A Social Media Strategy in 5 Steps

Any endeavor into social media should begin with careful thought. Planning. Strategic thinking. In most cases, this is much easier said than done. Allow me to use my own experience as an example.

As is often the case, my university jumped into the social media game before my position existed, before anyone was sure where it would all end up. There wasn’t time to consider things like strategy, goals, or measurables. This isn’t to say we entered in blindly. In 2009, my job was restructured to allow me to focus on our online community. We knew that social media were becoming invaluable communication channels. Over time, we have focused and evaluated our efforts. Today, the university’s social media presence is more intentional and constructive than ever before (at least that has been my goal).

The inescapable truth, however, is that we’ve done things out of order. If this isn’t your first visit to my blog, you’re likely familiar with the phrase strategy first. When I’m approached by someone looking to get started with social media, I always advise that any social media effort start with a clear strategy. “Define your goals,” I’ll say. “Identify your target audience and find out where they’re living in social media.” After all, how can we know what content to share or engagement opportunities to offer if we’re not sure who we’re talking to? Or if the people we’re talking to aren’t there to listen? Further, how can we hope to measure our success if we don’t know what our goals are?

Ideally, I believe a social media strategy should be an ongoing process that includes the following steps.

1. Goal-setting

What do you hope to accomplish through social media? What audience do you hope to reach? What kind of community do you hope to build? What results to you hope to achieve? How can these results be quantified? How will you know when you’ve been successful?

2. Choosing social media channels

Which social media channels will best help you reach your goal? Which is preferred or most-used among your target audience? Which channels or networks will best allow you to connect with your potential community?

3. Content and messaging

How will you communicate through your chosen social media? What information is of interest to your audience? What content is most engaging? How can you best serve and be a part of your community? What messaging will help you accomplish your goals?

4. Evaluation

How are you doing? What metrics can you use to measure your success? Is your content reaching your audience? Is your messaging effective? Is your community engaged? Have your goals been reached?

5. Adaptation

How should your methods be changed to improve your results? (Note: changes to methods should take you back to Evaluation.)

If I had to identify where my own university lies in this cycle (and note that I refer to this as a cycle), I’d place us in the Evaluation stage. We have our social media channels, we communicate our message, and now we’re taking a good, hard look at how well we’re doing. One problem: What was our goal again? How do we know when we’re closer to reaching it? We talk about engagement and reach, but I’d like to know how much of our “engagement” is positive. I’d like to see what percentage of our community is being engaged, and what measures garner the most interaction.

There are so many things to think about and explore. It’s exciting! But the first step is to get back to basics. Even if we had set out into the social abyss with very clear-cut, concrete, measurable goals, I’d argue that every goal should be evaluated on some regular basis. By their very nature, our online communities are going to change and evolve—chances are we aren’t interacting with the same audience for very long.

And so I’m going to start at the beginning to find out where we are.

My intention is to move through the steps I’ve outlined above, and create new metrics and reporting structures. In the mean time, I’ll share my progress and findings along the way.

A condensed version of this post also appeared on the University of Michigan-Flint University Relations blog.

7 thoughts on “A Social Media Strategy in 5 Steps

  1. Alaina, you certainly aren’t alone on this. A lot of us jumped into social media (or the new medium before it came along) without a fully-formed strategy. I think you can think strategically during an experimental phase and then move toward a more clearly articulated strategy. See more here:

    I also like what Todd Sanders has to say about this. His strategy is smart, relying on personal use of a tool first. Todd writes, “My number one social web rule is to play with “the tool” on a personal account before using it on a university account.”

    I like your 5 steps!


  2. Thanks for sharing your post! And I think Todd’s advice here is great. I try to do the same thing, and I’ll say it’s so helpful to have some experience with a tool before advocating (or arguing against) its use.

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