Ready to figure out your social media marketing strategy?

If you’re overwhelmed or don’t know where to start, you’re definitely not alone.

Because social media isn’t as straightforward as it used to be. Not by a long shot.

From choosing the right channels to figuring out your content strategy, analysis paralysis is a serious problem for marketers today.

That’s why we put together a comprehensive guide to creating a social media marketing plan from scratch.

A succinct strategy will help your brand tackle its goals with a sense of purpose. Below is a step-by-step social media marketing guide to help you identify your social goals, engage audiences and optimize your results:

  1. Set meaningful social marketing goals
  2. Research your target audience
  3. Establish your most important metrics
  4. Analyze your competition
  5. Create and curate engaging content
  6. Make timeliness a top priority
  7. Assess your results and optimize
  8. Communicate goals, challenges and wins with your team

1. Set goals that make sense for your business

First things first: you need to figure out what you want out of social media at large.

Because coming up with a social media plan means having an end-game in mind.

Whether that means more dollars and cents from your existing social presence or amping up your reach with new followers is totally up to you.

What matters is that you set realistic social media goals. We recommend tackling smaller objectives that allow you to scale your social efforts in a way that’s both reasonable and affordable.

Sample social media goals for 2020 and beyond

Below are some sample goals that businesses of all shapes and sizes can divide and conquer. Based on data from the Sprout Social Index, these are the top priorities for marketers today.

Increase brand awareness. To create authentic and lasting brand awareness, avoid solely publishing promotional messages. Instead, focus on content that emphasizes your personality or values first.

Generate leads and sales. Whether online or in-store, followers aren’t going to make social purchases by accident.  For example, are you about alerting customers about new products and promos?

YOU asked, WE listened! Glitter Duck Boots are ON SALE 🎉🙌 featuring a shed proof #glitter! Click to get yours ➡️ http://bit.ly/2RCj8Yq

Posted by Marleylilly – Monogrammed Gifts on Saturday, November 23, 2019

Grow your brand’s audience. Bringing new followers into the fold means finding ways to introduce your brand to folks who haven’t heard of you before.

Growing your audience also means discovering conversations around your business and industry that matter the most. Digging through your social channels is nearly impossible without monitoring or listening to specific keywords, phrases or hashtags. Through more efficient social media targeting, you reach your core audience much faster.

Increase community engagement. Find ways to grab the attention of your current followers.  This means experimenting with messaging and content. For example, does your brand promote user-generated content and hashtags?

Even something as simple as asking a question can increase your engagement rate. Your customers can be your best cheerleaders, but only if you’re giving them something to do.

Increase web traffic. If you’re laser-focused on generating leads or traffic to your website, social media can make it happen. Whether through promotional posts or social ads, keeping an eye on conversions and URL clicks can help you better determine your ROI from social media.

ads can help drive traffic to your website if that's the goal of your social media marketing strategy

Any combination of these explicit goals is fair game and can help you better understand which networks to tackle, too. When in doubt, keep your social media strategy simple rather than muddling it with too many objectives that might distract you.

Effortlessly manage social engagement with Sprout

With Sprout’s Smart Inbox, messages from all channels are pulled into one stream so you can easily engage with your brand community.

You can filter and tag messages to easily sort and track performance based on themes and campaigns.

Start a free 30-day trial and find out how Sprout can help you stay connected with your fans and build your audience.

2. Research your target audience

Making assumptions is a dangerous game for marketers.

And thanks to the sheer wealth of demographic data and social media analytics tools out there, you really don’t have to anymore.

So much of what you need to know about your audience to influence your social media marketing strategy is already out in the open.

Take today’s social media demographics. These numbers speak directly to which networks your brand should approach and what types of content to publish. Here are some key takeaways:

  • Facebook and YouTube are both prime places for ads due in part to their high-earning user bases.
  • The majority of Instagram’s are millennials or Gen Z, signaling the strength of bold, eye-popping content that oozes with personality.
  • Women vastly outnumber men on Pinterest, which is noted to boast the highest average order value for social shoppers.
  • LinkedIn’s user base is well-educated, making it a hub for in-depth, industry-specific content that might be more complicated than what you see on Facebook or Twitter.

See how no platform is one-size-fits-all?

And although the demographics data above gives you insight into each channel, what about your own customers? Further analysis needs to be done before you can truly know your customer demographics on social media.

That’s why many brands use a social media dashboard which can provide an overview of who’s following you and how they interact with you on each channel.

For example, Sprout’s analytics dashboard pouts your audience demographics front and center. It also highlights which social networks are seeing the most activity, helping you ensure your spending your time on the right networks.

Having all our analytics under one roof really helps us be more effective and efficient in testing out content. It’s so much easier to hone in on the types of content that work best for us, whether it’s by channel, by time or something else.
Bridget Kulla
Senior Digital Marketing Manager

With Sprout’s Group Report, you can view Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn and Pinterest data side-by-side in a customizable format that’s exportable by date range and profile.

sprout cross channel group report

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3. Establish your most important metrics

No matter what you’re selling, your social media strategy should be data-driven.

That means focusing on the social media metrics that matter.

The hiding of “Likes” on Facebook and Instagram should be an eye-opener for businesses today. Rather than focus on vanity metrics, brands are tasked with dig into data that aligns directly with their goals.

2020 social media toolkit

Metrics marketers should keep an eye on

What metrics are we talking about, though? Check out the breakdown below:

  • Reach. Post reach is the number of unique users who saw your post. How far is your content spreading across social? Is it actually reaching users’ feeds? In the face of ever-changing organic algorithms, tracking reach is arguably more important than ever.
  • Clicks. This is the number of clicks on your content, company name or logo. Link clicks are critical toward understanding how users move through your marketing funnel. Tracking clicks per campaign is essential to understand what drives curiosity or encourages people to buy.
  • Engagement. The total number of social interactions divided by the number of impressions. For engagement, it’s about seeing who interacted and if it was a good ratio out of your total reach. This sheds light on how well your audience perceives you and their willingness to interact.
  • Hashtag performance. What were your most used hashtags on your own side? Which hashtags were most associated with your brand? Or what hashtags created the most engagement? Having these answers can help shape the focus of your content going forward.
twitter trends and hashtags report in sprout
  • Organic and paid likes: Beyond a standard Like count, these interactions are attributed to paid or organic content. For channels like Facebook, organic engagement is much harder to gain traction, which is why many brands turn to Facebook Ads. However, earning organic likes on Instagram isn’t quite as difficult. Knowing these differences can help you budget both your ad spend and the time you invest in different formats.
  • Sentiment. This is the measurement of how users reacted to your content, brand or hashtag. Did customers find your recent campaign offensive? What type of sentiment are people associating with your campaign hashtag? It’s always better to dig deeper and find out how people are talking about your brand.
sentiment listening report from sprout

An effective social media marketing strategy is rooted in numbers. That said, those numbers need to be put into a context that circles back around to your original goals.

4. Dig into what your competitors are doing

Before you start creating content, you should have a good idea of what your competitors are up to.

While some brands might want to look into third-party competitor analysis tools to dig deeper into their competitors’ numbers, you can also gain useful insights from a fairly simple review of competitors’ social presence.

Looking at your competition’s social channels will directly inform your own social media promotion strategy. The goal here isn’t to copycat or steal your competitors’ ideas. Instead, it’s to determine what’s working for them and what conclusions you can draw to adapt your own campaigns accordingly.

Same industry, different strategies

For example, let’s take a glance at how two brands in the same space can take two different approaches to their social media marketing strategy and still be successful.

In this case, we’ll look at the surprisingly entertaining mattress space.

Casper regularly light-hearted content that’s brimming with personality, oftentimes emphasizing comfort and coziness with a sense of humor. In short, the brand does a great job of not feeling like a totally corporate account.

Meanwhile, Purple is likewise known for their own sense of humor and memes. That said,  the brand combines its own humorous content with more “traditional” promotional posts that feature influencers.

The takeaway here is that brands have so many options when it comes to creativity and setting themselves apart from competitors.

Of course, you need to know who your competitors are before you start stressing over content creation. That’s why analysis is so important.

How to spot your social competitors

The simplest way to find competitors is through a simple Google search. Look up your most valuable keywords, phrases and industry terms to see who shows up.

For example, if you sold various soaps, “handmade natural soaps” would be a great keyword to investigate. Excluding major retailers like Amazon and Bath & Body Works, take a look at who’s popping up in your space both organically and via ads.

homemade natural soaps google

Then, you’ll want to take a look at who’s active on social media. In this particular case, Wild Soap is a smaller operation with an active, thriving social presence. This means they’re a great candidate to track.

After identifying some of your industry rivals, you can use social media competitive analysis tools such as those found in Sprout to quickly compare competitor performance to your own.

See what they’re posting on Facebook. Contrast your Twitter engagement with theirs. Find out how they’re tagging their content on Instagram. Optimize your own strategy. Rinse and repeat.

sprout's instagram competitors report

You can also go a step further using Sprout’s Advanced Listening. Using social listening, you can spotlight unfiltered consumer feedback regarding competitors, as well as their products and services.

You get the added bonus of discovering honest conversations about your own brand you may have otherwise missed.

Our community manager uses listening to look for places where we’re being mentioned or talked about without people tagging us so he can participate in those conversations.
Taylor Murphy
Global Social Media Manager

5. Create and curate engaging social content

Your social media marketing strategy is obviously centered around content.

At this point, you should have a pretty good idea of what to publish based on your goal and brand identity. Similarly, you probably feel confident in which networks to cover.

But what does engaging social content look like and how do you make it happen? The principles below can help.

Sticking to content themes

One of the toughest challenges to visual content is creating it on a day-to-day basis. According to data from Venngage, one-third of marketers struggle with creating compelling visuals.

This highlights how important highly-visual content is to marketers and the people they want to reach. That’s why building content themes is a great approach to sectioning out your content.

Instagram is arguably the best channel for content themes given that it’s totally visual. For example, Postmates does an amazing job at keeping their Instagram feed consistent, colorful and aesthetically pleasing.

postmates content themes

Sticking to a content theme makes it easier to build out your content calendar. For example, you might cycle between memes, product photos and user-generated content while sticking to a rotating color scheme. Check out how Profitec does exactly that.

profitec content themes

If consistency is a problem with your social media marketing strategy, think about how a theme can help.

And if you’re struggling to keep up with all these sources of social content, consider social media management tools that help you organize your media library and schedule your posts in advance.

To help narrow down the specifics of what you should be publishing and make sure you’re developing innovative content, here are some social media trends to keep an eye on.

UGC and interactive content

User-generated content allows your followers to serve as billboards and provides an incentive for customers to interact with you. Whether it’s using a hashtag or posting a photo, encouraging customer content is a smart move for boosting your engagement rate.

Similarly, never pass up an opportunity to interact or pick your followers’ brains. Even something as simple as asking a question or posting a poll can do the trick.

Stories and time-sensitive content

Tapping into your followers’ FOMO (fear of missing out), Stories content on Instagram and Facebook is only going to become more important.

Simply put, Stories are both interactive and can’t-miss. Popping up first in your followers’ feeds by default, such content can help your brand’s account “skip the line” and stay fresh in your audience’s minds.

Instgram Stories and other time-sensitive content should be part of your social media marketing strategy

Stories are especially valuable for taking your followers behind-the-scenes and making your social feed feel a bit more personal. For example, consider how you can use Stories to cover an event or take your followers on a journey without them having to leave the comfort of the ‘gram.

Instagram storyexample

Video as the centerpiece of your social media marketing strategy

The boom of social video isn’t stopping anytime soon. Both long-form and short-form productions continue to dominate the social space across all platforms.

Consider how minute-long videos like this one from Goodful are all-the-rage on Instagram right now.

Even massive brands like Instant Pot are on the short-form video bandwagon, regularly publishing micro-commercials to Facebook that rack up millions of views.

Create more than dinner. 🏗 #instantpot #dinnerdone

Posted by Instant Pot on Sunday, October 6, 2019

Brands today shouldn’t shy away from video, especially with the wealth of creative options and apps out there.

6. Make timeliness a top priority

Timeliness is a two-way street.

You can’t always expect customers to operate on “your time.” Likewise, it’s crucial to be able to reach and respond to followers in a timely manner.

How do you do both, though? Let’s break it down.

Post at the best times to engage

Quick question: when is your brand available to engage and interact with customers?

You might see some recommending times to post late in the evening, for example. But if your brand isn’t there to communicate, what’s the point of posting at the “preferred” time?

Instead, try to ensure your social media or community managers are available and ready to answer any product questions or concerns when you tweet or post. It’s smart to learn the best times to post on social media. However, it’s just as critical to engage after posting.

Best times to post on Facebook for all industries 2020

And hey, that leads us to our next point.

Respond to your customer questions and shout-outs ASAP

Not only do customers expect speedier responses from brands but also meaningful conversations on a regular basis.

Your brand can’t forget these core elements of networking. It takes effort to ensure conversations or engagement opportunities aren’t left unattended.

Through social media, you gain respect as a brand by just being present and talking to your audience. That’s why social customer care is so important to brands wanting to increase audience awareness. It’s all about engagement.

Whether it’s capitalizing on a compliment or responding to a question, businesses shouldn’t leave customers hanging.

Through the right social media monitoring tools, you can find instances across all your channels to interact, respond and gauge customers around-the-clock.

brand keywords monitored in the sprout inbox

Designating teams to specific tasks can help your staff run like a well-oiled social media team, whether you’re a group of one or 100.

According to our research, a brand’s average response time is around 10 hours. But did you know that most users believe brands should respond to social media messages within four hours?

Response times should factor into your social media marketing strategy

As social algorithms go through continuous updates, organic content has an increasingly tough time reaching the majority of your audience. The last thing you want to do is ignore those who do engage and lose out on sending more down your marketing funnel.

7. Assess what’s working, what isn’t and how you can improve

By now you should have a big-picture understanding of your social media strategy.

However, it’s important that you’re able to adapt your strategy as you progress throughout the year.

Without continuously analyzing your efforts, you’ll never know how one campaign did over another. Having a bird’s eye view of your social media activity helps put things into perspective. This means looking at your top-performing content and fine-tuning your campaigns accordingly.

instagram business profiles report in sprout

There’s no denying that a lot of social media is a matter of trial-and-error. Monitoring the metrics behind your campaigns in real-time allows you to make small tweaks to your social media marketing strategy rather than sweeping, time-consuming changes.

This dynamic approach to marketing makes perfect sense in a day and age where social media is constantly evolving. You can be reactive in the short term to get the most out of your running campaigns, and then proactively use these takeaways to inform your next major strategy.

8. Communicate goals, challenges and wins with your team

To wrap things up, consider that collaboration is more important than ever for social marketers.

Our Index data notes that there’s a growing expectation for marketers to report on results and ROI with their higher-ups. Doing so not only holds you accountable for your efforts but also highlights the role and results that your social strategy is able to produce.

Perhaps the best way to convey that information is through shareable, easy-to-read reports like the ones baked into Sprout. Want to showcase the success of a campaign or drill down into specific KPIs? Done.

Oh, and don’t forget our built-in social collaboration tools that make it a cinch for your team to work together on any given social campaign.

you can assign tasks in sprout's smart inbox

And with that, we wrap up your social media strategy guide for 2020 and beyond!

Is your social media marketing strategy sorted out?

Hopefully this guide served as some much-needed inspiration for figuring out how to create a social media marketing strategy.

Looking for more resources? Check out our free toolkit with templates that make reporting and planning a snap, or our social marketing strategy guide with checklists that can help you put your ideas into action ASAP.

Good luck and happy planning!