As we move into 2015, there is one thing that seems pretty clear: social media isn’t going anywhere. Once thought of as a fad or trend with no staying power, this powerful engine has evolved and become an essential part of any good marketing mix. I hear it from our partners all the time: I know it’s time to embrace social for my business, but I’m still not sure how. Many partners I speak with feel a little intimidated or lost whenever they think about social media, which keeps them from ever starting.
 
Sound like you? Don’t worry, this is your year, and I am here to help. The toughest part is getting started, so here are five steps to help launch your social media strategy.
 
 
  1. Ask yourself, ‘why’? Why are you interested in leveraging social media? What are you hoping to achieve? Yes, incorporating social media into your marketing mix is important, but you shouldn’t be doing it just for the sake of doing it. It’s important to establish your objectives first, before you tackle anything else, because they will guide your entire social strategy.

    Something else that will become abundantly clear to you later on is that the possibilities with social media are endless and can become all-consuming. Establishing your objectives will not only help you determine what you should do, but almost as important, what you should NOT do.

     

  2. Define your audience. Once you are clear on your objectives, the next step is to understand who you want to reach. Are you trying to build stronger relationships with existing customers? Are you looking to win customers from your competitors? Each audience may have a different strategy based on what networks they are currently active on and the type of information they want to consume.

     

  3. Pick your network. You want to meet your audience where they are. That means, you can’t expect them to come to you, you need to incorporate your content into their daily activities. Prioritize channels based on their behaviors and preferences. PewResearch has a great resource on demographics for key social networking platforms that can help with this. For those who are just starting out, I typically advise to pick just one, maybe two networks in the beginning. It’s better to start slow and then add to your social media mix as you become more confident and comfortable with it.

    One major mistake that many people make at this stage is picking a network based on trends. For example, Instagram is currently a very popular social media network, and so it might be tempting to choose it so you can be “on the leading edge”. However, if your audience is mostly males in the 30-50 age range, Instagram would primarily give you access to teenagers! 

     

  4. Make a plan. It’s easy to get excited when you’re starting out in social media. You enthusiastically send out a message every hour, and then, after a few weeks, or maybe a few months, you trail off to one post a month instead. Consistency is key in social media, so to keep yourself from losing momentum, it’s important to create an editorial calendar. This plan will help outline what you will talk about, and how often, to provide structure and consistency to your communications.

    There are so many examples of content plans and editorial calendars that I could write a whole post just on that. But, for the sake of getting started, you can create a basic editorial plan. For example, maybe your goal is to publish one message every day. You decide to publish a Motivational Monday post on Mondays, an industry article you think is valuable on Tuesdays, and so on until you have a certain type of content designated for each day. Again, start slow! It’s always easier to add more once you’re confident you can keep it up. 

     

  5. Be prepared for two-way conversations. One of the defining things about social media as a marketing channel is that, unlike other channels, your audience can talk back. It is a conversation, not a bullhorn, so you definitely want to be prepared to engage and respond. Partner Dux Raymond Sy has some great time-saving tips on engagement, including tools to leverage to make your life easier. Having a plan in place for checking responses, questions, or comments from your audience will allow you to capitalize on those opportunities to continue a conversation and build relationships. That is where the real magic of social media happens.

    As part of your plan, it’s also helpful to touch base with your marketing, PR and legal teams to see if they have any guidance on how to handle situations that may arise, and ultimately make sure you have a good plan in place to bring them in if needed. Things move quickly in the world of social, so having those plans set before you get started will be important.

    BONUS: Don’t just leave it to the intern. Don’t get me wrong, that’s how I started, and the right intern can be a great way to get your company into social media in an affordable way. However, social media for a business is very different from tweeting on personal accounts. Just because someone knows social media, doesn’t mean they will have the professionalism, business savvy and understanding of your company’s brand. This person will be writing and sending your social media messages and representing your company’s brand and voice to the world. And remember that, as our friend Jeff Shuey reminds us, there is no delete key on the internet.

 
Finally, all that’s left is to get started. Social media is one of those things that will become more comfortable with as you go, so don’t let yourself become so consumed in the planning that you never get going.