For any business, the fundamental goal of a marketing strategy is pretty simple: gain as much exposure to as wide an audience as possible. From the pioneering Mad Men of the early 1960s to the digital marketing gurus of the modern day, this principle hasn’t changed; the technology, though, has.
Whether you’ve just set up your first business or you’ve been established and profitable for a long time, it doesn’t matter: there is no bigger platform on which to reach potential customers than social media. Indeed, there are an estimated 2.5 billion users registered on various platforms across the world, while the nature of how social media operates means it’s far easier to spread your word than on any other medium.
Luckily, you don’t have to employ the costly services of a professional marketing agency to create an effective strategy, either. If you follow the steps in this guide, you will have all the basic knowledge you need to ensure your social media marketing (SMM) plan sees a return.
So, if you want to start getting your brand out there on the likes of Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, then pay attention: this is where to start…
1. Establish Your Goals
Before you do anything, it’s first necessary to sit down and establish what exactly would constitute a success for your social media campaigns. Are you looking to directly engage leads and boost sales? Are you looking to promote your brand identity? Or are you just looking to generate some social proof? Whatever your aims are, it’s important to document them and gear your subsequent approach to meeting those targets.
Be realistic, too. If your business is just starting out, then attempting to gain 1 million followers on Instagram in your first year is not a viable goal. If you’re unsure of where you should be aiming, you can be flexible and alter your objectives based on your performance. If you’re looking to gain 50 followers by the end of your first month but surpass that target fairly quickly, meanwhile, then why not raise your expectations and try to hit 100 next month?
2. Allocate Your Resources
Meeting your social media goals will be a lot easier if you are able to allocate time and money to your efforts but remember that you will still need to pay attention to the other costs and distractions involved in running a business. Striking an optimal balance is key.
When it comes to budgeting, have a target investment return (ROI) in mind and try to base your financial decisions around this. Take into account not just the advertising costs, but also your labour outlay (who’s going to produce your content, after all?) as well as any outsourcing costs (if you choose to produce professional marketing videos, for example).
Consider the amount of time you will dedicate to your social media efforts, as well. If you – or your employees – are going to be spending a disproportionate amount of time managing campaigns and creating/curating content, then you might consider hiring a social media manager or strategist dedicated to running your channels.
Be wary, though, as this means something will then have to give in your budget. Decide early on what kind of return you want, and what you’re prepared to pay for it.
3. Know (and Reach) Your Audience
Although it may be tempting to set up accounts on every single social media platform in existence, it will actually work more in your favour if you are carefully selective about where you want to be seen. Each of the big hitters, such as Twitter, Instagram and Pinterest, possess different demographics, and it’s important to ensure that you are on the right platforms for your business.
For example, if you run a clothing business for young women, then you’re far more likely to attract sales on Instagram (a visual-based medium that has a high percentage of female users between the ages of 18-29), than, say, LinkedIn or Google+. These statistics are freely available online, so do your research and identify which platforms are best suited to your goals and your audience.
To make your life easier, consider using a dashboard tool, too. A good one will break your data and metrics down, and let you see who exactly is engaging with you and where. This, in turn, allows you to identify where you should focus your efforts next.
Don’t forget the power of hashtags and keywords, either. Correctly tagging your posts can increase your brand exposure massively and introduce you to a whole new wave of potential customers. There are numerous tracking resources available online that can give you an idea of what’s trending, so make the most of them.
4. Use Content Wisely
It’s something of a cliché across SMM blogs but it is true: your entire strategy will live or die based on the quality and delivery of your content. Therefore, you should focus on offering your followers something meaningful, original and unique – not just bombarding them with one promotion after another every day.
Try to engage your followers and get them involved in the process as much as possible; for example, many large companies are now becoming increasingly conversational with customers on their Twitter feeds, as well as with other competitors.
While your social media output is still representative of your overall business, this is the beauty of SMM: it allows you to be more playful and creative, and to try things that wouldn’t perhaps work in a more traditional advertising campaign. It also allows you to be more reactive and capitalize on contemporary public feelings or topical issues, giving you a wealth of ways in which to engage an audience.
Also, try to mix your content up, but always ensure that it’s of a high standard first. If you’re going to publish a video, for example, hire professionals to film and edit it; if you want to create an infographic, seek the services of a designer to make sure it’s sleek and shiny.
Don’t cut corners when you upload, either; before you hit that ‘Publish’ button, make sure that:
- videos are uploaded in high definition
- images are uploaded in high resolution and, where possible, not compressed
- the text is grammatically correct with no spelling errors (there are countless free tools online that will perform this task for you, so there is no excuse) – if you’re not a confident writer, then consider hiring one.
Nothing will compromise your credibility quite as quickly as a poorly shot, badly rendered video or a basic, grainy image that looks like it was constructed in Microsoft Paint. Always remember that if your promotional content is of such a poor standard, then what might that suggest about the quality of your products?
5. Pay Attention to Your Competitors
One of the fundamental concepts of marketing, in general, is that you know who your competitors are – try and identify yours early on. Be clear on the definition of your competitors, too. If you are selling handmade soaps, then a huge multinational corporation like Dove is not a direct competitor, even though they are selling the same thing; you should be paying attention to small, independent sellers that are of a similar size to you.
Once you’ve created a list of who you’re up against, it’s also a good idea to keep an eye on what they’re doing. This means monitoring the kind of content they produce and the effect it’s having (particularly if it’s performing strongly), as well as using analytical resources to quantify the kind of impact their campaigns are having on social media in general.
Of course, you shouldn’t then simply try to imitate their approach, but you should definitely try to learn from them. After all, you can guarantee that your competitors will be doing the same to you. Keeping abreast of what is going on in your industry isn’t lazy or unoriginal – it’s a sensible and important way of making sure your SMM approach doesn’t become redundant.
On that note, don’t be afraid to draw inspiration from industry leaders and large corporations, either – even if they are operating in completely different sectors. Most of these organisations are backed by dedicated teams of social media experts, so the potential for learning – and keeping your finger on the pulse – is huge.
6. Post Frequently and at the Right Times
Currently, there is no set formula for how often you should post on your social media feeds, with many experts offering varying interpretations. It’s generally accepted that you should try to post at least once a day, but quality is always more important than quantity – a constant bombardment of posts will quickly become annoying for your followers, anyway.
Ultimately, it’s about finding out what works best for you which, unfortunately, means there may be some trial and error involved. Once you hit a sweet spot, though, target it. If you find you get a lot more engagement posting in the afternoon than in the morning, then it’s clear where you should focus your schedule.
Creating a publication calendar will help with this. There a wide range of social media management tools available that automatically post content at a pre-determined date and time. This is particularly handy if you’re getting a lot of engagement from locations in a different time zone. You want everything you post to achieve maximum exposure, so it’s worth investing in a good management resource.
7. Learn and Repeat
As with advertising in general, SMM is about constantly learning what works and what doesn’t and switching your focus to maximising what does. The difference with digital platforms is that through the use of analytics tools, you can observe and quantify this process in real time, allowing you to tweak things and make changes as necessary.
Pay attention to all the key metrics, such as the demographics of your followers, their location, the times and days that they engage, as well as the way in which your content is received. If you’re getting more success when you post videos, for instance, then try to focus more on creating and publishing audiovisual content in the future.
When you know what’s working for you, you can then repeat the process. Reassess your original goals and determine whether they are still realistic or if you need to raise the bar. If your sales have increased as a result of your efforts, then consider scaling and increasing your budget. Your SMM strategy should be thought of as a cycle that you regularly revise depending on performance, so constantly evaluate and assess the value of each stage - otherwise, you will stagnate and get left behind.
Remember: social media is only one aspect of your digital marketing plan and, even then, this is only one part of your overall advertising strategy; you shouldn’t spend all your time and resources on it. However, if you follow these steps, learn as much as you can and get your campaigns right, it can provide a massive ROI – and for a relatively small cost.
Do you have any other SMM tips or techniques? Let us know in the comments below!