to develop ideas for post content. For example, if everyone is reaching your site via brand search, use this high level of awareness to your advantage and keep your posts heavily branded.

Research the competition

One of the best ways to prepare for your new channels is to research your competitors that are already established on social. What have they posted that resonates with the audience? Look for what has the most likes and the best engagement rate (number of engagements/followers). If all your competitors are posting behind-the-scenes snapshots from the office or factory and they are getting a reaction, then take the hint. You need to not only match but improve upon your competitors’ output to make an impact – do the research and define what works.

Understand trends

You can also use a tool like Buzzsumo or ahrefs.com to discover what content within your industry gets the most shares. Is it all news items, in-depth opinion pieces or listicles? You can use this insight to inform your post content and focus on the topics that most interest your target audience.

A screenshot of ahrefs.com
A quick look at the ‘castles’ in ahrefs.com shows that listicles based on a location and featuring the words ‘most’ are popular

This is great practice for established brands too. While innovation is important, the creative idea needs to come from an understanding of who you are reaching and why. Without this, you may as well print off a list of “100 best social media post ideas” and pick them out of a hat each day.

Nine square images of castles
Research the images your audience will expect for your topic area

On the platforms themselves, hashtags are a great opportunity to dive into the topics within your topic area. For example, a quick delve into #castles on Instagram tells us that the audience will be expecting aerial views, high-quality interior shots and posed occasion photos (weddings, for example). Hashtags tell you the type of content that your audience expects. And before you get too far ahead with brainstorming creative social campaigns, it’s essential to understand these basics.

2. Know why you’re saying it

It’s no secret that social media is an incredibly powerful – your audience is sitting there, incredibly engaged and waiting for new content to appear in their feed. And yet a mistake that many brands make is creating an account and posting content without any consideration to the purpose. The result is a mish-mash of posts that will only serve to confuse and potentially alienate your audience. Without defining your objectives, you have no hope of being strategic.

Social media objectives

Below are a few examples of objectives for social media.

  • Drive referral traffic. This is often why brands get started on social media. It’s a great channel for content promotion.
  • Increase customer retention. Once you’ve converted someone, social is a helpful way to remind them that you care and reinforce the brand values that may have caused them to convert initially.
  • Become an industry thought leader. Want to stand out in your industry? Then social media can help to amplify this. You can comment on trending topics, share posts from high-authority sites and engage with influencers.
  • Engage with your audience. This broad objective is incredibly relevant for social media activity. Increasing the touchpoints in your brand-consumer relationship helps to move prospects through the sales funnel.
  • Increase brand awareness. If you’re not utilising your social channels effectively then you’re missing an opportunity to get your brand in front of fresh eyes.

Find the right mix

The great thing about social media is that you can curate a feed with multiple purposes and boost this to the audience that will engage most. You can push people to click through to your site with one post and to leave a comment on the next. It is this mix of objectives that will make your content feel natural and engaging.

Screenshot from Twitter feed showing different post objectives

Screenshot from Twitter feed showing different post objectives
Slack’s Twitter feed shows multiple objectives: drive traffic, thought leader for the modern office, increase product usage

If the only purpose of your posts is to get people to go to your website then social media, at least not organic social media, is not the best option. There’s nothing wrong with asking people to click through to your site, but don’t rely on social media alone. Even for brands that advertise on social media, click-through rates are dropping. Users don’t necessarily a different site to get in the way of their social media experience.

“Despite the increased spending and impressions, there has been a drop of clicks by 23% in social advertising over the last year [Q1 2018 to Q1 2019]. A similar drop has been observed in the click-through rates for social advertising falling by 37% YoY.” Clickz.com

People spend time on social media channels to be social. If you had a friend over for dinner who only talked about themselves then you’d unlikely be inviting them back. And if you only talk about your brand and website on your social channel then don’t be surprised when no one sticks around.

3. Know how to say it

Most social media feeds, whether brands or individuals comprise four types of post. Having a mix of these in your output will keep your channel fresh and engaging.

Content promotion

Many brands know it’s important to create on-site content, but don’t consider how they will disseminate it. This is where social media tends to pop up. These posts not only helps to drive traffic, but targeting options for boosted posts means that you can ensure your content gets in front of the right people. It is a great tactic for filling the top of your sales funnel.

The downside of content promotion posts is that they can tire the audience if it is all they are seeing or you fall into the trap of click-bait posts. For content promotion, show some of the value in your post to give people a reason to click through.

Curated posts

Curated posts are content created by other brands or individuals. Sharing others’ content with your audience is an opportunity to show your followers the values that your business has without being explicit.

By adding a comment to the content that you’re sharing, you can also position yourself or your brand as a thought leader. Instead of ‘here is some content because we needed to post today’, you are saying ‘here is some content that we have taken the time to consider and share with you because we know what you are interested in and why you’d appreciate seeing this’.

Social only

Social only is content that has been specifically created for social media and does not link elsewhere. This might be an image or video, a poll or a copy-only message. Consider why you started using social media – it’s where your audience is, in a ready-made community just waiting to connect. They aren’t there hoping that you’ll share some exciting new content today. They are there to connect.

Even if your core objective is driving referrals, improving engagement on your feed is a foundation of community management. If you’re not connecting with your audience, why are you operating in an audience-owned space?

Customer service

For B2C brands, social media is where marketing meets customer service. You not only need to know what your audience wants to read or watch, but you also need to anticipate their needs and concerns. What are the barriers to conversion and/or retention for your consumers? You’re likely considering these aspects on your website, but what about your social media channels? Make sure you include proactive customer service where appropriate. For example, “We’re experiencing an issue with our website at the moment but you can still make your order by giving us a call.”

You must also be sure to respond reactively to customer service issues. It may sound dramatic, but your brand reputation is at risk. Conversations about a poor experience with your brand will happen whether you’re a part of it or not. If your brand stays silent, another brand will surely swoop in to steal your customers.

A word of warning

Reactive customer service needs a highly considered approach as there’s a real risk of your message backfiring. Ultimately, the social media space is owned by the users – you’re in their territory and they will remind you of this. EasyJet recently found this out the hard way by asking someone to delete a damning picture.

Screenshots from EasyJet's Twitter feed
The response that would have eased the situation is lost deep in a vitriolic thread triggered by an initial badly considered reply

Conclusion: what, why, how

Knowing what, why and how to post should be your main considerations before diving into any social media marketing activity. They also offer a great starting point for measuring success: how do your posts compare to your competitors? Is your new strategy improving engagement rates? Is social media assisting conversions?

For many brands, social media is an add-on – something you should be ‘seen to be doing’ – rather than a strategic platform for achieving your brand objectives. But as you can see from this simple three-step guide, you can make an impact on social media. You just need to do your homework first.

Helen Brooks

About Helen Brooks

Helen Brooks is a content marketer at Further Digital Marketing in Norwich. She has an aptitude for strategic planning and a passion for all things creative. She specialises in content marketing, social media, PR and production management.