Woman doing her makeup while recording herself in front of a camera.
In today's world, social media use is a necessity when it comes to brand awareness. — Getty Images/Peter Dazeley

When someone wants to see local business promotions or get updates on friends, they turn to social media. Indeed, Pew Research reported that over 80% of U.S. adults 18 to 49 use at least one social media site, as do 73% of 50 to 64-year-olds. A social media marketing strategy defines how your brand will attract and engage with consumers and what results you expect.

Crafting a social media plan helps you use your time effectively. It identifies the channels and customers to target while determining the content most likely to make an impact. Moreover, your strategy outlines key performance indicators (KPIs), ensuring you can measure performance and respond to consumer or budget changes. Follow these steps to create a basic social media strategy, then see our list of options for automating aspects of your plan.

1. Align your social media goals to your overall business objectives

Most small businesses want to increase sales, improve customer experiences, and get the word out that they're open for business. Social media goals can do all three and so much more. Pull out your business plan and look at your high-level objectives. Think about social media's role and develop an action plan.

For example, you intend to boost overall sales by 20% this year. Your social media strategy may incorporate social selling on Facebook and channel-specific in-person or online purchases promotions. Break this down by deciding how many sales you expect per channel, campaign, and timeframe.

Other revenue-linked goals include increasing sign-ups to your customer loyalty program or generating leads through forms and downloads. Branding objectives aim to build awareness, community, and engagement. A solid brand strategy creates stronger relationships, leading to increased sales and customer loyalty.

[Read more: 3 Emerging Social Media Strategies Businesses Must Know to Grow]

2. Analyze your ideal audience and competition

Social analytics and listening tools provide insights about your competition and potential customers. For your audience, it’s essential to understand who they are, where they hang out, and what type of content they engage with. Combine this information with demographics to segment them into different groups by channel.

Next, check out your competition. What content is driving clicks or falling flat? Are they using videos and images, short or long posts, or paid advertisements? How do they respond to post comments or reviews? Use this information to create a unique approach that stands out.

3. Identify social media channels and best posting times

Social media is time-intensive, especially as your audience grows. Pick one to three channels to prioritize. Facebook and Instagram remain favorites among consumers and brands alike. Both offer built-in shopping tools and support videos. However, with Facebook, you can create communities for loyal fans to update them on the latest specials or give them first dibs on the newest inventory.

Yet, Instagram performs well for visual brands. Showcase your beauty transformations or Instagrammable food presentations with high-quality photos or short behind-the-scenes videos. Depending on your industry and audience age, Pinterest, TikTok, Twitter, and LinkedIn may also be worth your time.

While LinkedIn is better for business-to-business (B2B) brands, turn to TikTok to engage younger clients. Or focus on Twitter’s trending topics and Pinterest’s do-it-yourself vibe to attract interested customers.

Regardless of your channel, you should decide when to post and frequently check back to see if your assessment remains valid. Brandwatch recommends these posting times:

  • Instagram: Monday, Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m.
  • Facebook: Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday between 12 p.m. and 4 p.m.
  • LinkedIn: Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday between 5 p.m. and 6 p.m.
  • Twitter: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, and Thursday around noon.

While LinkedIn is better for business-to-business (B2B) brands, turn to TikTok to engage younger clients. Or focus on Twitter’s trending topics and Pinterest’s do-it-yourself vibe to attract interested customers.

4. Establish social media KPIs

Social media KPIs measure your performance and the effectiveness of your overall strategy. You may have metrics for individual channels, campaigns, and your plan. Hootsuite suggested tracking metrics from several categories: reach, engagement, conversion, and customer satisfaction.

Consider monitoring social media KPIs, such as:

  • Profile impressions and reach.
  • Followers.
  • Click-through rate (CTR).
  • Engagement rate.
  • Posting frequency.
  • Video plays.
  • Customer testimonials.
  • Clicks.
  • Audience growth rate.
  • Social shares.

Remember to gather benchmark data before beginning a new strategy. Measure your current KPIs and collect industry data. Doing so gives you an idea of where you’re at and what to aim for.

5. Develop your social media marketing schedule and workflows

Organize social media from the get-go. Start with a monthly calendar and a list of post formats (informational, promotional, inspirational, insiders-look, etc.). Create templates, including photos and quote images. Then complete similar tasks at the same time. For example, do all images or all content curation at once.

By doing these tasks ahead of time, you can focus on engaging with your audience online rather than looking for something to post. And when you're ready to outsource social media, you have a system and workflows prepared.

[Read more: 6 Elements of a Great Social Media Post]

6. Assess and adjust your social media marketing strategy

No social media marketing strategy is set in stone. Human behavior and social media platforms change constantly. Set aside time monthly or quarterly to review your numbers, competition, and content. Social media is a long game like search engine optimization (SEO). You’re building relationships and your brand and increasing sales along the way.

Bonus: 5 tools for automating social media marketing

Posting in real-time can help improve visibility in social media feeds. But it’s not always conducive to your work schedule or personal life. Most social media platforms are affordable and well worth the monthly or annual fee. They provide in-depth analytics and automate many aspects of your social media strategy.

Check out the following social media management tools:

  • Buffer: With Buffer, you pay for the channels you use and can connect up to three for free. It offers an AI assistant, a link shortener, and in-depth analytics.
  • CoSchedule: Create a real-time marketing calendar and publish it on two social profiles for free with CoSchedule or select an unlimited plan for $29 monthly with annual billing.
  • HubSpot: Individuals and small teams can leverage HubSpot’s free and paid Marketing Hub tools to convert visitors, manage customer relationships, and generate leads.
  • Planable: You can design up to 50 free social media posts with Planable. Then set up approval workflows and choose a paid plan starting at $11 monthly with annual billing.
  • Sprout Social: High-end agencies appreciate the keyword and review management tools Sprout Social offers. Take advantage of a 30-day free trial to see if it’s right for your business.

This story was originally written by Sean Peek.

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