According to Hootsuite, you should aim to develop a social media marketing plan that’s unique to both your business and potential shoppers. It’s not a simple process, but there are important reasons why you should take your social media marketing efforts seriously:

  • SproutSocial reveals that 75 percent of people purchase items advertised on social media, and 57 percent are more likely to buy something from a business that they follow on social media.
  • Key findings from a National Harris Poll (the gold standard in consumer survey data) found that 82 percent of shoppers seek product recommendations from other people, 67 percent are more likely to buy something that’s been recommended by a friend or family member on social media, and 92 percent of people between the ages of 18-34 ask friends and family for purchasing recommendations (10 percent higher than those 35 years or older).

As you can see, “Word of Mouth Marketing” (WOMM) — or the process of spreading information about products through verbal discussions rather than through advertising — is perhaps the most important factor weighing on people’s purchasing decisions. Keep in mind that the discussions being had about which products and services to use are frequently taking place on social media platforms.

Social media is a relationship, not an advertisement

Don’t think of social media posts as traditional advertisements; think of them as two-way communication tools that help build relationships. Would you want to socialize with a hard-charging, aggressive salesperson? Probably not. If you spam readers or post promotional information to your social media channels, you will be disappointed with the results.

Here are five tips to help you develop an effective social media marketing plan for your business or blog:

1. Share valuable content

Focus on posting content that your audience will find valuable. High-value content comes in many forms, and your social media posts should fall into one or more of the following categories:

  • Interesting: Is the information you’re sharing entertaining, new, or unusual?
  • Educational: Does it educate people about a topic they’re interested in? Consider posting how-to videos and tutorials.
  • Time- and money-saving: Will the information you’re sharing help people save time or money?
  • Inspiring: Does it help to inspire or improve a reader’s life?
  • Status building: People love to share information that elevates their status. Ensure your content is share-worthy by providing information that helps readers establish themselves as smart, savvy, or funny.

2. Know your audience

Does your company develop a manufacturing tool to assist mid-size businesses? If so, a Facebook page might not be the best place to find your target audience, as you’ll want to reach business executives and professionals with purchasing power for their departments. In contrast, you can find the exact companies and key employees that you need to reach by posting on LinkedIn. Do you own a local ice cream shop? LinkedIn is probably going to be a waste of time if you’re trying to reach potential shoppers including young adults and families with small children. Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram will be valuable tools, as your target audience is more likely to interact with you across these visual platforms.

There are hundreds of social media platforms out there, ranging from Goliaths to smaller, niche services. First, define exactly who you want to reach. Next, figure out which social media platforms they’re most likely to be active on, and you’ll uncover where to direct your promotional efforts.

3. Pick your platforms

A surefire way to experience social media burnout (when you aren’t seeing the results that you want and need) is when you’re overly active on too many social media platforms. You’ll quickly feel overwhelmed and exhausted.

Instead, focus your efforts on no more than three social media platforms. Make sure to choose the ones that are most popular among your target audience. If you have gorgeous product photos and sell your services to people all over the world, then Pinterest might be the best platform to focus on, as it’s image-based. If you own a local restaurant, Yelp and Facebook might be your platforms of choice, as they serve as hubs where users recommend services to their friends, and share reviews.

4. Define and measure success

What constitutes a successful social media campaign? Here are two key performance indicators that will help determine whether you’re meeting goals and objectives:

  1. Engagement: Are you attracting new fans? Are your posts receiving comments, shares, likes, and retweets? Are you getting positive feedback on your posts? Keep in mind that it’s better to attract 10 highly engaged fans than 100 completely disengaged people who aren’t going to keep up with your business. For example, your local pizza shop based in Raleigh won’t have great financial returns if your social media engagement is coming from random people scattered across the globe instead of being primarily based in North Carolina.
  2. Return on investment: Yes, you can and should measure your social media return on investment (ROI). Assign a monetary value to your time. Factor in the costs of producing your social media content (like video production or professional photography). Also, consider money spent on promoted posts across Facebook. These attention-grabbing posts are put directly in front of your target audience by featuring them prominently across their feeds. By measuring the ROI, you’ll figure out which posts were the most successful, and can prioritize the best ways to spend money to promote content moving forward. If a promotion, campaign, or strategy is generating a high ROI after factoring in the above costs, then the money you’re spending isn’t going to waste.

5. Listen to your fans

Have you ever been in a relationship with a bad listener? It’s horrible, right? The same is true of your social media efforts. Posting great content is only part of the equation. What happens next is equally important.

Respond to user comments and questions in a friendly, professional way (having a defined brand voice will help you here). Take any criticism in stride and use it to improve what you’re doing. Make sure to reply in a friendly way by thanking users for taking the time to reach out, and tell them what you’re doing to address any issues they’ve raised. More often than not, critics just want to be heard. When you show them that you’re listening, you’ll likely earn a loyal fan in the end.

Are you ready to get social with your business? Use the above tips to guide your social media plan, measure your results, and improve as you grow.

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