Posted 01.04.2021 by Josh Krakauer
Update: 2020’s over. Let that sink in for a second.
*takes deep breath*
There’s a very likely chance your 2020 social media plans were disrupted and the year maybe didn’t turn out how you expected for… a variety of reasons.
A new year means an opportunity for a fresh start with a focused brand vision and a hard reset on your goals. It also means your marketing budget is up for review (again) and you have three major tasks:
As you start exporting data and compiling summaries, you might wonder if you achieved what you set out to do in the previous year.
Was there a clear and energizing goal for social? Did you make progress on it throughout the year? Did you waste too much time chasing shiny objects or in a never-ending chain of approvals?
Maybe you’ve been here before. Know that you’re not alone. In The Manifest’s survey of social media marketers, two of the biggest social media challenges businesses faced included missing a formal strategy (24%), followed by tracking results (17%).
It’s time to fix that.
Let’s kick off 2021 with clarity on the elements that encompass a successful social media strategy.
Before we dig in, let’s define what makes an effective social media strategy framework to use as an example.
A social media strategy is typically presented as a text document or slide presentation.
Here’s an example agenda of what belongs in a social media strategy presentation:
Set up the social media strategy by providing context on the business challenges and brand strategy already established. This is why we’re defining the social media strategy.
Define the audience(s) that will influence your strategy. Use research and examples as appropriate to make your case. Compare that with how your audience breaks down today on web and social media channels.
Show how your social media strategy comes to life with specific recommendations.
Keep in mind that all of these sections are optional. Your client or marketing team might prefer a 2-page summary versus a 50-page deck.
We put together two templates that you can use to start 2021 off on the right foot.
Our template will help you clarify your social media strategy using the proven 6-step framework. Inspired by the social media strategies we build for brands at our B2B social media agency, this framework aligns teams and delivers results.
The free template sets up your strategy in an actionable word doc (see below). The paid template walks through each section in a plug-and-play slide presentation (coming soon—preview it here).
Maybe you’re thinking, “cool, this template sounds great but, it’s just another empty document. What do I put in it?”
We had a hunch you might feel that way. Keep reading for a breakdown of the six step framework and concrete examples of how to adapt these ideas into actionable strategies.
Like all things in business, we begin with goals. Goals come in all shapes and sizes, so let’s set some ground rules on good social goals.
1. Goals should be SMART. Welcome back to business basics. Your goals should follow the time-tested formula: specific, measurable, achievable, relevant, and time-bound.
2. Goals should be audience-centered. Social media is a human-centric medium. Translate your customer’s journey into audience-specific goals.
3. Goals should be tied to organizational impact. A good goal is an outcome, not an activity. What does the business need to happen in the next year? While top-line revenue growth is always up there, what else impacts the bottom line? Keeping customers happier? Keeping employees longer? Translate a social media goal for an area where you can move the needle.
4. Goals should start big, then break down into KPIs. To keep on track, you should establish goals that are big but achievable. Then break them down into monthly and quarterly key performance indicators (KPIs). We recommend identifying two types of goals in your planning:
Your primary goal is going to answer, “If we only hit this one goal this year, we’ll know we’re successful.” This is where I’m going to push you to re-think ‘increase brand awareness.’ In Buffer’s example, they connect their social media goal to the launch of three new product features. Perhaps on Jan 1 that’s enough. As they qualify the success metrics of those product launches, the social goal should break down further to be more actionable and measurable.
As a B2B organization, marketing is often responsible for brand awareness, demand generation, and lead nurturing (pipeline). It’s reasonable to expect your B2B social media marketing to contribute to moving the needle in the sales funnel either directly with paid advertising or indirectly through brand awareness and community management.
An example of a primary social media marketing goal might be: Acquire 50 SQLs from social media channels in FY2021.
Would your company be happy with 50 new qualified leads after a year’s worth of effort and investment? Adjust accordingly.
Note #1: This is a social media marketing goal. Social media may live within different departments and teams. Your team’s goal could relate to other areas of business impact—improving customer satisfaction scores by X percentage points, reducing response times by Y minutes, or increasing customer or employee retention rates.
Note #2: A goal for an entire year is a big, audacious guess. Instead, consider establishing goals on a campaign basis.
Next, identify your secondary social media goals. This is how we measure the success of our execution. Often, these are the metrics tied to performance on each individual channel. They are tracked as part of your execution plan on a monthly basis, for each channel. These will not be equally valued among your organization so be selective.
Remember when we talked about breaking those goals down into smaller pieces? Those 50 marketing-qualified leads won’t appear overnight. To inch closer to your total, in the month of March you might set goals such as:
There’s only one way to eat an elephant: One bite at at time. Start big, then break down small.
To recap: First, you need to identify…
Then, ask yourself and key members of your organization:
Do you have a defined target audience associated with your goals? Having clarity on your most valuable and important customer types precedes this step. If marketing, sales, and service haven’t had that discussion yet, start there. For the purpose of social media strategy planning, there are three main audience groups we care about reaching:
Focus on your MVP (Most Valuable Personas) for your primary goal. Building a better relationship with this audience—and attracting more like them—will drive the greatest return from your social media investment.
You might find this part challenging. Brands often have multiple customer segments they speak to across product lines. And while social advertising lends itself well to micro-targeting multiple personas, it’s hard to grow an audience organically and implement a content strategy speaking to lots of different people.
So while your business may want to recruit employees, attract customers, and engage with influencers—your primary content and channel strategy should be formed from your most valuable prospects and customers.
This segment represents the audience you want to grow into next. This group might be important for business growth in the next 5 years. Often it’s a younger generation you hope to influence, or consumers of an emerging business segment. They might not be an immediate priority, but they should be identified and understood.
The segment who can lift up your brand and reach your customers. Who influences your customer? Defining this group can be key to unlocking earned media and traffic. Note: You can swap “customer” with the designation that makes sense – client, donor, guest, or member.
Next, dig into the details of your customer persona. Once you’ve confirmed your target audiences (congrats on being decisive!), the next step is to describe them at a deeper level. The better you know your audience, the more effective your content strategy will be in engaging them. To define your persona, ask questions like:
All of your juicy content ideas will come from the answers to these questions, so it’s important to get authentic, qualitative feedback—ideally from your customers themselves. For additional reading, our friends at Optimist provide more questions to consider when building out a buyer persona.
To recap: First, identify your most valuable, aspirational, and influencer audience segments. Then ask yourself and key members of your organization:
Selecting the right platforms is key to a focused social media program. First, you need to identify…
Where will you focus most of your effort building a presence? Your primary social media channels are the answer. There should be a direct link between investing time and resources on that platform and the priority goals you set. If your top tier goal is customer engagement, you better be sure you can reliably reach and track your customers there. Otherwise it becomes a secondary channel with less investment. For most brands, there are 2-3 primary channels to prioritize. Remember that more channels to maintain means more resources to manage. Choose (and cut) wisely.
Examples of common primary social media channels include:
Missing a few? Preferences will vary, but that’s where secondary channels come in.
Gone are the days where following best practice meant being “everywhere.” (Remember Peach, you guys?) Still, there is tremendous upside in being an early adopter. If your audience is starting to make their way to a new platform, it should be on your radar. B2B TikTok, I’m talking about you. Think 80/20 with the 20% representing a smaller subset of your bandwidth tied to experimentation and growth.
As an example, a B2B manufacturing firm might find their core business customers use LinkedIn professionally and Facebook personally, while their aspirational audience is more of a DIY creator, so increasingly more TikTok and Instagram-heavy. Their social media channel strategy might require investing 80% of their time and budget on LinkedIn and Facebook efforts where they’ve proven the value, and up to 20% on TikTok videos, Instagram posts and/or ads. This channel mix should be evaluated on a quarterly or semi-annual basis.
(Yes, there are B2B manufacturers on TikTok, really.)
Often, the devil is in the details. With Facebook, for instance, thinking beyond organic Facebook Page posts can unlock tons of opportunity. Products like Messenger, Groups, Shops, Stories, Marketplace, and Events all grew heavily in daily usage and require a strategy of their own.
Our rule of thumb is if a platform publicizes and promotes a new feature, it’s recommended to use it. In 2021, Instagram is pushing their creators to use Reels to boost their reach, for instance. Don’t be afraid to experiment!
Which social media channel features are worth testing in 2021?
In 2019 and 2020, it was easier to organize social media channels into Facebook and not-Facebook. While that’s changing with the growth of usage on TikTok, Clubhouse, LinkedIn, and others, let’s start there.
*After Facebook redesigned their experience around Groups and Events, you have even more incentive to lean in to those features.
Organic reach isn’t what it used to be, but if you’re investing time on a channel, you should be investing in audience growth. From invite-to-likes to proactive following, engagement groups, and retargeting, there are many tactics for growing your audience. The shiny object of the moment will change, but if it’s ‘white hat’ and working for peers, it should be on your radar.
Audience growth tactics include:
Social Media Channel Strategy Recap
To form your channel plan, ask yourself and key members of your organization:
An effective social media content strategy structures your content plans and outlines what you’ll publish across channels. This social media framework could be used as a blueprint for organizing one-off campaigns, or your entire ongoing content strategy.
Here’s how it works.
The content blueprint is organized into 3 core components:
Get a free copy of the content strategy table here (not gated).
Content purpose statement: Your social and/or content marketing may be guided by an overarching idea or purpose. That overarching idea should be associated with the mission of your organization, or at least, the mission of your marketing.
Ask: “What do we stand for?”, or, “What do we help our audience do and accomplish?”
In the example above, our content purpose statement stems from our company’s core values — Hustle & Heart. With this in mind, all content we share should help companies grow faster (find their hustle), and connect emotionally with a human touch (embrace their heart).
Content pillars: Social content often stems from 3-5 high-level topics — your content pillars. Think of these as the building blocks for all of your supporting content ideas.
In the example, these are big ideas like the “Future of B2B social media”, which could break down into posts featuring trend research or expert interviews.
Note: Topics, pillars, themes and buckets, are often used interchangeably, and preference varies marketer-to-marketer.
Content subtopics: Underneath your pillars you can get more granular and share more specific content topics.
In the blueprint example, spotlighting our culture is a pillar topic. Therefore, posts may take audiences behind-the-scenes of on-site photoshoots, or celebrate client wins.
Organizing content in a social media framework this has two main benefits:
1. You can plan and produce content in batches. One of the most common pain points cited by social media marketers is the labor required to create interesting content—consistently.
By developing a whole series of related posts for a given campaign or month with a similar theme, you can stock pile relevant content and schedule them as needed. Think of the massive time you could save avoiding the daily grind of answering, “what should we post today?”
2. You can measure the success of each content theme. What’s resonating with our audience? Which content themes perform better at different stages of the customer journey—cold awareness audiences versus fan and customer audiences? Organizing content in this framework allows you to analyze your content by reach, engagement, and conversion KPIs more easily.
Some brands separate their ongoing (organic) social media content strategy from their paid social and content marketing strategy. If this is the case for you too, your content blueprint may look a little different.
Now that you have a framework, ask yourself… Does your existing content enable you to post with purpose? To post with purpose, use what makes your audience care, share, aware, and convert. Let’s break those down:
What type of content makes audiences care? The general mantra in social media marketing is don’t interrupt what interests people—be what interests people. Research from Paddle Consulting shows that interesting content breaks down into the following categories:
🤣 Funny Content: Help people laugh.
Funny content isn’t limited to jokes and memes (though there’s a place for that). Finding your funny can come in the form of your playful brand voice in post and reply copy, or relatable observations and videos that resonate with your audience. (At Sculpt, we’re fans of the latter: Watch “ Social Media IRL “)
Who and what makes your audience laugh?
Today more than ever, the comment IS the content. To leverage this trend, pay attention to popular and viral posts on Facebook, Twitter, and LinkedIn (ideally, catch them before they go super viral). Your snarky, relatable reply here has a high likelihood of earning free reach and significant distribution.
When the tweets are as broken as the ice cream machine. https://t.co/esdndK1iFm
— Wendy’s (@Wendys) November 24, 2017
👩🏫 Useful Content: Help people learn something new.
Informative, relevant, and interesting is the key here. What would your target audience value learning more about? Useful content varies across the customer purchase journey, but could include topics like:
Best practice would say keep useful content—like all social content— ‘snackable.’ As in, bite-sized advice.
While I generally agree, the rule changes with the format and affinity to your audience.
Tutorial and demo videos that walkthrough a process step-by-step will get devoured on Youtube and Facebook—especially Groups.
On the other hand, you might experience better engagement breaking down blogs into 5-6 individual Instagram Stories versus one long text caption in a post.
The more the content delivers on the value it promised, the more likely it will get consumed
😍 Beautiful Content: Help people fall in ‘like.’ Stunning visual content has a powerful effect on engagement. Regardless of your line of business, strive to find your brand’s natural beauty.
😮 Inspiring: Help people feel inspired through storytelling.
Your customers are aspirational—they’re striving to become a better version of themselves. You can help with stories of people (and customers) overcoming odds and reaching their potential.
YETI positions their uber-successful, video-based content strategy around a mission to inspire through stories. “We celebrate stories from the wild. If adventure and grit is at the heart of the story, then it’s a story that YETI will tell.”
If video isn’t an option, try a still photo series similar to how Humans of New York tells stories for its passionate community of 18+ million on Facebook: Close-up, natural shots of people exhibiting raw emotion with accompanying quotes.
What type of content makes audiences share?
Engagement is an emotional connection. Research shows that high arousal emotions like excitement, humor, and happiness heavily influence online sharing.
(By the way, ever wonder why divisive political news ends up in your feeds so frequently? Anger, anxiety, and stress work the same way.)
Another fascinating philosophy on sharable content comes from the data science team at BuzzFeed (surprise, surprise). According to Publisher Dao Nguyen in her TED Talk, every piece of content has a ‘job’ to do for your audience. To influence sharing, focus on these jobs:
What types of content generates brand awareness?
According to author Daryl Weber in his book Brand Seduction, a brand is a collection of unconscious associations in your consumer’s mind. Help your audience recognize those associations – all of the things that make you valuable, unique, and relevant in their lives. Brand awareness content may include content that…
(Sorry to break the rhyme.) By following these steps you’ve designed a content strategy full of value. Now, it’s time to make your ask. Or as Gary Vee would say, your ‘jab, jab, jab, right hook.‘
Content designed to convert often comes into play in your paid media strategy, but it should be part of your planning, too.
Remember the persona research you did when digging into your most valuable customers? That’s going to come in handy. What issues (related to the problem your business solves) keep them up at night? What stops them from taking action?
Remember that your customer is the hero of your brand story. With some exceptions (privacy matters), referencing your target audience in copy the same way they identify themselves will be highly effective in driving action. For instance, “5 things Digital Marketing Agency Owners Need to Stop Doing to Grow” would get my click.
Make it easy to take the first step. For instance, social media contests provide a valuable incentive—the opportunity to get something free or first—in exchange for an action that’s valuable to the brand, like gathering contact info.
For retailers, limited-time, social-media-exclusive discounts can lower the risk in trying a product.
For service providers, demo, tutorial, or webinar videos can demonstrate the value of a solution before hiring them.
Just in time for your next planning huddle, use our Social Media Marketing Strategy Prep List to make sure you’re aligning your goals, resources, and content to build an audience that cares, shares, and converts in 2021. Included are 25 essential questions to get everyone is on the same page. → Click here to get it now.
What will you do to amplify the distribution of your content? Let me say it louder for the folks in the back: It’s time to put an end to the “just boost it for $5 and see what happens” strategy. 2021 is the year you take amplification seriously.
There are two main ways to amplify your content:
Paid social is a powerful channel to reach people where they are and with what they want. And to be honest, it’s mandatory in a pay-to-play world. With declining organic reach on Facebook channels and algorithmic feeds all around, navigating the world of paid distribution is key. Here’s what you need to identify before paying:
The exact figure will vary based on your total marketing budget and target cost to acquire a customer (CAC). It’s common practice to spend at least 5% of your total revenue on marketing—split between brand awareness and sales activation.
It would be wise to separate paid social media into at least two buckets:
Install platform tracking pixels to measure conversions and retarget visitors with custom audiences. Unfortunately, if you want to use the ad technology native to each platform, you will have to install their tracking separately.
The most common conversion tracking tags include:
A tag management solution like Google Tag Manager is vital for keeping track of all of these codes and making sure they fire appropriately. You will thank me later!
These retargeting audiences are going to have a straight-line connection to your goals, and should receive the majority of the spend. In (mostly) order of value:
If you have questions about setting up this targeting, send us a note through chat. 👍
These audiences are associated with new potential customers. When you’re ready to expand your reach, this is how to target them.
Finally, you’ll want to decide which of the content themes you identified will be amplified with paid spend. Not every post or tweet needs to be promoted. It would be reasonable to devote a monthly, fixed budget for boosting organic posts and adjust the distribution of spend towards the top-performing posts.
The second method of amplification is earned, not paid, media. Earned media helps your brand message and content go beyond your own community without paying to promote it. Sounds good, huh? Here’s how you leverage it.
These humans have the ability to reach your target audience organically to carry your message further. You can break them down into two categories.
→ Ask: Which customers and fans have engaged networks of prospective customers like themselves? Which customers have the ability to write and create content?
→ Action: Through direct message share content directly with them with a call-to-action to share. Or, feature and tag them in content so it shows up in their connections’ news feeds.
→ Ask: Who does my customer trust? Where do they get information? Who do they follow to learn new things and be inspired?
→ Action: Co-create content with them and use their networks for reach. This can come in many forms, like a sponsored shoutout on Instagram, an article mention in Forbes, a guest appearance in a Twitter chat or podcast, or a long-term co-creation partnership where they contribute user-generated-content. The ladder is the most common for micro-influencers.
To organize your outreach, and determine where the biggest bang for your buck lies, make a spreadsheet and begin populating people and opportunities. This guest blogging template on Airtable can help you get started. On an ongoing basis, make a point to check in and follow up with people you contacted.
To recap, make sure you have:
With a solid foundation in place, it’s time to evaluate your people, process, and publishing plan. Your execution planning should answer – are the right people in the right seats? Are they focused on the right tasks? And how will we improve the plan as we go?
There are five main roles responsible for executing a social media marketing strategy. In most (small) organizations, the social media or marketing manager will wear all of these hats. (Way to go, you!)
The five main social media roles include:
Strategic planner: The planner or planning team is responsible for overseeing this lovely strategy, ensuring that it translates into quality output, and is organized neatly in an overarching editorial calendar.
Community Manager: The social media community manager is in charge of growing and engaging with your audience. Tasks include social listening and monitoring, responding to comments 1-on-1, following and unfollowing accounts, and publishing the scheduled and real-time content you’re producing.
Content Creators: Content is the lifeblood of a great social media program, so the role of the creator is an important one. Of course, many individuals may contribute content, including front-line employees, volunteers, and customers. Your customers are hungry for a range of formats across channels, from story-based videos and still images to articles like this, so the person in this seat should bring a breadth of skills to the table.
Ad Manager & Analyst: Sometimes a split role, the ad manager and analyst is an optimizer. They bring a data-driven approach to your social media program by keeping a watchful eye on ROI, reporting up results to stakeholders, and managing the spend and pacing of your paid campaigns.
Each role is also responsible for selecting the tools and resources to do their jobs well. For instance, the community manager might evaluate a scheduling tool like Buffer, Sprout Social, or Loomly. The content creator might request editing tools like Canva for Work or Adobe Spark.
Quarterly social media task examples:
Monthly social media task examples:
Weekly social media task examples:
Daily social media task examples:
A few tips for continuous improvement and learning.
Is our voice resonating? Is our content helpful? KPIs are important, but qualitative feedback goes a long way.
When an ad or content performs well, there’s a good chance it will work again. Create an internal record of ads and content that resonated—both your own, and others you find. Task colleagues to do the same to build your collection and strengthen your organization’s competency for recognizing good content. Screenshot and log the copy, creative, and offer. Tip: Start with a Slack channel. (Ours is called #good_social.)
To stay agile, embrace “Agile.” At least once per quarter, bring the core team responsible for social together to share and learn. Everyone should be briefed to be prepared, honest, and open to improve the quality of your takeaways. In your retro, ask four key questions about the process and performance of your social media program:
It’s hard to see the forest through the trees when you’re in the thick of it. Having an outside advisor look at your internal data and process can make a big impact in setting the course for the year. A social media strategy partner will synthesize your brand’s strategy by analyzing your past performance, distilling your goals into monthly objectives, developing content themes and ideas, and training your team on implementation. (And likely get the job done faster.)
To recap execution, decide as a team:
Are you feeling as pumped as we are? 👊
By following the 6 steps of our social media strategy framework, you can put together a working plan that will energize your team, surface the most important content opportunities, and set you miles apart from your competition. Compile your takeaways into a slide deck, Google Doc, or spreadsheet and start testing, learning, and growing.
In summary, to prep your 2021 social media strategy for success:
Now go, my friend, and start winning! 🚀
The best time to publish social media content is when your audience is paying attention, or seeking out information. That’s a pretty hard nut to crack. The first step is to review your own data—do you see better engagement when you post in the morning, afternoon, or evening? How does your content perform on weekdays or weekends? Which ones?
For specific industry research, Sprout Social has published research on the best times for brands in education, healthcare, consumer goods, and tech on Facebook and Instagram.
Some general rules on when to post on social media:
The truth is ‘time of day’ is less important now than ever before. With algorithmic feeds, your content will be prioritized based on its relevance to the user—meaning a more engaging post can have a lifespan of 2+ days, while others may stop picking up reach after 2 hours.
You can learn a lot from social media experiments. Just remember: More important than ‘when you post’ is often ‘what you post.’ Before drilling down time of day, consider the format, quality, and topic of content your audience likes most.
The industry standard calculation would be dedicating at least 5% of your expected revenue towards marketing, and 10-25% of that budget towards social media marketing. You can then break down that total budget for social media campaigns, ad spend, tools, and outsourced services. That budget includes people and time, and the benchmark used by marketing teams varies on your industry, maturity, and desired level of growth. You can dig into all of the budget factors in our article on setting B2B social media budgets.
The right frequency depends on your ability to create enough valuable, interesting content. To stay engaged with your audience, start with at least one post per week on each social media platform. Most companies post at least 2-3 times per week and up to once-per-day. On the other end of the spectrum, large, digital media publishers like BuzzFeed post several times a day. Outside of outbound content, make sure to allocate time for daily responses to comments and direct messages.
In 2021, you would be hard-pressed to find a B2B brand that isn’t on social media. According to IDC, 75% of B2B buyers use social media to make purchase decisions. Brands like Dropbox, Shopify, Cisco, and UpWork frequently win new customers (and big awards) from their B2B social media campaigns.
The best way to find relevant B2B examples is to search marketing award directories, sort social media benchmarking websites by your vertical, or use the tried and true method of guessing and checking. LinkedIn search, Twitter recommendations, and Facebook Ad Library is your friend.
You can get a swipe file full of 30+ exceptional social media content examples here.
🙋🏼Have other questions? Send them along or leave a comment below.
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