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How to build a social media marketing strategy

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13th Nov 2014
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It wasn’t so long ago that activities executed over social media were of a purely tactical nature, conducted independently of other marketing activity and with little attempt to monitor and measure performance.

However, social media has matured at such a rate that the inherent dangers and inadequacies of this approach are now well-documented.

Still, as with any business discipline, there are leaders and laggards, and recent research by C4B indicates that around a fifth of organisations remain without a social media strategy.

So it’s worth quickly recapping why a strategic approach to social media marketing is so important.

“There are now such a vast number of platforms and opportunities available for brands to use and communicate with their customers via social media that it is far too risky to jump in without some sort of strategic plan in place,” warns Andy Headington, CEO with Adido. “A strategy will provide you with the guidance you need to help your company make better decisions and improve performance on its social platforms.

“Planning is integral to any marketing activity, so social media shouldn’t be treated any differently. By having a strategy in place it encourages brands to plan for the future giving more longevity to the campaign ideas that they may have. Whilst this helps creativity it also ensures the end goal remains at the forefront of all campaigns.”

Furthermore, a strategic approach to social media enables organisations to view it in the context of the broader marketing strategy, and indeed the wider organisation as a whole – something that still doesn’t happen as often as it should.

Alexei Lee, head of social and promotion at Strategy Digital, notes: “Too often social media activity is managed and conducted in a silo by businesses without thought on how it impacts and benefits other marketing activity, when in fact it is the glue that binds other marketing efforts together by driving purchase intent and building brand affinity. Or worse, it is an after-thought, simply ‘bolted-on’ to an existing marketing strategy (and usually with a lack of budget consideration).

“Social media should be given just as much air time as other marketing activities and should be an integrated part of your overall marketing strategy if the business is to generate (and measure) true value from online engagement.”

Laying the foundations

With social media evolving at a rapid rate of knots, even those that have had a robust strategy in place for some time are recommended to regularly revisit and update their plans. So whether your organisation is building a strategy for the first time, or looking to overhaul an existing framework, where should the process begin?

Before a strategy can be drawn up, it is important to do the necessary preparation and research. First of all, have clarity about what your goal is.

“Think about what social’s role is for your business and what you want it to achieve; is it to encourage more clicks to a website, product sales or downloads of a whitepaper? No matter what your objective is, make sure you define it in order to understand how you are going to achieve it,” advises Headington.

“The social sphere is so saturated with business profiles it is becoming increasingly difficult for brands to gain the attention of the social users and stand out. One solution is to benchmark against competitors, this can either be in your industry, sector or even country. By looking at what others are doing via social media you will have a better understanding of the social landscape and what works or doesn’t. This information can then be utilised to form the backbone of your strategy moving forward.”

Lee adds: “When developing a social media strategy you must ensure it is built based on the businesses core business and marketing objectives. How can social media help you achieve these objectives? Does it even play a part? Usually the answer is yes, but not always!”

Next, it is important to research and understand the audiences you want to engage with – which aren’t necessarily just your customers, as this could also include influencers and peers as well. What topics and interests are they most interested in on social platforms, and what problems are they trying to solve on them?

Lee suggests asking yourself the following questions:

  • “Who is my target audience?” (Both those who will buy your products and those who will engage and help advocate the brand)
  • “Where do they ‘live’ online?” (Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn etc.)
  • “How do they use social media? (To keep in touch with friends, read the latest insight on a topic, or do they use it for product research?)
  • “What content do they engage with?  What are they sharing, talking about, liking?”

Then you should ask yourself where this audience is – as Headington notes: “There is no point creating a strategy for a social channel where your audience are dormant.”

Are Facebook and Twitter the platforms of choice? Or are Instagram and Pinterest more popular? You need to know where your audience is.

“It is important to note that this shouldn’t just be completed when you first embark upon social marketing, but instead it should be a point you continually reassess,” recommends Headington. “As new social platforms are always popping up, and audience demographics of existing channels are constantly changing.”

The final piece of preparation is to ensure you have executive buy-in, specifically in terms of a satisfactory budget.

“Though social media budgets are projected to double in the next five years, many social media marketers still report feeling underfunded,” says Mairead Ridge, senior marketing manager at Offerpop.  So how can you convince your CMO to invest in social?

“Learn the native tongue of your c-suite executives,” advises Ridge. “Communicate the value of your efforts of the language of executives. Your direct manager might response to metrics like retweets, reach, and engagement, but that doesn’t resonate as well with executives outside of your department. Share how social plays a part in traditional goals like business development, sales leads, strategic partnerships, brand recognition and corporate culture. Learn to use their terms and address their objectives, and soon you will be launching your dream campaigns.

“The key to getting executive buy-in to social media? Deliver them concrete performance reports and digestible proposals. Help your executive team see that investing in social makes an impact across the business, and watch them get excited for your plans and projects.”

Building and executing the strategy

Once you’ve put all of these pieces in place, you can then start to build and execute a strategy. The standard social media marketing strategy should incorporate the following:

1. Outline the objectives and the social media channels to be used.

As mentioned above, these are the basics that need to be baked into the strategy from the outset. “Consider setting specific goals that have measurable parameters to help prove how you are contributing/achieving your business objectives via this marketing channel,” adds Headington. “This will not only show the importance of the work you are doing but could also help further down the line for buy in for additional activity.”

2. Create a measurement framework to ensure you have the correct metrics and tools to measure success.

The measurements should be based on the objectives already outlined. What are your key performance indicators and what does success look like in quantifiable terms?

“Make sure that you have a firm grasp of the objectives for each campaign, how you’re going to measure achievement against these objectives and that everyone in the business is agreed and signed up to them,” says Martin Dinham, director at Barracuda Digital. “The key to this is developing objectives that relate to real business goals, I think most people have moved on from "social specific" KPI's such as likes, shares, etc. and are now increasingly looking at how social related to overall business goals. So, developing real engagement metrics is important, having attribution that enables you to truly understand the contribution of social channels is important and businesses need to focus on these as opposed to the ‘traditional’ social metrics.”

“Measurement is integral to any social media strategy, and often it can be difficult as well as confusing to decide upon what should be measured,” adds Headington. “Unfortunately for social media activity there is no silver bullet on what to measure, rather metrics are specific to the campaign you are conducting. By setting metrics to measure at the onset it can help iron out any future issues – but remember goals do change. Ensure what you measure evolves and changes alongside your activities.”

3. Establish a content strategy (incorporating topics, themes and formats), and how this integrates with other marketing activity. 

Although fun content can be extremely engaging and help businesses gain traction – don’t just endlessly post pictures of cats saying funny things, there has to be method behind the madness!

“Content is an extremely important consideration, and one that should not be overlooked lightly,” says Headington. “Once you understand who you are targeting and where you are going to be active, you can now start to research what content would be of use and interest to your target audience.”

4. Clearly define roles and responsibilities.

This should ensure that your team (both internal and external) understand who will be doing what and where ownership lies.

5. Agree on general social guidelines and governance.

For instance, a tone of voice for the brand’s social media presence should be agreed upon, so messaging and content reflects the brand’s online personality and is consistent with your target audience.  

“Guidelines are an important element as it ensures that you remain honest to who you are on your social profile no matter who is looking after the posting activity,” says Headington. “It allows you to define your business values, tone of voice and message style ensuring consistency and protecting the brand image across the board.”

Final advice

Lee has the following final advice for those building a strategy: “Quite often business fall into the trap of not dedicating enough time to social media and as a result, focusing most of their resource on the planning and posting of content. It is the ‘engagement’ part of your social media activity that will produce the results, so there should be a good level of time factored in to managing this (also taking into account potential ‘spikes’).

“It is vital not to underestimate the resource needed to execute the strategy, whether through internal resource or via a dedicated agency (or quite often split across several agencies!).”

But of course, most important of all is to have a strategy in the first place!

Headington concludes: “The most common mistake brands make is actually not having [a social media marketing strategy] in place at all. Often businesses will rush into activities on this medium just because others are utilising or are active, without doing the necessary research or planning that is needed.

“Businesses should always a develop a detailed social strategy before embarking into activity, as it provides clear understanding and direction upon why you are undertaking this type of marketing. But remember a strategy isn’t set in stone, and should be one that continues to adapt as your social media activity evolves.”

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