How to Create a Social Media Plan for Business

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Introduction: How to Create a Social Media Plan

Create a Social Media Plan For Your Business.
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I'm not going to argue the case for social media for business here; if you've come to this page, I'm assuming you're already persuaded that your small business needs a social media presence.

This article is for those of you asking, "But what?" "And how?" It explains how to figure out how you might best use social media to connect with your potential customers and increase your sales. And as with so many good things in business, it all starts with a plan.

How to create a social media plan

Don't panic. You don’t need to know how to use fourteen different social media to do this, or set aside several days. All you really need to do is make five decisions and then follow through on them. So think about and record your answers to the following:

  • What social media is the best fit with your business?
  • What are your social media goals?
  • How will you measure the success of your social media plan?
  • What is the budget for your social media plan?
  • Who is going to implement your small business’s social media plan?
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    What Social Media Is the Best Fit With Your Business?

    Which Social Media Should You Use?.
    Image (c) Dimitri Otis / Getty Images

    One of the most best pieces of advice about using social media for business I've ever heard was from Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends. Small businesses, she said, don't have the capacity to use multiple social media for business well, so it's important to focus on using only one or two and learning to use them well.

    Which One or Two Social Media Should You Pick?

    That's easy. The ones your target market is using.

    You see, different social media appeals to different audiences. LinkedIn, for instance, is the biggest network of business professionals; Google+ (so far) is mostly used by young male students and geeks (infographic on Social Times); Pinterest users are mainly women (infographic on Mashable). Both Facebook and Twitter have a much more equally divided gender base of users, although Twitter has a much higher percentage of college users (Facebook vs. Twitter infographic).

    So all you have to do to pick the "right" social media for your business is find out which ones your target market is using.

    How to Find Out Which Social Media Your Customers Are Using

    One way to find out which social media your customers and/or potential customers are using is to ask them. It's easy enough to create a little survey that you can use in your store and wherever your customers hang out to collect some data. If your website gets a fair bit of traffic, you can set one up online. SurveyMonkey is one tool you can use to create web-based surveys. Entice people to participate with a prize draw or other tangible benefit.

    Another is to use mail plug-ins to find out what social media your customers use. If you're using Gmail, Rapportive lets you see just what your contacts are doing on their social networks right in your Inbox. If you're using Microsoft Outlook, Microsoft Outlook Connector is a similar program. Xobni offers plugins and phone apps for Gmail, Outlook, Android, BlackBerry, and iPhone that let you get updates from LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter among other things.

    Take Action: Once you know where they are, be ruthless: you're only going to use the top two. If the social media you've chosen is/are new to you, you should set aside time to play around with them and get to know them before you do anything further (ideally by setting up and using a personal account rather than whatever account you’re going to use for your business, so you don’t accidentally poison the well).

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    What Are Your Social Media Goals?

    What Are Your Social Media Goals?.
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    Now that you've decided which social media you're going to use, you need to decide what your purpose is for being there. For business, social media can be used for the same purposes as any other marketing channel; it's how the goal is pursued that’s different; not the goal itself. You can, for instance, use social media to:

    • increase your referrals or leads
    • build your word-of-mouth
    • increase product sales
    • become known as an expert or thought-leader
    • drive traffic to your website or blog
    • develop new products or services
    • provide customer service

    In other words, you can use social media to pursue and achieve any traditional business goal you can think of. The trick, as you'll see in the next decision point, is to make sure you have chosen a goal that you can measure.

    The other trick is to pick only one or two and make sure that they are complementary. Using social media to provide customer service, for instance, requires a very different implementation than using social media to drive traffic to a website or blog. Providing excellent customer service, though, may be a goal that dovetails nicely with developing a new product or service if you're able to develop that level of engagement from your users.

    Remember, for now, one or two goals are enough. You need to be focused so you are able to consistently execute your social media strategy. Other goals/good things may happen incidentally, but races are not won by people meandering around.

    Social Media Goal Setting Tips

    As always when goal setting, your social media goals need to be relevant, actionable and achievable. (See 3 Rules for Setting Business Goals for details on how to do this.)

    And lastly, don't set stupid social media goals. Your social media goals have to have a demonstrable relationship to your business strategy. I can't tell you how many businesses proudly regale me with their stories of social media success – and then reveal that their social media success is just… well… social. Getting 1,173,000 Facebook likes or 800,000 Twitter followers is nice but as a business goal, it's just silly. As Nichole Kelly of Full Frontal ROI put it in a presentation: What's the value of a Facebook fan? Zero – unless you can prove that he or she is actually buying something.

    Take Action: Think. Prioritize. Write down your social media goals. Make them as specific as possible. Not "Purple Duds will get new customers" but "Purple Duds will increase sales from new customers by 30% over the next six months."

    See Goal Setting: Your Guide to Setting Goals for more help with setting goals.

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    How Will You Measure the Success of Your Social Media Plan?

    How Do You Know If Social Media Is Helping Your Business?.
    Image (c) Leila Mendez / Getty Images

    This is a step that small business owners often leave out when they're trying to create a social media plan, but it's one of the most important.

    Generally, social media success has to be measured by the same yardstick as any other marketing effort; cost and Return on Investment (ROI). That’s why it's so critical that you have chosen social media goals that you can measure.

    To make measuring your social media ROI easier, I advise every small business to have a website. (Having a business website also gives your social media followers a destination; in a sense, it operates as a portal for your business.)

    Once you have a website (or sites), you can use Google Analytics, a free tool that lets you track and analyze various website, mobile and social media application data. Using the goals feature in Google Analytics makes it simple to see if and how your site engagement goals are being met, for instance.

    Nichole Kelly of Full Frontal ROI does even more in-depth analysis of her social media ROI by using HootSuite Pro (currently $5.99 a month).

    While HootSuite Pro can be used on its own to evaluate your success with social media, Nichole likes to take advantage of its ability to integrate with Google Analytics. This lets her set up custom URL parameters when she's adding campaign tracking URLS so she can track different social media and campaign traffic sources separately.

    She then monitors the results (through Google Analytics) and uses the information gathered to compare results across marketing channels. In other words, to see, if you’re using Facebook and YouTube to try to achieve the same marketing goal, which one is providing the best bang for the buck – just as you would do if you were measuring the ROI of marketing campaigns using traditional media, such as comparing the ROI of a campaign of ad spots on cable television with a series of newspaper ads.

    Take Action: Set up/create a business website if you don't have one and install the tool(s) you're going to use to measure your social media goals. Use them religiously once you start putting your social media plan into action. I also recommend that you read Nichole Kelly's article 5 Categories of Social Media Measurement to better understand the social media sales funnel.

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    What Is the Budget for Your Social Media Plan?

    How Much Should You Spend On Social Media?.
    Image (c) jyotirathod / Getty Images

    In a study on The State of Social Media Marketing, Awareness Networks found that 75% of businesses spend $10,000 or less on social media, with most businesses solely investing people’s time toward the effort (Social Media Examiner).

    Make no mistake about this; there are no freebies when it comes to social media for business. If you’re going to develop a social media presence for your small business, you will spend money to have someone else do it or you will spend money to have you do it.

    Even if you think you’re doing it for free because using Twitter, Facebook or Pinterest is free and there are all manner of free tools out there to make using social media easier and/or better, you're not, because your time is worth money, too.

    So you need a social media budget. How much? Well hopefully, you already have a marketing budget for your small business so your budget for your social media plan will be a percentage of this.

    I do not recommend that any small business use only social media to market itself. I'm emphasizing this point because small businesses have a tendency to latch onto anything labeled as "free" and there's been a lot of buzz about how social media marketing can be a low-cost alternative to traditional advertising.

    This is hogwash. Your small business marketing should always be comprised of a marketing mix because there's no single marketing channel that will reach all of your small business’s potential customers or clients.

    One other part of your marketing mix that you need to include in your marketing budget is your business website because using social media to market your small business without having a website is like trying to run a horse in a race without a jockey.

    What Else Should You Use to Market Your Small Business?

    What the rest of the marketing mix is depends, in large part, on your target market. If, for instance, you are selling internet-based applications to young, savvy, live-on-the-'Net types, online advertising might be the bulk of your budget. If, on the other hand, you are selling fall prevention products to seniors and middle-aged people concerned about senior parents, some radio and TV spots might be your big marketing budget items.

    My general advice? Choose the amount of money you're comfortable with spending on marketing – and then double it. I've yet to meet the small business owner that’s spending anywhere near what they should be spending on marketing!

    Take action: Review your marketing plan (and marketing budget) and integrate your social media plan into it.

    Don't have a marketing plan? Writing the Marketing Plan will lead you through the process.

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    Who Is Going to Implement Your Small Business’s Social Media Plan?

    Do You Have Time For Social Media?.
    Image (c) kaan tanman / Getty Images

    Before you tell me that you're going to implement your small business's social media plan yourself, tell me how many free hours you have in a week. Uh huh. Thought so.

    In a presentation given at a Social Media Success Summit, Anita Campbell of Small Business Trends said that she spent 15 minutes a day Monday to Friday to monitor, comment on and update the social media she uses and another two hours once a week to update the company blog. That's three hours and 15 minutes per week.

    Plus, she added, you should allow seven to ten hours for the initial learning curve phase of each social media platform you decide to work with and be aware that any social media campaigns you undertake will need additional bursts of time.

    I personally spend about five hours a week on social media for business purposes, and that's without campaigns or new learning.

    Even if you have or can free up those hours now, can you do it next week? Next month? All year long? Every social media is cluttered with abandoned startups.

    You also need to be aware that social media is, as far as I can tell, one of the biggest time-sinks ever invented. Strangely hypnotic, like watching fish swim around in a tank, (although not as soothing) and weirdly addictive (currently, googling Facebook addiction brings up about 120,000,000 results), it's easy to get personally hooked and spend time using social media that would be better spent with people in real life.

    That's not to say that you can't use social media for business yourself and implement your own social media plan. It's just that if you are thinking of doing this, you need to be aware of the time and consistency demands.

    Another factor to consider is that although there are an ever increasing number of tools that can be used to automate your social media posts, as I write this, there is a lot of discussion about automated posts being penalized by various social media. So you may also have to consider whether or not you have the time or availability to post intermittently rather than sitting down and doing x number of posts at one go and setting them to drip later (one of my favourite tricks, I admit).

    Some businesses get around this problem by assigning various staff to do their social media. If you do this, remember that the cost of staff doing social media is not only their salary or wages but the cost of whatever else they could have been doing in the time they’re now spending on monitoring, commenting and posting.

    If you don't have staff to assign, it's easy to hire someone to put your social media plan into action and manage your small business's social media efforts. And if you don’t have the time now or suspect you won’t later, this is the route to social media success you should take. Incomplete or amateur social media efforts can hurt your small business.

    Take Action: Think seriously about your time commitments and decide whether or not you want to take on the task of putting your social media plan for your business into action. If the answer is "Yes," you’re going to be the one to do it, go back to your first decision about which social media you’re going to use, pick one, and start becoming familiar with how it works. Once you know this, you'll be ready to start figuring out how to use that social media to accomplish the goals you’ve set for your social media plan.

    If the answer is "No", then it's time to get the search underway to find a person or company that will be able to effectively implement your social media plan for you.

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