social media strategy beginners

Social Media Strategy: A 3 Step Guide To Starting Again

“We tried Facebook, but it didn’t work for us”

This post is written for business owners and organisations that have explored social media marketing but been disappointed with the results.

It’s also for those that that are just beginning to look at social media marketing.

And perhaps it is some use to those thinking about extending their activities beyond the staples of Facebook and Twitter to less charted platforms like Snapchat, Instagram or Vine.

It’s about the questions you should ask yourself before investing time in a social platform.

“What’s our Twitter strategy, guys?”

About the word ‘strategy’.

You know that your strategy is your overarching plan to reach a goal. Whereas the series of actions you take to get to that goal are your tactics.

Often people mix the two terms up.

exampleStrategy v Tactics: Example

Your goal is to kill the dragon; your chosen strategy is to entice the dragon towards your castle and capture it before slaying; chosen tactics you will use include laying bait at the castle gates, verbal provocation and deep hole trap-building.

A lot of social media marketing advice centres on tactics, yet is mislabelled. Numerous business articles called things like ‘10 strategies for growing a huge Twitter following’ actually list tactics for Twitter audience growth.

But strategy rarely needs its plural version – there is usually only one strategy, the one you’ve decided is best to reach your goal.

Thinking tactically before you have thought strategically is hazardous. If you couldn’t get the results you hoped for from social media marketing before, it may be because you dived in with tactics before thinking of strategy.

Before considering all the neat ways an audience can be grown on Twitter, for example, businesses should be clear why they are even on Twitter in the first place.

And how everything they do on Twitter relates to their goal.

An excellent introductory book about business strategy is Richard Rumelt’s Good Strategy/Bad Strategy.

Which social media platform is best for you?

An immediate problem for many approaching social media marketing is knowing where to focus and how much to focus.

Because although it would be ideal to get immersed in lots of different platforms, learn their different mechanics and culture, experiment with different posts and generally stage your own observational study that would greatly inform your direction, the reality is few people have time to do that.

Most want to know where they should invest their limited time for maximum return.

A quick answer could be: go where your audience is.

Looking to reach corporate recruiters? You’ll certainly find them on LinkedIn. Technology journalists? Twitter’s a good place. Mums and dads of newborn children living within 20 miles of Swindon? Facebook can help you with that.

But there are vital factors to consider before you plunge in.

1 What are your marketing aims?

You need be clear in your mind about what you need to achieve.

If you are marketing a software product, your aim may be to drive traffic to a website: a website which is very well optimised to sell that product, with effective conversion measures in place to turn visitors into customers.

If you work for a kidney disease charity your aim may be to raise awareness about prevention and you may be less worried about website traffic but more interested in the numbers you are reaching with your messages.

Here are some other aims you may have:

  • To increase brand awareness
  • To make direct sales
  • To manage customer relationships (CRM)
  • To conduct market research
  • To educate
  • To keep customers informed
  • For internal communications
  • To create publicity

All these aims are achievable using social media. Many brands and businesses already use social media for these things – why not Google some case studies for ideas?

It’s probable that the less aims you have, the better chance of success you have, because you will be able to be focussed.

2 It’s not all about you

Now you have considered what you want to achieve, consider what value you are offering others.

Those who have failed at social media marketing often didn’t consider the ‘social’ in social media.

They didn’t consider that, whether it’s discussion in the comments of a YouTube video or answers to someone’s question on Quora, the nature of what they are involved in is a social gathering (digitally-hosted).

And just like a ‘real-life’ social gathering, most of the same norms, values and patterns of behaviour that shape the dynamics of what takes place also apply in social media.

So if you try to shut someone down or make tasteless jokes or behave unethically, you’ll experience negativity. If you are hilarious or inspiring or buying all the drinks, you’ll experience positivity.

Thinking of social media as a party, what are you bringing to it?

  • Are you entertaining?
  • Are you interesting?
  • Do you have impressive skills?
  • Are you knowledgeable?
  • Are you available when needed?
  • Have you got free stuff to give away or can you save others money?
  • Are you a leader?
  • Can you be transparent and honest about your views?
  • Do you have money to invest?

The person handing out snacks, the colourful raconteur and the engaged listener are all popular at the party. They are offering value.

The wallflower, the arrogant bore and the pushy seller do not succeed in this environment.

So, are you prepared to give? And do you have something people like and want?

If you aren’t prepared to be valuable, social media marketing won’t work for you.

It’s probable that the more value you can offer, the more successful you will be because you will appeal to a greater audience in a variety of ways.

3 How suitable is the platform to your aims and value?

Now you have considered your aims and your value you can examine different social media platforms – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest etc – and decide how well they align with both.

Before using a social platform for marketing, you need to know that it can deliver on your aims and be receptive to your value.

Again, Google is your friend. Research a potential platform and your aims (eg ‘Pinterest + ‘publicity campaign’) to find evidence that the platform can do what you need it to do.

exampleSuitable platform example

If your aim is to drive traffic to your website (where you profit from advertising) and your value is that you publish daily entertaining content on your website, then Facebook is likely to be a suitable social media platform for you. Because Facebook provides you with the chance to drive traffic through appearing in users’ newsfeed and because many Facebook users are receptive to new entertaining content. See this recent piece from Moz on Facebook as a traffic driver.

In contrast, with these aims and value, the photo-sharing app Instagram would be a less suitable choice. Because Instagram offers very little opportunity to drive traffic outside of its app to your website.

exampleUnsuitable platform example

If your aim is to keep customers informed and your value is you have lots of updates, but you do not have the resources to produce quality daily videos, then YouTube would be an unsuitable social media platform for you. Because unlike Facebook and Twitter, most users do not ‘check in’ regularly to their YouTube account to see what’s new. Instead they go to YouTube to search for something, follow a particular YouTuber or get pulled to YouTube virally. YouTube is a platform where people producing quality videos on a regular basis are succeeding.

In contrast, with these aims and value, Twitter would be a more suitable choice. Because people do go to Twitter to catch up on news and updates. Customers are receptive to new information through Twitter. Here’s another article from Moz on Twitter best practices, with brand case studies.

Platform check: is your audience actually there?

So once you’ve identified a platform receptive to the value you’re offering and with the mechanics that will help achieve your aims, there’s a final check to do: Does your target audience use the platform?

This may require some investigation. In the case of Facebook, it’s easy to get a precise answer. Use their advertising tool to enter the age, interests, gender, location and more of your target group, and receive an estimate on the numbers you can reach through Facebook.

Twitter, too, now has a self-service dashboard with demographic data and there are smart tools like FollowerWonk that, for example, allow you to search Twitter bios for keywords.

On LinkedIn, which also has an ad dashboard, you could explore Groups and see how many members they have.

On YouTube you could examine the number of views and engagement achieved on videos or channels that relate to your business, as well as dig into the stats offered through its advertiser tools.

Your ability to decide whether a platform has your audience in worthwhile size will depend on the type of target audience you have in mind, from a subject-related audience (eg dog lovers, Formula 1 enthusiasts, cross-stitchers) to a demographic one (eg 16-24 year-olds in the USA from low income backgrounds), as well as the particular platform you are evaluating.

Summary: key things to remember

  • What are my aims?
  • What value am I offering?
  • Does this platform support my aims?
  • Can this platform make the most of my value?
  • Is my audience here and do they want what I’m offering?
  • Always be asking: is what I am doing here helping me with my aims?

Photo credits
Header photo: Kaboom; Icons: Marco Silva

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