Over the last few years, the benefit that social media marketing offers businesses of all shapes and sizes has become clear for all to see; and as we sit half-way through January 2012 are you looking at taking the plunge into the social media marketing pool?

If the answer is yes, then before you rush to log on to the internet and sign up for every social media networking platform available and create accounts on various forums and blogs, I cannot recommend highly enough how important it is to put in place a well-thought-out, carefully planned, social media marketing strategy.

Each social media marketing strategy will vary; but there are a handful of steps which I believe all businesses, whatever sector they are in, should follow if they want to create a watertight strategy and start their social media marketing campaign on the right footing – and these include the following:

What is the Goal?

Yes you’ve read that correct, the first step of creating a social media strategy is the outcome. Why? It’s simple, before you can figure out what you need to do as part of your social media marketing campaign; you need to have a clear goal / an outcome that you want to achieve.

It may be that you want to attract a wider audience, you want to promote your brand / product / service or that you want to increase your business’ ROI. Whatever your reason for looking to create a social media marketing campaign, ironing out what you want to achieve from it is your first step of your social media strategy.

Who Is Your Audience?

Along with identifying who it is that you want to target via your social media marketing campaign, you need to have a strategy as to who your audience is.

There is a good chance that your target audience will chance throughout your social media campaign as you push various aspects of your business / brand, so don’t forget every time you begin a new line of your campaign, to consider how you can attract the target market.

It’s worth remembering that not everyone that falls within your target audience will want to interact with businesses or brands via social media – some experts suggest that only a small handful of people will buy into a brands social media strategy – so to get it right, you need to thoroughly research your audience and the best ways to appeal to them.

Look At Your Competitors:

By no means are we advocating copying your competitors social media strategy; but when looking to carry out a successful social media marketing campaign you need to view how those you’re in competition with are using social media to their advantage, giving you that vital edge before beginning your campaign.

Choosing The Right Platform(s):

Once you’ve identified your goals and your audience, you can begin considering which platforms to use to target your audience.

Remember, not all businesses are the same so just because one platform has worked for your competitors, it doesn’t mean it’ll work for you. It’s therefore important that you carry out thorough research into each platform.

Don’t just rely on the big three social networking sites; also look at the possibility of incorporating both emerging and existing forms of social media, for example the company blog. – This can be a powerful tool, but it often overlooked for social networking.

Measuring Progress:

As much as we’d all like it to, a social media marketing campaign isn’t going to be successful overnight, instead it’ll take time as you build up followers, connections and most importantly trust from your audience.

So with your social media marketing campaign set to be an ongoing investment of time, how are you going to manage how successful it is? Are you going to stick to seeing how many followers, mentions and retweets your receive on Twitter, compared to how make likes, shares and friends you receive on Facebook or are you going to insert relevant coding into each platform so that you can measure the success via your analytics?

Neither option is wrong, but the way you measure the success will depend solely on your business and what you want the final outcome of your campaign to be.

Create Your Profile(s):

Once you’ve successfully planned what you want to achieve from your social media marketing campaign, how you plan to achieve your goals and what platforms you’re going to use to reach your targets, you can set up the required accounts and profiles.

Remember for social network sites such as Twitter and Facebook, to use a name which your audience can associate with your business; and on all social media platforms from the company blog through to social networking sites and forums, to use your business’ keywords.

Whilst these steps will help you build a successful social media marketing strategy, to help your campaign progress smoothly it’s important to remember not only to engage with your audience via the platforms of choice, but also to listen to what your audience are saying and to respond in a positive manner.

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