To achieve social media marketing success, you must build a sound marketing strategy, which is a complex task composed of many different facets. Today’s post is designed as a comprehensive summary of elements necessary to plan for social media marketing success.

roi of social media

Your first task, if you’ve never built a marketing strategic plan before, is to review what goes into a good marketing plan, then adapt that for the digital marketing world. You’ll find some guidance for building a marketing plan here.

Next, let’s dive into our topic for today.

Why social media?

Social networks are like word of mouth on steroids. Done well, social media amplifies your message and generates market returns, as you can see in the enhanced reach reflected in the image at the start of this post.

However, social media is a two-edged sword as likely to spread the word about your failures and your successes. In fact, studies suggest negative word of mouth spreads 5 times faster than positive. This means your failures quickly reach your market and competitors are only too willing to aid this transmission. And fancy advertising campaigns and reputation management are unlikely to bury these conversations.

So, how do you manage social media marketing to deliver results? Read on.

What you don’t know about social media marketing hurts your brand

So, let’s take a look at the 10 things you don’t know about social media marketing (using the successful guide from Letterman’s top 10, here they are in reverse order of importance):

10. Gurus spending BIG money

Yeah, you got it. All those gurus out there telling you how wonderful social media marketing is and how it’s the great equalizer for small businesses are telling you big, fat LIES.

I’m sure you’ve seen boasts about getting 1 million likes in a few weeks or driving massive traffic with a few easy steps.

Most of these are lies — or at least half-truths. These folks are getting the results they claim, but they’re not telling you they’re spending big bucks. Their results are not organic. Now, the advice might be sound, but don’t feel bad that you’re not getting the same results.

I fell into that trap early on. I was doing everything right, but not seeing the kind of massive returns I was reading about. For instance, one guru got 250,000 email subscribers. I did all the recommended tactics and only got a few thousand. What I didn’t know is this guru was PAYING folks like Guy Kawasaki and other big names some hefty fees to guest blog on his site and create ebooks. He was also paying serious money for PPC ads to promote email subscriptions.

9. Content is king

OK, so maybe you DID know this one. But, did you know what KIND of content is KING? The kind that visitors find VALUABLE. I recently worked with a client whose previous agency was creating content — which consisted of a single blog post that was entirely promotional. Epic FAIL.

Content must be valuable to readers, meaning it’s well researched, over 900 words, contain related images, authoritative external links, detailed information or entertainment, and is snackable. Avoid keyword stuffing and be sure to share your content ubiquitously.

8. Quantity does matter

Don’t get me wrong. I’m clearly on the quality side of this debate, but you still have to produce content consistently. I strive for 3X per week, but there’s not much difference between 2-5 times per week in terms of conversion. Less than that and you won’t see the results you’re looking for, according to a study by Hubspot.

blog post frequency

Image courtesy of Hubspot

Crappy content still gets you in lots of trouble with Google — and who wants that? Duplicate content also gets you in trouble, so avoid it.

What’s a marketer to do?

Create a content marketing calendar to ease the burden of creating high-quality content on a consistent basis. Period. There are no shortcuts. Here’s a post showing how long you should dedicate to producing valuable content across types of content.

Creating good content is only 1/2 the battle. You need to curate content from other great folks. Not only is it a nice thing to do (and ensures you stay up-to-date with cutting-edge conversations around your niche), but curating content creates a tit-for-tat relationship that encourages others to share your content.

7. Social media marketing in 30 minutes a day

This is my favorite LIE about social media marketing. If you’ve read any of the earlier items on this list, you see that social media marketing takes time. Lots of time. My guess is a small business needs about 10-15 hours a week and a midsized business probably about 80-100 hours a week of dedicated social media marketing time.

And, don’t hire someone to manage your social media marketing without a clear understanding of what you need and their abilities. Having someone with a vibrant Facebook profile or a large Twitter following doesn’t mean the prospective employee knows what they’re doing. Scroll down toward the bottom of this post to see which digital marketing skills are in the highest demand.

And, that leads me to my next point.

6. Social media marketing takes cross-functional skills

Here are just a few of the many skills to look for in whoever manages your social media marketing:

  1. Strong BI (business intelligence) and A/B testing
  2. Strong writing
  3. Marketing background
  4. Technical — graphics and web design fundamentals, along with some coding and lots of online social media management
  5. Drupal, WordPress, etc.

I would look for someone who’s a generalist in these areas, with strong marketing and writing skills.

5. Social media marketing IS marketing!

There’s a reason we call it social media marketing — its marketing. Sure, you can hire that English major, but it won’t work as well. Face it. Marketing students spend 4 years learning marketing — consumer behavior, market research, market strategy, etc. WHY would you think you could hire an English major?

Your English major might be a good writer, but does he/she understand the tools of influence? Segmentation? How to construct a market survey?

“Nough said.

4. Subtle differences in implementation generate huge differences in results.

For instance, writing well is good, but using the tools of influence within your writing is critical for results. Influence allows you to create content that motivates the reader toward the actions you need without being spammy or using the hard sell.

For instance, a client created a landing page to capture email addresses for an upcoming launch. He invited folks to sign up. Well, I’m gonna rush right out and do that!

I convinced him to change the language. The landing page now reads:

Shhhhhhhh. Can you keep a secret? We need a few good geeks to polish our gem!

This uses 2 tools of influence. 1 is the law of scarcity — people want what they can’t have and 1 is tit-for-tat by giving them something no one else has.

3. Only buyer personas matter

It really doesn’t matter how BIG your social network is, it’s how many in your network fit your buyer persona. That’s because only these folks will actually buy your brand and you’re in business to make money, right?

Here’s a great example of a rich buyer persona. You need these for every type of consumer targeted by your brand. Then, create content and strategies to convert consumers based on identified characteristics.

market persona

Image courtesy of Dribble

2. Engagement matters

Having lots of followers/ friends/ fans … doesn’t mean anything — even if they fit your buyer persona. Engagement is the fuel for message amplification and ultimately may result in viral messaging. I know we mention this several more times, but engagement is that important.

Engagement doesn’t happen if you’re not creating value, being a real person with a strong voice, encouraging folks to engage, etc. Engagement also requires analytics to understand how your network responds and capitalizing on what’s working.

1. Social media marketing is SOCIAL

Social media marketing isn’t just another channel for blasting out advertising messages. It isn’t traditional marketing. Spend time (and money) understanding them. Put yourself in the shoes of folks comprising your buyer personas and give them things you’d want.

Social media marketing is marketing

This is the corollary to the notion that social media marketing is social. These 2 principles underscore everything else in achieving social media marketing success.

I think this is our strategic competency over other sites focusing on social media or digital media if you prefer the more general term. We stress how existing theories from marketing and sociology (social) are used and combined in creating effective social media. Otherwise, managers and other social media enthusiasts stumble around trying to find the right path to success. Why re-create the wheel when you can just use the one already created.

So, this site is chock full of advice on how to adapt marketing on social platforms and how to make your business more social. We also include references to published work in social media, sociology, psychology, and related social sciences.

Rather than focusing on tactics that worked once or may work in a single platform at a single point in time, we focus on skills that translate across platforms and serve you well as these platforms develop, go out of fashion (ie. MySpace), or disappear. And, because these concepts underscore helping people find what they want, they never conflict with the Google search algorithm in whatever permutation they create in the future. These tactics bring you both organic traffic from search engines (SEO) and social media, as you see in the graphic below.

create content for social media

Image courtesy of SEM Rush

Building relationships

Strong relationships with consumers was always a good strategy. Social media simply enhances your ability to connect to a larger audience but, without an emphasis on building relationships, social media marketing doesn’t work.

In a recent article, I discussed the role of brand obsessives (people who are committed to a particular brand) in improving company performance. This article highlights some important aspects of building customer relationships in computer-mediated communities. These include:

  • They are resistant to criticism of their favorite brand and even fight negative brand comments made by others
  • They help outsiders get more from their experiences with the brand
  • Obsessives provide valuable feedback regarding customer needs and perceptions of the brand to company management allowing them to improve their product offerings

We must consider these issues as online relationships move into social media. So, let’s look at the factors that encourage these relationships in social media.

  • Provide valuable content based on the needs of your community
  • Be consistent – post regularly and don’t mix valuable content with items your community is likely to find useless
  • Encourage two-way conversations – increasingly community members don’t like being talked to but want to have a meaningful influence on the conversation
  • Be culturally sensitive – the web is truly a worldwide phenomenon and community members come from around the world (this means not only avoiding cultural insensitivity and language imprecision but remember that people are in different time zones and have different values)
  • As a correlate, remember that online communities are often unidimensional – missing important visual and auditory cues which means it’s easy for readers to misinterpret what you’re saying
  • Building trust takes time and relies on scrupulous honesty

Elements of social media marketing success

1. ROI

ROI (return on investment) requires you to bring more traffic to your website and convert the traffic generated [check out the graphic below to see the interrelationship between elements of your digital marketing strategy]. Bringing more traffic to your site, without being able to close that traffic, may boost your ego, but it won’t improve your ROI.

digital marketing strategy

Of course, the notion of digital as integration between a number of tactics belies common misconceptions about social media – that generating huge numbers is enough to improve your bottom line. The fact is that social media marketing success requires conversion of the traffic, not just building it. So what if your YouTube video had a million hits or you have 100,000 fans. You have to convert. Let’s look at an example using a Facebook example:

Number of fans: 100,000 10,000

Conversion rate: 1% 10%

Sales 1000 1000

See, increasing your conversion rate generates the same ROI with only 10% of the fans. So, let everyone else brag about how many fans or followers they have. You’ll be too busy cashing checks.

2. Integration

Social media marketing success requires efforts that bring more traffic to your website and everything MUST work together – thus SEO (search engine optimization) and SMO (Social media optimization) work with online and offline advertising to bring traffic to your site. Sacrificing one element, like SMO, to get better SEO won’t maximize your ROI and recent updates to the Google search algorithm reinforce the importance of integrating these elements. So, folks who keyword load their sites to get good SERPs (Search Engine Results Page positioning) may initially drive more traffic, but visitors are disappointed with low-quality content designed around keywords rather than solving problems for visitors. Google now penalizes this content in rankings and the increased bounce rate resulting from poor content further reduces your rank.

Affiliate marketing and Google Ads can bring visitors to your site. Affiliate marketing offers the advantage that you only pay for advertising when someone buys your products, thus working toward conversion, while Adwords requires you to pay every time someone selects your link – even if they aren’t prospects for your products.

And, don’t forget offline advertising in your social media marketing success. This may involve traditional advertising in print and broadcast media and public relations. Consider offline marketing efforts involving networking at local and national events in your industry as a low-cost means to improve your performance.

Walking the walk in your social media marketing

Social media marketing only works when done properly. Here are some aspects to consider when crafting your social media marketing for success.

  1. Keep your promises – if you promise something, whether in social or traditional media, keep your promise. Otherwise, consumers develop a poor opinion of your brand and spread that negativity very quickly.

I see this happen all the time, both online and off. For instance, I commonly hear community managers promise a rapid response to customer service posts. I tested this and the response time was more like 60 hours, which doesn’t seem rapid to me. I’m OK with 60 hours, just don’t promise me 24 when it commonly takes 60. Using Chatbots reduces response time, often to just a few minutes.

In the image below, you see ways to transform your organization into a customer-centric one focused on keeping promises.

customer promiseImage courtesy of Customer Think

Be careful about implied promises – those things consumers expect even if you don’t actually make a promise. If other businesses in your area commonly stay open until 9 pm, you should probably do the same. Or if similar businesses allow returns without a receipt, you should, as well. A recent study found that 75% of consumers abandon their cart when they discover you don’t offer free shipping.

2. Ensure quality productsactually, this is really an implied promise – people expect value for their money. If your product fails, the restaurant serves lousy food, or the business is dirty, good social media won’t do much but help you fail faster.

In fact, you get a big boost if you give customers more than they expect. Give them a little bonus or be a lot better than what customers expect and they’ll rush to their Facebook wall to tell their friends what a great deal they got.

3. Provide continuityyour message and voice must be authentic and similar across social platforms. If you’re upbeat and helpful in social media, but offer little support and are surly in person, the difference creates a less favorable opinion than if the consumer only encountered the in-person demeanor.

Also, think about your website. Does it use the same voice as in social media? Are products presented the same way and at the same prices as in your Facebook store?

4. Stay current – this means adapting to changing needs both in terms of offering new products to satisfy your customers as well as staying up-to-date with your online presence. Ask yourself these questions:

    • As social platforms change are you changing with them?
    • Do you produce content appropriate to capitalize on the unique aspects of different platforms?
    • Are you on the social platforms your customers and prospects currently use?
    • Have you adapted your website to the changing ways consumers look for information?

5. Open lines of communicationlisten all the time and respond as appropriate. If interesting things are going on behind the scenes, let consumers know

Capitalize on social media for the long haul

Last night I went to the Lynyrd Skynyrd concert at Wolf Trap and realized part of the reason they’re still selling out concerts is they’ve mastered techniques I promote in support of your social media marketing strategy even though they use them in the physical world rather than a virtual one. Take a look around at successful businesses and you’ll likely find they employ similar strategies in social media and their physical business.

social media lessons from Lynyrd Skynyrd

Lynyrd Skynyrd survived over 35 years despite a fatal plane crash in 1977 that took the lives of 2 members, including lead singer Ronnie Van Zant, the loss of 3 other members over time, and the recent deaths of founding member Billy Powell and their bassist in the middle of recording their new album. Lynyrd Skynyrd is true to their Southern roots and still performs without extensive staging, light shows, and fireworks, which meets the expectations of their fans.

Social media marketing strategy secrets from Lynyrd Skynyrd

  1. Find a niche – avoid head-to-head competition where ever possible. Part of the secret to Lynyrd Skynyrd’s survival is they found a niche and owned it. Of course, their niche is southern rednecks, so they play it up with a mic draped in the rebel flag and studied appearance that’s endemic southern frump. Digitally, that means finding a niche you can own, then branding yourself with that niche through your theme and logo, but also through the topics you discuss online, how you approach the topic, even the language used in social media.
  2. Providing value, of course, goes without saying. But just giving people what they expect, may not be enough. People figure — hey, I just got what I paid for so they’re satisfied. However, to really get folks committed to your brand, give them more than they expect (build customer delight). And that extra value doesn’t have to cost much. For instance, I once ordered a top from Chico’s because my local store didn’t have my size. Not only did the top arrive quickly and without shipping charges, which I expected, but came with a handwritten note thanking me for my order and wishing me joy in wearing it. Similarly, Lynyrd Skynyrd threw out some cheap beads like the ones common at Mardi Gras. The beads didn’t cost much, but those lucky enough to get one had a nice souvenir from the concert. In social media that might mean giving a little extra. For instance, yesterday Mari Smith had a few minutes so she invited anyone who wanted to a hangout. About 15 of us spent 20 minutes or so getting her insights on Facebook, sharing perspectives, and building a relationship. We all got something extra that builds a connection with Mari.
  3. Image courtesy of Hubspot
  4. Stay close to customers – Lynyrd Skynyrd takes time before, during, and after the concert to shake hands with fans. In a virtual world, closeness must come from how you interact with consumers verbally. Being close requires transparency and self-disclosure — sharing what goes on behind the curtain. Closeness also requires listening, empathy, and caring. For instance, I posted about the social media marketing strategy employed by California Tortilla where the community manager shares aspects of her personal life
  5. Give customers what they want — this means knowing your target audience so you give them what they want. Last night, Lynyrd Skynyrd recognized not only were we in the south, but we’re in a military town. So, one song was a tribute to the troops. In social media, you have the advantage that listening should provide clues on what customers want. Analytics also show what resonates with consumers. Or you can ask folks in your social networks what they want.
  6. Engage customers – Lynyrd Skynyrd encouraged the audience to sing along with them, shout, or other types of physical engagement. They even had us sing part of one song, just playing along with us. Encourage folks in your social networks to comment, respond, share, and give feedback by asking for it as well as engaging them and celebrate them. Be a cheerleader for engaged consumers.

Build social media skills for the future

As social media marketing matures, it’s becoming evident that the way you do business must change. Brands are spending a lot of money, with little notion of what’s working and what isn’t. Chief among the changes required are marketers with the necessary skills. So, what are the skills necessary to be successful in social media marketing?

Needed marketing skills

According to Forrester Research (2010):

the days of everyone hanging up a single as a social media strategist are over. Too often these individuals had no expertise selecting and piloting new tools, integrating social widgets and analytics, helping to educate the organization, and integrating social-based thinking into the organization’s process and culture. Process design, stakeholder management, strategic planning, and the ability to manage large projects within complex environments will all be required.

I think we can add some other skills to this list, especially when talking about the folks who implement your social media strategy based on some interviews conducted as part of my research.

  • Social – you have to be willing to share — even overshare. That doesn’t mean you should talk about what you had for breakfast, but your personality needs to show through what you’re doing on social networks.
  • Organized – you have to be able to post consistently so being organized and having a schedule seem critical for success.
  • Patient – success takes time so you need to be able to work without immediate rewards, just keep doing what you know is right
  • Analytical – this is a caveat to the above — you need to be intuitive and interpret analytics to maximize success in social networks.
  • Thick-skinned – no one likes people complaining, but that’s much of what you’ll find happening on your Facebook Fan Page and Twitter Feeds. Be polite and express your apologies, even when it’s not your fault.
  • Creative – it goes without saying that social media managers need to be good writers, use graphics expertly, and think a little outside the box.
  • Strong grounding – not only is some knowledge of computers required but an understanding of changing social platforms and a good marketing toolbox.

So, yes. The days of every out-of-work person thinking they can do social media marketing just because they take a good picture, can write a little, or know PHP is GONE. In fact, it may be impossible to find a single person with the necessary skills to run your entire social media campaign — you may need a strategist who can think strategically to put together the campaign and 1 or more tactical people who can implement the strategy.

Skills gap

Don’t believe me? Here’s a graphic based on results from surveying CMOs about the gap in needed skills to achieve social media marketing success.

digital marketing skills

Top 5 reasons why social media marketing fails

5. Misunderstanding how social media works

Several sub-elements exist here including:

  1. Thinking social media is just another form of advertising and PR. So, you only push messages about your company.
  2. Not understanding how platforms differ — Facebook is different from Instagram, which is different from Twitter not only in functional ways but in the way consumers use them and expectations.
  3. Not considering your target market in determining which social media to use. Folks seem to think they HAVE to use Facebook and certainly, with over 2.7 billion users, overlooking Facebook in developing your social media marketing strategy requires justification, such as the fact that younger users abandoned the platform once their parents started joining.
  4. Or firms use outdated ideas to determine where to build social media marketing strategies. For instance, companies think they can’t reach baby boomers on social networks while statistics show this one of the fastest-growing groups of users on social network sites.
  5. Especially on Twitter, certain language conventions help condense messages into 280 characters. You need to know these to communicate effectively. Also, some platforms favor hashtags while others make you look like you don’t understand conventions.
  6. Not understanding SEO (Search Engine Optimization) strategies rounds out the list of things firms don’t understand and leads to social media marketing failures.

4. Not being realistic

Businesses are unrealistic about the resources required for social media marketing success — they don’t realize the amount of time and money necessary.

There’s the old saying you can have it fast, free, or effective; you can’t have all 3 at once and you’re lucky if you can get 2 of the 3.

Sure, social media marketing is MUCH less expensive than traditional media, but you still have to pay for some elements. While social media platforms are mostly free, you must spend a little on creating attractive and effective pages, as well as consistent content updates. You need professional images and video, which cost money. And, you need people to run your social media marketing. Trying to run social media marketing in your spare time around running your business is not effective.

That’s why many businesses find it more economical to hire an agency rather than doing social media marketing themselves. The graphic below offers a comparison of the two options.

in-house versus agency costsImage courtesy of Alfredo Media

3. Not measuring and monitoring

Folks using social media underestimate the importance of metrics in developing social media marketing success. Firms don’t install analytics, don’t look at their analytics often enough, and don’t track trends across their metrics.

Developing a social media dashboard is as important as the dashboard in your car.

It tells you what’s working and what’s not. Incorporating a listening post into your dashboard is essential. It allows you instant access to sentiments about your firm across the ‘net.

2. Not building engagement

NOTHING happens in social media without engagement, as we mentioned earlier, and, if building engagement isn’t an integral part of your social media marketing strategy, you won’t achieve the results you want.

Engagement is really the fuel behind spreading your message on social media.

1. Fear of social media

By far, the leading cause of social media failure is FEAR. That’s why businesses set up camp on social networks, but then don’t do anything there. Businesses feel this paralyzing fear that they’ll do something wrong and it’ll hurt their brand. What they don’t realize is that NOT DOING anything is MUCH worse than anything they actually do as part of their social media strategy.

Best case, being afraid keeps you from benefiting from social media — which is an incredibly effective, low-cost option for building your business.

Worst case, you damage your brand. If you’ve set up pages on social networks and don’t post or don’t respond to customers’ comments on these pages, you’re committing social media suicide. Not responding to customer questions or complaints escalates dissatisfaction and damages your brand. It also gives dissatisfied customers something else to rally supporters against your brand. Not rewarding folks to engage with you (by responding to them) withers future engagement.

Saying something, unless it’s truly vulgar or insensitive, is better than saying nothing.


I know this is a huge post. The goal was to build a comprehensive set of considerations critical for social media marketing success. I hope we succeeded. I’d love to hear your comments, especially if you think we missed major aspects of social media marketing we should include.

Also, share this with your connections who might find this post valuable as they build or work to improve their social media marketing.

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