Eleven essential components of a successful social media strategy

Is your company posting without a plan? Most businesses need a structured roadmap to create and manage successful social media programs. In this feature, author, international speaker and social media strategist Neal Schaffer shares eleven essential components of a social media strategy that your business should adopt to stay competitive and differentiate yourself from your competition.

Most printers understand that in order to survive and prosper in today’s business environment, they must have a social media presence. When no strategy is present, here’s what happens: individuals from different departments tweet at will, using the company’s official handle. Some of these 140-character messages are loaded with cumbersome language; others are peppered with abbreviations like “u”, “r”, and “2”. On Facebook, users who “like” the company’s page find that their newsfeeds are bombarded with promotions, surveys and so called “news”. Meanwhile, clients are posting positive and negative feedback on both sites. Sometimes these comments receive responses and sometimes they don’t. And that’s not even taking into account LinkedIn, Pinterest, the company’s blog, and more!

In using such a scattershot approach to social media, these organizations are missing out on major opportunities to engage with potential and current customers, manage their reputations and more. They may also be alienating social media users in the process. Without a social media strategy, how do you know what you’re trying to achieve, what you should be doing, how well you’re doing, what you should be measuring, and what the ROI of your social media program is?

To get you up to speed and help you navigate the often complicated, ever-changing world of social media, I’d like to share with you my eleven essential components of a comprehensive and successful social media strategy.

1. Branding. Be consistent across all channels. Most businesses already have branding guidelines (including naming, colour scheme, imagery, etc.) and these should be applied to your social media properties as well. After all, branding is all about consistency. The challenge is that most branding guidelines don’t include any guidance for the most important part of your brand in social media conversations – your own personal voice! Although your brand guidelines might make mention of tone and vocabulary for use in web copy, social media will challenge those guidelines when you need to have a conversation with an average person. In most instances, it’s okay to be less formal on social media channels, just make certain that your updates, statuses, comments, etc. speak with a unified voice.

2. Content. Engage in conversation. Social media is really about the convergence of communication and information. What you share and talk about with social media users is very important. Content provides the medium to help you engage in conversation and creating content that is truly resourceful and shareable can result in many long-term benefits to your company’s social media presence. Also, content isn’t just about blog posts, photos and videos. Presentations, infographics and even discussions (such as in a LinkedIn Group) should be considered.

3. Curation. Share meaningful content. If you’re just talking about yourself in social media, no one will listen. It’s only when you begin to curate content that is of interest to your followers and promote it (together with your own content) that your social media accounts begin to breathe new life into your business. If you work for a company that sells directly to consumers, share more photos and videos of who’s using your product, stories about your brand, or resourceful information to nudge people into realizing they absolutely need your product.

4. Channels. Join the right networks for your company. There are currently more than fifty social networks with more than 10 million members. You certainly don’t need to be in all of them. Deciding which social networks to engage in, and creating internal best practices and tactical plans for each of these networks, should form a sizable part of your social media strategy.

5. Frequency. Post strategically, not constantly. With limited resources, you’ll need to decide how much time you’re going to spend on each platform, as well as what you’ll be doing there. This will help maximize your ROI for the time and resources spent. It’s also important to tweak your frequency strategy for each social network from time to time to maximize the effectiveness of your postings. Believe it or not, frequent posting doesn’t necessarily make your social media more effective. For instance, research shows that when a brand posts on Facebook twice a day, those posts receive only 57% of the likes and 78% of the comments per post that a single post receives.

6. Engagement. Look at your social media profiles from the perspective of an outside observer and ask yourself “is our engagement with fans worthy of being followed? Would I follow us?” And remember, engagement is a tactic to help you achieve your objective, namely, expanding your brand, attracting new customers and growing your company. It’s not an objective in and of itself. However, be encouraged: 60% of Facebook fans and 79% of Twitter followers are more likely to recommend brands that they’ve ‘liked’ or followed.

7. Listening. Interact meaningfully with customers. It’s official:  the customer service desk has gone digital. From complaints to questions to (yes!) praise, consumers (67% of them, in fact) are using social media to convey their thoughts, opinions and queries. Still, many companies are blowing this golden opportunity. A recent study showed that 71% of customers who complained via Twitter were never contacted by the company. You need to have a listening and responding strategy in place. Meaningful interactions with a customer (a problem resolved or a question answered, for instance) can win you the type of loyalty that money simply can’t buy.

8. Campaign. Regularly introduce new ways to engage customers. Social media campaigns should not be confused with traditional campaigns used in marketing to promote new products or discounts. Again, in the social media world, you’re not speaking to or at customers – you’re speaking with them. Think of it less as a promotional marketing campaign and more of an experiment to better understand and more effectively engage with your followers. Surveys, quizzes, polls, product giveaways and crowdsourcing (of photos, videos and other content) are all good examples of various campaign types.

9. Influencers. Learn from the successes of other users (called influencers) to help shape your own strategy and make it more effective. Influencers are individual users, companies or even media outlets that are a part of (or serve) your target demographic audience. They also exert influence online through reporting, blogging and being active on platforms such as Twitter, Google+, Facebook and LinkedIn.

10. Brand Ambassadors. Recruit fans to spread the word. Brand ambassadors are current loyal customers who spread the word about your brand through their own social networks. Harnessing and rewarding ambassadors is a very effective way to help (objectively) spread the word and value of your brand throughout social media.  A huge 92% of people trust recommendations from friends and family members more than all other forms of marketing.

11. Crisis Management. Be prepared to handle trouble, especially given the speed at which information travels in social media and the fact that social media is now a primary news source for consumers and the media alike. Always be prepared for the worst – such as an attempted takeover of social media channels by fanatics and others with an agenda. Completely integrating social media into your company’s crisis management planning is a wise decision. In fact, 76% of social media crises could have been diminished or averted with the proper social media investments.

This list looks primarily at the elements of creating a robust social media strategy from a marketing perspective, but some of these components can be easily expanded to help your other internal departments achieve their social media objectives. Regardless of your company’s social media goals, make sure that you address all of these concepts individually in a written document so that everyone in your company, now and in the future, understands completely what they are and how they work together. The clearer you are, the more productive your organization’s social media presence will be.

Neal Schaffer is the author of Maximize Your Social: A One-Stop Guide to Building a Social Media Strategy for Marketing and Business Success. Named a Forbes Top 50 Social Media Power Influencer two years in a row, Schaffer is a sought-after global speaker on social media. He has helped train dozens of companies – from start-ups and small businesses to Fortune 500 enterprises. For more information, please visit www.maximizeyoursocial.com.