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Craft A Winning Social Media Plan in 9 Steps

social media plan
It goes without saying, but the days of churning out five posts today, three tomorrow, and a couple in-between on social media are gone. Businesses that wish to stand out from the crowd need a tight, straightforward social media plan. The reason: as social media production quality has steadily risen, so has the public’s desire for high-quality content. This article will take a closer look at social media plans, what they are and how they can help. 

Table of contents

What is a social media plan?

So what exactly is a social media plan? A social media plan is an outline of your marketing goals, priorities, services pricing (for agencies), and your overall social media marketing strategy. Ideally. 
Social media plans have to account for the specificities and business goals of the organization that uses them. The more attuned the plan is to the day-to-day realities of the organization, the more value it will provide. 
Simply posting content in the metaphorical void and hoping something will stick doesn’t cut it these days. To get results out of your social media efforts, you need to set tangible goals to work towards. It may sound platitudey (mainly because it is), but that’s just how it is. 
Your goals depend on what you want to achieve from social media. Is it raising brand awareness? Boosting brand awareness? Conversions? Gaining leads? Nurturing leads? Community-building? Customer retention and/or support? Increasing your social media presence? Do you want to drive traffic to your product pages? All of the above? 
Ideally, the goals should dictate the shape and contents of your social media marketing plan. 
But here’s the rub: “brand awareness” and “customer retention” are not exactly what you would call “tangible goals”. More on this in a later section.
Still not sure why you should have a social media plan? Here are some benefits:
  • Target your audience more effectively. With a social media plan, you will know who to target and the type of content that resonates with them.
  • Spot blindspots before it’s too late. You see, the thing about plans is that they offer the kind of insights that would be impossible to get if you were to wing it. Maybe you’re investing resources in the wrong type of content or targeting the platforms your audience wouldn’t be caught dead in. 
  • Leaves room for creativity. Counterintuitively, having a social media plan leaves more wiggle room for creativity for the same reason stated above. With a plan, you will know what works, what doesn’t, where to double down, and what initiatives to send to the chopping block. Numbers offer clarity, and you can channel that clarity into out-of-the-box experiments. 
  • Saves time. I mean, obviously, right? Mulling over what to post every day vs. planning weeks in advance. I think we both know which one is the time-saver.
  • Brand consistency. This is a major advantage of having a social media plan. Brand consistency on social media is one of those things that you don’t notice when it’s done right but sticks out like a sore thumb when it’s absent. A plan will help you maintain brand consistency across platforms because, ideally, it’ll contain content guidelines. Things like tone, typography, colors, and other subtle nuances specific to your brand.
Now that we’re clear on what a social media plan is and its importance let’s get down to brass tacks. 

What does a social media plan include?

The contents of a social media plan depend on the specificities of your business and what you’re striving to achieve. An artisanal ice cream shop’s social media plan will look very different from a record store’s. On that same note, are we talking in-house social media or client-based? So many facets to consider.
So, look at the following more as a beyond-surface-level starting point than a definitive one. 
With that disclaimer out of the way, here are a few areas every social media plan worth its salt should cover:
  1. Budget and resources allocation. 
    • Who publishes the posts? 
    • Who designs visuals? 
    • Who writes copy? 
    • Who copy-edits posts? 
    • When should you hire external help? 
    • How much money are you willing to invest?
  2. Content & brand guidelines. 
    • tone of voice
    • topics
    • look and feel
  3. Asset management issues
    • who has access to certain assets? 
    • where can they find the assets?
  4. Competition insights. Having a tight grasp on what your competitors are doing will take you a long way in standing out in today’s cluttered social media landscape.
  5. Distribution channels. A fancier way of saying “what content goes on what social media platform”. More on this later.
  6. Relevant metrics. Emphasis on “relevant”. And no, the number of followers doesn’t count. You know the drill we will talk about this later.
  7. Use cases for social media channels. What happens when some other page reshares your content or, god forbid, publishes it without giving credit? How do you respond? Do you respond? This is just one use case out of a plethora of situations that could arise. 
  8. Approval workflows. An essential yet underrated part of social media in general. A clear approval hierarchy will speed things up and prevent PR crises. 
This is, roughly, what a social media plan should look like. Obviously, there’s a lot of space for subcategories and substeps. 
Speaking of steps, time to talk about how exactly you should go about creating a social media plan. In steps. 

How to create a social media plan

Step 1: Set your goals

Remember when I said “brand awareness” and “increase social media presence” don’t count as goals? Time to elaborate on that. 
Every piece of social media content you create and post should serve a business goal. Without a goal, you’re simply yelling into the void. Social media is no longer a “low-cost endeavor” and given the rising production qualities, you risk wasting money. 
Therefore, your goals should be less “increase the number of Instagram followers” and more “increase the number of Instagram followers by 2%” or “reach a conversion rate of X% by the end of Q2 from Twitter (yeah, right)”. Basically, it’s a matter of “numbers for numbers’ sake” vs. value-based objectives.
There are two approaches to structuring goals: one easy approach and a second easy approach. Yes, they’re both easy. 
  1. Set two primary goals and two secondary goals to focus on. This granular structure will help you stay focused and offer a baseline for building your future initiatives.
  2. Use SMART goals: 
  • Specific – sensible, significant, and simple
  • Measurable – meaningful and motivating
  • Achievable – agreed and attainable
  • Relevant – reasonable, realistic, results-based
  • Time-bound – time-based, time-limited, and time/cost limited
All you have to do is take these models and apply them to the specificities of your social media efforts. See the examples above. 

Step 2: Do a social media audit

Don’t be scared by the word “audit”; it’s not as fancy as it sounds. It’s less about having a dozen tweed-jacketed people pouring through your social media strategy with a stern look and more about identifying your best-performing content, most popular channels, what’s working, and what’s not. 
Identify the metrics relevant to your goals and determine what content resonates the most with your audience and what fizzles out as soon as it hits the feed. 
Although the word “audit” carries a negative connotation, that doesn’t mean it should happen only when things are going badly. It’s best used as a preventative measure — so make sure to include it in your quarterly or bi-annual planning. 

Step 3: Gather lots of audience insights

Understanding your (potential) audience is crucial to your social media success. A smart social media plan should account for this. As always, your key metrics come into play here, as they can help you identify the preferences of your audience and the type of content they find engaging. 
You can also tap into your metrics for intel related to the platforms your audience is likely to use. As well as more nuanced aspects, like whether they prefer one-off, serialized, or threaded content. Think long-form LinkedIn content versus threaded Twitter posts. 
Now, if you’re literally just starting out, gathering audience insights may be tricky on account of having absolutely no (relevant) data to pull from. If you’re already an established brand (say, a B2B SaaS), you can draw from existing data and content initiatives and do some good ol’ reverse engineering. 
Blog posts, infographics, and white papers can be easily repurposed into bite-sized social media content. Essentially, it all comes down to figuring out what worked for your other channels and converting high-performing content into social media content. At least until you get your footing. Then, you can start thinking globally and pivoting to content made just for social media.

Step 4: Competitor analysis

In today’s crowded social media market, you will always be competing with someone who is probably doing something better than you. That’s just the reality of it. But don’t give up just yet — that’s where competitor analysis comes in. We wrote an entire article on this very topic, so here’s the cliff notes version to get you started:
  • Research the market. Do an audit, but external. Take some time to pore over your competitors’ social media pages and assess the cadence of their posting schedule and content strategy. Is there a specific cyclicity to their schedule? What type of content do they post the most? Any brand-relevant events you should tackle as well? What about preferred platforms?
  • Competitor social media goals. Is it brand awareness? Customer engagement, retention, or support? Have they set up separate, single-purpose pages (say, customer support and a general-purpose page)? If yes, why, and is this approach applicable to you?
Other things to consider: 
  • The pain points your competitors address on social media. Tread carefully — your social media pages don’t have to serve the role of makeshift landing pages. That’s not the point of social media.
  • Identify competitive keywords. Keyword research is the bread and butter of content marketing. Identify the keywords your competitors rank for and consider them when generating content. Pay attention to competitors who invest in performance marketing. 
  • Identify relevant competitor metrics. Basically, do the same thing, but for your competitors.

Step 5: Social media profile optimization

If you’re serious about social media, chances are you will have more than one profile for your business. This makes visual consistency across social media channels all the more important — for instance, by using the same logo on the platforms your business is on. Why? Brand recognition. You want people to be able to tell at a glance that the account is associated with your business.
That’s one issue crossed off the list. The rest comes down to filling out the information in such a way that it tells the story of your business creatively and succinctly. You should be able to convey in just a few words what your company does and the value you add to your customers’ lives.
Curious to preview your social pages before fully committing? You can use Planable’s mockup pages to get an idea of the look and feel of your pages before anything major slips through the cracks. 
Also important: remember the competitive keywords mentioned prior? Write your bio copy around them. It may not propel your pages to social media stardom immediately, but you will definitely see the ranking benefits later down the line. 

Step 6: Content curation and content ideas 

This will probably be the broadest and most situational section of this article because, again, it depends on your business and social media goals. What we can do in the most general sense possible is to advise you to consider setting up a social media workflow. Because how else can curate and create content without knowing the whos, whens, and whats?
Before you skip to the next section, here are a few of our content initiatives that should give you some nice content ideas if you’re stuck:
Word to the wise: never underestimate the power of user-generated content.  

Step 7: Set up your Social media calendar 

Ah, social media calendars. The unsung heroes of social media management. 
What else is there to say? If you work in social media, there’s a not-insignificant chance you are familiar with them. We even wrote a whole article about social media calendars. They’re great. 
For the sake of providing some context, here’s why you should definitely include a social media calendar in your, well, social media plan:
  • Offers a much-needed overview of your social media campaigns
  • Ensures brand consistency (yes, this too)
  • Allows you to create and post consistently
  • Prevents mistakes, both big and small, from reaching the public
  • Cuts down on the logistical, productivity-halting aspects of social media management, allowing you to focus on creating content.
  • Keeps things organized
With that preamble out of the way, you know who else has a super neat, visual, and easy-to-use social media calendar? Planable, that’s who. It’s not only exceptionally intuitive and visual but also comes with tons of other cool stuff, such as a drag and drop interface and labels to organize your posts by whatever criteria you want.
Sign up here to try it out for yourself. 

Step 8: Monitor & measure social media results 

If you’re not constantly measuring results and finetuning content based on the insights you unearth, then there’s no point in doing social media in the first place.
One of the most important metrics you should keep an eye out for is engagement. Think of engagement as the driving force behind all your goals because if nobody engages with your content, then there’s no hope of achieving whatever target you’ve set for yourself.
However, engagement is too broad a term to mean much by itself. So let’s split this nebulous metric into several less nebulous sub metrics: 
  • Virality rate. The number of people sharing your posts compared to the impressions it’s getting. 
  • Amplification rate. The ratio of shares you’re getting per post. 
  • Average engagement rate. The total number of engagement-related actions, such as shares, comments, and likes. 
  • Applause rate. Measures the number of positive “approval actions,” such as likes, loves, and favorites across all your social media profiles.
And here are a few tips for driving engagement: 
  • Asking questions
  • Responding to comments
  • Running contests
  • Direct website visitors to your social profiles
  • Creating content that attracts engagement naturally — studies, surveys, and reports will usually do.

Step 9: Learn and adapt

The social media landscape is ever-moving and ever-evolving. Trends that bring results today can be rendered obsolete in a matter of months. What’s unlikely to become obsolete are the processes and the foundation you put in place. And as long as they are based on research, iteration, and analysis, you will always stay on top of your social media game. 

What are the most common issues with social media marketing plans?

Finally, let’s look at some of the most common pitfalls of social media plans. 

Vanity metrics & setting the wrong goals

Even though subscribers, followers, comments, likes, and loves feel nice, social media strategies can’t survive just from validation. This is precisely why they are called “vanity metrics”. Because by themselves, they don’t mean much. They don’t provide information about how many sales your social media pages have driven or the composition of your target audience. 
Focus instead on KPIs and metrics directly related to the long-term health of your business. Things like sales, conversion rates, number of leads/ demos brought through your content initiatives, and so on. Creating a social target audience is one thing. Actually gaining tangible results is another.

Wrong audience & posting in the void

Just because your social media pages reach hundreds of thousands of people doesn’t mean each and every one of them is within your target audience. Thing is, some people will follow your pages just because they enjoy your content (crazy, right?). They might have absolutely no intention to ever buy your product or service. And that’s fine, as long as you don’t base your entire social media strategy on converting them.
Social media just for the sake of social media can be wasteful, especially if it’s a business-based account. Determining why you’re targeting the wrong audience can take a lot of deep diving into analytics. But in many cases, it’s due to focusing on the wrong platform or spreading yourself too thin across multiple social networks. Finding out where your audience hangs out is easy. Targeting those hubs with relevant, engaging content is another beast. 

Focusing too much on specific channels

Just because you found the channel that works for you doesn’t mean your work is done. On the contrary — a comprehensive social media plan always leaves room for experimenting with other channels. 
Plus, your audience is not a monolith, so it’s a good idea to prepare for the (highly likely) scenario where they’ll transition to another platform. Remember all those opinion pieces declaring that TikTok is just a fad and Facebook and Instagram will always be the top network for social media marketing? They certainly didn’t age well.

Conclusion

The bottom line is this: a social media plan is only as good as the foundation it’s built upon. If you take the time to research, establish measurable goals and objectives and focus on creating quality content that attracts engagement, you will be well on your way to social media success.
That’s it for this guide! We hope you’ve found it helpful and that you’ll put these tips to good use in your next social media marketing campaign. See you in the next one.
Marco Giuliani
Marco Giuliani

Content marketer and aspiring YouTuber, in no particular order. Expertise in content writing, SEO, copywriting, and neo-noir graphic novels. Used to run a music webzine in the 2 seconds in the early 2010s when blogs were hot. I tweet very badly on Twitter.

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