What Does a Social Media Strategy Actually Need to Explain?

If you're going to be successful in social media marketing, you need a solid strategy. But the word "strategy" doesn't explain much about what you actually need to put together. What makes a strategy a strategy? And what separates a good, well-planned strategy from one that wasn't properly put together?

Your strategy can be formal, in a written or otherwise documented format, or it can be informal, such as existing in a series of bullet points, or in the collective understanding of your team. Either way, a social media strategy needs to cover several specific points, or else your campaign will wander off in no particular direction.

Set a Primary Goal

Everything in your strategy needs to tie back to the main goal of your campaign, so without that goal, the rest of your tactics won't have any meaningful context. Your primary goal needs to be specific, so something like "get a better social media presence" simply isn't going to cut it. Think about what you want from your users. For example, do you want greater traffic to your main site? Do you want more social-originated purchases? Are you looking for greater brand recognition? It's okay to have multiple goals, but find a central one to take precedent over the others.

Identify Your Core Audience

Social media is all about social interaction--meaning engaging with others. Choosing the right people to engage with is therefore one of the most critical elements of your campaign. You can't choose to engage with "everybody," or your campaign will come across as overly general or unfocused. Instead, you'll need to identify at least one core demographic on whom you will focus with your content, platform selection, and ongoing work. You wouldn't talk to a professional middle-aged woman the same way you would a teenage boy, so don't assume that your strategy will work the same for all demographics. Again, you'll need to be as specific as possible.

Analyze Your Key Competitors

Your social media strategy should contain a competitive analysis, if for no other reason than to find a way to distinguish your brand from the crowd. What are your competitors currently doing on social media? What platforms are they taking advantage of? How often are they posting content? What are their brand voices like? Answer these questions, and find a way to distinguish your brand among the crowd. The more unique your brand is, the better--plus, you'll have a critical opportunity to scan your competitors for weaknesses and take advantage of them with tactics of your own.

Select Your Main Platforms

Once you've figured out who your main audience is, what your main goals are, and what your competitors are doing, you'll have enough information to decide what platforms you want to use in your social media campaign. The big three are usually good bets for any business (Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn), but you may want to emphasize them differently based on those important variables. For example, if your main audience is comprised of older professionals, LinkedIn will yield more meaningful interactions than Twitter. On the other hand, if your competitors are avoiding Twitter like the plague, it could serve as a major untapped resource for your own campaign.

Establish a Content Plan

Once you know what platforms you want to target, you can start working on a content strategy. Here, you'll set some targets for the types and frequencies of posts that you create and syndicate. You'll want to determine how often you'll post on each platform, what types of material you'll post, who will be responsible for that material, and even determine how often you'll check in to reply to incoming messages and comments. It's also a good opportunity to start divvying up the work among your team, as the content you publish on social media will account for the majority of your marketing strategy's ongoing work.

Determine How You'll Measure Progress

With your goal in mind, you'll first determine what metrics are most important to measure. For example, you might decide that social-originated site visits are the most important metric to your strategy. Once decided, figure out how you'll measure it--in this example, you could choose to measure site visits through Google Analytics, checking in on a weekly and monthly basis to see how your progress is developing. Measuring the right numbers at the right times is important to determine the success, strong points, and weak points of your campaign.

Audit What You Already Have

With all these other variables in place, the last step of your strategy should be outlining and analyzing what you already have. For example, your company might have already claimed its social media profiles on Facebook and Twitter, but how fully are those profiles filled out? Who is currently responsible for posting on those platforms, and what are they currently doing? What action items need to be assigned, and what changes need to be made?

If your social media marketing strategy covers these points, you'll have all the basics necessary to make your campaign effective. Bear in mind that not everything you determine from the outset will remain stagnant; in fact, most good marketing strategies actually evolve over time. As you gain new information and new insights, you'll have to make adjustments to revise and improve your approach. When the time comes, revisit your original strategy, and apply those updates to each relevant section.