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November 21, 2014

Ultimate Guide to a Successful Social Media Marketing Plan

Companies are finally catching on that social media platforms present one of the greatest tools of all time for marketing their products and services. In fact, studies have shown that 80 percent of small businesses already active on social media planned to increase or maintain their social media advertising budget this year. This comes as no surprise to most because social networking offers a revolutionary means for connecting companies with loyal customers, potential sales leads, business partners, and new recruits. There is no doubt that social media marketing is useful for augmenting traditional marketing campaigns, improving SEO efforts, and staying a step ahead of competition.

However, before jumping into the sea of social media, it is essential that businesses do some planning and establish guidelines for integrating this form of marketing into their daily routines. Many companies of all shapes and sizes continue to struggle with social media and don’t know how to get started on developing a solid marketing strategy. Luckily, below we have included a simple step-by-step guide on the best practices for creating a social media marketing plan to harness the power of social networking and boost your company’s online presence.

1. Establish Clear Business Benchmarks

Your business will never be able to reach success without knowing its aim, so the first step toward building a solid social media marketing strategy is to establish clear goals and objectives. Rather than focusing on increasing your follower count or getting more likes, it is important to form long-term business goals that you wish to gain from social media activities. Many businesses strive to increase sales, acquire new customers, retain old customers, improve brand recognition, reduce marketing costs, streamline customer service, and so on.

When forming your social media objectives, it is important to choose goals that are specific, measurable, achievable, realistic, and timed, or SMART. Gaining 100 percent customer satisfaction is likely not plausible for any company, so make sure you create goals that are realistically attainable within your established time-frame to avoid disappointment. Also, be certain that every member of your company can agree what success will look like when you meet these goals to ensure progress is tracked properly.

2. Determine How to Measure Efforts

Now that you have outlined each objective, the next step is to determine how each will be quantified and measured. Since the halfway mark is never the right time to start wondering if you can cross the finish line, it is important to start establishing your measurements immediately after creating your goals. Some metrics that could be used include number of content views, volume of user comments, peer-sharing statistics, third-party mentions, click-through rates, and quantity of new qualified leads. It is suggested that you use Google Analytics to start tracking your social media profiles and measuring how influential your online presence is becoming.

Then, begin to translate these metrics into information that will impact the finances of your business, or you will waste time calculating statistics that will have no value to your company long-term. For example, if your business is trying to lower customer service results, a great metric could be the number of incidents resolved on social media. New revenue, saved resources, and overall financial return on investment are key performance indicators that you should keep track of when monitoring how social media is improving your bottom line.

3. Get to Know Your Targeted Audience

Regardless of the chosen goals for your social media marketing plan, your business has an audience that should be targeted in your efforts. In order to plan an effective strategy, you need to have a clear picture in mind of your ideal customer profiles. If businesses are suffering from low customer engagement on their social networking accounts, it is typically because they are not targeting the right buyers in the right places. When you get to know your audience’s ages, occupations, income levels, hobbies, problems, obstacles, likes and motivations, it becomes easier to target them on any media platform.

Once you are armed with this critical data, you will be able to match your marketing strategies with the social media networks where your audience is spending the largest chunk of their Internet time. For instance, if you are targeting women between the ages of 18 and 29, Facebook will likely be your primary network of focus. However, if your business seeks predominantly professionals with graduate-level education, start networking on LinkedIn. The more specific that you are on your ideal customer, the more conversions you will reap.

4. Appoint a Social Media Marketing Team
Even the most genius marketing plan will fall flat on its face without having a strong team of professionals to back it up. While this is an easy step if you already have social media personnel in your company, it will require a bit of thought for those who do not. After appointing the right marketers and representatives with the right skills, you must assign relevant, on-going responsibilities to fill their daily routine. Make sure that everyone on the team is aware of who will be accountable for creating content, posting updates, linking to outside content, engaging with customers, monitoring conversations, analyzing data and connecting with partners.

In smaller organizations, it is possible to have a full-time social media team of one, but it is typically recommended that the responsibilities are divided equally among several staff members. Larger businesses involved in multiple social media activities often will establish an entire social media department to create a “think tank” environment for building solid marketing strategies. Appointing a chief content officer can also be valuable for having someone to oversee the activities of the social media team and ensure the group stays on track.

5. Create an Unbreakable Content Strategy
Finding success with social media marketing will require much more than just throwing out a few updates and tweets willy-nilly each week. Without cranking out great content, your social media profiles will be virtually meaningless and not convert prospects into sales. Therefore, it is crucial that you create an unbreakable content strategy that will allow you to produce posts that offer value and insight into your services without over-selling. All content should fit with your company’s voice, social media platform trends, and your targeted audience’s interests. Based on these criteria, you can determine whether it is best to post funny photos, serious text, educational infographics, or engaging videos.

When starting out, it is traditionally suggested that you focus on providing information to solve potential customers’ problems, rather than dwelling on your own products. From there, you can test different content strategies and figure out the best approach that gets a rise out of your targeted audience. Since you do not annoy your leads by continually popping up on their newsfeed, be sure you also find the perfect post frequencies by determining which time of day your followers are most online and engaging in your content.

6. Research Your Competitors
Competitive analysis is a key component of nearly every marketing strategy, including social media, because it allows you to compare how your profiles stack up. Not only will researching your competitors keep you aware of their online activities, but it will also provide a good idea on what is working for them so that you can integrate these winning tactics into your company’s social media marketing plan. Once you tap into their strengths and generating your own discussions, your business will start carving out your niche in the social media stratosphere.

During your research, you should focus on analyzing the social networking profiles and content strategies of three to five of your main competitors. Then, take a look at how many fans or followers they have, how often they post new content, and when they are most active. Pay close attention to the kinds of content they are positing and the response they are receiving from the targeted audience. Calculating how engaged your competitors are with their followers based on their number of likes, comments, and shares can also be a great way to sniff out competition.

7. Engage Your Audience
One of the best things about social media is that it creates a public arena for customers to post their opinions, vent their frustration, share their joys, and complain about their challenges. Since social networking is literally built around the concept of engagement, it is essential that businesses provide continuous input in interacting with their customers. Social media is about much more than just publishing content, so don’t be afraid to ask some questions and stick around to acknowledge the responses. When handled appropriately, social media platforms can provide a great relationship-building machine for boosting customer loyalty and credibility.

How your business responds to public complaints can also play a big role in how your social media profiles will withstand long-term. Whenever negative comments find their way to your profile, your first reaction may be to delete them, but this will insight a negative perception on your company and send the message that you are hiding the truth. Therefore, it is suggested that you kindly respond to every complaint to acknowledge the customer’s frustration, obtain a better understanding of the problem, and effectively resolve the issue. Rather than engaging in a disparaging war in cyberspace, extend the olive branch and emphasize to your followers that you are taking steps to correct the problem quickly.

Overall, creating a social media marketing plan does not mean that your strategies are set in stone and cannot evolve over time. As you move forward and your business grows, you will likely discover that some tactics could use improvement and new changes should be introduced. But, now that you have established a clear social media plan, your company will have the tools needed to keep moving ahead and making the most from your profiles.


Shane Barker is a digital marketing consultant that specializes in sales funnels, targeted traffic and website conversions. He has consulted with Fortune 500 companies, Influencers with digital products, and a number of A-List celebrities.