Social media strategy is the key to successful digital marketing. But how do you achieve that? Which channels do you choose? Three experts are here to help you.
Which to use?
Niki Hutchison works with clients to improve their social media strategy. Niki told me that she believes two critical things must be considered when reviewing your social media strategy and which channels to use. The first is where your ideal customers are likely already hanging out.
Ask yourself, Niki says, “are they in Facebook groups, watching Instagram Reels and Stories, do they love LinkedIn, or are they die-hard Tweeters?”. She advises asking your customers which platform they open up first thing in the morning, a deliberately different question to ‘which is your favorite social media platform’ or ‘the one you spend the most time on. Asking the right question will yield more valuable results.
Many of us start out trying to be all things to all people, which makes for a chaotic social media strategy. The busier we become as we grow, it becomes more and more important to hone in on what works and what doesn’t and only concentrate on what does. Effective measuring and finding the time to study the results will tell you this. Niki points out that if you invest in a social channel without getting a good return, now is the time to switch.
When designing your social media strategy, the second vital thing for Niki is to find channels where you feel comfortable being present. “It’s no use forcing yourself to use Twitter if you really can’t bear it. You won’t show up consistently,” she advises.
Niki recommends batch creation and investing in a professional scheduling tool. Spending a focused hour or two each week or half-day per month will ensure that you are more strategic and less reactive on social media. Remember to schedule in time for review, too, and set up a spreadsheet detailing information from your analytics so that you can spot trends over time, then rinse and repeat to do more of what’s working and less of what’s not.
Harvey Morton is a digital expert and founder of HarveyMorton.Digital and The Social Sanctuary Podcast. As a young entrepreneur, he has grown his business from a £25 enterprise loan to being the go-to voice in website design and social media marketing with clients including Santander, Alton Towers, Sheffield Hallam University, and more.
Harvey agrees that the sheer choice of platforms now is daunting. He has generously shared his advice and tips on developing a successful social media strategy. Having a strategy is vital, rather than posting wildly here and there. He also agrees that it is all about knowing your market. You only need to be on the one (or more) platforms your customers are on.
When it comes to building a social media strategy, it’s critical to continually test what works. Try posting different types of content and see what gets the most response and use that to build your strategy. So if you post things out that don’t work, then you’ll know that’s not something you need to revisit. It’s always good to inject some personality and post different types of content, such as videos, gifs, meet-the-team style, and behind-the-scenes style posts. You can also merge in a few sales-based posts in there. Make sure your social media strategy keeps it varied, and once you know what works best, you can build that mix further.
Also, really think about the best times of day to post based on what gets you the most engagement. Check what content has been successful and make sure your posts are interactive. You can ask the audience what they’d like to see, as that’s always an excellent way to get ideas. However, his most important piece of advice when building a social media strategy is consistency; there’s no point in having a plan unless you follow it.
In the same way, as you would use the correct tone of voice when speaking to customers in person, use the same strategy on social media. But authenticity is also vital. Never pretend to be something that you are not, Harvey advises, or you will lose the respect of your customers. Be true to your business values and vision at all times.
Avoid spammy competitions and flippant shares of low-quality memes that might offend. Far better to engage with your followers and potential new ones. Harvey says that comments back mean much more than people often realize because it confirms that a person’s voice has been heard.
Consistency and reliability are crucial. Scheduling software helps to release your content at certain times of the day. Software that Harvey recommends includes Hootsuite, Buffer, and Social Pilot. You can make free accounts on all of them, so it’s great. Once your audience knows that time, they will anticipate seeing it in their newsfeed.
Ensure the material you share on social media is of a quality that would make you proud. It is critical to understand best practices and also to use social media creatively. Harvey suggests you look at the #KFCAdminIsBored competition, which asked Twitter users to guess the Admin’s favorite music. While it seems quirky, it’s fun and entirely on-brand with the target market. It prompted user-generated content, which is virtually free marketing that doesn’t feel salesy – genius!
I asked Harvey the pros and cons of having someone in-house or contracting out. He says simply that if you don’t have the time or the expertise, but you have the money, always opt for an expert. It might be via an agency or social media freelancers who can manage your accounts themselves with your approval. One of the key benefits of having a social media marketer is that they will be on top of current trends and changes in the market to get you noticed and keep you relevant.
Mistakes to avoid and useful tools
Liza Horan has 30 years of experience in media work and offers clients’ courses and consulting services on digital strategy and strategic communications.
Liza says that the two biggest mistakes professionals make on social media are treating the network like a soapbox and seeing increasing followers or likes as a stand-alone goal. Instead, look at social media as a tool to help you understand your market and then message how you can help them.
“The secret is to come from a place of service, so you are viewed first as a valuable resource of information, and second as a source of useful products or services,” she says. Listen to the conversation around you and interact. This adds to both your credibility and the ease people can discover you.
She advises ensuring the content you post is consistent with your expertise. Liza also encourages all senior management of companies to be on social media and engage in conversations with stakeholders around the relevant topics to your sector.
No social media strategy on its own will work for you unless it is part of your overall marketing strategy. You may have more followers than all your competition put together. But they are valueless unless they are taking action, clicking to go through to your website, emailing you, or subscribing to your newsletter. If none of those are happening, it signals a lack of alignment between social media strategy and business goals. Re-map who you are talking to, what next step you want them to take to benefit your business, and work your social media to match that in both content and action.
Liza also shared some favorite tools. She recommends bit.ly or another URL-shortener to track specific links. She finds images on Pexels that have a range of copyright-free images and videos. Canva.com is her recommended design tool for the social media “cards,” which are images with text overlaid. It will pre-format for each separate network and is relatively simple to use. However, Liza advises against using the same post on many networks as it can alienate your audience.
Liza also stresses how important it is to tag anyone you mention and to use hashtags. You can use a site such as hashtags.org, to help you find top trending hashtags in your genre on each social channel. Never assume all are the same.
Liza doesn’t recommend outsourcing, believing that you sacrifice authenticity, which is an essential part of the trust-building process. “Individuals are brands today,” Liza says. “Your name literally is your brand, even if your company name also is its own brand. People do business with people.”
Key Messages on Social Media Strategy
It was perhaps inevitable that I would get mixed feedback on the pros and cons of sub-contracting your social media strategy. My own experience tells me that if you have a fast-growing business heading for scale-up, you will not have time to do your business’ social media, even if you choose to run a separate, personal one.
That means either employing someone or sub-contracting. With authenticity so crucial, it is a choice to take your time on. You need someone who will speak your language, and if you opt for employing someone, you need to invest in up-skilling them regularly. In both cases, they have to understand your goals, your vision, your values and that is completely crucial to your social media strategy.
Interaction is as vital as the posts themselves. Many social media companies offer x number posts per week but no interaction. Therefore, you lose half the effect or still end up doing a lot of the work yourself.
Better to do your primary stakeholders’ channel (s) well than all channels. There is no point in building an audience where no relevant people go. Keep your messages on-topic, in keeping with your vision and values. Contribute your expertise but without selling.
Be original. Let your personal brand light shine where you can. When well done, nothing builds audiences faster than the authentic you.
All the experts agree, that part of a successful social media strategy is to post, at set times of the day, so people expect you. Plan out what you will post in advance so there is a balanced mix of engaging and informative content.
Remember, that your social media strategy is only a part of what you do. Beware of getting too sucked in. Measure what you – above all. Don’t just measure in terms of likes and social media growth – though that may be part of it if you aim for influencer status. Also, measure the results you get from what you do in terms of interaction on messaging, emails, website clicks, sign-ups, sales. It is that, after all, that an effective social media strategy aims to achieve.
If you want to read all our series on digital marketing, this is the first one here on how to achieve it on a budget.