Creating a strategic plan for social networking activities is a key component of effectively incorporating social media marketing into your promotional mix. While there is certainly not one right way to approach social media marketing, creating a plan that aligns with your overall marketing objectives can help you leverage this powerful promotional tool to your greatest advantage.
Four Strategic Planning Considerations for Social Media
Creating an effective social media strategic plan requires:
- Considering how consumers utilize social media sites
- Recognizing and fully understanding the differences between communicating in the social space as opposed to traditional marketing techniques
- Selecting appropriate sites for connecting with potential customers
- Establishing - and following - an appropriate schedule for engaging in dialogue in the social space
1. Consumer Behavior and Social Media
An important key to effective promotion lies with getting your messages in front of the right people at the right time in a form that they are likely to pay attention to. Today's consumers are not only engaged with social networks, they rely heavily on them for information. In many ways, consumers are substituting social media for traditional media outlets. Consumers tend to have extensive, self-selected contact networks via social media sites, and they turn to those networks as trusted sources of information, seek referrals and get information from their online contacts before going elsewhere for information.
A 2010 Gartner survey indicated that 74 percent of consumers rely on social media when making purchase decisions. This is why social media marketing has become so critical to business success and why it's so important to consider how consumers use social media sites when developing your strategic plan. By making a commitment to engage in social media marketing with a focus on building relationships with target customers and potential referral sources, your organization will be taking positive steps to ensure that its approach to marketing is keeping up with consumer information-seeking trends.
2. Social Versus Traditional Marketing Communication
Social media marketing differs greatly from traditional marketing in that it represents an inbound approach to connecting with consumers. Rather than traditional strategies like television, radio and newspaper advertising that interrupt activities that consumers have sought out, communicating to consumers via social networking sites requires permission from the people you want to market to.
Consumers have to let you into their hand-picked online networks for you to be able to share messages with them. This means that the only way you can truly market through social media is to find a way to get your consumers to let you market to them, so the content that you share should be chosen with this in mind.
To succeed with social media marketing, it's important to respect the fact that people are letting you in to their private online networks and to structure your marketing efforts accordingly by creating and following an effective content plan that meets the needs and interests of your consumers rather than focusing on direct sales.
Structure your social networking activities so they are about building relationships and fostering dialogue, not making a quick sale. Never forget - just as people can let you into their social networks, they can also lock you out.
3. Choosing Social Media Sites
With so many social networking options, you could easily spend hours each day engaging in online communication on behalf of your business. Sound strategic planning involves deciding where to concentrate your efforts.
From a strategic perspective, the best sites to use are the ones where your customers are and that you will actively engage in. Start slowly, choosing those sites that are widely used by members of your target market without overextending or diluting your efforts. Don't lose sight of the fact that the goal of social media marketing is relationship-building rather than exposure.
The major social networking sites are the best places to start when deciding where to engage online, since they represent the online space where the largest potential customers are likely to use. Examples of popular choices include:
- Facebook, Twitter and Google + can be great options for building relationships between consumers and your business via sharing relevant content.
- Pinterest is also a good choice, particularly for businesses that can be promoted effectively using visual content.
- FourSquare is a good social choice for retail and entertainment-oriented businesses, as well as other geographically-based companies that rely on walk-in business.
- YouTube provides a great way to share video content ranging from how-to content to broadcast advertising messages and snippets of company videos.
- LinkedIn can be a powerful resource for building online profiles for key company leaders as well as for interactions in industry and customer-focused special interest online groups.
Start with one or two sites most likely to appeal to your target audience and focus on engaging in those online communities. As you get established, expand into other sites as appropriate.
4. Regular Participation and Dialogue
Setting up social profiles does not benefit you if you don't use them. It's important to establish a regular posting schedule to maximize your potential for exposure and to make it clear that your company's presence is genuinely rooted in a desire to engage in the community.
According to Social Media Today, it's ideal for businesses to release one or two posts per day, pointing out that fan and follower engagement tends to be highest for companies that have four or five posts per week. It's also important to submit your posts during times that members of your target audience are likely to be online. According to American Express Open Forum, Twitter posts made between 1 and 3 p.m. Monday - Thursday Eastern Standard Time (EST) tend to get the most click-throughs, with Facebook posts going up between 1 and 4 p.m. on the same days of the week garnering the most attention and user activity.
In addition to following a regular posting schedule, you should also dedicate time to monitor and respond to comments and private messages, both positive and negative. As McKinsley Quarterly points out, responding at a personal level is critical for engagement, as well as - in situations where negative comments are posted - for crisis management.
Establish a Winning Strategy
Incorporating these important strategic planning tips into your own social media marketing efforts will go a long way toward making certain that your company is using social media in an appropriate way that will add value to your company's image, as well as foster customer loyalty and attract new customers while also raising brand awareness in a positive, modern way.