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A Guide to Social Media Strategy for Your Creative Business

Here’s your complete guide to putting together a social media strategy that will help you grow your creative business and get your work recognized.

Our personal and professional lives wouldn’t be the same without social media. In 2018, a staggering 3.1 billion people use social media, a number that has been rising about 13% yearly.

You’re probably already using social media. But there’s a big difference between simply clicking around on various social channels and creating an effective, actionable social media strategy for your business.

Merely showing up at the party isn’t enough anymore. With 30% of millennials engaging with brands on social at least once a month, not only do you need to show up—you need to plan an amazing outfit, bring everyone’s favorite snacks, and get ready to mingle.

If you want to grow, thrive, and differentiate yourself from the competition you need to strategize your use of social media for business mindfully. The landscape has changed, and being excellent at what you do is only one piece of the puzzle.

Whether you’re a tech whiz or a luddite, we’ve got you covered! We can help you create a social media marketing strategy that’ll leave you calm and collected, and your creative business poised for success.

What is Social Media Marketing?

Thanks to globalization, advancements in technology, and a variety of other factors, we live in a world that is more connected than ever before. Your next client, supporter, sponsor, or collaborator could just as easily live in the apartment down the hall as they could be an ocean or a time zone away. But how will you reach them?

If your potential audience is a wall outlet, social media marketing is the plug that allows you to connect to all of that bright energy and opportunity. It generates the buzz you need to take things to the next level.

You may have noticed old marketing tactics slowly sliding into obscurity. In fact, according to Hubspot, a staggering 84% of millennials don’t trust traditional advertising. That means a firm “no” to:

  • Billboards
  • Flyers and brochures
  • Radio and newspaper ads
  • Cold calls
  • Email spam
  • Ineffective or overloaded websites

Avoiding the above strategies might sound obvious (if not, that’s okay too!), but more importantly, what’s the alternative?

A more meaningful, cost-effective, and forward-thinking marketing strategy (research, engagement, brand awareness, advertising, selling, and more) is one that unfolds where your audience is. And your audience is online using a variety of social media platforms.

The beauty of social media marketing is that it’s not disruptive—it’s interactive. You’re engaging with your audience on their terms and adding value to the entire experience.

Even the most old-school among us needn’t worry; the tactics used for a strong social media strategy aren’t necessarily new or complex. But adapting tried-and-true marketing principles and applying them to new mediums and platforms can produce truly exciting results.

Your Social Media Marketing Plan: The Development Stage

Have you ever seen one of those time-lapse videos of houseplants? You get up, you water and tend to your plant based on its specific needs, and then you do it all over again.

The benefits might not be immediately observable. But watching the plant’s movement and growth unfold over the span of 365 days? You’re one proud urban gardener.

In other words, Rome wasn’t built in a day and neither is an effective strategy. It takes time, care, openness, and research to reap the rewards. Be prepared to create a social media plan you can commit to for the long run, then have a little patience and watch your reach grow.

A Strategic Approach

A strategy is more than checking some boxes. Creating an Instagram account for your business and updating it sparingly is not a strategy. Posting content several times a day but failing to track its performance is not a strategy.

Beware of shortcuts. Don’t get us wrong, there are some valuable social media marketing secrets that can supercharge your strategy—but a plan is only a plan if you stick to it, measure it, nurture it, and improve it. Consistency is key.

“I still see very few people taking a strategic approach to social media,” says author and marketing consultant John Jantsch. “Small businesses with thorough social media strategies can compete with much larger organizations.”

The key is to be one of those very few people.

Setting Smart Social Media Goals

It’s important to be clear about what you hope to accomplish when implementing your social media strategy. Why set goals?

  • Your aims are articulated
  • Your expectations are realistic
  • Your progress is measurable
  • Your successes are celebrated
  • Your overall business plan is aligned

Need something easy to remember? Feel free to keep the S.M.A.R.T. framework in mind when setting social media goals for your business:

Specific

Vagueness is counterproductive. If any part of your goal is open to interpretation, you need to get back to the drawing board.

Measurable

You need to know what’s working and what’s not. If you can’t measure your progress, your goal isn’t specific enough. The good news is that many social media platforms have an analytics function built right.

Conveniently, there are a variety of additional social media analytics tools available to track your goals and motivate you to stay on track (more on that later!).

Attainable

The quickest way to kill morale is to set an unattainable goal. Be realistic about how much your social media strategy can accomplish within a given timeline and build on previously attained goals.

Relevant

Sure, it might feel great to gain thousands of new Twitter followers. But is that a relevant social media goal for your business as a freelance photographer, for example, or should you be focusing on growing your Instagram instead? Don’t lose sight of what you do and how best to serve your needs.

Timely

We all work better on a deadline. Give yourself a realistic time frame to achieve your goal.

What You Want From Your Social Media Marketing Campaign

Still thirsty for some goal-setting inspo? Here’s the juice you want to squeeze from your social media marketing campaign.

1. Build Better Brand Awareness

Turns out organic really is better for you. Brand awareness means getting on your audience’s radar by creating lasting, meaningful, and authentic impressions.

In fact, 86% of people say authenticity is an important factor when deciding which brands they support and engage with. Stay true to your core.

2. Create Loyal Fans

An effective social media strategy allows small businesses to compete with the big dogs precisely because it helps cultivate a loyal fan base—for little to no cost. And loyal fans turn into authentic brand ambassadors.

It truly is the age of the influencer. Expensive celebrity endorsements now seem contrite next to authentic peer-to-peer marketing. One survey found that 86% of women want product recommendations from real people. Leveraging social media for business lets you keep it real.

3. Remember, ROI is King

ROI stands for return on investment, but it also means “king” in French (convenient!). Achieving a high ROI is essential for thriving businesses. While using social media definitely pays off, it can be easy to lose track of where your hard work is going.

Having a clear and actionable strategy in place and performing frequent audits of your social platforms can help you refocus and ensure you’re getting back way more than you’re putting in.

4. Be an Industry Trailblazer

Keep your friends close and your competition closer. You can do both on social media! Learning from your competitors, following relevant hashtags, keeping up-to-date on your newsfeed, and responding to current trends and events will help you become a go-to industry thought leader.

Your Social Media Marketing Plan: The Research Stage

You know the aphorism “know thyself”? When it comes to a developing and executing proper social media strategy, knowing thyself is just as important as knowing thy audience. In fact, the two are inextricably linked.

Know Your Audience

Aiming to cater to a diverse audience is well and good. But if you cast your net too wide you might not catch anything. Just as setting vague goals is counterproductive, you need to be specific about your target audience. After all, how else will you get to know them on a more intimate level?

The first step to narrowing things down is deciding which social media platforms best suit you, your goals, and your business.

Social Media List: Which Platforms Are Right for You?

New social media channels are being created every day. Along with mainstays like Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter, some platforms rise and fall in prominence (Snapchat, anyone?), others enjoy a brief metaphorical 15 minutes of fame (we still miss you, Vine), and many never quite get off the ground.

All these new social media platforms can easily feel like information overload. A well-curated social media list tailored to your business goals can help.

When it comes to your social media strategy, quality and consistency trump quantity. That means it’s probably a bigger drain on resources to establish an active social media presence for your business on as many social networking sites as you can.

Instead, be mindful and methodical. You’ll get a higher ROI by being well-researched, and focusing your efforts strategically.

First, let’s take a look at some demographics. This information might help inform your social media strategy and subsequent social media list when you’re looking to appeal to different markets.

1. Baby Boomers

  • Born roughly from 1946–1964
  • Mainly observers, Baby Boomers are the least likely to engage with brands on social media
  • Baby Boomers turn to social media to educate themselves on products and services (53%), and also thriftily seek out deals and promotions (60%)

Verdict: Silent observers, Baby Boomers like to arm themselves with information and keep their eyes peeled for promos. Beware, though. Too much spam is the main culprit when Baby Boomers opt-out of following brands on social media.

2. Generation X

  • Born roughly from 1965–1980
  • Turn to social media for contests (41%) and seek information about deals and promotions (58%)
  • 7 in 10 Gen Xers are likely to purchase from a brand they follow

Verdict: Reward your Gen X audience with social media-driven giveaways and keep them up-to-date with discounts and promotions. They will reward you by buying.

3. Millennials

Verdict: Aesthetics matter to Millennials. Rather than adopting a utilitarian approach, create engaging, beautiful content across your social media platforms. Be prepared to be responsive, as Millennials are likely to start conversations with brands on social media.

4. Generation Z

Verdict: Brand awareness and a personal touch are absolutely essential with a young Gen Z audience.

The Social Media List: Choose Your Platforms

Consider integrating some of these popular platforms into your social media strategy, depending on your business needs.

The essentials

Facebook

  • Over 2 billion active users
  • Widespread popularity across generations makes it an essential platform +[Baby Boomers (85%) and Gen Xers (64%) check Facebook more often than Millennials and Generation Z
  • Introduced a new, comprehensive social media analytics tool that rivals Google Analytics for tracking and measuring success

Instagram

  • Over 1 billion monthly users
  • 45% of Generation Zers use Instagram, a visual and mostly mobile-exclusive app, for brand discovery
  • If you set up a free business account you have access to Instagram Insights, a built-in social media analytics tool

Twitter

Honorable Mentions

These platforms are worth considering, depending on what kind of creative business you have and who your audience is. Here are some useful resources for getting started on each of them:

More Tips on Getting to Know Your Audience

Create buyer personas to develop a deeper and more consistent understanding of your audience on an individual level. What are their needs, desires, preferences, and pain points?

Remember to base your social media strategy on collectible, measurable data rather than intuition or assumptions. Don’t go in blind.

Social media analytics are easier to track than ever, and will shed light on the Who, What, Where, and When of your engagement.

Listen to what your audience is telling you. If people are engaging with you on social media, don’t shy away. Cultivating authenticity and developing trust require you to be receptive to both positive and negative feedback.

Keep track of comments and reviews, search relevant hashtags, and set up a Google Alert to be notified when your business is mentioned online.

Your Social Media Marketing Plan: The Orchestration & Tracking Stage

You’ve familiarized yourself with your target audience. You’ve crunched the numbers and are best friends with a variety of social media analytics tools. You can spot a Baby Boomer from a mile away and can anticipate a Millennial’s next online move. Based on the data you’ve collected, you’ve curated a social media list that will focus your efforts for a high ROI.

It’s time to set your social media marketing strategy in motion.

Creating Valuable Social Media Content

Enticing content is the meat of your social media plan. Creating fast, cheap, generic content will not garner you the type of recognition or brand awareness that you need and deserve. In our age of information overload, aim to be filet mignon among a sea of hot dogs.

Ensure that the content you share across your social media platforms:

  • has a consistent voice and tone
  • is well-written and typo-free
  • is balanced between promotional, informational, and entertaining
  • adds value
  • does not come across as spammy or stuffed with keywords
  • is relevant to the likes, interests, and preferences of your audience

Engaging With Your Audience Now

People see social media as a direct line to their favorite brands and businesses, and this encourages deeper bonds and more human interactions. It can also pose some problems.

Even the most plugged-in business might be surprised to find out that a staggering 72% of audiences expect brands to reply within the hour.

When you’re running a small or even one-person creative business, sometimes it’s simply not feasible to reply immediately. But if it is, do it! Otherwise, make it your goal to respond appropriately as soon as you can. And we’re not just talking about customer complaints and concerns. Try to respond to any engagement from customers, including comments and compliments.

Red Lobster and Real-time Marketing

Remember the Beyoncé song “Formation” and its infamous line about Red Lobster? The mere mention of the seafood chain in Queen B’s song sent the chain’s sales skyrocketing. However, Red Lobster’s mediocre social media response ultimately left fans disappointed.

After “Formation” debuted at the Super Bowl halftime show, people expected an immediate response from the restaurant. Thousands flocked to Red Lobster’s social media platforms and were met with an awkward silence from the trending brand. A complete missed opportunity to capitalize on some free promotion!

It took the restaurant the slowest 8 hours in history to officially respond, and when they did the delivery was lacklustre and flat.

The Red Lobster story should have you rushing to set up notifications and Google Alerts (they’re free!) for your business. Riding the wave of a trending topic and being responsive to what’s going on in the world can be a great way to expand your audience and carve out a spot as a hot industry leader.

Using a Social Media Scheduler

Realistically, you cannot maintain your social media platforms and be generating new content all day long. For times when you’re not responding directly to your audience about something specific, using a social media scheduler is an essential part of your social media strategy workflow.

The Benefits

  • Create perfect timing. Schedule your posts for optimal engagement!
  • Boosts efficiency by allowing you to plan posts days, weeks, or even months in advance.
  • Consistency means no gaps. Your social media platforms will always be actively posting and you won’t be scrambling to play catch-up.

Give the following social media schedulers a try. They all have a free option to test drive.

Hootsuite

  • Scalable, but offers a comprehensive free option
  • Free plan includes basic analytics for tracking growth, the ability to manage three social media profiles, scheduling up to 30 posts in advance, and more

Buffer

  • Scalable with a more basic free option
  • Free plan includes the ability to manage three social media profiles, scheduling up to 10 posts in advance, and scheduling content using an image creator and video uploader
  • Upgrade to a paid plan ranging from $10 to $399 a month to access link shortening, content tracking, and RSS feed features

SocialOomph

  • Free option is Twitter-focused
  • Comprehensive paid option
  • An array of unique features across multiple platforms such as Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and blogging sites.

Social Media Metrics and You

With your social media strategy finally up and running, you’ll want to prioritize tracking particular metrics to gauge the effectiveness of your strategy and make any tweaks as necessary.

Don’t be fooled by vanity metrics. Sure, it might feel good to gain Twitter followers, but is this growth meaningful if they never engage with you? Making and leaving lasting impressions might seem less glamorous at times, but it is definitely more sustainable.

Meaningful metrics include:

  • Engagement rate (total number of interactions divided by number of impressions)
  • Clicks (number of clicks on your social media post or business site)
  • Reach (how many different people saw your post)
  • Hashtag performance (which hashtags created the most engagement?)
  • Likes (how many enthusiastic thumbs up did your content receive?)

Social Media Marketing Campaign Recap

TL;DR? Here’s how to develop, research, implement, and track a winning social media strategy.

  1. Commit to a strategic approach to using social media for your business. It will take time, care, and consistency.
  2. Set specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timely social media goals.
  3. Get to know your audience by creating buyer personas and observing their engagement habits online.
  4. Create a social media list to zero in on which platforms will suit your audience and business best and familiarize yourself with social media analytics.
  5. Generate valuable, diverse, and professional content that caters to the preferences of your target audience. Use a consistent voice and tone across platforms.
  6. Be timely and responsive when engaging with your audience on social media.
  7. Use a social media scheduler to optimize your output and ensure consistency.
  8. Track metrics meaningfully for the most useful insights into your strategy’s strengths and weaknesses. Adjust your goals accordingly. Wash, rinse, repeat.

Congratulations! You’re at the party, your outfit is on point, your snacks are a hit, and everyone wants your phone number. Your social media marketing strategy is a success. Cheers!

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