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Social media has revolutionised communications and is most assuredly here to stay. I’m an advocate personally and professionally and although I’ve read the warnings and have teenage children, my view is that social media is, on balance, a very good thing.

As a quick aside I’ll share my view about children, and, in fact, anyone, using social media. I’m reminded of the invention of cars. At first people were so concerned with this newly invented vehicle that a moving car had a person walking in front of it waving a red flag to warn people of the potential hazard. As time moved on, we fortunately changed that approach and now we teach people how to be safe around cars, rather than limiting their potential with a man and a red flag. Like other parents, I taught my children of the hazards of cars and how to be safe around them and took the same approach with social media and the internet. They are useful and valuable and enhance our lives but use them safely. I’m, therefore, most assuredly, an advocate of social media.

I regularly work with clients looking at their marketing activities and I’ve noticed a trend. They all too quickly reach for social media. That might well be a great vehicle for them, but they are getting to the vehicle before planning the journey. My car is a flexible and convenient means of transport, but I do consider alternatives before taking a journey. Maybe the train would be cheaper (during off peak times!), quicker, more restful and allow me some useful time for working (or reading/relaxing). I think and plan before I decide on the vehicle to use.

Marketing planning should be the same. Social media is a vehicle for marketing and communications just as events, print advertising, PR and even a brightly coloured A-frame or feather flag outside your offices are. Jumping straight to social media because it’s perceived as economical or you have an enthusiastic social media agency talking to you might mean you miss other vehicles that could be more effective. More importantly, if you haven’t planned the basics first, you won’t get the social media right.

Some agencies are great at this and take clients back to the basics first. But sometimes that’s just planning for social media rather than planning for marketing. It will be hard if the client has called a meeting with a social media agency. That happens in their fervour to embrace the wonders it can offer. I have the utmost respect for any social media agency that guides a client to other forms of marketing if they feel it would be more effective. If the client asks them it’s highly likely they will deploy a sophisticated social media strategy without looking at other elements of marketing that should be used. Who can blame them – that’s what they were asked for!

So, what basic planning should take place before embracing specific communications vehicles?

  1. Define your product/solution/value

Seems obvious but you’d be amazed how often a consultant finds themselves spending a lot of time on this step. Everyone knows what they’re selling but may not have taken the time to think about how to articulate that in a concise and compelling sentence or two.

  1. Research your market and your target customers

What is the potential market? What are your potential customers’ needs? What drives a purchasing decision? What are you trying to “fix” for them with your solution? How will their world be better with your product/solution/service? Does the answer to these questions vary for different people? The Financial Controller in an organisation will have different needs from the Managing Director, or Production Manager, for example. We’re still not ready to select social media for communications but I can promise you that these answers will be needed if social media is the choice because social media is about individuals and not to entire organisations.

  1. Define your goals and objectives

Your marketing and communications activities should have their own goals and their own objectives, but they need to be defined to support corporate goals and objectives. I’ve written elsewhere about overall business planning, and it feeds the day-to-day activities of all departments and this is never more so than for marketing. If you don’t know the overall goal, then virtually any marketing will be fine.

  1. Decide on the communications plan

Once you know what you’re promoting, to whom and exactly what you want to achieve, you can plan actual activities. This is the first time in the process you should have uttered the words “social media” because it’s only now that you can consider all the communications vehicles you will need and whether social media is one of them and if it is, how it fits. It’s very likely that social media will just be part of the mix. If you are selling high value solutions, social media is never the only vehicle to consider. You might use social media to bring people to your company, but high value complex solutions always involve people and prospective customers need to spend time learning about you. That might include webinars, events, consultations, on-site reviews, etc. It’s a communications plan you’re building, not a social media plan. That’s one piece in your communications jigsaw but it’s rarely the whole picture.

  1. Implement your plan

Put the plan into action with as much emphasis on all its components, not just the funky social media activities.

  1. Report, refine, reassess, and repeat

Marketing is as measurable as any other area of business and it’s vital that you measure your activities, compare them to the results you wanted, and how they are contributing to goals and objectives. Over time you will learn what works and – as importantly – what doesn’t. You’ll learn to tweak activities to make them successful and proactive monitoring leads to quicker observation of changes which, in turn, leads to quicker tweaks and more effectiveness.

I’m hot on terminology so let’s define some terms. Your Marketing Plan includes your market environment, target customer, value proposition for your products and services and a section will be your Communication Plan. Your Communications Plan covers all off the communications activities that you will undertake including social media, advertising, events, etc., etc. Part of your Communications Plan may be a Digital Communications Plan. This includes everything digital including social media, along with your website, electronic newsletters, etc. Within your Digital Marketing Plan will be your Social Media Plan that includes social media platforms such as LinkedIn, Facebook, YouTube, Instagram, etc., etc.

That puts social media in context doesn’t it? It’s merely a part of the Digital Marketing Plan which is part of the Communications Plan which is part of the Marketing Plan which, in turn, should be part of the overall Business Plan. It might be an important part, but it’s nested in a lot of other layers so make sure those layers and your overall journey are in place before you get into the detail of the vehicle you will use.

This article was written by Frances Fawcett

About the author:

Frances has worked within, and with, global corporations and small businesses and run programmes for the technology sector and a small manufacturing business in the South West of the UK. She knows the corporate world and she knows the small business world. Always interested in personal development, she now provides coaching, training and support to business owners, directors and managers around the world. Member of the Institute of Leadership and Management, Fellow of the Institute of Training and Occupational Learning and volunteer Leadership and Management Trainer for The Scout Association.

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