With the fast-changing dynamics of the social media world, planning an effective strategy for all your social media accounts is the best – and only – foundation to success.

Companies with a social media strategy in place are likely to do far better than those without one. The good news is that setting up a social media strategy is a lot easier than it sounds.

So how do you manage to stand out in the crowded social media space and reach your goals? The following 8 steps should answer that.

#1: Set out your goal

What do you want out of your social media efforts? What’s your ultimate goal? Having a clear direction or sense of purpose will help you shape your strategy.

If you want more traffic to your site, for instance, you’ll focus on trying to create content that pulls in visitors – like promotions, giveaways, or just valuable content.

Businesses have so many goals when they look to social media as a marketing channel. As you’ll find out, your goal will generally be centered on these things:

  • Listening – analyzing what people are saying about your company or brand
  • Spreading your messages and encouraging participation (marketing)
  • Sales – relying on your loyal customers for positive word of mouth
  • Providing customer support

#2: Know thy customer

It’s essential that you understand your potential customers well to be able craft effective messages to them. This calls for you to actively listen to what people are saying, what other brands (competitors) are doing, and how they are doing it.

Understand the demographics and psychographics of your audience. If you’re targeting the young and hip, what kind of messages will appeal to them?

But your audience might also be segmented, so you’ll need to go a step further and analyze the needs of each segment in order to understand how you must tailor different messages to cater to each one of them.

#3: Social media management and tools

Your social media campaign shouldn’t be defined by the tools you use; rather, the tools should help you make it so much easier. Tools like HootSuite and Bufferapp can help you with your collaborative social media work, auto-scheduling, and monitoring of conversations.

Other tools will help you know the best times to publish so that you can maximize engagement. The tools you choose should integrate seamlessly with your goals and be able to effectively serve your target audience.

It is better to choose one tool and focus your efforts on creating a great social media experience for your followers, than adopting a number of tools that will just mix up your strategy. You can find a nice list of the most popular social media management tools here.

#4: Refine your voice

Find a voice that reflects your social media marketing philosophy. Don’t treat your business like any other business; the way you speak about it should be in a unique and compelling way.

Remember that social media is all about driving engagement with customers, so building rapport with them should be at the top of your agenda.

Find a voice that centers on their needs, not yours. You want to minimize sounding promotional, so you must ask them questions and always tell them what they love to hear. In other words, be sweet. Be resourceful, and helpful.

It starts first by listening to what they have to say, then crafting a message that’s relevant to their expectations. Other than Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, G+ and Pinterest, you should also set up a blog – if you haven’t yet – as part of your strategy for deeper engagement.

#5: Incentivize your messages

One of the best ways to improve your social media interactions is by offering incentives to drive users to take action. This can be done using special offers, discounts or the giveaways that have been all the rage on social media for years.

And they do work, because users like the prospect of being rewarded for taking action.

You should also seek to explain why someone would participate in your call-to-action. Consumers are already exposed to hundreds of other such messages, so what makes you different? Give them a unique reason why they should choose you.

#6: Keyword tracking

Part of your listening can be made easier by setting up a stream of relevant keywords to monitor the trends among your audience. This information will help you fine-tune your marketing strategy to suit their preferences. Google alerts is one such tool that will help you monitor your keywords.

Keywords not only help you keep tabs on what your customers are saying, but also what your competitors are doing. If you sell a complementary product (one that’s usually bought together with another) then you should also monitor the activities of the complementary brand on social media, so that you can take the chance to promote your brand on their channel whenever necessary.

#7: The power of multimedia

A picture, video, presentation or podcast is definitely more stimulation to the average human than a piece of writing. That’s not to say you should quit it with the text, but you should always strive to present visually engaging content that is sure to raise interest.

Just look at how Pinterest has grown in popularity. Doesn’t it say enough about pictures? Your content need not be extraordinary all the time, just think of anything that is relevant to your company.

Pictures of a recent company event, or the CEO’s desk perhaps? Or a nice video tour of your workplace. Even a good meme will sometimes do.

Tutorials and product descriptions in the form of multimedia can be a good break from the same old text. Think about it.

#8: Analyze your metrics

You must keep assessing your social media results to see if you are meeting your customers’ needs and ultimately reaching your goals. Keep asking your customers what they like, what they dislike and what they’d want improved, so you’ll know how you must tweak up your performance.

While at it, you need to have a look at the raw data – the metrics. If social media marketing is included in your budget, you’d naturally want to measure the return on investment.

There are many tools across all social media channels that can help you track your ROI, such as Facebook Insights and Google analytics.

Understanding your customers’ conversion rates, patterns and interests is the best way you can learn about what you’re missing in your campaign so that you understand what needs to be done to rev it up.

Post contributed by Tom, a writer for Make a Website

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