social media how toDo you have a social media strategy? Does it involve content? Should it?

The other day I drove past a local convenience store that makes most of its profit from beer, Slush Puppies and beef jerky (not that there’s anything wrong with that). A big sign out front asked passers-by to Like them on Facebook.

“It’s official,” I thought. “Now every business in America has a Facebook page.”

Unfortunately, few businesses actually have a strategy for their Facebook page, or for the rest of their social media activity. They tweet, blog and set up a Facebook business page out of fear of being left behind, rather than as a way to engage their audience.

If your social media engagement is reactive rather than proactive, it’s time to step back, take a deep breath and develop a content strategy that will engage your community.

A content strategy doesn’t end with good signage.

What Is a Content Strategy?

Last year while doing some research into what certification organizations were doing in social media, I interviewed Susan Cato, Senior Director of Web and New Media Strategies at CompTIA, who said,

“You can’t have a social media strategy without a content strategy.”

I thought this was brilliant. She clarified far more effectively and in fewer words what I had been saying. But what does it mean to have a content strategy?

There are three important elements to developing an effective content strategy.

Let’s start with what your customers want to talk about.

Knowing Your Audience’s Pain Points

Developing a content strategy often starts with a keyword analysis. Now, you may think of a keyword analysis as a tool for blog posts or blogs for SEO, and you’re right. However, it will also help you uncover the language that your audience or community is using while on the social web.

For example, if you’re a plastic surgeon and you’re putting out some great content about “rhinoplasty” but everyone’s talking about “nose jobs” you’re not reaching anyone. Likewise, if the conversation is about “curb appeal” and you’re talking about “landscaping,” the conversation may pass you by.

A keyword analysis begins with a list of words or phrases that you believe your audience is using to find products or services like yours. There are a number of software tools that you can use to determine how often your phrases and related phrases appear in searches, which provides insight into which you should use in your content strategy.

Some popular keyword analysis tools include:

Red leather jackets were probably more popular when "Beverly Hills Cop" came out.

A keyword analysis will only start you on the path to a content strategy. Once you’ve identified some of your key phrases, you need to get to work on where your community wants to have these conversations.

Knowing Where Your Audience Hangs Out

Once you have a general sense of what’s important to your audience, you need to determine where to have these conversations. Most businesses, non-profits and individuals would best be served by focusing on one or two platforms… going deep rather than going broad to start.

Where your audience is can depend on their age and gender, as well as your offerings. There are plenty of statistics that break down social media sites by demographics. Flowtown has a great infographic on social media demographics on their site.

LinkedIn can be a powerful tool for B2B (business to business) companies. Facebook does well for B2C (business to consumer) offerings. Blogs and online video-sharing sites like YouTube can work for any audience, but may be blocked by corporate firewalls.

You can also use “listening tools” to see if the conversations are already taking place across social media. There are a number of free and paid tools for listening for specific terms in social media.

  • Google Alerts: This free tool will send you daily emails of news, blog posts, tweets and more around any keyword you’re following.
  • TweetDeck: With this popular Twitter app you can set up a column to follow the conversation around a specific topic.

You can follow conversations around your key terms by creating a search column in TweetDeck.

  • Radian6 and Sprout Social: These are two examples of paid social media monitoring services for companies that need more robust tools.

Here are some ways in which you can begin to implement your content strategy through different social media tools:

Blogs: Blogging is a powerful method for engaging your audience; it has both SEO and social media benefits. Blogging around your keywords is an essential piece of a content strategy.

One of my favorite new tools for developing blog content is the Keyword Questions tool at WordTracker Labs. Enter a key word or phrase and it will return related questions people have asked at partner search engines.

People have questions; now you can blog the answers.

By typing in “BBQ,” you see questions like “how to make BBQ ribs in the slow cooker” and “how to BBQ corn on the cob.” In other words, you have the topics and titles for your next two blog posts.

Note: this technique works equally well for YouTube and SlideShare.

LinkedIn: Try searching through the Answers section in LinkedIn to answer questions around your keywords. For example, an accountant might search for “profitability” or “capital tax issues.”

An HR consultant can answer questions on “employee retention” to establish credibility with her audience.

Facebook: Ask questions on your Facebook business page that build on your content strategy. Of course, this will work better once you’ve built a following on Facebook. Be sure to check out 10 Ways to Grow Your Facebook Page Following and 4 Proven Steps to Facebook Page Success for more on that.

Mint does a great job of asking questions that engage their target audience and start a conversation.

Twitter: Check out Twitter’s search function or the Advanced Twitter Search if you need to filter your phrase to a geographical location or by attitude.

Are you running a Mexican restaurant near Portland, Maine? This is your search.

Measuring the Results

A keyword analysis and some social media demographics will get you started, but you need to measure the impact of your conversations to see if you’re making headway. I recommend—at least at the beginning—to keep this as simple as possible. Some suggestions:

  • Track how many comments and Likes your Facebook post gets.
  • Track monthly how many followers, retweets and mentions you or your brand gets.
  • Measure how many comments your blog posts get and how much traffic they receive.
  • Measure social media referral traffic to your website; in other words, how much traffic is sent from Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn?

In Google Analytics, check your “referrers” to see which sites are sending you the most traffic.

A note for small businesses: many of the articles you read on social media metrics focus on how often people are talking about your brand on the social web. If you run a specialty grocery store in Bangor, Maine, chances are you’re not going to be trending on Twitter anytime soon. Instead, pay attention to your influence locally, or your depth of engagement with your audience.

Content Strategy Takeaways

Some final thoughts on developing a social media content strategy:

  • Listen. Having a content strategy isn’t always about talking. It’s about listening and understanding.
  • Be patient. Putting up one tweet with a keyword in it doesn’t make a content strategy. A content strategy is about building trust with your audience, your community or your customers. That takes time.
  • Be flexible. A keyword analysis and social media demographics will only take you so far. You’ll need to evolve your content strategy over time, based on what’s going on in your industry, with your audience and in the world around you.

Your Turn!

What strategies or tactics have you used to engage your customers or community with social media? What’s worked and what hasn’t? What platforms have you used that weren’t mentioned above? Leave your comments and suggestions in the box below.

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  • Rich its all about being consistence and waiting on that traffic boat to come by. Social media gives us that platform to go after an targeted audience with our content and bring them in as customers.

    “Black Seo Guy “Signing Off”

  • Really helpful tips, Rich. Just wanted to mention I’ve been using hashtags lately as another way to narrow the focus of our own tweets and pick up on trends in the stream. It’s generating a much better rate of return in terms of click-throughs to our causes. That’s also something you could incorporate into most of these tools, especially TweetDeck, which gives you a column specifically for such tracking.

    I also like how you included both free and paid solutions to the three elements, since we all have different budgets for social media.

  • Guest

    Awesome article 🙂 I was recommended by a friend to check you out and I am very happy I did

  • Glad to have you aboard, Jimmy!

  • That’s a great tip, David. Care to share which hashtags you’re using? Just curious.

  • Good points!

  • Great article, gets to the point in a straightforward way. I’ve found that if you put in posts that deal with individuals in the company they get the greatest engagement and anything that shows the personality of the business rather than the ‘party line’ or ‘marketing messages’.

  • Doug Kendall

    Very helpful, we just created our facebook page and the first order of business was to establish the right content. This article and everyone’s comments have provided us better insight on how to convey it.

  • Tlynn2212

    Another amazing article….thank you so much! I appreciate how you provide useful information that we can all use. – Tasha

  • Really like this post (literally). It addresses content management in social media marketing in a succinct yet comprehensive way. The keyword and measuring illustrations helps communicate the importance of listening to a client who, as you say, are often too eager to jump in head first without knowing the depth of the pool.

  • Gracias increible!!

  • Love it! It underscores what I’ve been advising my readers for a long time. Thanks!

  • I thought I knew what keywords my clients would be searching until I started using Google AdWords. Almost all the keyword phrases I used had low volume. That was a real eye-opener!

  • Man, Broadway Variety really missed out on obtaining new fans by running a business page on a personal profile. You should contact them and let them know what’s going on, and let them know they have been featured on this blog post. Great article by the way 😉

  • I liked your comment (again, literally.) A keyword analysis can be the difference between guessing what your audience wants and knowing.

  • Great minds think alike!

  • Low volume isn’t necessarily bad; it’s dependent on your industry and the competition. You may find that low volume keywords deliver high quality traffic, just less of it. It’s often best to balance high and low, targeted keywords. Good luck!

  • Next time I stop in for beef jerky, for sure!

  • Great article, it shows the myriad of paths online marketing can take… from keyword selection similar to an SEO strategy, but then veers off that path onto one less traveled, and one where you need to listen and learn where you’re going before you end up lost, or worse.

  • AgaAmbroziak

    Awesome article, very helpfull and explaining. Great mix of pics, that really do stay in the head. Great to be a subscriber!

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  • Great article. Even if you know about all these resources, the article is a great pictorial reminder of the many aspects of a strong strategy. Kind of a check list of sorts.
    When you are first getting started it can be easy to forget one or two things.

  • Victoria Ipri

    Rich, since companies do work within different budgets, and have different objectives and goals for SMM, I just want to jump in and say…Google Alerts and Social Mention are great free tools to help you get started. I know we’ve heard it before, but it’s true! Talk about content strategy till you’re blue…people will still come back at you and say, “But where do I find suitable (or, hopefully, interesting) things to say?” Truly, content strategy is key, but it means little if you have no idea where to find the content. These two tools, along with several of the others you mentioned, are free, quick, convenient, accurate…an excellent jumping off point for beginners.

  • Great info! I have recommended this blog to a number of people. Thanks for the insight.

  • Being a start-up conveying our basic idea through our content is right now the main focus. It involves understanding what our audience wants, how it is looking for what it wants, and then providing that content accordingly. Another content strategy is spreading our content on other websites in the form of talking on other forums including blogs, online forums and social media and networking profiles. The approach has to encompass everything. There was a time when it was just blogging that was social media. Now a blog or website is basically a convergence that constantly tries to draw attention from different sources. Nonetheless it still remains the focal point of content publishing and strategy.

  • Thanks, Rob! I think it’s fine to get “lost” occasionally–after all, that when you discover new things. However, it is important to have a a sense of where you’re going so you’ll know when you’re on course.

  • Every strong social media marketing strategy depends on relevant, high-quality content. When a client asks us to create a Facebook page or Twitter feed, we tend to discourage them unless they have the resources to sustain a blog or other homebase of consistently-created content. But not just any content. It should be content that is keyword optimized (like you specified) and content that speaks directly to the needs and interests of their audience and is ruled by a strategic editorial calendar.

    Thanks for all of the great insight!

  • Further to David’s comment above about hashtags, I think they are very useful too. We recently ran a #CaptionComp over a week to engage with our audience. #CaptionComp trended locally as did our @Hughes_PR Twitter account. It also provided us with fodder for our new blog.

    Content strategy is SO important and yet it nearly always falls off the heap and people wonder why their social media strategy isn’t working.

  • I use Google Alerts all the time, but not so familiar with Social Mention. I’ll have to try it out. Thanks!

  • Great points; I’d just advice to keep an eye on where your conversations are having the most impact. For most startups, you’re already maxed out as far as time goes. By paying attention to where you’re getting traction, you can focus on where your content will have the biggest impact.

  • Love it. It’s difficult to tell clients you don’t want to take on their work, but it’s important to get their commitment to the process.

  • Great stuff Rich, really useful breakdown and digestable takeaways. You also happen to have one of the best office locations, happened to randomly walk by on a trip to Portland last year. Very cool.

  • Iamqueensblvd24

    Terrific Post! I am really into social media right now (like everyone else out there!), especially Facebook Marketing and FBML. It can be hard to keep up to date with such a fast changing innovative topic but I manage to do it through the fan page factory ( ?) and blog posts exactly like yours. Tips and tricks rock. I am trying to learn as much as possible to put myself ahead of the curve. So thank you again!



  • tregor

    Very interesting post!
    Thank you for these informations

  • Thank you, Rich.
    This post is the type of posts that make you glad you are a subscriber!
    To join the conversation, I’d add a couple of points:

    -for a good Social Media content strategy it’s crucial to achieve a complicity and involvement of the whole organisation, particularly for blogging. This concept could fit into the first 3 points on developing a CS or at the end when talking about patience: you certainly need patience to give time to your audience to grow but you also must be patient along the process of getting staff engagement, too.

    -as for content, it helps to develop an editorial Calendar and raise a small working group to plan, discuss and monitor your social media performance

    -among the tools, I use Hootsuite all the time. Don’t you like it? Please, Rich or someone else here, could you tell pros and cons in comparison to TweetDeck?

    Thanks again. I’ll recommend this post to my students of the Postgraduate Museum Management course;).

  • Always nice to see good solid information. Must be something in the air, I wrote a post about the psychology of content and the approach for your strategy a couple of weeks ago. Some points I would like to share with your readers… Before you even put pen to paper, you have to really know your audience. As you mentioned, but more important is you have to know what they’re looking for, what their problems are and how your information can answer their needs. You need to answer 3 basic questions before creating your content strategy, such as:
    * What are my goals?
    * What are my main keywords?
    * What would I consider a success metric?
    To me the last point is the most important one of all. Always test and check your data that should always be included especially the benchmarks. Awesome read Rich, Grazie

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  • Rich, you certainly know what good content looks like! Thanks.

  • Absolutely! This way we can put more focus on a platform that actually delivers instead of putting energies into something that doesn’t give much return.

  • Hi Rich
    This is great information and I look forward to using these ideas, once the Christmas rush is over. The other comments by others has also been really helpful.

  • When using a tool like TweetDeck for “listening” purposes, it’s important to remember that your subjects of investigation will self-select. In other words, what works for Twitter won’t necessarily work on Facebook. As always, the communities should be treated with respect, and not lumped together.

    Great post!

  • Good article Rich. There are so many blogs and sites offering advice in marketing and social media, and it’s annoying when everyone is speaking the same language but no-one knows how to really take action and prove it. Good evidence with grabs and useful info for anyone who needs a simple breakdown.

    I do like the way you have broken down your methods although if those GA stats are for this blog, that’s surprising considering i’ve spent 5 minutes on here yet the average time is 45 seconds.

    Anyway, keep it up dude.

  • Good article Rich. There are so many blogs and sites offering advice in marketing and social media, and it’s annoying when everyone is speaking the same language but no-one knows how to really take action and prove it. Good evidence with grabs and useful info for anyone who needs a simple breakdown.

    I do like the way you have broken down your methods although if those GA stats are for this blog, that’s surprising considering i’ve spent 5 minutes on here yet the average time is 45 seconds.

    Anyway, keep it up dude.

  • Good point Ashley!

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  • Rauchb

    another constructive and well written article from Social Media Examiner. I get so much good advice from you guys. Thanks!!

  • Great information Rich! Thanks so much. I love this blog – you guys are soooo sharp! I had a question. For someone who is new to internet marketing, blogging, and social media and who is working 2 jobs and hardly has time to create content – what would advice would you give me? I have been concentrating on just keeping my online social media presence going. That is – giving updates almost daily and continuing to form new relationships. This is what I can manage right now until I have more time and resources. Anything you have for me? Thanks so much! Look forward to the next one!

  • Rich I wonder if these points would make up Social Media Content Strategy or the overall social media marketing effort. The points which you have mentioned about listening, engaging and then monitoring are in essence about social media and not about the content per say.

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  • I have yet to really see a benefit to LinkedIn because it hasn’t done anything for me. Aside from that, I don’t know many people that actively use it. They only sign up because they are supposed to, then leave it alone.

  • Loved the article. It is great to find something that clearly and concisely describes what I’ve been trying to get clients to understand. Showing them this article is going to be a huge help. Many thanks!

  • Thanks, Scott! We love our spot in Portland. Just renewed our lease for another 5 years! Feel free to drop in next time you’re in town.

  • Conxa,

    Those are all great points, and well taken. Hootsuite is great, although I find myself using TweetDeck more often. Hootsuite allows you to post to your FB business page, which is nice. I’m just used to TD’s interface.

  • Agreed; you always start with your goals. Everything else follows.

  • Ashley,

    It’s always a balancing act between automation and manual work. Some posts and updates work well across multiple platforms, while others–as you mention–need to be tailored to a single platform.

  • Luca,

    They won’t share the stats of SME with little old me! Those are stats pulled from my own company’s Google Analytics. if you’re looking for something to read. 😉

  • Drink more Red Bull?

    Actually, I’d recommend going deeper on one or two platforms, tops, rather being shallow everywhere.

    I’m a big fan of blogging, so I’ve made that my personal social media tent pole.

  • Ankit, I’d probably say that there’s a lot of overlap in those two categories. I don’t believe you can do any type of marketing w/o a strong content strategy, especially in the age of Inbound Marketing.

  • Brandon, I think LI’s come a long way; of course, it depends on whether you’re selling to people or businesses, but if you’re in B2B, I feel it’s a requirement. I actually just wrote an article on LI today, feel free to check it out:

  • Nicole, that’s great to hear. Thanks!

  • Greggvoss

    Terrific piece – I particularly agree with choosing a few social media, instead of many (deep instead of wide) to reach target audiences. But you have to figure out where your audiences reside online, and then also have rich content waiting for them when you drive them. I blogged about this recently:

  • Thanks a ton Rich. It’s so easy to get distracted in the whirlwind of social media and new technologies that content strategy slides to the back seat at times. Thanks for encapsulating it into this post that I can refer to when I need.

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  • Charlotte

    I think this approach sucks no offence, Im not saying a keyword analysis is completely off but its time consuming, plus this information is making indirect assumptions as to what content your clients indulge themselves with. Why not just survey your clients and ask them directly instead: what content do you find most interesting? is most relevant to you? next you can ask what social media channels they most actively use..Once you have this data you can make a small SPSS analysis and cross link the variables. This is the approach i used and its pointed out to be valueble.. Good luck and if you have more questions just ask me on twitter: Cstofberg2

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  • janetaronica

    I love this article. I think a lot of this stuff I’m doing already but it’s nice to have it all laid out recommending which tools I can use and what specific types of growth I am looking for. Thanks!

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  • When I talk to people about a social media content strategy, my challenge is not getting them to accept that they should be where their customers are, or, that we should measure the results. They’re all for that. My biggest challenge with my clients, large and small, is getting them to think about the actual content – where it will come from, how often, and how good it should be.

    Many (most?) companies really believe that they can produce great content on a frequent basis themselves, and hardly any of them actually can. So the Facebook page gets set up, the Twitter profile is launched, the company blog is started, and then, after a flurry of initial activity, it just sort of tails off. And frankly, even the initial activity isn’t very good quality.

    So, that has been my biggest issue with a content strategy for social media.

  • When I talk to people about a social media content strategy, my challenge is not getting them to accept that they should be where their customers are, or, that we should measure the results. They’re all for that. My biggest challenge with my clients, large and small, is getting them to think about the actual content – where it will come from, how often, and how good it should be.

    Many (most?) companies really believe that they can produce great content on a frequent basis themselves, and hardly any of them actually can. So the Facebook page gets set up, the Twitter profile is launched, the company blog is started, and then, after a flurry of initial activity, it just sort of tails off. And frankly, even the initial activity isn’t very good quality.

    So, that has been my biggest issue with a content strategy for social media.

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  • kashif

    a very useful write-up!

  • Tila

    Very good post, i learned a lot of new tools for metric that did not even know existed! Thank you

  • Very valuable post, thank you for the info!

    Auren Kaplan

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  • Damilola

    Just what i am looking for, otherwise my boss would have “buzzed” me out of my job.

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  • What an awesome, thorough article! I am looking forward to trying to the Keyword Question tool you recommended. Another tool you mentioned, LinkedIn Answers, has been helpful for me to get insight on topics for blogs.

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