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Why is social media so important? More people are using social media through their mobile phones, computers, and tablets than talking, calling, emailing and texting. Do you find this surprising? I know I don’t. Some businesses have gone to the extent of allowing 30 minutes a day for their employees to use social media.

There’s a lot more to engaging in social media marketing than creating a few profiles and posting a few links. Without taking a measured approach to the situation, you’re not going to be able to make the most of what is a very powerful and influential strategy. There are thousands of other companies competing for social media users’ attention, so laying the right groundwork is crucial.

Create a strategy you can maintain

In order to be effective, your social media marketing efforts have to be ongoing. There is no finish line. As you reach goals, you need to create new ones. Otherwise, you’re sure to go backwards. By understanding the importance of having an ongoing social media strategy, you will be ahead of the game from the start. Check out the chart below illustrating the key phases in setting goalssetting goals Simple Steps to Creating an Effective Social Media Strategy

Assess the Situation

You need to know where you are in order to get where you’d like to be. With that in mind, you should make the following assessments:

What is Your Main Goal with Social Media?

Stay focused. What do you want your strategy to achieve? There are three broad options: raising awareness, increasing loyalty and increasing sales. Select one and focus on it.

  • Listening – Listen to what others are saying about your business.

Tip: Use Twitter, Facebook & LinkedIn search function to search your brand or product/service. It will populate a list of tweets, posts etc. that others have published. Setup a Google Alert to monitor business mentions around the web.

  1. Communicating – This is about getting your message across to your target audience. This could be for you current advertising efforts and making it more socially interactive.
  2. Make it Viral / Word of Mouth – Connect with key influences / customers in your industry and make them spread the word. i.e. Retweet, Share, Like, Google +1’s etc.

  3. Customer Care – Social Media is fast becoming the future of customer service. You can help your customers with a support enquiry and other customers can help each other.

Example: I tweeted about how frustrated I was not being able to get a HP driver for my printer, even though I contacted them several times via phone and email. Within a few hours, a HP representative contacted me via Twitter to resolve my issue.

  1. Understand your customers’ needs – Receive customer feedback and understand the needs of potential customers through a customer feedback form, complaints form or survey.

Identifying Your Target Audience

Who is Your Audience?

Social media is all about connecting with others. First think about your target audience and study/learn about them.

It is important to understand how they contribute in social media and through which mediums. Social media users generally fall into the following categories:

  1. Creators: These users are responsible for publishing content such as blogs, websites, video, music etc.

  2. Conversationalists:  Update their social networking site by updating their status & posting tweets

  3. Critics: Users who actively review and rate products. Make comments on blogs and contribute to content and online forums.

  4. Collectors:  Users who vote on websites & add tags to photos.

  5. Joiners: These users create social media profiles on social media sites such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn & Google Plus

  6. Spectators: They search the web reading blogs, watching videos on YouTube, reading forum posts and tweets.

  7. Inactives:  Does not do any of the above.

Through surveys and other data, learn as much as you can about your target customers’ challenges, needs and wants.  Use online survey tools such as Survey Monkey or User Report and read this article to learn more about creating an effective online survey.  By knowing where your audience falls on the spectrum, you’ll have an easier time creating an effective social media strategy.

How to Proceed?

After determining a course of action, put it in writing. Make sure your entire team is on the same page.

In the meanwhile, make sure your goals are specific, measurable, attainable, realistic and timely.

Put Your Plan into Action

With the completion of the planning and assessing phase, you should be ready to implement your social media strategy. The key to doing so effectively is by using a content calendar. This is crucial for keeping you focused and your efforts on track. Assigning responsibility to tasks makes people accountable as well. I found this detailed content calendar (Free download) by Populate Digital.  This calendar will specify the theme of the content that you will use in your campaign, when and where it is shared, who creates it and the mode of delivery.

To enhance your social media strategy, you should plan on using a variety of different tools. Use hootsuite for your social media management. Social media icons and plugins should be added to your website, e-commerce site and on content pages. Make it as easy as possible for someone to share and like your stuff. Promote your social media networks on company emails, letterheads, invoices, business cards and other places. Use promotions and contests/giveaways to engage your target audience and get them involved. Continually demonstrate what you have to offer.

Use paid advertising, such as StumpleUpon Paid Discovery or Facebook Advertising to promote your business outside your reach.

Tip: Make sure your social buttons on your website are visible. Tools such as ShareThis or AddThis are simple plugins that can add social buttons to your website.

Evaluate Your Success

You should give your social media strategy a little time to gain momentum; after about two or three months, you should perform an in-depth evaluation to determine whether your strategy is producing results or not. Specific metrics such as shares, likes, subscribers, click rates, sales that originated in social media channels and conversion rates should be analysed with care.

Monitor your social media engagement through Online Monitoring Tools such as Klout or Edge Rank

Tip: A free tool Google Alerts can help you monitor your brand keywords to listen to what people are saying about you.

If your efforts seem to be producing results, run with it. Don’t just rest on your laurels. Mix things up a little. Now is the time to roll out Facebook ads, live question-and-answer sessions, Google Hangouts and other webinars, contests that span across multiple social media outlets and more.

Wash, Rinse, Repeat

To ensure the ongoing effectiveness of your social media strategy, go back to the beginning and start again. Lay out a new plan with new objectives based on fresh assessments. Implement a revised plan with updated goals. Evaluate its success by analysing specific metrics. By continually going through this cycle and building upon what you learn, you will be able to achieve incredible results through your social media marketing efforts.