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create social media marketing strategySocial media offers substantial benefits, but many businesses lack a strategy to reap those benefits. Half of businesses surveyed say they lack a documented social media strategy, according to the State of Social Report from Buffer. Many say a social media strategy is unnecessary and that developing one is too time-consuming. Social media marketing experts disagree.

“In order to properly analyze your social media growth and take a strategic approach to conquering social media in your niche, developing a social media strategy that outlines your objectives is definitely in order,” says Rolando Herrera, vice president of marketing at Insignia SEO.

Businesses that charge ahead without a clear strategy may work hard on a social media platform customers don’t visit, post material that doesn’t interest their audience, or create content without a clear marketing benefit. Follow these steps to develop a plan that produces beneficial results.

Define your business goals. Determine well what your organization wants to achieve. Agree on business goals, not social media goals. Then set social media goals that align with your organization’s business goals, and metrics that track those goals. If the goal is to increase traffic to your website, metrics to track can include referral traffic from social media, share of overall traffic, bounce rate of social media traffic, and clicks on your social media posts

Define your target audience. Desired audiences could include current customers, prospects, consumers, influencers in your business niche, employees, financial analysts, or others. Targeted profiles — sometimes called personas — of each audience will help you make better decisions about strategies, tactics and subject matter of content.

“Think about all of the stakeholders that are involved in the consumer journey to buy your product/service. There you will find people who need your solution,” advises digital marketer Hugo Cukurs.

Select your platform. Create corporate or product accounts only for networks with demographics that best match your target audience. Putting your resources into a social media platform doesn’t make sense if your target audience isn’t already there. Investigate if there are any smaller social media networks that cater to niche audiences you want to target. Also consider how the type of information you want to disseminate suits the particular network. Some networks are oriented to graphics and photos; others to long-form video.

Examine your competitors. Complete a social media audit to uncover competitors’ social media activities on your targeted networks. Consider factors such as type of content, posting frequency, engagement, video use, visuals, customer service messaging, tone, and audience size. The analysis can reveal their successful tactics to emulate. Just mimicking competitors, however, won’t achieve success. You must be better in some way – more interesting, more entertaining, more helpful.

Find what they want. Determine what type of content your target audience wants that you can deliver. People don’t want sales pitches. While audiences vary, people tend to enjoy deals and promotions, educational content, and explanations that answer their questions and solve their problems. They want entertaining, inspiring and useful content.

“Moreover, listen and answer their questions, it will provide information for you to create more content,” Cukurs adds.

Measure results. Do-it-yourself measurement using the built-in analytics of multiple social platforms can be time-consuming and lacks real insights to measure success. Instead, consider a fully integrated social media measurement service with more sophisticated data and analysis. When researching social media monitoring and measurement tools, seek one that can offer customized solutions and an integrated media dashboard.

Consider both quantitative data that’s reported with numbers and qualitative data. While less tangible, qualitative data, such as customer comments and reviews, sentiment analysis, and messages analysis can reveal valuable insights about audience awareness of and receptivity to your company and products.

Adjust your strategy over time. Change strategies and tactics based on measurement results in order to achieve better results. Expect to adjust social media marketing strategy continually. “It is an endless process where you need to create milestones to analyze what is working and what needs improvement,” Cukurs says. “You can discover what channel is generating more results, if your budget is enough, and if you can start to think about campaigns to focus on specific solutions.”

Bottom Line: Companies can gain the full benefits of social media marketing by developing a definitive social media strategy. Experts agree that a well-developed strategy produces more powerful social media marketing campaigns.