Getting to grips with social media can be a daunting task if you’re unfamiliar and it’s easy to slip up if you don’t have a framework in place.

Developing your social media strategy doesn’t need to be taxing, and as a responsive medium there needs to be flexibility. Getting the basics right and having a plan in place will give you a great starting point from which to create fun, interesting and relevant content that will keep your audience coming back for more.

Know your audience

It’s easy to get carried away with a fun concept for your brand that may appear good on paper but fails to engage. Knowing your audience is your first step to creating a social media strategy that delivers. Take the time to study your followers, why do they follow you, who else do they follow, what content do they already engage with? Knowing what your audience expects from you and what will interest them gives you the steer you need to create content they will love.

Editor: This also helps avoid the “social media for the sake of it” approach. Know your audience, what social channels they use, what content they are interested in and keep on learning.

What’s your brand personality

Authenticity is key when using social media, if your content doesn’t reflect your audience’s expectations of your brand it will appear insincere. Make sure the tone of voice and type of content matches your brand values, or if you’re attempting to alter your brand perceptions, make sure all of your external communications is consistent with the new ‘voice’.

If you haven’t done so already, map out your brand personality before you start developing your strategy. It will keep your content consistent and strengthen your brand online.

Editor: This applies to B2B brands as well as quirky consumer brands. The personality will clearly be very different but thought leadership, fo example, needs a particular tone.

Skittles is a great example of a brand that knows their voice and their audience. A typical post on their Facebook page receives hundreds of comments. Most of the questions are fairly simple in nature but the brand understands their audience and what works for them.

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Plan your content

Managing social media profiles can be time consuming especially if you’re just starting out so make the most of the resources available to you by developing a content plan. Take a look at what’s coming up across your organisation and utilise opportunities so that you’re not duplicating content. Plan activity around product launches, updates, public holidays etc and consider how you can make external trends relevant to your brand.

Using a planning tool such as a dedicated calendar or even just a spreadsheet will help you keep on track and within budget. This will be a great help if there is more than one person writing content as they will be able to plan time in advance. Being organised with your planned content means you’ll have a better handle on when to develop responsive content so you’re not constantly chasing your tail or delivering content driven by internal stakeholders.

Editor: And don’t underestimate ho much resource social media can require. Content planning, creation and moderation are all very time consuming and need resourcing appropriately.

Monitoring your content

Social media is a responsive engagement channel and as such you will need to be reviewing your profiles regularly so you can respond quickly to any queries or comments you receive. If you’re sharing good quality content then you will get feedback so make sure you keep the conversation going by responding as soon as possible and definitely within a couple of days even if it’s just a thank you. Never ignore comments, someone has taken the trouble to engage with you, make it worth their while by showing them they are important to you.

Keeping an eye on your engagement levels will give you insight into what’s working and what’s not and you can use this data to tweak and amend your content plan. You can plan regular review periods into your content plan and there are a variety of free and paid tools available to help you do this.

This post from Business2Community offers a quick comparison of a variety of tools voted for by marketers.

What happens when it goes wrong

Everyone gets negative feedback sometimes, don’t be afraid of it. Carefully managed responses can turn your biggest critic into a worthy advocate. Customers more and more are turning to social media to air their grievances, complain about poor service or a bad experience. Nobody is perfect so don’t worry about problems being aired publicly, it gives you a great opportunity to demonstrate how much you value your customers and the lengths you will go to to put things right.

If you know of a problem in advance, don’t brush it under the carpet. Social media can be a great tool for delivering customer service and information. Let people know there’s a problem and keep them updated, it will lessen the burden on your customer service team as you can answer common questions upfront. Lots of well known brands experience minor disasters, or major ones, Blackberry’s outage ring any bells? While customers weren’t happy, the biggest complaint was the lack of communication. Handled properly, even a crisis can be utilised to showcase your brand’s commitment to customer care.

A shining examples of great customer service has to be GoDaddy who were plunged into a PR nightmare when thousands of their customers’ websites went down. As well as trying to fix the problem, they kept customers up to date with the progress and offered credits as a good will gesture. Because they were so proactive, the lack of negative comments on their social media profiles is staggering given this must have caused their customers some real problems. Instead the comments looked more like this:

Go daddy

You can’t buy this kind of advocacy.

Editor: I’ll be following with a series of posts on Social Moderation, Social Policy and Social Measurement over the coming weeks.

Written be Felice Ayling