Get ready for another year in social marketing

As you put together your brand’s 2017 social media plan, it’s easy to feel intimidated by an overwhelming number of choices matched with very limited resources.

The trick is to simplify your process by focusing on what really matters—your business goals—and then considering how your social strategy can impact them.

I invite you to silence your Facebook notifications for a few minutes and review the following steps for a winning 2017 social media strategy.

1) Measure.

How did 2016 go for you? Think back on the past year, but rather than focusing on what you did, think about why it mattered. What happened as a result of your social media efforts? For example:

You ran the such-and-such promotion, and the result was _____.

You saw ____ increases per month / year-over-year / etc.

The best/worst thing you did was ____ because _____.

Think about what to continue and what to scrap in order to free up resources for other efforts. If that Facebook Live you ran in September showed some promise, but your Twitter page didn’t ever seem to get much engagement…. Well, now might be the perfect opportunity to adjust.

2) Forecast.

Next, consider the industry trends, company goals and events that will affect the way you do business next year. These factors will become your 2017 forecast.

Business goals

Your brand’s top priorities and business objectives should be crucial motivators as you reconsider your target audiences and the best social platforms and content for connecting with them.

Take note of the year’s big company initiatives and how social will be integrated. For example, you might want to generate some Facebook or Twitter buzz for that upcoming product launch, or if there’s a rebranding coming down the pike an Instagram campaign could help pack a visual punch. That huge industry conference will provide plenty of opportunities for retweets and hashtag promotion, too.

At the same time, be aware of next year’s big challenges. If people don’t seem to understand the value your service brings, perhaps a series YouTube tutorials is in order. If you’re having trouble competing for talent, showcase your unique company culture on LinkedIn. If you need customers to increase their order size, plan to run targeted ads to promote BOGOs, bundles, and other offers.
 

Trends

Sometimes we focus so much on our brand that we forget to look at the big picture. It’s important to have what I call an outside-in perspective: Look at the big trends in the social media marketing space, and figure out how they will affect you in the coming months.  

These are the four trends I’ll be watching closely:

TREND 1: VIDEO

Whether it’s with 15-second shorts, 360-degree immersive VR experiences, livestream interviews, or anything in between, video needs to be included in your 2017 content plan. More online video content will be viewed next year than ever before, and platforms like Facebook favor videos more than ever, so now is a good time to join the video content club. But recognize that one video isn’t enough. You should plan to pump out two or three videos per month to see a visible ROI. This might sound daunting and expensive, but there are a ton of ways to not only tell your story but to produce great content that won’t break the bank:

●     Longer videos can be chopped up and remixed.

●     Smartphones can shoot decent-quality videos on the spot. Use them for both livestream and timelapse formats.

●     Stock footage and free soundtracks are just a Google search away.

TREND 2: PERSONAL COMMUNICATION

One-to-one communication via social media offers unique opportunities for small business success. In a customer service sense, consumers expect it: Most expect responses from brands they follow within an hour. But it goes beyond that: For SMBs, which need to extend their relationship-building skills to the online world, it’s essentially the difference between having contacts and building connections. To build authentic connections, plan to implement strategies such as social media-integrated loyalty programs, employee advocacy programs, blogger outreach, ongoing CEO Q&As, and even next-level techy strategies like chatbots. Personally, I’m a big advocate of influencer marketing programs to help you reach individuals outside your brand’s natural sphere of influence.

TREND 3: INFLUENCER MARKETING

2017 will see the continued explosion of influencer marketing programs. Influencers allow you to reach and engage your target audiences in authentic ways that are impossible with a branded social media page. The follower networks commanded by real people often dwarf brand follower counts, and these personal networks are more likely to accept a brand message when it’s coming from “Pat the local expert” rather than “XYZ, Inc.” So find ways to bring influencers into the mix, and focus on the ones who have already established an affinity with your brand.

TREND 4: PAY TO PLAY

You can’t just expect content to take off by itself anymore. You have to spend money to give it some air time. This pay-to-play model allows you to cut through the noise, and it’s showing no signs of slowing down—80% of executives in a recent Gartner survey said they would be placing social ads next year—so your brand needs to get on board, too. Go beyond boosting posts and place social ads based on your ultimate goals: conversions, app installs, newsletter signups, and more.

Milestones

Goals and trends can be slightly abstract, so add some structure to your forecasting stage with some of the hard and fast dates that aren’t going away. Oftentimes you know exactly which brand milestones and promotions are going to happen next year because, well, they happen every year. So as you look at 2017, begin marking your calendar with important events like:

●     Relevant holidays, observation days and commemorative months

●     Brand milestones or product launches

●     Seasonal promotions and advertising campaigns

●     Industry events

●     Semi-annual cultural events (Olympics, elections, and so on)

Your target audience won’t necessarily relate to each of these events, so plan accordingly. Photos from team luncheons might make for a nice LinkedIn update, but could be viewed as irrelevant by an Instagram audience that is used to inspirational quotes. Remember to feed your audience the content they crave, and avoid the temptation to spray content to all your channels just because you can.

3) Plan.

After you’ve reflected and forecasted, now comes the fun part: defining your strategy.

Audience and Channels

Start by identifying the people you want to attract and engage: customers, employees, business partners, and local influencers who can spread the word about your business. What do these people care about? How can you reach and engage them? If you can answer those questions – while recognizing it’s an evolving process that you’ll return to over time – the channels you need to focus on will start to become clear. (Hint: check out this Pew Research report on user demographics across social channels and match it with what you know about your people.)

Content Schedule

Now’s the time to start blocking out a high-level content schedule for the year, but don’t get toofocused on the details here. You’ll need to be flexible as time goes on, so you might want to label months rather than weeks or days at this point. For example, January could be a New Year’s Resolution theme, your late spring content can complement an advertising push, the summer months will focus on pitching your refreshing beverages, and so on.

Here are some resources I use for sourcing quality editorial ideas:

●     Newsletters – Source top stories from curated newsletters like the SkimmNext DraftThe Daily Digg, and SmartBrief.

●     Forums and subreddits – r/socialmediar/Designr/advertising, and plenty more

●     Alltop – Search popular stories around a chosen topic.

●     Buzzsumo – Analyze what content performs best for any topic or competitor.

●     Slideshare – Super high-quality visual content that tends to have great stats.

●     Stumbleupon – A free tool for sharing and discovering websites.

●     Competitors – Take a look at what they’re doing.

Think about the media types that fit with your chosen channels (videos on Facebook, graphics on Pinterest, and so on) and then consider who needs to be involved in the creation process, how long it will take, and maybe even the rough budget for the initiative. Don’t feel like you need to outline every detail right now. Think "weekly inspirational quotes" here, "loyalty program promo" there, and bullet point some of the important details.

BONUS: Don’t forget to integrate your distribution strategy into those bullets. The social media game isn’t just about crafting content, it’s also about being diligent in figuring out how to get your content in front of the right people. This often includes involving partners, influencers, paid ads, and more. (I’ve previously written about crafting a distribution strategy here.)

4) Implement.

The final step is execution, so start moving forward and getting your team rallied behind your stated goals and timelines.

Remember to stay true to your plan, but also stay flexible. Measure your efforts as you go so you can learn what's working and what's a misuse of your resources, then adjust accordingly. Celebrate your victories, and don’t get bummed out when a piece of content doesn’t go viral. Just make sure to regularly take time to modify your strategy.

On the same token, stay inspired by always having a social lens. Be the person in your organization who spots new opportunities for building your brand online. By identifying things like relevant trending stories to talk about, customer comments to highlight or create a conversation around, new features on different channels you can take advantage of, or even entirely new channels to join, you'll be able to continuously bring value to your carefully cultivated online audience.

Don't just use social in the new year. Be social. (All year long!)