Find your audience: There are 6 main channels of social media: Search Engines (Google/Bing/Yahoo...); Blogs; Twitter; Facebook; LinkedIn; and Yotube. It is not a good idea to hit all of the 6 channels at the same time. Choose one to start with,because each channel requires different strategies, attentions, and skills to maintain. It is important to know where most of your customers are online. According to the "Online Marketing Opportunity Report" from HubSpot, each industry has its own social media preferences (Comparison Chart & Appendix-Social Media Channel Activities by Industry). Of course you can also conduct your own research to uncover the preferences, which although costs more time and efforts, is usually more accurate.
Set a goal: Usually when using social media, a company considers it as a free highway to reach consumers, but all too often there is no clear objective behind their daily/weekly/... postings. This is a big Mistake! If your company still doesn't have a goal for social media marketing, take time to think what you want to achieve from these channels--leads generation? customer retention? post-purchase services? If you are not sure how to set a goal, here is a tip to help you figure it out:
Learn how much your audience knows about you: Never heard about--Brand Awareness of xx% might be your goal; Heard about--Customer Acquisition/Traffic to your website/Lead Generation might be your goal; One-time consumers? Regular consumer? Advocates? -- You should consider customer retention rate improvement. Once you know their current attitudes toward you, it is easier to set an expectation and objective.
Build a road. Now that you know where your audience is, and how much they know about you, and where you want to be tomorrow (your goal), it is time to build a path in between. The shortest path between two points is a straight line. It's the same thing for marketing, the fastest way to achieve your social media goal is a straightforward and clear marketing message strategy. Find the most descriptive word for the uniqueness of your business, and build around it. Remember unlike traditional media marketing, social media requires frequent personal engagement and dialogue to drive attention and loyalty.
Assess how far you've come. Every strategy requires metrics to measure, and so does social media's. Don't wait until the last moment to realize you are far from your goal. Sometimes with a frequent measurement, you may notice a detour, an accelerator, or you may see the need to re-set a goal. To learn about social media metrics, check out an article from Search Engine Watch: 3 Key Metrics to Measure Social Media Success.
Social media is not a broadcast speaker, and it has passed the period of "Let's experiment and hope for the best". An effective social media strategy will drive bottom-line sales and customer lifetime value without a huge investment. Please let FiG know if you have any questions or thoughts on developing your own social media strategy.
Appendix: Social Media Channel Activities by Industry