Between Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, Medium, and Pinterest, many marketers are scratching their heads and wondering where to invest their time, company resources, and energy. Back in the early days of social media, the decision for where and how to build a social media strategy was (somewhat) straightforward: marketers could take their pick between Facebook and Twitter.
But now, marketers are finding themselves with too many options and too little time. Complicating matters even further, social media channels are ever-changing, meaning that the opportunities that marketers are facing now and in the future are not what they may have been in the past—just take a look at Facebook, where brand pages’ organic reach is diminishing in light of the social network leader giving more emphasis to its advertising products.
Should you cast your net wide and develop a broad-scale strategy? Should you focus on the channels where you’re already seeing a bit of activity and momentum?
The answer isn’t always clear. And if you jump the gun and make a decision too early by focusing on the strategies that you’re watching from like-minded companies or competitors, you may end up ignoring the unique needs of your customer base.
The bottom line is that you need to build a social media strategy that’s unique to your business. Here is a simple framework, with specific steps that you and your marketing team can take, to help you make the right judgment call.
Step 1: Rank Social Networks Based on Where Your Core Audience Currently Is and Where They’re Likely to Be in the Future
Let’s say that you’re marketing to young, college-aged millennials—an audience that is on Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, and Pinterest.
How do you narrow down this list?
Take out your crystal ball, and take a look into the future. Digging deeper into the demographics around these social networks, you may notice the following types of trends:
- Engagement among young adults on X is on the decline
- Engagement among young adults on Y is on the rise
- More and more populations of young adults are joining social network Z, although engagement rates are unknown
Do your due diligence to look at demographic patterns and usage rates to start. Pay particular attention to the following sources of data:
- The Pew Center, a U.S. based think tank that conducts regular survey research among social media users
- SocialBakers, a provider of social media analytics that often publishes its data publicly
- AdAge, a marketer-focused publisher that frequently provides trend reports around social media usage patterns
- Social Media Examiner, an online publication that is solely devoted to trends on social media
Read these analyses between the lines to understand where hidden opportunities exist. For instance, if you read a report about the ‘fastest’ growing audience on social media, try to pinpoint the second-fastest. If you hear that members of a key demographic are leaving a certain platform in droves, find out why, and trying to uncover who is sticking around.
- Create a list of all the social media networks that you’re considering using
- Start a Google spreadsheet
- Add your list of social media networks to this list
- Add 2 columns related to demographic potential
- Give each social network a score from 1-10 (or whatever range you’d like to specify) based on the existing presence of your target audience—and the likelihood that this segment will change in the future
Step 2: Rank Each Social Network Based on Where You’re Seeing Organic Activity
Even if your business does not have a presence on social (literally, if your presence is zero), you’ll likely have some idea of where audiences are engaging with your brand. Chances are that the channels where you’re seeing the most organic activity, unprompted, are the ones with potential for more. If you see varying levels of organic activity, you’ll want to pay attention to the nuances in terms of how much—or how little—your social media audiences are sharing and whether that activity translates into transactions on your website.
When conducting this analysis, take a look at a few different time periods to see if there are any unusual dips and spikes. Take a look at a few different metrics, too. Here are some ideas to help you make your assessment:
- Social shares on your blog content
- Referral traffic sources to your website and content via Google Analytics
- Hashtag activity and mentions
If you have the tools in place, you may consider running a quick sentiment analysis on different social platforms to see how audiences are talking about your company. If you don’t have these resources in place, you could consider hiring a freelance researcher or intern to help support your efforts.
In the same Google Doc that you used in step 1, add a column where you can quantify potential based on early organic activity. Give each channel that you’re considering a score from 1 to 10. Remember, however, that there’s a caveat to this metric: early organic activity may be an indicator of a valuable social media channel, but it’s not the only predictor of whether you’ll be successful. Not to mention, you won’t really know what your performance will be on a channel until you’ve begun to establish a presence. Make sure that this assessment remains a small piece of your overall puzzle.
Step 3: Rank Each Social Network Based on Alignment with Your Core Product and Content
Social media platforms are distribution channels for your company, so you’ll need to make sure that you’re choosing the ones that put your best image forward in allowing you to showcase your brand (and products, if relevant).
If you’re working for a fashion brand, for instance, you’ll want to consider visual channels like Instagram and Pinterest. If you’re promoting a recruiting product, you’ll want to consider LinkedIn, which reaches a wide audience of hiring teams.
Keep in mind, however, that brand alignment does not always follow a simple formula. For instance, if you’re marketing a B2B product—even if your product isn’t visual—you could still consider using Instagram as a channel to pair beautiful stock photography with inspiring quotes related to your customer base. That being said, you’ll want to look at the “ethos” and discussions that exist within each channel to see where you’re a close fit.
Here are a few resources that can guide you through this process:
- 5 B2B Brands Rocking Instagram, by Contently
- This article on choosing the right social channels from Convince and Convert
- This resource on how to choose the right social media channels from Buffer
You guessed it. It’s time to update your spreadsheet based on the potential for brand alignment.
Step 4: Rank Each Social Network Based on Long-Term Viability
What are the chances that the social channels that you invest in now are going to remain the channels that you want to use in the future?
As you’re well-aware, industry ecosystems are changing. Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest have all introduced advertising products that in turn, impact organic traffic.
Over time, brands will want to maintain a mix of paid and organic social channels, so here’s where your imagination comes in: what is the likelihood that the social channel that you’re using now will be the social channel that will help you achieve your goals, moving forward? Pay attention to the following points, especially:
- How you’ll want to incorporate a mix of paid and organic strategy
- Whether the marketing features that you love most in the social channels that you’re considering are likely to be around in a few years
- If your long-term marketing strategy seems to align with your prospective social media channels’ business interests
You’re not a psychic, so it may be hard to piece together the right forecasts. If your imagination and instincts are hitting a wall, check out your favorite marketing blogs and authorities in the social media space.
Yup—you guessed it.
Putting It All Together
Now it’s time to put the many dimensions of your analysis together into a composite score. Remember that each of the dimensions that you calculated above communicate a different aspect of your business story, and that the full, composite picture will help you determine a clear path forward.
Make sure to sanity check this score after you calculate it. Does it jive with what the rest of your team things? Can you justify the metric? Your metric should help you focus your research as you develop and optimize your social media strategy.