To maximize your social media efforts and truly be effective, a plan is a must. Social media strategy isn't only applicable when an organization is launching channels, it can also be applied after a presence has already been established.
Social media's such a new field that many organizations went ahead and built a presence on channels before anyone really understood how those channels would operate and evolve. Now, however, social media strategies must be instituted for organizations to thrive - even if they think they've been operating successfully without one. Such a position is exactly where we found ourselves at Harvard Medical School not all that long ago.
The following are some of the key takeaways I came away with after having gone through the process of creating a strategy.
A Plan Doesn't Exist Until It's Written Down
Just because a plan isn't written down doesn't mean there isn't a direction in place - but it's absolutely necessary to get it down in writing.
This became evident at HMS when we started hiring social media staff and didn't have a go-to document to get them up to speed on our social media goals and voice. A written plan will allow you to be organized for your team, grow your channels, and be consistent to your audiences.
In our case, a strategy has aenabled us to prioritize our efforts and clarify our objectives, track our progress and regularly provide informed ROI, and execute on all of our efforts with a shared purpose in mind.
One thing that's also been beneficial for us is treating the strategy as a reference point and a living document. Some elements are fundamental to our content marketing structure and will not change, but a lot isn't set in stone and will continually evolve as we improve what we're doing and as new technologies emerge.
You'll Find New Opportunities by Figuring Out What Your Competition Isn't Doing Well
In the process of putting together a plan, one of the first steps we took was to perform a competitive analysis.
After determining our audiences and content mission, we next looked at where our audiences' needs were, or were not, being met and where they were going for content. In doing this, we were able to learn a lot about the other medical institutions we compete directly with, accounts outside of our immediate industry that provide similar resources, and see what other high-performing accounts were doing.
This process informed our benchmarks and enabled us to assign success metrics to the usually ambiguous top-of-the-funnel components such as share of voice, brand awareness, and brand equity. Additionally, it enabled us to see what our direct competitors weren't doing well and isolate opportunities to build a competitive advantage over them.
In our case, some of these opportunities included incorporating more visuals, using more direct copy, repurposing popular content, and identifying new channels where we could gain traction.
The Need for Specificity
It's easy to want to be big and broad, because you don't want to alienate or turn away any audiences. However, this instinct can actually be detrimental, because organizations, in an effort to try and speak to everyone, end up speaking to no one. Instead, focusing on specific audiences and speaking to their needs can be a significantly most effective approach for your brand.
By going small and niche with your messages and marketing, you'll foster a deeper relationship with these groups that'll be stronger and more conducive to scaling further down the road. Beyond audience specificity, precise and defined metrics, goals, and objectives make a strategy more attainable and clear.
Looking for such clarity at HMS has made our messaging and objectives clearer. By speaking clearly to specific audiences, we've also been able to begin cornering a niche within our market, which in turn has allowed us to exponentially grow our reach and brand advocates.
We didn't stop with audience and message specificity, either. We've created channel-specific plans (these can be as short as a page) that build up to our overall social media and content marketing strategies. Having an eye on what success looks like at each level of our marketing structure ensures we're staying on track and takes the guesswork out of determining the value of our marketing tactics.
The Process Will Force You to Ask and Address Important Questions
In going through the process of establishing a strategy at HMS, we were forced to ask a lot of questions about why we operated in the way that we did.
So far, I've talked about looking outward at audiences, trends, and competition, but the hardest part is turning that lens inward. A lot of initiatives in the social media world start off with the best of intentions, but become legacies or indoctrinated into processes. By looking inward, we were forced to question certain practices, such as why we operated on specific channels, why we shared certain types of content and where, why we had a certain posting frequency, and so on.
In doing this, we've been able to evolve beyond some bad habits that weren't achieving our objectives - or, worse, holding us back. We've also been able to establish standardization, consistency, effectiveness, and efficiency on individual channels and across our overall social media marketing.
It Will Make Your Life Easier
Pulling all of this together and making a strategy can seem daunting at first, but the hardest part is simply getting started, and the rewards are well worth it.
Certainly, going through this process takes discipline and can seem unattainable when there's so much to get done in the day-to-day, but having a written plan makes a big difference. On our social team at HMS, it's now easier to prioritize work and clarify what we're trying to achieve with a documented plan.
Having a strategy has not only made our social media efforts more cohesive, but it's also provided greater internal buy-in by being able to display a direction and value. It's also been vital to have something to reference when considering new opportunities and to keep us focused in our social media efforts.
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