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Before posting your first tweet, writing your first blog post, or attracting your first fan, you need a strategic plan.

The path to social-media success is filled with sinkholes that cost you time and relationships. Clearly defining your plan, documenting the process and details, and revising the plan as needed is the difference between profitable social-media engagement and being just another corporate presence.

Start with a detailed plan of action

Your strategy starts with a vision of your community: How do your customers interact with your team and one another? What are the benefits and the challenges? What do your customers want? What moves them to action?

If it works with direct marketing, it will work with social media. But don't jump in and start posting one promotion after another. Social media requires more to maximize its effectiveness. Document your vision and then move to the next step.

One of the biggest challenges with social media is capturing reliable metrics. Various sources provide analytics. It seems logical that the number of visitors would be the same regardless of the analytics source. But the numbers don't match; most of the time, they're not even close. When that happens, following trends is your only recourse. (If you are using only one source to check your metrics, you need to add at least one more as a check.)

Before you start, establish benchmarks for everything. How many orders do you receive from unknown sources? What does it cost to process an order? What is your customer lifetime value? How many hit-and-run customers (customers who place just one or two orders before disappearing) are you attracting? What is your average order? What is your response rate? How many customer-care calls do you receive?

If you've already started a social-media program, you still need to benchmark. Doing so will allow you to see cause and effect as you test different campaigns.

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image of Debra Ellis
Debra Ellis is a speaker, consultant, and author of the integrated marketing guide Social Media 4 Direct Marketers. She is the founder of Wilson & Ellis Consulting (www.wilsonellisconsulting.com) and can be reached via dellis@wilsonellisconsulting.com.