Research and planning is an essential phase of social media strategy development. Without having the appropriate knowledge available to leverage in making accurate and viable decisions, future actions will be taken without prior evidence or any plausible forecasting.
Consider a comparison to any sporting event. If you don’t do your research and planning and know your opponent’s strengths and weaknesses, you’re jumping into the game blind, with no idea of how good they are. Your tactics will be generic and not tailored to the exact opponent. In social media marketing, the similarities are surprisingly close.
This episode in the social media strategy series will focus on exactly what you should be undertaking in your research and planning activities prior to launching a social marketing campaign. The context should be applicable to most industries and niches, although you should think about tailoring the tactics and approaches towards your own target audiences.
This article builds upon the first social media strategy episode. If you haven’t done so already, then it would be beneficial to head back and read through the first episode in order to get a good grasp on where this article picks up from. The episodes are published in order of how you should be formulating your social media strategies.
Social Media Strategy Research And Planning
As always, the point of research and planning is to find out what you need to do, before actually needing to do it. With your Purpose, Objectives, Metrics and Implementation (see my chair analogy) in place, now is the time to explore your audience, competitors and environments.
Exactly who is your target market? Can this be segmented in order to establish laser-targeted campaigns? Will this allow you to develop sub-campaigns or tailor marketing resources to each segment?
Establishing your audience demographics, behaviours and key triggers will ensure you know exactly what your audience perceives as valuable and what they tend to ignore. It also allows you to start thinking about how you will market your products or solutions to address and meet their needs. If your audience perceives that the most common problem of your type of service is timing, then this should be used as a primary marketing angle. Similarly, if quality is paramount, then your marketing approaches should reflect this.
It’s almost inevitable that you will be launching a social media campaign into a space that already has competition. So find out who your competitors are and how they’re already marketing to your mutual audiences. Are they doing anything specific that is working well? What campaigns have they run that didn’t work? Why didn’t they work?
Knowing thy enemy allows you to create social marketing campaigns that are stronger in comparison. They have set the benchmark – now it’s your time to beat it and demonstrate this to your audiences.
Another approach is to try to spot opportunities where partnering with your competitor’s is mutually beneficial. You might have competitors that are upward or downward in your industry. Think about publishing for instance. Journalists and researchers will be creating content, other publishers will be delivering the content and bloggers will be creating stories about the original content. Partnering with content creators before and after the initial syndication should allow you to widen your scope into other relevant audiences.
So you know who your audience and competitors are and how they’re both acting, but which social spaces are they active in? And which platforms do they undertake certain actions on? Do their online environments affect particular purchasing decisions or social sharing tendencies?
Discovering which platforms are best suited for your social marketing campaigns is one activity often overlooked. Most will just pick the big four or five social networks out of thin air and expect these to be the most valuable. For some niches and industries, other networks would no doubt be much more valuable though. Any business with a natural stream of rich content (images, video, presentations etc) will find that visual-based social networks, like Pinterest or YouTube, to be well suited for their social marketing campaigns.
Bringing It All Together
The findings of your research and planning should paint a pretty good picture of what is happening from your most important participants. Take some time to think about how you can improve on existing strategies and where your social campaign will fit into this picture. You might have spotted some gaps that you can take advantage of or identified different activities that you should avoid like the plague.
Think of research and planning as a chess match. There is a lot of planning involved in developing moves to take each of your opponents pieces, one by one. You’re trying to set up a winning move and learn from your mistakes, so that you won’t make them again in the next match. You have to think a few steps ahead of everyone you’re playing against to ensure you make that check mate, whilst making sure to entertain your audiences. (I’m sure there’s a Maximus quote from Gladiator in here somewhere?)
Your thorough research and planning methodologies should enable you to start outlining your social activities. There are numerous tactics for planning your social campaigns. Every marketer will have their own tactics, but the main thing is that they all work to achieve how you will act before launch.
Here are some common social media planning strategies that you can incorporate yourself.
- Road maps
Usually a 6 month+ map of the key stages in the social media marketing campaign. It seeks to outline the route to delivering your campaigns and what is necessary at each stage. Road maps can be useful in visualising the bigger picture and established what level of input, or investment, is needed at each juncture.
- Action plans
Defines what actions should be taken to implement your social media strategy. I found a slideshow presentation of an example action plan, which I’ve embedded below (start on slide 31). It outlines 3 main actions: Listen, Engage, Influence, which I think should get you thinking on the right lines.
- Content calenders
Literally a calender of what content you will be publishing and when. It is usually formed in conjunction with keyword research activities, allowing you to tailor future content towards desirable search terms. It focuses on what content is relevant to your audiences, how you plan to solve their problems and when you will be introducing content to them. The better content calenders take readers on a guided journey, encouraging readers to keep coming back to read more related and useful content.
- Traffic building strategies
Your social media campaigns will be lifeless without traffic. Some people make the mistake of marketing to themselves and thinking people will stumble across their messages. This is usually unlikely. You need to passively and proactively seek to build your networks and develop relationships with your target audiences. Build your level of influence and your engagement and virality will increase. I wrote an article on this a while back that useful here, entitled: “How to Build Strong Targeted Audiences in Social Media.”
- Syndication paths
Just publishing your content is not enough. You have to vigorously promote your content in order to put it in front of your audiences. Your syndication paths will provide you with a routine for sharing your content to networks and communities where it would be most effective for promotion. My article “How To Promote New Blog Posts For Mass Exposure” should be helpful.
- Engagement strategies
Engagement is probably the one area most social media campaigns fail to address sufficiently. Actually talking to your audiences with real, human interaction in order to build and strengthen relationships seems obvious, right? So many marketers fall into the automation trap where they think they can be more productive by simply doing everything in bulk long before. Automation software like Hootsuite or BuzzBundle, when used in moderation, is very effective. But the moment everything becomes automated and you’re very rarely speaking in real-time is the moment that things get a little dicey.
- Conversion strategies
So after you have done your research and planning for generating traffic and leads, it’s time to start thinking about how you can convert visitors into paying customers. It’s important to plan for the process of moving visitors through your purchasing funnel – from sources (i.e. social media, search engines etc), to your money site, to leads and to purchasers. Think about how past clients have bought from you and what stages were involved in the cycle. Try and translate this to your social campaigns. Plan to cater for, and refine and improve upon, each stage. You should be aiming to make it a seamless process with as little friction as possible.
Some marketing tactics used to convert passive traffic to leads include: incentivised sign up forms, free eBooks, free initial consultancies and free downloads. Various marketing materials, like landing pages, are frequently used to improve conversion metrics. Start to plan how you can incorporate your conversion strategies into your social media marketing campaigns before launch, so that there isn’t any time lapses and you don’t miss out on potential custom.
A successful research and planning phase in your social media strategy significantly enhances the justification and likelihood of achieving your campaign objectives. Before undertaking your research and planning activities, be sure to keep this quote in mind:
“Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe.” (Abraham Lincoln, 1809-1865)
Stay tuned in to read the other 6 parts of the Social Media Strategy Series by subscribing to the blog below.