Social media is kind of a big deal, so much so that social media marketing IS marketing for many businesses these days. But there is so much content available at all times that effective social media marketing strategies have now become more about speaking to fewer people; rather than speaking to more.
Now more than ever it has become imperative to formulate a rough social media marketing plan simply to ‘anchor’ yourself or your business online. From there, building a clear strategy is the first step to doing social media marketing right and it can be the difference between online success and digital anonymity.
There are plenty of resources online that provide 9, 10, 15, or even 20 step programmes to help you create an effective social media marketing strategy but they can all be boiled down to the same 5 key areas.
- Goals and Budget
How to Approach an Effective Social Media Strategy
The keyword to bear in mind here is effective social media marketing strategy. If you’re a small business and find yourself time-poor it is important to remember that done is better than perfect, and ‘something’ is better than nothing. Having said that it really is an area of your business you should be looking to spend time on.
Many businesses go into social media marketing half-heartedly but an effective social media marketing strategy requires you to go all in and relies on the buy-in of a whole business from the ground up.. The story of the youngest member of a team being ambushed with the firm’s social media logins because they’re the youngest and “understand tech much better than this ol’ dinosaur” is a common one. Unfortunately, social media has evolved to a place where this slap-dash and unfocussed approach just will not work anymore. If anything, it could be damaging your business.
As well as knowing exactly what you will be doing, having a clear focus and strategy allows you and your business to easily ignore distractions that may have derailed your progress previously.
The 5 Key Steps to Success
When it comes to your social media marketing strategy and how to do it right, it all boils down to planning our five key elements. Let’s look at those in more detail below.
- Goals & Budget
Very few things in your business are worth doing without goals and budget in mind.
Effective social media marketing strategies only work if there is a clear vision and direction to them. Using SMART goals is a good way to ensure that this happens.
SMART is a well-known acronym by now but it bears going over again;
S – Specific
M – Measurable
A – Achievable
R – Relevant
T – Time-Bound
It is important to ensure that each goal has a reason behind it and a tangible outcome. The goal of “I want more Instagram followers” is too vague and is unlikely to comfortably withstand the scrutiny of ‘why?’. A more specific goal may be “I want 250 new followers per month on my Instagram page.’
‘Why?’ is the most excruciating and most useful question you can ask of your social media marketing strategy. It focuses your attention on what is really important to your business and helps to remove any irrelevance from the strategy. You’re time-poor, remember? Irrelevance is something you can do without.
What does success look like? Knowing what metrics you’re using will help define success and shape your specific goals even further. There is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ metric but there are some that are considered more valuable than others.
Likes and followers are known as ‘vanity metrics’ by many experts. The argument is that metrics like conversions, engagement and click-throughs provide the most tangible value to a business, making them the focus. This is true but ignores the nuance of real-life situations. If you need to build an audience first then likes and followers hold more value for you than a business that has reached its audience goal and now wants to monetise it to a greater extent.
Followers can also be fickle things resulting in an unfollow – a user choosing not to engage with your business on social media. Unfollows are great. An unfollow from a highly targeted and well-thought-out social media account is a blessing – that user wasn’t an ideal customer so losing them just further increases the concentration of engaged, active, ideal users.
By unfollowing you, that user is increasing the potency of the remaining audience. Losing followers could be a sign that you’ve created a wonderfully targeted and effective social media marketing strategy – provided the rest of your audience is enjoying what you do.
If it’s not doable, don’t do it. Too many businesses will put together grand plans that flounder or warp because they were, basically, doomed from the outset.
Goals aren’t designed to be ‘comfortable’ but neither should they be impossible. Find a middle ground that suits you (or your team) and you’re confident you can deliver on. It’s far better to have three short term goals that you achieve and can reset than to have one huge middle or long-term goal that you never hit.
Perhaps the most important aspect of SMART goals is Relevance. In terms of an effective social media marketing strategy, this means; ‘is this goal a reflection of us and our message’?
If it isn’t then it should be altered until it is. The most fundamental element of social media is the ‘social’ bit. How would you want your business to be perceived by the public? How would you want to interact with your ideal customers? Imagine your business as one entity, a person in and of itself; what does that person say? How do they say it? Are they, to use a very tired phrase indeed, able to make friends and influence people?
There is a huge amount of content out there. Making sure you’re relevant to your audience is vital to continued growth and success.
Balancing accountability with what’s realistic.
It’s too simplistic to ask ‘when will this goal be done?’ as some goals will evolve as they progress. Rather, set regular intervals for your goals to be evaluated and assessed. Then keep to those intervals! This last point is often the most neglected area of SMART goals despite its obvious value.
If you’ve missed your goal it’s much better to know ‘how’ and ‘why’ rather than to ignore it and restart, or even drop the process entirely.
Typically, social media strategy goals can be boiled down to 9 areas of focus;
- Increase brand awareness
- Drive traffic to your website
- Generate new leads
- Grow revenue (by increasing sign ups or sales)
- Boost brand engagement
- Build a community around your business
- Provide social customer service
- Increase mentions in the press
- Listen to conversations about your brand
Focussing on one or two of these (unless you have a team of people to work on a few each) will yield you better results than trying to cover all of your bases. You’ll likely find you gravitate towards one or two of these straight away. If that’s the case, those are probably the areas to focus on. However, make sure that these goals are what the business needs at that moment, rather than what you want generally.
Finally, be careful who decides what your goals are. A CEO is likely to zone straight in on new leads or increased revenue but if you know your audience isn’t ready for that just yet it’s important you explain the damage that could be caused by trying to monetise an audience without an effective social media marketing strategy. Emphasis on strategy.
‘How much should I be spending on my social media?’ is likely something you’ve asked several times only to be answered with a bewildering (and infuriating) ‘it depends what you want’. Unfortunately, as with most things, this is almost always the case.
However, if you’d like a yardstick to work from, the general wisdom suggests that most companies spend between 5% and 15% of their annual revenue on ‘general marketing’. It is advised that 35% to 45% of that resulting figure should be spent on digital marketing.
However, research carried out by Web Strategies suggests that only 15% to 25% of this figure is actually spent on digital marketing and social media strategy (this accounts for both organic and paid).
Whilst these figures are handy as a benchmark it’s important to budget according to your goals. Make sure you know what’s important to you, the business, and the stakeholders or decision-makers. Have a clear and agreed budget before you start creating your strategy as consistency is key for any effective social media marketing. Running out of resources by month 8 of a 12-month project is a particularly bad look.
The next big question to ask yourself when planning your social media activities is: Who do you want to speak to?
The most successful and effective social media accounts are those that know precisely who they are speaking to. Their message is clear, focussed, and consistent. If you don’t like or consistently engage with the content of a business like Ferrari, for example, that is a deliberate decision on their part. You are not their ideal customer.
Research is paramount to an effective social media marketing strategy. Identifying your ideal customer will inform every decision you make in relation to your content.
It’s important to recognise that you may have more than one ideal customer ‘persona’ so creating a list of these ‘people’ is a very useful exercise to carry out.
Typical advice is to focus on markers like age, gender, location, average income, typical job title/industry, and interests. These can all be useful but only provide around half the information you actually need. Using demographics only, without considering behavioural elements can result in skewed personas.
For example; take two males both born in 1948, both raised in the UK, both married twice, both are high net worth individuals, they travelled a lot for work, and had at least 3 children each. They sound pretty similar, don’t they? Would you say they’re likely to be interested in similar things?
One is the late Prince Philip, Duke of Edinburgh, and the other is the prince of darkness himself, Mr Ozzy Osbourne. It’s probably safe to say they shared a few interests.
Ideal customer personas should have their focus on the issues and problems that people face, their goals, and how your content can provide answers or value in that context.
Tools for tracking your audience
You should also take the time to understand where your audience is. There’s little point in putting lots of resources into a Twitter strategy if your audience doesn’t use Twitter. Use resources like Keyhole and Google Analytics to establish where your audience spends their time online. Failing that, you can always go ‘old school’ and ask them. A customer survey with the right questions can provide invaluable data to your business with little expenditure.
Creating recognisable personas
Your ideal customer personas should be relatable, they should represent customers or clients that you recognise. They should exhibit traits and behaviours that you associate with your best customers.
You should be able to ‘tell a story’ of these personas that fit your best existing customers or clients. Don’t be afraid to ‘fill out’ their character as long as you can back up your assumptions with data.
Beyond the job title, age, gender, salary and location what are they interested in? What social media platforms do they use and what time of day are they generally using them? It’s very important to understand what kind of content they enjoy and engage with, too. Understanding why a user is engaging on social media is also important and will feed back into the Measurable element of your SMART goals.
Perhaps most importantly you should consider how your ideal customer personas consume content. For example, do they typically prefer video? If so, are they spending a long time on YouTube or 15 seconds on TikTok?
Telling a story
As an example of the level of detail that you should apply to the personas of your social media marketing strategy, let’s look at ‘Finn’.
Finn is an ideal customer persona currently in use for an aquatics business based in the West Midlands of the UK.
An incomplete persona may tell you the following;
Name – Finn
Age – 26
Gender – Male
Location – South Birmingham, UK
Income – £20k per annum
Industry – Construction
Sure, there are some elements that a business could use to build an effective social media marketing strategy, but it’s pretty slim pickings and not likely to be focussed.
However, by broadening the areas considered you can create something like this;
“Name – ‘Freshwater’ Finn
Background, Demographics, & Identifiers – Finn is a full-time construction worker, not-married but lives with his girlfriend and 3-year-old daughter. He earns £20k p.a. is 26 and rents a 2-bedroom house in South Birmingham. Has a young Staffordshire Bull Terrier, who is like his second child. He’s got a slightly modified Ford Fiesta ST that he was ‘doing up’ before becoming a dad and now has fish as a hobby. He finds they relax both him and his young daughter.”
“Finn enjoys social media, particularly Instagram, Facebook, & TikTok, and mobile gaming in the evenings.”
The difference between the two is immediately obvious and would allow for a far more targeted social media marketing strategy.
Goals and Challenges
It’s important to understand that all customers, regardless of industry or background, have goals and challenges (sometimes called ‘pains’). Identifying those in your social media and producing content to address them is fundamental to an effective social media marketing strategy.
Whilst goals and challenges are ubiquitous they will be industry-specific so it’s down to you to use your expertise to filter the data you collect.
Looking back at Finn’s goals and challenges;
“Goals – He’d love a bigger aquarium setup and to be able to keep marine fish.
He wants to feel proud of the aquarium setup he has at the moment, too.”
“Challenges – He can’t afford to pay outright for a bigger aquarium or a marine setup, and doesn’t have access to finance that would fund it. His small house doesn’t allow the space for a bigger setup. His girlfriend thinks he spends too much time and money on his fish and he sometimes feels guilty about it.”
Whilst Finn is a fictional character he is based on data collected from customers of this business. As part of that process, the business in question got a quote from an existing customer that fed into Finn’s creation and helped form this aspect of their social media marketing strategy.
“I like watching my fish grow and develop personalities. Watching them is calming and interesting. Time spent on maintenance switches my mind off to external stressors for a while.”
So….what can we do?
So, what can a business do to help Finn? How can social media possibly solve these problems? If Finn wants something he cannot pay for, how can his spending power be leveraged?
Here’s how this was tackled in this instance;
“Finn isn’t likely to be able to afford a new, larger tank, but will still spend money on tank accessories, fish food and other smaller items. He’ll need advice when making these purchases and to be shown an adequate range of products so he can make the best purchase decision.”
“His enjoyment of observing fish as well as aquarium maintenance means a wide variety of video content of livestock and small, inexpensive maintenance products will be valuable to him.”
So the general marketing message from the aquatics business for this particular persona would include;
- We care about our animals and know you love them as much as we do
- We have a wide range of price options on all our products.
- We can give you the best advice for the setup you already have.
And an elevator pitch (as many social media posts become) may read as “XXX has got everything you will need to work on the aquarium set up you already have. Our experts will help you set up a tank you can be proud of, without costing the earth.”
All of this messaging has been extrapolated from a detailed and thorough ideal customer persona.
Developing your ‘stable’
Many businesses will have between 3 and 5 Ideal Customer Personas. Tesco is known for having the 5 Ideal Families to whom all of their marketing is targeted.
Taking the time to really identify who you want to speak to will save enormous amounts of time, effort and, ultimately, money later on down the line.
However, it is important to revisit your ideal customer personas regularly. As your business inevitably evolves, so will your ideal customers. Carrying out this exercise once every 12-18 months is a sensible exercise.
Location, Location, Location
If you’re a local SME or are in other ways geographically limited, don’t spend time and effort trying to appeal to a national (or global!) audience. Focus your efforts on an engaged audience that are also likely to be aware of your business if you have a physical presence as well as online.
Oh, and don’t buy followers on social media platforms. Ever.
Now that you’ve established who you’re speaking to it is important to understand what your competitors are doing in your market. Are they speaking to the same audience as you’ve highlighted and, if they are, how can you find your advantage?
It may seem a bit of a departure from social media marketing strategy but the first place to start is the Google Adwords Keyword Planner and your own website. For Google’s very useful article on the best use of this resource click here.
Once you’ve got it set up and you’re ready to go you should use the tool on your website to see how you appear to your ideal customer personas in terms of what keywords you’re utilising. Take the top 5 or 10 of these keywords – depending on how thorough you’d like to be – and note them down.
Pick your battles
Once you know that (and you’re happy with what you see) you can take your list of these keywords and start plugging them into Google. What businesses show up on the first page? Who’s paying for ads on these keywords or key phrases?
Knowing how stiff the competition is per keyword will influence how much time, effort and money you want to dedicate to each one.
If, for example, you sell some products that are popular and cheap but also available on Amazon for cheaper (and if Amazon is also paying for ads on the search term) it’s probably sensible to choose to compete on a different keyword.
Social media – competitor strategy
Next, it’s time to assess the social media presence of these competitors. Again, it’s important to view this as objectively as you can. Focus on the metrics that you’ve decided to use and what content is yielding the best results for those metrics.
Things to consider;
- What social networks are they on? If none of your competitors are on LinkedIn, for example, chances are you shouldn’t waste your time and effort on it, either. By all means, investigate and carry out your due diligence – maybe you’ve uncovered the next big thing for your industry! It is, however, unlikely.
- What is the size of their following and is it growing?
- Who are their top followers and do these followers engage with other businesses on your list?
- How frequently do these competitors post?
- What is the engagement rate? Remember, if you’re interested in comments but not likes then count those.
- What hashtags do they use, how many, and do they mix it up?
It’s important to analyse your own social media in this fashion, too. An effective social media marketing strategy needs fresh, relevant data to work with to get the best results.
If you’re looking beyond the ‘standard’ free options it may be worth using a tool like Buzzsumo. Whilst it does have a free plan you can pay for more premium services that will allow you and your team (if you have one) to analyse content and pages from unlimited monthly searches.
Trail of breadcrumbs
As well as looking at what your competitors are doing it’s worth seeing what your own audience is doing, too. Very few customers or clients are completely loyal to one business in an industry so it’s worth seeing if you’re their first choice or not.
Facebook Audience Insights and Twitter Analytics can help with this. They provide a trail of breadcrumbs into other brands or businesses your audience follows on these platforms. You can access their likes on Facebook pages all the way down to their individual tweets and replies to & from them and competitor accounts.
It’s called strategy for a reason
Next up you’ll need to bring together all of what you’ve discovered to run a SWOT analysis against your own position and where you want to be.
Much like SMART goals, SWOT analysis has been around for a long time – mainly because it works.
S – Strengths
W – Weaknesses
O – Opportunities
T – Threat
Make a list for each.
Per competitors make a list of the metrics you beat them on – your S.
Then all the metrics you are currently behind on – your W.
Next up, all the areas you think you could improve on, do more, or you think have been missed – your O.
Be very careful with this one – sometimes an area you think has been missed was tried before and abandoned for one reason or another. If you identify an area of your industry that you assume would be bountiful but has surprisingly little attention try looking back into historical posts of your most thorough competition. You may find out precisely why no one is talking about X, Y, or Z.
Finally, external threats – your T.
These could be up and coming businesses in your industry, ‘sleeping giants’ that could make a real impact if they got some direction, or simply the ‘main players’ of your industry.
Reputation is everything
It’s very easy to assume customers and clients think you’re great. It’s even easier to assume that customers and clients in your sphere think your competitors are great. To get to the bottom of what is actually being said and what people really think you could use a tool like Mentionlytics.
Mentionlytics allows you to find out everything that is being said about your industry, your brand, and your competitors. It will use the keywords you input to trawl through sources from typical social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Youtube, Instagram, Pinterest etc) but will also look at broader web sources like news and blogs.
It also features ‘sentiment analysis’ so you can get a feel for how these keywords are being used in context. Sometimes sarcasm on social media can really trip up competitor research.
Content is at the heart of every effective social media marketing strategy. Having an established content strategy is imperative not only for measurable long term success but also to maintain goal timelines.
Knowing what you’re going to say, on what platform, at what time, in what format, and to who – sometimes months in advance – is the goal.
Thankfully you can begin whittling those down quite quickly once you’ve established your ideal customer personas.
What platform is best for an effective social media marketing strategy?
The ones your audience uses.
It really is that simple. If they’re not on Twitter, don’t bother with Twitter. If they spend hours a day on YouTube then that’s where you need to be. Perhaps also consider paid advertising on YouTube if this is the case. Let your audience guide you and try your best not to second guess them.
What time should I post on social media?
There is plenty of research carried out on this topic, all of which says something slightly different. Some studies ignore time zones, others ignore industries. There are guidelines you can follow but your audience is your best barometer.
Typically the best time to post on Facebook is between 1 PM and 3 PM with Wednesday usually showing the highest general user traffic and Saturday being considered a bit of a ‘write-off’.
For Instagram, think about the times around work as the sweet spots. Start with ‘before work’, then think about ‘general lunch times’ and finally consider ‘just after work’. Again, Wednesday seems to be the big winner here and Sunday is the ‘dead zone’.
For an exhaustive list of platforms, times of day, and posting frequency check out StatusBrew’s The Best Times To Post On Social Media. Remember, however, that you can get seriously bogged down in all of this. Consistency and ideal customer persona targeting are much more important than posting ‘four to seven Instagram reels per week’.
What format should I use for my social media posts?
This will again be driven by what platform your audience is using. YouTube is the homeland of medium to long-form video, TikTok is the complete opposite. Your research will show you what works well – adapt the common themes you see and incorporate them into your own content.
Who should I be speaking to on social media?
Your ideal customer personas are unlikely to all spend the same amount of time on the same platforms. Identify who spends the most time where and focus your content on them for that platform.
Obviously, in the real world you’re likely to have two or three personas from your ‘stable’ on Facebook – so make sure you’re targeting the heaviest users primarily with a sliding scale for the others.
Unfortunately, there is only anecdotal evidence to back this up at the moment but posts with links in them tend to perform worse than posts without. This makes sense as the social media platform in question wants users to stay on it, not follow a link away to another website.
To get around this, put links you want to include in the first comment of your post with a call to action in the post itself. However, this can cause some problems with your scheduling tools.
It’s well worth your time looking at scheduling tools. These can be free or paid for but all of them will save you lots of time and hassle. Having all your content and posts in one place, all scheduled for publishing at a specified time and date well in advance is a huge time saver.
Premium (paid for) options include HeyOrca, AgoraPulse, and ContentStudio. Content Studio is particularly useful for posting with links as it has the functionality for a user to control what goes into the first comment on a post. This means you can schedule a post and its link in the comment without having to wait for the publishing time and date and then manually adding the link afterwards.
It’s best to trial a few and see what you prefer working with – you’re going to need to be au fait with it so pick one that feels natural and simple to use.
There is little point in putting any energy at all into the previous four steps if you’re not aware of how your social media strategy is performing.
It’s sensible to assume that some things won’t go to plan.
‘Results’ is a relative term to your goals and chosen metrics. It’s important to keep an eye on these as you progress through your social media strategy. Having said that, it’s equally important not to get too wrapped up in them. You may find yourself obsessing over one particular post that didn’t perform as you expected it to. Or a sudden, dramatic drop off in engagement.
If it happens once, it can be regarded as a one-off. If it’s happening repeatedly, look back at your research. When are you posting, where are you posting, what are you posting, and is the content targeting an ideal customer persona?
How to check the results of an effective social media marketing strategy
As mentioned earlier there are plenty of resources at your disposal to track the results of your social media marketing strategy. Keeping it simple can include using Facebook and Instagram analytics with Google Analytics.
Alongside the options built into the platforms themselves, you can also consider using UTM parameters. These are short bits of code (don’t panic!) that you add to your URLs (links) to web pages or campaigns.
UTMs give you data about conversions and where those conversions come from, meaning you can track the precise value of your content. They’re also useful if you want to test content head-to-head in A/B testing to see what works best for your audience.
The process of adding UTMs into your links is simple. There are five ‘layers’ of UTM – source, medium, name, term, and content.
Types of UTM
Source – this is the social network in question i.e. Facebook
Medium – this tracks the channel being used i.e. organic social, paid social, email etc
Name – giving your campaign a name will help you track your results. This could be a promotion like ‘black-friday’ or a tool to track influencer marketing by using their usernames or handles.
Term – This is for paid keywords and key phrases
Content – allows you to track paid ads within a campaign
The formatting is the same for each of the five ‘layers’;
utm_’name of layer’=’subject’
To make that a little clearer, if you were using a source utm for Facebook it would read
You can use all five UTMs in one link if you wish. Just pop one after the other with the ‘&’ symbol.
The way to put them into a URL is after the ‘?’ so it would look like this;
From this URL we can see that the UTMs in question are focussed on a paid social media advertising campaign on Facebook as part of this business’s ‘Summer Sale’ video ad tracking the search term ‘social media’.
The fourth and fifth UTMs are only for paid campaigns and can be ignored if this doesn’t apply to your strategy.
This may look and sound complicated but never fear – there are several tools available that will structure your UTMs for you – including the brilliant Google Analytics Campaign URL Builder.
You can then select and monitor these campaigns from the ‘Campaigns’ section of the ‘Acquisition’ menu in Google Analytics.
For examples of UTMs in action just click on any Ad in a Google search then look at your URL bar for the UTM string. You’ll be able to ‘decode’ it in no time at all now you know what it means.
Evolving Your Social Media Strategy
Finally, don’t be afraid to change things if they’re consistently not working. If this is the case across several platforms or several types of content then it may be worth re-evaluating your research.
If this happens it’s important to keep the data you collected originally and refer back to it – knowing what doesn’t work is just as useful as knowing what does work. An effective social media marketing strategy is one that works. Not necessarily the one you put together the first time around.
There is plenty of information out there to beat yourself up with. Do what feels sensible and thorough and you’ll likely get most of the way there yourself.