Everyone knows that social media is an essential part of marketing in the digital era. How exactly to be successful at it has been a minefield of opinion, hyperbole, ignorance, and actual good advice. For those just starting out, or those who need to finally get serious about their social strategy, navigating that minefield is often a guessing game. Sometimes a “tip” or “trick” actually works; other times you just waste your time and money.
In a bid to save you the time and money that others–myself included–have wasted over the last eight or so years, I’m going to spend today’s post relaying the few bits of solid, time-tested, general best practices of social media marketing strategy that I’ve used (and observed other successful blogs and bloggers use) over my career as a professional blogger. In other words, the social media marketing essentials, as I see them. All of which can be accomplished for free without outside professional help.
Social Media Marketing Strategy Essentials
If there is one thing I’ve learned it’s that these essentials can take you a long way. After practicing them for a while, they can even help you determine what kind of professional help you might need in the future, if it is necessary at all. So if you’re not doing these things yet, I suggest starting here, seeing how it goes, and then (and only then) looking for experts and/or services that can focus on key problems or potential growth areas.
1. Know Your Brand (And Craft a Brand Story)
I spent a decent portion of 7,000 words earlier this year–in my post The Future of Blogging–talking about the importance of creating a well rounded brand persona. This is accomplished by discovering your deepest held values (as an individual or group of individuals) and then mapping those values onto your brand. These become identity markers that others, like your audience, can latch onto. Eventually allowing a group of strangers with shared values to coalesce into a loyal tribe.
The extreme importance of this step cannot be over-stated, but it is often ignored and supplanted entirely by simple lists of best practices like this one. Which are more or less paint-by-the-number guides for competing in an environment that is becoming increasingly complex.
As I stated in that article and will re-iterate here: social media (and blogging) have grown up since their inception. In the beginning a simple checklist of best practices and a popular topic was all you needed to dominate a platform, but that was because the vast majority of users at the time didn’t yet understand the platforms they were using; meaning that the threshold of success was extremely low. You just had to know how to take advantage of the platforms’ built in features in ways that were not yet apparent to everyone else.
That’s actually where these types of checklists come from. The trials and errors of those who figured it out first and have since passed the information on. Now they are considered “essential” not because they are the final keys to success, but the absolute minimum requirement for success. The starting point.
In my experience to date, this first essential unlocks the true potential of all the rest. If you don’t take the time to develop a clear brand persona with definite values then all of the tips, tricks, and best practices in the world will only take you so far. You’ll be stuck at the beginning stages of success without a clue as to why your momentum is plateauing. But values, expressed through compelling characters (your brand, your audience, your competition/cause) are the fundamental elements of an endless narrative that can empower your community to scale indefinitely; in lock-step with the narrative journey you’ve created.
To learn more about this step (and much more) please revisit my earlier post The Future of Blogging.
2. Know Who Your Target Audience Is
Knowing your target audience may sound like simple advice, but so many people get this wrong. A lot of individuals and companies simply decide who their target audience is arbitrarily (based on their own wants) and then prescribe to that audience what they think it wants to hear. Or, equally as ineffective, what they want that audience to hear. This is misguided.
Instead, you should build on what you learned by putting our first step into practice. I put it this way in my earlier post:
The journey required of us to discover our deepest values and the ways in which we are most passionate about expressing them is a long, difficult and deeply personal one. It’s a process that requires us to systematically reveal the parts of ourselves we hold dearest; the parts we are, potentially at least, most insecure about. First to ourselves and then to our community. A journey through which we find that inner geek, fashion diva, drag queen, lover of art, the sincere science enthusiast, music junkie, sex writer, comic artist and the list could go on.
Whatever it is, it’s unique. It’s who we really are and since no one else is exactly that thing, not only is it impossible to teach but it’s hard to know how the world will react to it. So of course fear and reluctance at this point are only natural.
The good news though, is that when we do overcome that fear, what we find is that while we are a unique individual, we’re also strikingly similar (which is altogether different than being the same) as vast swaths of other human beings. Those people are your audience, your community, and potentially your friends.
To simplify it: Your target audience is a type of person who emerges, not a group of people you arbitrarily choose.
Aside from sharing the values from which you have chosen to speak from, as a whole they may not conform to any one social group, norm, or construct you’re familiar with. So before you can know your who your ideal audience really is, you have to be true to the values that will attract them.
3. Set Clear Goals
Ok, so now that you have those first two essentials down. You can get into the checklist mode I’ve mentioned above and operate there with much more success than if you’d skipped straight to it.
I recommend beginning that process by writing down some clear goals. At what rate would you like to grow you followers, subscribers, fans, etc.? How many comments would you like to generate? How many shares across various networks? What kind of traffic, engagement, purchases, etc. do you want your social activity to result in?
Knowing those things will help you measure the success of each social media effort/experiment you might try. It will also provide a gauge as to how much time and effort is actually required in order to get the desired effect. Which will help you adopt and develop efficient practices where you need them.
4. Integrate with WordPress
I recently completed a short mini-series on integrating social media with WordPress. I focused on the two major networks: Facebook in the first post and Twitter in the second post. I would recommend that if you’re going to have a social strategy, you should at least be on those two platforms. Beyond those, add others based on where you find your audience prefers to hang out. But more on that in a second.
When it comes to integrating social media (in a more general sense) with WordPress, plugins that provide multi-network share/follow buttons and widgets are perfect. A few that I’ve highlighted recently are Monarch (premium option) and Social Media Feather (free option).
5. Find The Platforms Your Target Audience is Using (And Start Using Them)
This essential best practice is closely linked with #2 – Knowing Your Audience. As you produce, publish, and track content with analytics you may notice traffic and activity coming from places you did not expect. Take the time to learn about those platforms (how they work, what the etiquette is, etc.) and expand your efforts in that arena.
6. Understand the Platforms You Are Using
This has already been mentioned but needs to be stressed. Each social platform from big to small has it’s own rules and etiquette that, if ignored, will work against you. So it’s better to understand those things and follow them, even if you find it kind of bothersome.
Beyond that, I’ve also found it extremely helpful to focus on the best way to format or even reshape your content to fit in better on each platform. As a basic example, using properly sized images on Google+ versus Facebook can go a long way toward encouraging users of those platforms to engage with your content.
For more examples, here is a useful guide to content formatting on various social platforms by tentsocial:
7. Create a Schedule
Some really affordable and/or freemium tools like Buffer or Hootsuite allow you to schedule your updates for maximum effectiveness–hitting peak activity hours on each platform. As you can imagine, tools like that can be extremely helpful in making sure you get the most out of your efforts. But you can (and probably should) create a schedule for everything involving your content publishing and time spent on social sites. This will help you establish consistency and (hopefully) prevent you from getting sucked into “social media black holes” where you spend hours on a network and nothing is actually accomplished.
8. Automate (Where Appropriate)
We can all tell the difference between automated spam and a real message. Don’t do the former. Ever. But do take advantage of auto-responder emails for specific site interactions as well as automated social updates (of the kind I just mentioned in #7). The basic rule when it comes to automation is don’t be spammy. If you can find ways of saving time and energy with automation that doesn’t break that cardinal rule–go for it!
9. Draw Insights From Analytics
Whether you’re using a link shortening service, Google Analytics, Hootsuite, some other form of analytics, or all of the above–making data based decision is just plain smarter than not doing it. This data is a direct reflection of how your content is being received, how people are interacting with it, and holds clues as to what you can do to achieve the ideal results. It may feel intimidating at first, a lot like WordPress probably intimidated many of you in the beginning, but it’s worth it. Take the time to become familiar with an analytics platform of your choosing and squeeze all of the insights you can out of it.
10. Iterate & Repeat
As the saying goes: it is the definition of insanity to do the same thing over and over expecting different results. The same goes for social media marketing. You cannot expect the exact same tactic that hasn’t been working to all of a sudden work if only you repeat it often enough. Take all of the essentials above and as you receive data from your analytics (and audience feedback) tweak your strategy to reflect what you’ve learned. Then repeat.
When it comes to creating a social media marketing strategy there are certain essential elements to the process. The first and foremost is forming a solid brand persona based on the values that make you/your company tick. The next one is learning to recognize the audience that emerges (those who respond positively) when you speak (create content) based on those values. This part of the process will look different for everyone.
After the first two, which are more or less pre-requisites, things become a bit more standardized. It’s important to set clear social media goals, integrate social media with your WordPress website, use (and understand) the most relevant platforms, stay consistent with a schedule, automate appropriate actions, and learn from the resulting data. After you’ve done all that, cycle back through and adjust things as you go.