Social media marketing has reached widespread acceptance in the business world heading into 2014. You would be hard pressed to find a company that does not understand the value it can bring to their business success.

To get a feel for the enormity of its acceptance, consider the following statistics:

The stats could go on and on here, but you get the picture. Social media has become a crucial component of any marketer’s arsenal.

With the widespread acceptance, it remains true that there are still newcomers to the social media marketing game. No matter whether you are a new college grad, have just moved into a marketing role, or have simply held off as long as possible to jump in, it is never too late to start. The best part of being a newcomer to social media marketing is that many of the unknowns have already been sorted out.

Where to Start: Social Media Strategy Template

Most of us early adopters made the same mistake – jumping in head first without an idea of what we were aiming to do. In the early days, social media was a wide open book, just waiting to be molded into the communication channel it is today. Many of us floundered with figuring out how to use it, while a few smart and creative folks built the vision behind where we are today.

For anyone new to the game, they can get ramped much faster by learning from the mistakes we made in the past. The most important thing to get right is the strategy. The term “social media strategy” has been used and misused to mean pretty much anything from strategic planning to tweeting, so it is important to put a framework around what it should be in reality.

Let’s look at how one might approach building such a template.

1. Audit Existing Activities

Unless you are starting a new business and planning to launch into a guerilla marketing effort (or “growth hacking” as some sects of the marketing population like to call it now), you will have an assortment of existing marketing tactics already under way or completed. It is important to review everything that has been done in the past to promote the business. Get a good inventory of what vehicles and messages have been used.

Leave no stone unturned during this effort. The initial audit is not focused on figuring out what provided value and did not – it is about identifying what has been done, when, and how it was executed. Social Media Marketing is one cog in an overall messaging and promotional wheel, so figure out what else the wheel uses to roll before putting on a whole new wheel!

2. Delineate Successes and Failures

Once you have a thorough and complete summary of everything that you or your predecessors have already tried, you are ready to start analyzing the campaigns and tactics.

First and foremost, identify the abject failures of outreach and campaigns. You want to find the worst performing things you have done, and analyze those in depth.

  • Why did they fail?
  • What could have been done differently?
  • How were they measured and managed?

We can learn a great deal from failure, so take the opportunity to educate yourself.

Next, turn to the items that provided at least some value.

  • What was different about those strategies and campaigns?
  • Did it focus on a different target audience?
  • Use superior creative?
  • Target a different channel or medium?

It should be rather easy to see where these items differed from the failures at this point, so find the best of the best and take note of it. You will need that information for the next step.

3. Determine Where Social Media Marketing Fits

Once you have a great idea of what does and does not work with your business, offering (product or service), target audience, current customers, and segment of the market, you can start to think about social media strategy. Any patterns you found during step 2 will come in handy during this analysis.

  • What purpose do you want to employ social media for?
  • Is it for building a brand?
  • Driving leads?
  • Caring for existing customers?
  • Creating publicity?

Wherever your company failed to find a success in the past, consider that a top area to focus social at first. Or maybe you want to replace a success with a better version of it, pushed out via word of mouth. Maybe you want to supplement a successful campaign with additional communication points – that works as well!

This is a good time to step back and brainstorm the possibilities. You want more ideas to filter through in this step, so don’t eliminate any ideas until you’ve built out the whole list. You just might have the seed of a beautiful tree once you piece a couple of ideas together in later stages.

4. Figure Out Your Objectives and Target Audiences

Okay, so once you know how you want to use social media holistically, the next step is to build objectives on top of that vision. If you want to use it for branding, for example, take a moment to map out what success will look like. This is when you figure out how you will measure the effort, before you even think about the execution plan. The tactics should be chosen to support the objective, so be sure to do this in the right order.

Many companies have web personas or a similar customer segmentation framework already built out. If you have such a framework, overlay it on top of the objectives and revisit whether you have set your goals on a granular enough level. You may have to refine your measurement plans based on whom you plan to target.

For companies that have not build out personas or similar customer profiles, this step will take longer to complete. You may need to interview others in the company to get a good idea of how the customer looks. Your sales team, who gets a lot of face / phone time with the customers directly, as well as your executives and product management team should be great resources for you during this analysis.

If you are in a very small or early stage company and don’t have access to such resources, there’s no need to despair. Make a guess based on the information you do have as a starting point. You will want to use the first few iterations of outbound and inbound campaigns to refine your understanding of the customer. But the key point is to start with a target (or targets) already in mind, and structure the rest of the effort around reaching those individuals or groups of consumers.

5. Map Out A Content Marketing & Curation Strategy

Every good social media marketing campaign has a content component. Given the way the internet works today, content is the center of the marketing universe.

Many social media marketers prefer to start out with a pure curation approach. If you are not familiar with content curation, it is a simple concept. It is similar to how a museum curator reviews thousands of possible exhibits, in order to choose the best of the best for putting on display.

You will want to do the same thing, curating the absolute best content items that may be of interest to your target audience. These are the items you will focus on sharing with the audience as you build up your brand on social media.

How can you find items for curating? There are countless tools available to help. The social media platforms themselves are a great starting point. You can also subscribe to RSS feeds of the most popular content services on the web, via an RSS reader or by having them push the content straight to your email inbox. Or you can go to a content curation platform itself, for example, my personal favorite

Eventually (if not immediately), you will find that curation alone is not enough. At that time, you will need to build a content marketing strategy and plan.

Again, it pays to think ahead – many companies dive headfirst into content generation, starting to blog with no focus, no objectives, and no progress. After six months, they become frustrated that no one is reading the blog and stop writing. That’s the worst thing you can do.

Remember, content is more than just short, pithy blog commentary. Anything that provides valuable information and can engage your audience is content. This includes videos, infographics, white papers, ebooks, podcasting, slideshows, and a whole range of other items. You don’t have to build all completely unique content items across media, so be creative with how you plan out initial composition and repurposing of similar content across the various communication vehicles such as rich media.

There are limitless posts available about how to build a good content marketing plan, so I will leave it at that for this post. We are more focused on the bigger effort in which content falls.

6. Decide What Platforms To Use

Only after you audit existing activities, determine where social fits, identify objectives and target audiences, and map out how content will help you build your social presence, THEN can you start planning out what platforms to use.

This order matters a great deal. If your core content strategy is to generate weekly videos, YouTube will have to be part of your effort. If you plan to blog only, then Twitter and Google+ will be focal points. Looking to run contests and share funny pictures? You will prefer platforms like Facebook and Instagram.

Of course, you will almost certainly want to use the big four platforms of Facebook, Twitter, Google+, and LinkedIn. But it would be irresponsible to first pick the platforms, then forcefit a program into what you already think will work on each site. Get your plan in place first and pick your poison once you know what the end goal is, just like you do with all the other marketing vehicles.

7. After Everything Else, Build Your Tactical Communication Plan

Finally, it is time to start planning out real actions. You can approach this in different ways.

Structured and Planned Out In Detail

Typically, when a mid-sized or large company contacts an agency to handle social media marketing on their behalf, they ask for a detailed plan of exactly what will be said, via which platform, by whom, and when it will be said. For companies that still think they control the conversation, this is commonplace.

If you are the type of marketer who likes to have all the details spelled out before execution, feel free to go to this level of minutiae. For many of us, it provides a comfort level, particularly if you are farming the work out to someone you have not built a full level of trust in yet.

Personally, I think this is overboard. A better approach is as follows…

Free Form With Rules Of Engagement in Place

Let’s face it, we are all big boys and girls running real businesses. Build the right social media strategy template up front, make sure you feel it is rock solid, employ people with business savvy whom you can trust, and let them go make things happen.

The conversation is happening out there in real time. It is your choice to engage in it or let the masses decide for themselves what they think of you and your business. There is absolutely no way to plan for engagement activities on a hard and fast schedule. It is im-poss-i-ble!

So build a good framework and be sure your execution folks understand the spirit of the rules. Make sure they know when your own original content will be ready to promote online. Then let them loose on it and measure the progress. It is the only way to balance the flexibility required with the structure you need to measure success.


Social Media Marketing is pretty much a requirement today, but there are right and wrong ways to go about doing it. If you follow the above approach, your likelihood of getting it right in the early going will increase dramatically. Strategy before execution remains true in new media as it did with the old way of doing things. Now go start building your social media strategy template!