Why do you want to use social media? What are you trying to accomplish? Here is a hint. If the answer is that everyone else seems to be using it you’re not likely to be very successful.

But if you are serious about making social media work for your firm, the place to start is with a social media strategy. In this post, we’ll walk you through the steps of how to do it the right way.

1. Decide on the purpose of your social media program

There are a lot of good reasons to develop a social media strategy. The question is which ones are relevant to your situation?

  • Do you need to develop new relationships with your target audience or influencers? Think of this goal as traditional networking via a new communications channel.
  • Do you need to promote your educational content and spread new ideas? Social media is a fast and efficient way to reach key audiences.
  • Do you want to attract more visitors to your website? Social media activity is becoming an important component of how search engines are judging the authority of content. Think SEO.
  • Do you need to research your prospects or competitors? Get the collective scoop on your prospects. Find out who works there, what issues they have, how the marketplace views them, or many other pieces of information.
  • Do you need to recruit new employees? They will definitely be checking you out on social media so you better be ready. It can also be used to find just the type of employee you are looking for.

When you have a firm fix of which goals are most important and their relative priority, you are ready to take the next step.

2. Specify and research your target audiences

In the process of answering your purpose for a social media strategy you probably have thought about the target audiences you want to reach. Now it’s time to write them down. Don’t be too narrow.

Remember in most complex B2B sales (which professional services purchases often are) there is rarely just a single decision maker involved. Don’t be overly restrictive in your view of who you need to reach. Many decision makers may rely on advice from peers or outside consultants as well as the usual trusted advisors.

Once you know who you are trying to reach it’s time to figure out where they are online. This can be done with formal research, where you systematically poll an audience, or less formally. Try looking at LinkedIn profiles and see which groups they are involved in. Many executives routinely include their twitter handle or LinkedIn profile in their signature block. Remember, your purpose is to be where they are.

3. Select social media channels

Should we be on Facebook? What about YouTube? Many folks start with selecting the channel first and then try to figure out what their goal should be. No, no, no, bad idea. Figure out where you need to be to reach the audience you need to reach.

Sometimes there will be multiple social media channels that make sense. In those cases, you may want to consider the characteristics of different platforms as part of your decision process.

If you are in doubt, start small and build from there. If yours is a B2B social media strategy, you will probably be pretty safe with LinkedIn as a starter. Twitter and YouTube are also suitable for most B2B situations. If you are trying to reach non-profits, consumers, or young hires Facebook is typically a good addition. And don’t forget the more specialized private forums that are common with many industries.

4. Pinpoint program goals and measurement

Once you have selected the social media channels you want to be in, it is time to focus on specific program goals. Why not do program goals earlier? The simple answer is that many of the goals and available measures are very platform specific. Try measuring retweets on LinkedIn.

Program goals and measures generally fall into three broad categories.

  • Activity. These goals are around what you do. For example: How many discussions did you start? How many tweets did you do? How many videos did you post last month? The goal of these kinds of program goals is to track implementation. Here is the harsh reality, if you don’t do it, it won’t work. Having a specific goal and measurement in place simply makes it more likely that you will do your part.
  • Reach. These goals relate to how broad is the reach of your activity. Here you might want to track followers, likes or retweets for example. You don’t just want to put information out, you want people to engage with it, share it, and become interested in your firm. These types of goals and measures help you gauge how successful you are.
  • Results. Now we’re getting to the reasons you’re doing a social media strategy in the first place. Is it producing the results you seek? Are you getting the new business leads you wanted? Has your industry visibility improved? Have you found the new recruits you need? Fortunately, the availability of marketing automation technology has dramatically improved your ability to track some of these measures more easily. You can easily track website traffic and new leads coming from social media using Google Analytics for example. Yes, it may not be easy to track results driven by multiple interactions, but even that is becoming more and more feasible with sophisticated marketing automation systems.

5. Develop implementation tactics

This is some of the fun stuff. Every day, people are on social media sharing ideas and tips about how to do social media better. They will share what works so you have a built in mechanism for improving your personal skill with social media. That is a real benefit of social media and an invaluable aid for a self-help strategy.

But self-help isn’t the right strategy for all situations. If you have a significant business reason for developing a social media strategy you might not want to leave it to self-help alone.

These days there are two viable alternatives to leaving folks on their own to pick it up. The first is to employ a social media consultant to help set up your program and policies, train individuals, monitor the program and provide support and troubleshooting. The advantages are obvious. This tactic allows you to shorten the learning curve while still relying on inside resources to do the bulk of the implementation.

The second approach is to outsource some roles or the entire program. This approach is especially appealing when you have very busy professionals with little available time. It can be more effective and less expensive than taking the staff off billable work. The downside is that social media typically implies the active engagement of your staff. This has led to the emergence of hybrid approaches where some functions are outsourced and others are supplemented with available in house resources.

Whichever approach you take to developing and implementing your social media strategy, remember the most basic truth. A flawed strategy, no matter how enthusiastically implemented, will not produce the desired results. Neither will a brilliant strategy that is only partially implemented. Consistency matters.

To read more on developing a social media strategy, download our free Social Media Guide.