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There it is again, another new social media network to investigate. The first question you ask yourself: "Do we join or not?" That's potentially followed up with, "Will my boss ask me about this?"

The rapid growth of social media platforms sometimes outpaces the ability of businesses to get their arms around how best to use it. Before you can use a new channel, you must create a strategy around it. But many marketers struggle with how to create strategies.

In organizations, stakeholders often discuss logistics and tactics rather than strategies: "Who is going to post this to Facebook," or "We should tweet this out from the corporate handle versus the product." That approach is futile for one simple reason: Without a comprehensive, clear strategy, your tactics will never achieve your goals.

Many folks are excited about how social media can help transform the way we engage with clients, industry pundits, and fellow staff. Yet, one recurring obstacle impedes progress. We repeatedly want to change the conversation from strategic, "what's the ultimate goal of using social media to achieve organizational objectives?" to tactical, "I think we should be on Pinterest."

Without a clear vision of the goal you wish to pursue via social media—whether to increase brand awareness or client engagement, or decrease customer support inquiries—you will never get beyond tactical conversations. Why? That conversation is like a rocking chair: Everyone feels great about accomplishing a task—they feel movement—but, as time will surely tell, your initiative ends up going nowhere.

So, how can you begin to chart a successful social media route? Map out these five areas.

1. Goals and More Goals

Before starting out, you have to know what the goals are for your social media program; hopefully, those goals are tied to business results (otherwise, why even pursue them?)

Without goals, you can't successfully execute social media efforts, because you won't have a clear sense of what you want to achieve. Your tactics will seem disjointed, and you will miss opportunities for interaction and engagement—exchanging thoughts, ideas, and stories.

Without goals, you are just "posting" or "tweeting" for the sake of doing it. As a result, your efforts will most likely not yield the business results you were hoping for.

2. After Goals... Strategy

What is strategy, and how does it help you reach your goals? According to Wikipedia, strategy "is a plan of action designed to achieve a specific goal. Strategy is all about gaining (or being prepared to gain) a position of advantage over adversaries or best exploiting emerging possibilities."

When I built our first social media strategy at Hobsons, I focused on two goals: awareness and engagement. (Two may be too many if you are just starting out.) With those two goals in mind, my team and I built a plan of action around them.

When planning out a strategy, you must be focused. In our case, if anything in the plan didn't relate to awareness or engagement, it didn't make the cut. It is too easy to get distracted and run in multiple directions.

3. Where's our audience?

With your goals set and the ink drying on your strategy, you have to define where your audience is. Are they on Twitter? Facebook? Pinterest? If so then how many of them? And is it worth your effort to reach this audience? New platforms are always popping up, but it doesn't matter if your audiences are not using them.

Audience analysis is an important piece of the social strategy, but it is often glossed over because it is easier to join the social channels (low entry costs) and figure it out from there. Be focused on what the maximum impact is to your business—and, more important, the amount of resources you have for reaching your audience.

And speaking of resources...

4. The Human Element

Who will be driving the figurative social media bus? Will your social efforts be product-or brand-driven? (Each has pluses and minuses.) Having a central team dedicated to running your social media show will ensure one voice and one message is conveyed to your followers, readers, and internal social media champions. And your social media ringleader is the person in your group/organization who manages the company message. Key stakeholders include policy, sales, marketing, and senior leaders.

However, your most important asset will be employees, your frontline brand ambassadors who have their ear to the ground and know what is relevant. In other words, what people do you plan to use for implementing your social media attack plan?

This is not a one-person fight if you plan to be around for the next battle. It must be a collaborative effort, but collaborative efforts can be challenging if everyone is not on the same page.

5. Now that you did this amazing work, how will you measure it?

At Hobsons, I measured our work based on metrics tied to our goals, awareness (transactional data: i.e. followership) and engagement (social shares, website traffic, time on site) to ensure alignment.

I tracked my progress with monthly reports and shared six-month reports with my stakeholders. Because to build a social business, there must be buy-in throughout your organization—and, of course, you have to make sure you're getting results.

* * *

Successful engagement doesn't spawn from talking to your audience; it is accomplished through listening, then conveying your value through compelling content that is relevant to your audience.

The bottom line: prove value and relevancy by sharing industry news, telling customer success stories, asking questions to the audience, and sharing in general. Doing so may seem easy, but it is very hard to narrow down why you are using social media and prove it to your senior executives.

Overall, changing from tactic to strategy is more than words. In the end, it's about the action, but it's first about the thought and reason behind the action. 

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Rachel DiCaro Metscher is director of corporate communications at Hobsons, a provider of personalized learning, academic planning, post-secondary enrollment, and student support solutions.