Internet / Marketing

5 Step Social Media Strategy Planning Process

A well defined social media strategy can help you execute in ways other companies cannot and take advantage of social media to grow your business. Too often, companies do not understand how to define a great social media strategy, and instead confuse other things as a strategic plan. Some companies confuse strategy with execution, a step by step process to take advantage of social media, social media marketing efforts, a sales plan, or social media goals. Some of these elements are included in a social media strategy plan, others are  something entirely different.

In this tutorial, we’re going to explore  how to create a great social media strategy for your business and improve your social media marketing efforts.

A social media strategy is defined as,

The direction and scope of a social media efforts over the long-term: which achieves advantage for the organization through its configuration of resources within the social media environment, to meet the needs of the consumers, and to fulfill stakeholder expectations.

When we define our social media strategy plan, it’s going to be for the long-term. Though the plan will change as social media evolves, our goal is to create a strategy that gives our company a long term advantage. This advantage for the organization will be achieved through the configuration of resources for the social media efforts. As we define the social media strategy, we must consider the availability of resources for the social media environment. Our social media strategy will define how we meet the needs of consumers and fulfill our stakeholders’ expectations.

We base our social media strategy planning process on the business planning process. This 5 step process will help you define a high quality social media strategy that you can execute to perfection.

1. Social Media Mission and Objectives

The social media mission statement describes your vision for social media with your company values and purpose in mind. These values and purpose guide your pursuit of opportunities in social media. The social media mission statement is irrespective of the social media platforms you adopt, your strategic implementation of social media, or how you staff your social media efforts. For example, a social media missions statement could be,

The purpose of our social media efforts is to engage with our students and teach them through social media, while serving the needs of our instructors.

We want to engage with our students and teach them. We want to serve the needs of our instructors through social media. Your mission statement should speak to what you value in your organization.

Guided by this vision for social media, your organization’s leadership can define your strategic social media objectives. These strategic objectives include measurables such as fan growth, referral traffic, sales impact, or reputation. It’s ok if you don’t know enough yet to attach a specific dollar figure to your social media efforts, but you should have some metrics defined for your organization.

2. Scan the Environment

When building a business strategy, there are some well defined frameworks for you to review the internal and external environment. Social media is a budding practice, so environment scanning is not as well defined, but following the same framework as strategy development for social media will work well.

As with many strategy plans, we’re going to focus on performing a SWOT Analysis for our social media efforts,


Internal Analysis

Internally, we evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of our firm in the social media space. We want to identify our strengths that will contribute to identifying a competitive advantage in social media. Strengths in social media could include:

  • Strong brand name
  • High quality, unique content
  • Reputation with your customers
  • Proprietary social applications

For your social media strategy, identify the items that create competitive advantage opportunities for your firm. For example, you might list:

  • Unique video assets
  • Well known brand online
  • Large engaged email newsletter list
  • Skilled software development team with social application experience

The second part of our internal analysis is to identify the weaknesses your firm has in relation to social media. These weaknesses are things we have to compensate for and overcome if we want to find success in social media. Weaknesses could include such things as:

  • Unknown or weak brand name
  • No available marketing staff or resources
  • Few unique content assets
  • Weak reputation with customers

Identify your social media weaknesses for your social media strategy. Examples of weaknesses include:

  • No video content
  • Little written content
  • No resources or time available from staff for social media efforts
  • Small email marketing list

You have to compensate for your weaknesses in your social media strategy. Every organization has weaknesses so don’t get discouraged as you identify them – you may need to adjust your resources to change a weakness into a strength to be successful in social media.

External Analysis

After you have reviewed your internal strengths and weaknesses, we turn to reviewing the external environment. In this analysis, we will document the opportunities and threats to our social media plans.

The external environment analysis may reveal opportunities for social media that will aid in growth for your sales, relationships, and marketing efforts. This analysis should look at your competitors and industry to identify areas other industry leaders are weak in and determine if these are opportunities. Examples of new opportunities include:

  • Unfulfilled customer needs, such as a store embedded within Facebook
  • Presence on social media sites your competitors have not engaged in
  • Technologies to integrate your site with social features
  • Expansion into international social media sites

Some opportunities will provide a short term competitive advantage, others may become a network effect for your company. A network effect occurs when your growth becomes exponential as new customers invite friends to join and by sheer numbers you have an advantage. Examples of opportunities include:

  • Launch a presence on the largest social media sites in China and India
  • Integrate daily deals functionality into our ecommerce site
  • Build a live interactivity application between our product development group and a select group of customers

You must also analyze the threats facing your organization from your competitors and the external environment. A threat is a change in the environment that may affect your company negatively. For example, if you invested a great deal of development into MySpace a few years ago, that investment would likely be producing little now that MySpace has declined dramatically. Threats in your social media plan could include:

  • A particular social network you’ve invested resources in shuts down, loses large number of members, or changes terms of service to affect your investment
  • New privacy regulations in social networking
  • Increased barriers to entry for major social networking applications

All companies face some sort of external threats, but you can find ways to mitigate them in your social media strategy. For example, building a platform independent set of social networking features that can plug into Facebook, Tumblr, or any new social networking platform down the road can mitigate problems with one particular social networking company.

3. Social Media Strategy Formulation

Now that we have performed a SWOT analysis for our social media efforts, we can begin formulating our social media strategy. We will match our strengths with the opportunities we identified and evaluate ways to mitigate weaknesses and external threats.

We work towards our goal of long term strategic advantage in this plan. It’s not enough to be a copycat and just do what everyone else is doing. In this case, you don’t really need a social media strategy, you need a social media plan. If your goal is to lead in social media, a social media strategy will produce opportunities for long term competitive advantage.

First, let’s identify how our strengths can be applied to the opportunities we’ve identified. For example,

Our internal development staff is very experienced in ecommerce applications and has some social media application development experience. Our competitors have not embraced social commerce and none have a presence on Facebook beyond a simple company page. Part of our strategy is to extend our shop capabilities to social platforms to take advantage of the audiences on those sites. We will build a social commerce site that will be integrated into Facebook and other social networks. This social commerce site will allow members of Facebook and other sites to purchase items directly on their platform.

After we have identified how our strengths can be used with opportunities to create a competitive advantage, we will analyze the weaknesses and threats and identify how we can mitigate these.

As a relatively new company online, we do not have significant online assets or an email list. We will build an internal content development team to begin developing content for our site and for social network needs. We have begun an offline email campaign to acquire additional email addresses for our email newsletter list. This will help us promote social networking applications through our email list.

Our offline brand reputation is very good, but online, we are not known well among consumers. Our marketing team has begun shifting resources to increase online exposure to our brand.

We do not have an internal web development team, so we will outsource our web development needs. This will require some resources to get our web presence up to par.

4. Social Media Strategy Implementation

The social media strategy is implemented through application of resources, budgets, projects, and policies. We need to implement the social media strategy using our firm’s resources and proper motivation of our staff to achieve the objectives we outlined above. Depending on how you implement your social media strategy will determine whether or not it is successful. Some larger companies find implementing a social media strategy difficult because of the number of approval levels required to get anything accomplished. Smaller firms find difficulty in assigning resources to accomplish social media goals.

By communicating your strategic plan and steps to accomplish it, you can increase the chance your social media strategy will be successful. For successful strategy implementation, we recommend you follow this 7 step process:

  1. Obtain executive stakeholder support.
  2. Identify a social media leader for this strategic implementation.
  3. Identify the teams necessary for successful plan implementation.
  4. Communicate your social media strategy to all teams involved with implementation.
  5. Formulate your project plan.
  6. Obtain budgets for implementation.
  7. Execute your plan.

5. Evaluation and Control

Social media evolves very quickly and your plan must be monitored and adjusted as necessary. This will allow you to be as successful as possible with the goal of long term strategic advantage. Follow these 5 steps to make the proper adjustments:

  1. Define metrics to be measured
  2. Define target values for these metrics
  3. Perform measurements
  4. Compare your results to the target values
  5. Change as necessary

Proper evaluation and control will help you evolve your social media strategy to be successful for your firm.

Creating and executing your social media strategy will increase the likelihood your social media investment will help create a long term competitive advantage for your organization.