I’ve written about this topic in the past, and am still amazed when I see companies as well as professionals continue to participate in social media without a strategy. Content with no schedule in mind or thought to their audience, posted randomly isn’t going move the needle. It seems as if they are speaking to themselves and telling the world about activities they think are important vs. thinking about what their audience would prefer.

Individuals are not faring any better. Some start out strong with what seems like a strategic effort only to fizzle within days or weeks. Now professionals share all of their thoughts on LinkedIn without a care — preferring to tell everyone every thought they have, which makes me use LinkedIn less and less.

How do you formulate a social media strategy for your company or for yourself? Most people would say you don’t need a strategy if you’re posting content for yourself. If you care about your personal brand, you should take the time to formulate a strategy. The principles for companies and individuals are the same. It doesn’t need to be complicated. I’ll address at a high level how to think about the types of content, when to post and what to say.

1. What’s Your Purpose? – As with any strategy, start at the beginning, what is your purpose in utilizing social media? If you’re a company, it’s most likely a channel you’re using to reach customers more rapidly and streamline your communications. Every company has a different purpose in how they use social media. Some companies, such as Dell use Twitter for customer care. Made.com harnesses Pinterest very creatively and established the platform for many other companies. Others have a strategy around communicating leadership and industry expertise like Vanguard and TD Ameritrade. TD’s #itaddsup campaign produced 97 million brand impressions and added 78,000 uses of the campaign.

JetBlue has a specific Twitter channel to promote their specials and discounts. TD Bank has a corporate Twitter feed and a separate news feed for community events and media interviews. Many companies have gotten very creative — this list from Fast Company should give you some inspiration. Social media is well developed channel now with 250 million daily users on Instagram according to EConsultancy. This article highlights who’s making headway in social media this past month.

If you want to use social media to promote your own brand, think about how your content will enhance and highlight your expertise. What areas of knowledge do you want to promote? Are you job searching? Are you looking for an outlet to promote your own insights and talk about topics you are passionate about? If you’re a leader, leadership and management content could be of interest. John Maxwell does a terrific job of honing in on this. While Professor and former CMO, Kimberly Whitler promotes her marketing expertise and tips for senior level marketers. Blake Morgan is highly focused on helping companies understand the importance of customer service. Each person has identified those areas of expertise they want to focus on.

Take time to identify what your purpose is and write it down. Then think about 2-5 types of topics relating back to your purpose and record those. Set that aside for now.

2. Who’s Your Audience? – Who are you trying to reach? Really go deep in this area. I’ve written this post, “Finding Your Ideal Customer”, about how to identify your target audience. Think about what’s most important to them. Are you trying to educate? Give advice? Promote a product? Look at these areas from their perspective and how they would want to recieve content. If you’re focused on a specific consumer segment, sketch out lifestyle and how they spend their day. This will help you identify when to post and how to post. Another words, if you are trying to reach marketers you’re going to speak differently than if your target audience is moms. No matter who your audience is, be succinct, be clear and establish your voice and tone. Be conversational — writing a blog or posting on social media is not a white paper. You’re simply having a conversation — by short blog, vlogging or video. Add to your purpose document and detail your audience, who are they, what are their interests, age, lifestyle and ultimately answer the question, “What am I doing to help them?”

3. What’s Your Goal?– Everyone has a goal and without one you’re doing what you should not be doing — posting randomly without a plan. Companies should have specific goals which can include metrics, audience reach, impressions, and share of voice to name a few. Think through how your purpose relates to your goal beyond metrics. Are you establishing a leadership position for your company? Promoting and educating your audience on services and products you offer? Educating your would-be and existing customers on why your company offers the best solution for them.

Individuals should also have goals — you can adopt all the metrics goals as well as determining what the end goal is. Are you educating your audience? Sharing your opinions? Showcasing leadership and knowledge? Expanding your network? Weave both together look at your goal holistically. Add your goal(s) to your document now. You should start to see your strategy coming together.

4. What Types of Content are You Using? – Now let’s talk about tactics. What types of content are you going to create? What do you realistically have time to do? Can you do all this on your own or will you need to involve a graphics or video expert? Identify the top 3 types of content you have the ability to create either on your own or within your team — short blog posts, leadership quotes, videos, and interviews are a few ideas to start with. For a while, I did not have time to blog and really missed sharing my point of view. I started sharing leadership quotes from influencers with graphics. This took far less time than blogging and was an inspiring activity. Since doing that, I’ve permanently incorporated leadership quotes into my strategy. Whatever you decide, make certain you are able to deliver consistently and for the long-term. Think big, start small. You can always add content — it’s tough to take content away.

5. Frequency – As you identify the types of content, frequency is critical depending on your audience. To determine frequency you need to go back to your audience and your purpose. How often are they on social media? Twitter for example, runs fast. Rather than creating new content every time re-post important content throughout the week or day depending on your frequency. Most everyone is using multiple platforms that require different types of posts. You really cannot take a tweet and post it on Facebook. Your Facebook content is going to be longer. LinkedIn can be long or short. Pinterest and Snapchat are very visual — keep the platform in mind as you decide on what types of content and what platforms you are going to use.

Frequency and platforms are an important point in formulating your strategy. Unless your business or content is focused on women and very visual, Pinterest isn’t going to serve much of a purpose. I have seen financial companies get creative on Pinterest like American Express. Going beyond Twitter and Facebook to educate consumers on financial products or providing thought leadership should be considered. LinkedIn and Twitter are two terrific platforms that many professionals and companies utilize to promote themselves and their services and products. Most companies have a strong presence on Facebook and consumer-facing brands now utilize Pinterest, SnapChat, and Instagram to promote what they offer.

With the amount of content being created, daily posting is common now. According to Hubspot, B2C companies that blogged 11+ times per month got more than 4X as many leads than those that blog only 4-5 times per month. Quality always overrides quantity — make sure you have the time to produce high quality content and keep up with frequency. Daily blogging combined with a video every other week and other types of short content will fill your workload and calendar quickly.

6. Next Steps – Go back to your purpose document, you now have your audience identified and you’ve established your goal. By now, the types of content along with frequency has also been identified. This is not an exercise you do in a day, it might take a few weeks to complete. Take the time to be thoughtful and sketch this out completely. Try to summarize on one page so you can remind yourself of your focus and how to stay on topic. It’s easy to branch out – resist and keep going forward with your focus. This is how you will build an audience and a following. Your audience will start to expect certain types of content from you on certain days.

Gather feedback from your team if your efforts are focused for a company. Most companies will require some form of management sign-off before any large efforts are executed. For company efforts, you’ll also have to consider your process and work-flow, risk management and how you will manage the company’s presence on social media overall.

Remember to start small and think big. It’s easy to add content as your bandwidth expands. Not all companies have a dedicated social media effort and most individuals have busy schedules so do what’s right for you. Above all else, have fun — it will surface in your tone and how you communicate. Social media is a terrific channel to virtually meet influencers, expand your own network, showcase yours or your company’s knowledge and communicate with your customers.