Ever heard the saying "Failing to plan is planning to fail?" That old but wise adage often rings true when it comes to social-media marketing. Creating a detailed, goal-oriented social-media strategy is just as important as having a rock solid business plan.
"If your social-media plan is to just wing it, your fans and potential customers are going to know," says Amy Porterfield, social media strategist and co-author of Facebook Marketing All-In-One for Dummies (Wiley, 2013). Worse, it could turn them off of your brand and on to your competitors.
To attract and engage social-media fans and followers -- and ideally convert them into customers -- you'll need to carefully map out a clear, effective social-media strategy. Here are some questions you should ask when building your company's social-marketing plan:
1. What should my company aim to achieve with social media?
That depends on the type of business you're in. You may want to use social media to gain exposure for your brand, to directly interact with your customers or to promote specific products and services.
"The first and most important step in creating your plan is to clearly identify your goals," says Lee Odden, chief executive of TopRank Online Marketing, a Minnesota-based, a digital marketing agency, and author of Optimize: How to Attract and Engage More Customers by Integrating SEO, Social Media, and Content Marketing (Wiley, 2012). "Next, understand your customers' goals, and then figure out how your social-media strategy will connect both."
Odden suggests that you first define how your social-media outreach marketing will provide value to your customers. Specifically, think about how you can use social media to solve your customers' problems.
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2. Who should set up and maintain my company's social media accounts?
If you're a small company with few employees, consider delegating the task to a staff member who has a good track record of implementing effective social-media campaigns. If you have a larger company, a qualified employee in the marketing department might be a good fit for the task. Businesses with larger budgets but not enough experience with social-media marketing could benefit from hiring a social-media marketing consultant or firm, says Odden.
3. Should my company have a presence on all of the popular social-media networks?
As a starting point, Odden advises that small businesses begin with a blog and a presence on just one social network, at least for the first few months. Which network? Find out what by surveying your customers about which platforms they use the most.
The more your company grows -- as well as your digital marketing budget -- the more social networks you can experiment with.
4. What are the best social networks for small businesses?
Whether your company is large or small, you can't go wrong with a Twitter account, Odden says. It's a platform that is easy to learn and use, and you can't beat the 140-character limit.
Odden also says Google+ is essential to be on, if only to boost your site's search engine optimization (SEO). If your company is mainly a B2B firm, you'll want to be on LinkedIn and Slideshare to reach influencers within your industry. For B2C companies, being on Facebook and Pinterest can be smart.
5. How often should I post new content on my social networks?
Porterfield advises posting on all of your social networks two to five times a day. Your followers visit social-media sites at different times of the day. "One post a day simply isn't enough because most of your fans won't see it simply due to timing," she says.
To reach more of your followers more often, stagger your posts consistently throughout the day.
6. What types of content should I post on which social platforms?
Certain types of content generally work better on certain social-media platforms, according to Odden. For example, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+ and Instagram are inherently visual, so striking, memorable images of your products, company events and perhaps behind-the-scenes snapshots of employees at work can be effective choices for those particular platforms. But text-only status updates on Facebook without an accompanying link also trend well, especially when asking questions.
On Twitter, aim for a good balance of tweeting about your company and retweeting others' content, including that of your business partners and industry influencers, according to Odden. LinkedIn is popular for sharing company news, productivity tips and thought leadership articles.
Odden recommends curating a diverse mix of content types (standout photos, short videos, useful links, helpful tips, thoughtful question, etc.) across your social-media platforms to keep things interesting and fresh. When you do, your followers will come back for more.
7. Should I use social media to provide customer service?
Social media is fast becoming the most common way for current and potential customers to interact with businesses. You can use Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and other platforms to instantly (and publicly, mind you) field and respond to customer questions, order status inquiries, and, yes, even complaints.
8. How can I convert social-media followers into customers?
Porterfield says there aren't any surefire tricks to earn fans' and followers' dollars, though some tactics seem to work better than others. For instance, Facebook ads can be an easy, inexpensive way to grow your fan base, increase engagement and collect sales leads. It's up to you to convert those sales leads.
Porterfield also suggests implementing a cross-platform contest that integrates several social channels, like Twitter, YouTube, Facebook and Pinterest. Sweepstakes that offer rewards that resonate with your target market can be effective in attracting potential customers. To drive consumers to your online store, for example, you might send a tweet that describes a contest on your Facebook Page with a link to the rules and entry form found within your online store.
9. How can I measure the success of my social-media marketing efforts?
It's important to continually track your social-media marketing metrics in order to gauge which tactics and types of posts work and which don't.
Some social platforms offer their own metrics. Facebook, for instance, gives Page administrators access to Page Insights data for free. These tell you how many people are interacting with your posts. You can use the data to better plan future posts and decide on the most effective ways to connect with your fans and followers. LinkedIn provides similar analytics for company pages.
Use Google Analytics to see how effective your social-media campaigns are at driving traffic to your main website or online store. If you see Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or other social platforms you're active on listed as top referrers to your site, your social-media efforts are not for naught.
10. What is the biggest mistake to avoid?
Ironically, the answer here is not having a social-media plan. So, have one and stick to it. "Social media is constantly changing, so you need to be ready to change and adapt all the time as well," Porterfield says. Constantly evaluate and refine your social strategy. Doing this on a monthly basis can help you identify which tactics are working and which ones to ditch.