social media strategy plan

When I work with businesses, there is often an enthusiastic attitude about moving on to the social web but confusion about how to actually get started. Today’s post provides a step-by-step overview on how to move ahead. Headline links at the beginning of each section will take you to more detailed posts if you want to learn more about each specific step!

And by the way, your social media initiative doesn’t start with a Facebookpage. It must start with …

1. Marketing strategy

I know this seems so basic but there is no way to have an effective social media marketing strategy if you don’t have a company marketing strategy to begin with … and many companies don’t!

Here is a trick to see if you truly have a marketing strategy. Can you finish this sentence: “Only we …”

To do that, you need to know your true differentiators, your customer’s un-met and under-served needs, and the competitive landscape. If you can answer that question, your marketing strategy more or less reveals itself, including the role of the social web in the marketing mix.

2. Assess the company culture

You might be wondering what the company culture has to do with social media success. In a word, “everything.” If your company is uptight and conservative, your social media presence will be uptight and conservative. If you are open and customer-oriented, your online personality will come across that way too.

To create realistic expectations, you better look at the role of IT, legal, HR and company leadership in this journey. Are they ready to be publishers? Are they ready to engage with the public?

3. Social media lead team

If you are in a large company, I would recommend creating a team of leaders to oversee the progress of the initiative and address problems as they emerge. This is also an opportunity for education and to promote internal successes.

4. Social media policy

Any company, large or small needs to have a social media policy. This provides the groundrules and sets expectations of employees interactions and engagement, It should also provide a detailed action plan if something goes wrong.

5. Identify sources of rich content

Content is the catalyst for business benefits on the web but not all content is created equal. If your strategy is to establish a voice of authority (you should) and have an opportunity for massive reach, Facebook posts or LinkedIn updates probably aren’t going to cut it. You need something deeper. You need rich content.

For most businesses, this means a blog, a podcast, a video series, or perhaps a combination. If you are a visually-oriented business like fashion or travel, Pinterest or Instagram might be options too, but generally to really create powerful content benefits, most businesses turn to a blog, podcast, or video. What might work best in your company culture?

6. Considering social media measurement

Here is an exercise I use to get a leadership team focused on real business results. Ask them “If we meet in this room a year from now and you are telling me how successful our social media marketing effort has been … what would have happened?”

This usually sparks a good discussion that leads to a commitment on what you are actually trying to achieve. Then, it is up to you to find indicators in your data that demonstrate progress toward those goals.

And please, consider the tangible and important qualitative measurements of progress, which may create more business benefits in the long run than something you can stick on a spreadsheet.

7. Develop a social media network strategy

Behind every social media strategy there is a content strategy and a network strategy. Most companies “get” the content part but generally take a passive approach to building an audience. But this is crucial. Your content isn’t optimized to work for you unless it MOVES through the network, creating opportunities for awareness and engagement. You must ignite your content.

Building your network must be strategic, purposeful, and continuous. As you discover WHERE your customers and prospects are, it will help you identify your …

8. Information eco-system

Only now are we beginning to look at the actual platforms we need to populate — where will we post our rich content, where will we engage?

Choosing the right platforms is a very important decision because most companies don’t have the resources to be everywhere and do it well.

While it may seem natural to immediately migrate to Facebook, Twitter and YouTube, don’t overlook other sites and even industry-specific platforms if you are in a market where competitors have a well-established social media presence. Newer options like Pinterest are delivering real business value and even old-school platforms like chat rooms are still very popular and effective places for content that might be off the radar screen.

Well, that should get you started! What do you think? What did I miss?

This post was written as part of the IBM for Midsize Business program, which provides midsize businesses with the tools, expertise and solutions they need to become engines of a smarter planet. I’ve been compensated to contribute to this program, but the opinions expressed in this post are my own and don’t necessarily represent IBM’s positions, strategies or opinions.

Image courtesy BigStock.com

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