What we're talking about
From the mainstream platforms (think: Instagram, Twitter or Facebook) to the more niche (think: Discord, Clubhouse or Twitch), social media has the potential to help your business grow – but only if you use it thoughtfully. You need to work out which channels can add value to your business and how you can use them to achieve what you want. That means deciding which are the right platforms for you to invest in, then coming up with a logical and achievable plan as to the content you’ll put out. The aim is to land on a focused, measurable plan of action that gives you a consistent presence – and you’ll need to be able to track whether that plan is having the effect you want.
Why it's important
You might have noticed that more people are using social platforms and, according to data from audience targeting company GWI, they’re spending longer on them. Whatever your ambition, be it increasing brand awareness, engaging with customers, growing your customer base or bringing in more sales, your social channels could play a critical role in making it happen.
Because of the number of platforms out there and their differing user bases, it can be an overwhelming part of a business to manage – but there’s no point in having multiple social media accounts for your business if you don’t use them properly and consistently. Failing to do so not only means you won’t grow in the way you want, but it might also hurt customers’ opinion of you. Many customers check social media profiles before making a purchase (54% according to GWI) and study after study points to their importance in creating brand perception. Your social profiles aren’t just a megaphone for your business – nor is managing them something to hand off to the youngest person in the team while you hope for the best.
Things to note
Create a consistent brand presence. You should have a pretty solid grasp of which channels are useful for which purpose (ie, visual content on IG, video on TikTok, written content on Twitter…) but it’s important that whichever channels you choose to invest time in, your presence is consistent – so a similar tone, visual style and messaging must be applied across the board.
Not all metrics matter. The narrow goals you set should have clear metrics that will be easily trackable on each platform. So, if you’re trying to increase brand awareness, you might look at post reach; if you’ve got a sales goal, it might be on website traffic or click-through rate. Don’t get distracted by vanity metrics like follower count – followers are only useful if they engage with your business.
Consider what your customers want from a brand. This study from Forrester shows the importance of being clear on the key types of social media users your customer base is made up of – and how much they actually want to engage with a business online. Adjust your posting frequency accordingly, and always go for quality over quantity when it comes to putting out content.
Don’t just follow the trends. The social media space is a rapidly evolving beast, with new platforms that quickly gain traction springing up all the time. While you need to broadly be aware of what’s happening, your plan should always be led by where your customers spend their time and what platforms are relevant for your business and specific aims.
How to come up with a social media plan
1. Get clear on your aims. What are your main objectives for your social media presence? Be it increasing brand awareness; driving traffic to your website and increasing sales; boosting customer engagement; providing customer service or something else entirely, you need to narrow down and be and realistic with your aims. For each aim you define, be clear on the metric you’ll use to measure it.
2. Think about your customers. You should have a pretty good understanding of where your audience is spending their time, based on your business’ customer personas, your audit and your own intuition. Broad social media demographic data is available at websites like Pew Research, but your focus should be on psychographic data: the attitudes, values, interests and behaviours of your target customers. At this level, this will be an inexact science, but try to get a sense of when your customers go online, which platforms they tend to use and for what purpose – ranging from the mainstream ones to the niche.
3. Scope out the competition. Think of 10 competitors and take a look at what they’re doing. You could set up a simple spreadsheet where you note what’s good and not so good about their content, how they’re using different channels and if they have something unique going for them. You don’t want to imitate what’s already out there, but inspiration is always useful. Think about brands in other spaces you like, too – are there elements of what they do that might be suitable for your business?
4. Do a quick audit. Run through every single profile you have, including ones laying dormant. Analyse them for accuracy and consistency. Are they clearly from the same business? Do they align with your brand? What’s the imagery, tone and messaging like? Are your profile and cover images, colour palette, bio, logos and website link all consistent? Then evaluate performance: which channels have engagement and which don’t; what kind of content appears to be working and what doesn’t?
5. Decide which platforms you’ll invest in. Based on your research, it’s time to make some strategic decisions. If you have limited resources, you should really cap this at three platforms max. For each platform, come up with a quick mission statement for what you want to achieve: its core purpose, and how you’ll use it. At this point, it’s also worth making sure you’re up to speed with best practice for your chosen channels – check out this quick cheat sheet from Buffer.
6. Work out your content mix. Based on each platform’s purpose, decide the general breakdown of content. What percentage will focus on driving traffic to your website; outline updates and news; promote products; repurpose other people’s content; or be pure entertainment? A general rule of thumb is 80% engaging to 20% sales – people don’t tend to appreciate being sold to all the time.
7. Touch base on your brand personality. Re-align with the personality you want to project. What’s your tone of voice going to be (funny, playful, informative, energetic, genuine)? What visual style suits you? How will you respond to customer comments or complaints? What other brands do you associate yourself with? What other businesses will you seek to support?
8. Decide what content you’ll put out. This is the big one. It’s about being realistic about the content you’ll be able to create or share on a regular basis, for each channel you’re on, based on your resources. The main kinds of content include: imagery and product photography, illustrations, infographics, videos, live video streams, polls, sharing other brands’ content and links, running competitions, highlighting successes, sharing user-generated content, behind-the-scenes content, teasing product launches and creating content around thought-leadership. Your audit might give you some guidance on what works for you. Make sure the content you decide upon aligns with your content mix and goals.
9. Set out some posting guidelines. Considering the content you’re putting out, flesh out some guidelines to stick to. For example: what resolution will your photos need to be? What logos will you use? If you’re sharing content, how will you introduce it? Will videos be set to auto-play? Will stories be prepared in advance or be more ad-hoc? Also, think about how you’ll respond to different situations – from customer complaints and competitor comments to general questions.
10. Decide when you’ll post. Bring in a clear plan so you’re posting consistently: the majority of studies suggest once a day is optimal, and twice a day is the limit. You’ll find plenty of advice on the best time to post, but it really depends on your audience, as this useful guide from Buffer illustrates. The key is to create a content calendar that plans out your content well in advance – planning for major events in your business or for your audience (like public holidays). Based on your budget and resources, you might introduce a social media scheduling tool at this point. Plenty of tools have a relatively cheap option for smaller businesses and it can save lots of time and hassle if you’re posting regularly.
11. Make it someone’s responsibility. Obviously this might be you if you’re running your business solo, but it’s important that someone in the business has ownership of the platforms you’re on – taking responsibility for making sure content is up to date and relevant, while engaging with your audience in the right way. It should be someone with an excellent understanding of how the channels work, with the agency to make day-to-day decisions themselves.
12. Measure and tweak. Stay on track of how things are progressing – whether that’s on a quarterly or bi-annual basis, set time aside when you look at key metrics and see whether what you’re doing is growing your business in the way you want it to. It’s important to continually assess your social plan, considering whether there are any opportunities on other platforms, and changing tack or cutting platforms altogether if they’re not effective at all.
• Be specific when deciding on the platforms you’ll invest time in, and how you’ll use that platform. Once you’ve nailed your approach on one or two platforms, you can consider adding more strings to your bow.
• You need to be organised – and plan ahead – to make sure your social media presence is consistent and you’re posting the content you want to be posting on a regular basis.
• Your social plan should be constantly evolving and improving – keeping on track of metrics and seeing what content is working will mean you double down on the effective stuff and don’t waste time and resources on anything else.
Example. Social media scheduling tool Hootsuite has put together a solid template for conducting a simple audit of what you’re currently doing. It also has a useful post on the metrics you should be tracking.
Perspective. For a deep dive into each social platform and tips on how to best utilise them, check out author and entrepreneur Neil Patel’s blog post.
Tool. If you want to invest in some tech to help schedule, manage and analyse your social media content across all your channels, Buffer is an excellent all-in-one tool for small businesses.