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Developing a social media strategy

Whether you’re developing a new website, planning a rebrand or want to gain increased interaction and conversion rates for your business, a robust and forward-looking social media strategy should form a central part of your marketing plans.

No longer simply a way for individuals to catch up with their friends, social media now pervades the very heart of B2B and B2C marketing and is not only a mirror of how your brand is perceived in the world but also a magnet to draw in new clients. 

Never before has there been a more powerful, fast and effective way to interact directly with businesses and customers and make your message heard.

With internet users spending an average of three hours a day on social media, around 46% of web users turning to social media for making purchases, and over 4.2 billion people using mobile devices to access social media sites every day, social media has quite simply changed the very face of the way in which we do business.

But although 94% of all businesses with a marketing department use social media as part of their strategy, many companies are still not harnessing the full potential of social media or have a clear, long-term strategy in place.

Reasons for this typically include cost and time outlay, lack of knowledge or skills, or difficulty with integrating an increasing number of platforms. But with creativity, careful planning, attention to detail and consistent application, building and maintaining a successful social media strategy can be both achievable and rewarding.

Developing a strong social media strategy means that companies can:

  • Increase brand awareness
  • Increase product and service exposure
  • Build loyal communities
  • Enhance company credibility
  • Enhance customer service
  • Allow direct customer interaction
  • Generate ‘buzz’
  • Boost web traffic
  • Raise search engine rankings
  • Cut marketing costs
  • Raise funding
  • Increase sales

Here, we look at four parts of a social media strategy that are important to remember: interaction, response, realism and results.

Interaction

Like it or not, we are living in a world of instant gratification and our clients and customers are demanding more information and deeper interaction at higher speeds than ever before. This means that your strategy should include:

  • Quick response times to both positive and negative media
  • Pre-emptive actions in case of environmental or industrial changes
  • Correct use of relevant platforms and channels
  • Regular and current high-quality content
  • Optimal use of video and image content
  • Appropriate length, tone and quantity of social media content
  • Multi-device optimisation
  • Awareness and leveraging of trending topics

If visitors to your website and your social media platforms can access information and interact with your brand quickly and easily, they are more likely to become followers, more likely to keep visiting your sites and more likely to recommend your company to their friends. So making all aspects of your content fast, up-to-date and user-friendly is a great start to build a successful social community.

Using a range of interaction strategies is also important to maintain interest and encourage customer loyalty in the long-term – you might consider storytelling, polls, competitions, viral content, crowdsourcing, giveaways, geolocation or gamification. Think about what fits with your brand and your overall aims and business objectives.

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Response

Because social media is a living, dynamic entity, it is imperative to be always listening. As a company, you need to know what is trending, both online and offline, and be ready and able to react immediately to any news- or industry-related changes. Keeping an eye on relevant hashtags and any mention of your brand name is essential to keeping ahead of the game and ensures that any potential problems or issues can be dealt with promptly and effectively. It also means that you can leverage your platforms in a creative and innovative way, building your brand and keeping your image fresh and vibrant.

The fact that you are listening shows that you are not only up-to-date and knowledgeable, but also that you are human and genuinely care about your customers’ experiences.

Although a company that is social media savvy can do much to avoid negative social media crises, these things do happen. What is important is not that a dissatisfied customer has decided to tell the world, but rather your ability to turn a negative into a positive. The way in which you deal with negative social media is absolutely critical to maintaining a company’s professional reputation and avoiding a PR catastrophe, and should be thought about ahead of time.

Dealt with appropriately, a social media crisis can serve as a means of showing that you can recognise when you’ve made a mistake and that you genuinely care about your customers. Always be prompt, always be polite and always be honest.

Realism

Since social media can be very draining on time and resources, a successful strategy needs to be highly specific and unless you have a social media department to work full-time on this, you will be more successful if you focus on certain areas. For many companies this means starting off by targeting only one or two of the main social media platforms (although you may decide to have a small presence on the other major players too). It is easy to ramp things up later, but disappointing for your followers if your social media presence suddenly disappears.

The main thing to remember is to be only where you can be regularly. The success of social media relies upon your commitment to being present on your chosen platforms regularly and consistently. There will be times where you will need to respond to issues immediately, and for this reason it is essential to not take on more than your staff and your systems can cope with.

Results

As with all strategic business planning, you will need to identify:

  • Where you are starting from (an analysis of where you are now)
  • Where you want to be (your company aims, objectives, vision and goals)
  • How you plan to get there (your plan of activities, schedules, personnel, milestones, budget etc.)
  • How you will know if you have reached your goals (measurable, tangible results)

The last of these can often be less robust in a social media campaign, yet it is a vital part of the plan. Because social media is a less direct route to sales than other traditional marketing and publicity models, companies can find it all too easy to spend time, money and effort on social media campaigns and still end up with little to show in tangible benefits or bottom-line figures.

It is therefore essential that when drawing up your social media strategy, you are clear about how you will measure its results. Setting clear targets is one way to do this, for example, percentage increase of website traffic, amount of extra conversions (sales, downloads, clicks, shares, sign-ups etc.), number of extra followers or relative share of the market.

Linking your strategy with the systematic and thorough use of analytics data and audience research will ensure that you can make adjustments to target your customers more accurately with appropriate design and content. In turn, this will drive even more traffic, build brand awareness and increase conversion rates for your business.

Devising a cohesive and forward-looking social strategy is essential for companies as they move into a new age of social media collaboration. More than an optional extra, a well-devised social media strategy is crucial, impacting on every area of your business and ensuring that you remain at the forefront of your industry.

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