Beginner’s guide to developing a social media content strategy

You’ve decided to take the plunge into social media. Where do you start?

It’s tempting, and not disastrous, to want to get your toes wet by paddling in a few platforms. Send a few tweets, set up a Facebook profile, post some images on Instagram.

But whether you’re an organisation looking to increase your profile and revenue, or an individual wanting to build your personal brand, a content strategy will buoy your social media efforts and ensure you don’t drown. And it needn’t be too tricky or time-consuming. It’s not really that different from a traditional communications/ marketing strategy.

Why have a content strategy?
Having a plan for your content will make it easier to manage, and make it possible to measure your success in social media. Relevant, interesting and compelling content will help position you as a thought leader in your chosen subject-area, will assist you to engage and build a community around your product or service, and increase traffic to your website, social media channels, and consequently through to your organisation.

What are your goals and objectives?
To develop your content, you need to be able to articulate why are you doing it. Why are you engaging in social media? What is your intended benefit to the organisation/ yourself? Some common goals are to:

  • Increase sales/ revenue
  • Increase website hits/ SEO
  • Capture data about current and/or prospective clients
  • Enhance your reputation and raise your profile

How do you measure success?
Once you are clear on your goals and objectives, how are you going to work out if you have met these goals? What are your KPIs and how are you going to measure these? You may need to review and realign your internal systems, data capture and analysis to do this. This will probably involve working across your organisation with different business units such as HR, IT, communications, customer service etc. You might need to buy or use an analytics platform.

Who is your audience?
This will vary depending on your goals and objectives and you will probably find that you have multiple audiences. Typically, your audience will be a subset of your existing or prospective client base. But it should also include a wider community of influencers and potential advocates who can help promote your content. Who do people listen to in relation to your chosen subject areas? Who are the critics, the patrons, the experts, the authorities, the leaders, the mobilisers, the visionaries and the opinion makers?

Where do they hang out online?
There’s no point creating content for Facebook if the people you want to engage with are mostly using Google+ or LinkedIn. Once you’ve identified the audience for your content, you need to find out where they are having conversations. Some places to start looking are blogs and forums, as well as the various social networks such as Twitter, Facebook, Google+, Pinterest, LinkedIn, YouTube etc, and niche social networks. There are lots of free tools that you can use to search across social media.

What will hook them in?
Now that you have defined your audience and know where they hang out online, you need to work out what content will hook them in. How will you grab their interest and stand out amongst the overwhelming volume of content available online? A good place to start is to see what topics are trending and popular and making news for your audience. Listen to what they are talking about and take notice of the phrases they use so you can speak the same language.

Equally important is deciding what you want to talk about. This should be related to the core business (and subject knowledge) of your organisation. What are your competitors talking about? What’s your content niche?

What type and format of content will you create?
It’s ideal to have a mix of content types and formats to appeal to different people. A mix will also give you the opportunity to repackage content for different formats, which increases your content spread without much extra work. For example, you could do an interview with an expert and blog about it, publish a vodcast of the interview and capture still images. That’s three types of content from one activity.

You can experiment with a range of different formats and see what works best for you and your audience. Choose from text, podcasts, vodcasts, webinars, ebooks, games, photos, apps, widgets, infographics and other data visualization content.

The different types of activities you could run include events, news items, research reports, whitepapers, competitions, articles, interviews, seminars and stunts.

Create or curate? Both!
A great way to generate content is to curate. Content curators sift through a bunch of content on a particular topic, find the good stuff, collate it, give it some context and share it online either on their own websites/ blogs or via curation tools such as Pinterest, Scoopit or Storify. Curation is a great way to demonstrate expertise in a particular subject area. If you would like to know more about content curation see my earlier post.

Who will do it? A call to arms.
Once you’ve worked out what sort of content you want to create and curate you need to find someone to do it. It’s going to take resources aka people. The best way to make it manageable is to decentralise responsibility across the organisation. Think of them as your content army. You will need to have a content editor to coordinate the process, quality, mentoring, training and support. They will need to develop a content policy for the foot soldiers. This site has a great selection of policies from a variety of organisations.

Content delivered fresh
Another way to make your content creation and curation a manageable process is to develop a content schedule. This way you can assign responsibility for content chunks to your content army and ensure you are developing relevant, regular and fresh content to your audience. This website has content schedules as well as other useful templates for content marketing.

It’s a conversation
Don’t fall into the habit of using social media solely as an information broadcasting medium. Your aim is to engage your audience in a conversation, get them to participate in your online community, and ultimately carry out some action that benefits your organisation (buy something, donate money, tell their friends about you etc). You can do this by:

  • Telling stories with your content
  • Having an emotional hook or call to action
  • Knowing your voice
  • Being authentic, conversational and approachable in your tone
  • Having interesting, compelling content that keeps people coming back for more

If you are interested in knowing more about managing your online community, try this site.

Like? Follow? Connect? Which platform?
There’s no right answer to this question. The best approach is to go where your audience is and don’t try to do everything at once. Start with 1 or 2 platforms and build up from there. Whether you decide on Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, Pinterest, Google+, Instagram etc, it’s worth varying your content across platforms so people have a reason to follow/ like/ connect with you in more than one place. You could try targeting different audiences via different platforms. Or you might decide to stick to one platform and create separate accounts to segment your audience. If you’re still not sure which one to use, do some more research. Benchmark against similar organisations – what are they using? Find some best practice examples, talk to your networks, and go online and lurk for a while. Consider getting a social media dashboard to manage your accounts.

Shameless self-promotion
If you do decide to use more than one platform cross-promote across social as well as your other marketing and communications channels such as e-newsletters, email signatures, print advertising and your website. Make sure your own website is social media ready, e.g. people can easily tweet, like, and share content directly from your site.

And more shameless self-promotion
Be proactive in building your audience – they won’t come to you. There are many ways you can do this:

  • Engage with, connect and follow others
  • Invite people to connect with you
  • Share, like, retweet and comment on other people’s content

Monitor success and adjust your strategy
Earlier on, I raised the importance of knowing your goals and objectives and deciding on KPIs to measure these. Once you have set up your social presence and you are posting content, you can start measuring some basic metrics such as views, shares, likes and retweets to see which types of content are most popular, what times and days get your biggest audience when you post, and what topics prompt the most comments from your audience. Be prepared to experiment and change course if something isn’t working as well as you’d expected.

I hope this brief intro to developing a content strategy for social media has helped demystify the process and given you some practical tips to get started.

I used the following resources to help me write this post and you might find them useful too.

Good luck!

Social Media Knowledge (SMK) workshops

What makes an awesome content strategy?

44 must read resources on content marketing

Content Chemistry: The Periodic Table of Content

10 Reasons Why Your Social Media Marketing Efforts Aren’t Working—And What You Can Do About It

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