They say that if you fail to prepare, you prepare to fail and the same goes for planning in my opinion.

If you know me well, you’ll know I’m a fan of to do lists, checklists and planning out my entire day/week/month to a somewhat obsessive level, so much so, that I’ve most things arranged for my wedding in June 2014. Yes folks, that’s next year!

The public nature of social media can make it appear a daunting process for many companies to get started, so all the more reason to know what you are getting yourself into before you begin. I have witnessed too many companies jump on the social media bandwagon without properly planning their approach and it can go horribly wrong, but I’ll save that for a subsequent blog post.

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Now that we’re well and truly into 2013, what better time to think of the year ahead and plan your social media attack. Whether you have an existing social media plan to hand that’s in dire need of an update, or if you’ve still to get round to compiling one, then look no further than the list of questions below:

1.       What do you hope to achieve?

When venturing into social media, whether it’s for your personal profile or your company, you still have to assess what you hope to gain from it. On a personal level, this may be to simply build a network of friends and connections to chat to socially, whereas business objectives may include to improve customer service, create business leads and converse with customers/clients in a more relaxed and personal manner.

2.       Who do you want to communicate with?

Businesses need to know who they want to talk to and who will ultimately buy their product or service. You have to know the online habits of your audience and where they like to spend time online. Try profiling your demographic by thinking about their gender, age, location, interests and buying habits. This will help narrow it down for you. 

3.       Which platforms should you use?

Knowing whoyou want to speak to then helps you make the decision of where is best to speak to them. A B2B industry for example may consider a LinkedIn company profile and a blog on the website for posting company updates, whereas a FMCG consumer brand might be best placed to focus on Facebook to run regular competitions via Facebook applications, and a shop owner may want to reward regular customers that check-in using Foursquare.

Initially, most businesses decide to join the 1 billion plus users on Facebook, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Be selective and make sure the social media channels are relevant to your business.

4.       How much time can you commit to this?

Like any good relationship, ‘social’ media is an investment and you need to be in it for the long-run if you expect to see any solid results. Each platform you select will need fed and watered regularly so you have to decide who will manage each platform and which department in your company is responsible this i.e. marketing, customer services etc.  

You also have to think about the resource required to monitor the accounts and respond in a timely manner, how many updates you will post on each platform per week – and don’t forget to consider holiday/sick cover.

There are a lot of questions to be answered but this thought process is crucial and it’s best to confirm this prior to going live to ensure it’ll be a sustainable model.

5.       How will it fit into your schedule?

You will want to maintain a regular stream of updates so you could learn to integrate the social media workload into other duties. Although social media can be deemed a 24/7 service, it does not need to be tracked around the clock. Look to allocate team members to monitor the accounts at certain parts of the day, in a similar vein to the way you may dip in and out of your email inbox.

6.       What tone of voice should you adopt?

Within your social media strategy, you should think about a tone that your company is comfortable with. It should remain professional and in line with the personality of your brand, but relatively informal and you may wish to give some thought to mirroring the language of your clients/customers.

I have touched on tone of voice in a previous blog post, where my top tips included adding a personal touch, empathising with the customer and not being afraid to inject some humour into your posts. It’ll give people all the more reason to follow you!

7.       How will you measure progress?

When deciding to dedicate time and resources to something like social media, it makes sense to want to know how it’s doing. There are numerous tools out there that allow you to track key metrics for reporting. There are some great little tools that are free to use, but for the more in-depth insight you will be expected to pay a monthly subscription.

Some free tools that are worth checking out include Google Analytics for tracking website and blog traffic, Facebook insights on business Pages for discovering fan demographic and what content is driving the most interaction, and HootSuite for tracking link clicks and top referrers on Twitter.

8.       How does this tie into your overall marketing plan?

Social media shouldn’t be held in isolation so ensure that your plan ties in with the overall marketing plan and the wider business objectives. You should maximise the opportunities available within each social media platform and integrate online updates with what is happening across PR, advertising and email marketing campaigns.

It may appear a laborious task, but it’s worth running through these questions and agreeing your plan of attack – do you remember the popular saying from my first sentence?!

And whatever you do, please make sure the social media plan doesn’t live in a drawer. It should be reviewed, revised and recirculated every quarter if possible to ensure it remains in line with the fast-moving nature of social media itself.

If there’s any additional questions that you have asked yourself prior to diving into social media, feel free to drop them in the comments section below.