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Six steps to a social strategy

Identifying who you reach and what sets you apart are just the first two questions to tackle on this journey.
Thursday, March 26, 2015 - 07:00
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Social is serious business. You wouldn’t open a new repair shop without a detailed business plan. The same is true for launching your social media presence. Especially considering the level of competition out there these days, winging it is no longer an option. It’s easy to enter your email address, pick a username and just go through the motions, but, ultimately, that won’t impact your bottom line.

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As a small business owner with a shop to run and a shoestring marketing budget, who’s not looking to make a big punch without breaking the bank? By planning ahead and executing with confidence, you can save yourself the time, money and headaches associated with an off-color Tweet gone awry or a negative review wreaking havoc on your online reputation.

Even if you’ve been active on social media for a while now — and, especially, if you have that creeping feeling in the back of your mind that you could be doing so much more with it — getting back to basics to re-evaluate your strategy periodically is a valuable practice.

What Differentiates You?
Start by taking a look at your brand. You — and your business — are more than just the sum of the services you offer. What makes you unique? What do your die-hard customers love about you? What organizations do you support in your community? What’s your story?

By distinguishing how you want to portray yourself and what you stand for, you can create a clear, consistent message for your social presence. This should be cohesive with the messaging across all of your other marketing channels. Social media is just one piece of the puzzle that is your overall brand. Be sure to design it to fit with the other pieces.

Who is Your Customer?
Social media isn’t about adding logos to your repertoire. It’s about people. As you flesh out your social strategy, keep in mind that it must be customer-centric. Of course, you’ll develop business goals around your strategy, but, ultimately, your success depends on the support of your customer base. These individuals will make up the bulk of your community online, at least at the beginning, and happy customers make the best advocates. Building community takes time, but it’s worth it.

Take a look at the demographic data for your customer base. What age are they? Are they single or married with children? Do they all live within a certain ZIP code, or do you draw in prospects from far and wide — or even from across the country with online services?

The more detail you can add to the picture of your customer profile, the better you can cater to those folks online. Defining your audience will allow you to determine what type of content to share and even the language you should use in your posts. This step will be even more important if your ideal customer is a great deal different from you in personality, sense of humor or life stage.

Where is Your Audience?
Your customers will give you a good indication of where you should be active on social media. Do a little sleuthing. Are they Tweeting up a storm? Do they post photos from your shop on Instagram? Many social sites have location-based filters, so you can search for activity posted in your town even beyond specific mentions of your business.

If you’re still having trouble tracking your audience down, it’s time to look at the competition. Where are they active? If they’re particularly strong on one platform, it’s a good sign that you should explore your options there too. Do the same research into other organizations and/or publications in your area.

In the end, the easiest option may be to just ask! If you already have your social pages set up or have an email database, consider creating a survey to ask your customers how you can best serve them online. Don’t disregard the value of asking in person either! You may get the most in-depth answers by going straight to the source.

What are Your Goals?
It can be a struggle to balance the customer-centric nature of social media with business objectives. Yes, as with all marketing, you need to cater to your customers, and social media can be a fun venue for doing so. You can’t just jump into the sandbox and yell, “Buy my stuff!” However, it’s also not all about sitting around the campfire and singing “Kumbaya.”

What is it that you’d like to accomplish by building your social media presence? Increase customer retention? Build awareness? Send traffic to your website? Lower your customer acquisition cost? There must be a point, or you’ll never know whether you’re being effective.

You’re playing a long game, but each step should get you a little closer to the mountaintop. Break down those big goals, so you can see what they mean for your day-to-day work. Let’s say you’re looking to improve customer retention. One avenue for achieving that goal may involve working to increase your star rating on Yelp. From there, you can drill down further to actual activities: asking your customers to leave reviews and then committing to post responses to said reviews.

By nailing down specific objectives, you can also distinguish what will prevent you from achieving them. Audit whatever social sites you’ve already created and the skills of anyone within your business who is contributing to your online presence. You may need to ask Jennifer to overhaul your Google Plus bio to include better keywords. You may need to ask Sam to up his hashtag game on Twitter. You may even need to invest in some tools, resources or outside help to assist you in managing your social media responsibilities.

How Will You Execute?
When you reach the execution stage, it’s time to get concrete. What topics should you address? How frequently should you post, and to which networks? Reference the research you did in defining your audience and determine the best practices for the sites you’re growing. These answers will inform your content development. For instance, you may only want to post on Facebook four times per week, but you should aim for more than three times that on Twitter.

From there, delegate responsibilities within your organization or hire outside help to support your goals. Be honest with yourself about your resources, time and even preferences. If you say you want to post to Instagram three times per week but know you get cooped up in the back office, you’ll need to assign someone as a photographer. If you’d rather spend time under the hood of a truck than sit at a computer, find a member of your office staff to keep an eye on your Google reviews.

How Will You Measure?
None of the work you’ve done above will matter if you have an ignorance-is-bliss attitude. The only way to improve continually is to measure continually. Most networks offer some form of built-in analytics to help you gauge your process. That way, you can see which posts, posting times and topics are resonating with your audience most strongly. Are you reaching thousands with your Memorial Day contest? You’ll know to run a similar one for Halloween. Getting crickets from your latest sweepstakes? You’ll know you need to try something else.

Stay on the Ride
With your strategy in place, you’re ready to put your plan into action! Keep in mind that it will take time to see results, and you may need to tweak your strategy along the way. While sticking to a regular evaluation schedule to measure your progress is perhaps the step most likely to fall by the wayside, it’s crucial. It will take more than a day to get to the top of the mountain you’re scaling, and you don’t want to be without a compass.   

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