Updated Feb. 1, 2021
Concerned the impending demise of cookies will make audience behaviors harder to track across social media? Not sure if your business needs to make time for TikTok? Curious if misinformation and declining user trust make social media an unsafe space for your brand? You’re not alone.
Social media can be a tough nut to crack. The rules, opportunities, audiences, and value propositions vary greatly from one channel to another – and can shift gears without notice.
The one thing to conquer those social media concerns is a channel plan – an advanced directive for how your brand manages its content on these evolving platforms. It also spells out what you should (and shouldn’t) expect to achieve.
Many brands mistakenly assume they must distribute content anywhere and everywhere to maximize its reach. But plastering your brand’s content across every social network, trendy news site, and video platform is not a channel plan. It holds no regard for whom it reaches, how they might be impacted, or how that impact might reflect on the business.
Remember: Your content marketing strategy should define your social media marketing strategy. Evaluate each social channel against your business goals and audience needs. Turn this evaluation into an actionable plan so everybody on your team will know where, when, and what they should post on each channel and what their efforts are meant to achieve.
Here’s how to create and implement a channel plan for social media marketing that will enable you to do just that.
Make informed decisions
The channel-planning process involves three steps: (1) understanding the platform’s value proposition, (2) creating your brand’s use case for engagement, and (3) ensuring everyone on your team works from the same set of guidelines. Let’s look closer at each one.
1. Value propositions for social media channels
Each channel and its core community’s engagement preferences play major roles in deciding if your content is a good fit. Your audience might be open to connecting with your brand in a Twitter chat but reserves Snapchat for personal conversations. Authoritative long-form content might play well on LinkedIn or Medium, while memes, mash-ups, and captioned photos are more appropriate for platforms like Instagram.
It’s important to familiarize yourself with the characteristics of each channel and its corresponding community before joining the conversation. Use this helpful tip sheet from Aaron Agius as a primer for matching the content to the best distribution channel to achieve your brand’s goals.
2. Use case for social channels
With a short list of potential channels in hand, map existing content assets to their most appropriate distribution channels. Remember to consider the content experiences audiences expect, determine if you have the resources to meet those expectations, and evaluate the potential to deliver meaningful business results with your efforts.
Answer these questions (adapted from CMI’s Social Media Survival Guide) to decide if a channel is the right fit for your business. Your responses also can provide clues as to how to position your content to compel the audience to act:
Who uses this channel and what are they using it for?Is it an important channel for our personas? What are conversations like here?
Will it help us meet our objectives?Why does it make sense for our business to use this channel? What goals will we pursue through our actions here?
Does it fit with our editorial mission?Will our content be viewed as unique and valuable or will the community find it intrusive or irrelevant? Have our competitors established a strong presence? Could we lead the conversation on social media for our industry or business niche?
What results do we want to achieve?What should we be asking fans and followers to do after engaging with our content? Share it? Comment? Visit our site? Subscribe to our newsletter? Is the community likely to take an action? Do we have the right metrics, monitoring, and KPIs to quantify any lift our social efforts deliver and report it in a meaningful way to stakeholders?
What kinds of content work best on this platform?Are our topics relevant to this audience? Have we created enough content in the appropriate formats to communicate consistently?
If your responses don’t reveal a compelling opportunity to engage on that channel or if the platform’s environment isn’t suited to your brand’s unique content vision and mission, take a step back and reserve your team’s resources for channels that are a better fit.
3. Standards for your brand’s conversations
While your company’s goals are important, you also need to establish the right tone, the right topics, and the right conversations to ensure the content delivers the experience your audiences want.
Everybody who posts your brand’s content should understand and align with a set of social media guidelines to maintain a consistent voice and quality standards.
I recommend reviewing your company style guide to refine your social personality and instill factual accuracy and precision. That includes correct usage (and spelling) of unique terms – like company trademarks, product names, personnel, and service offerings.
Also consider how to draw attention to your social media content, including the use of hashtags. Wally Koval, former CMI team member and author of Accidentally Wes Anderson created from his popular Instagram account by the same name, has pointed out that pursuing too many audiences at once can dilute your content’s impact. He suggests aiming for five to 10 of the most relevant hashtags – including two or three unique to your brand.
Take note of topics or issues your team should avoid discussing on social media, as well as any legal or regulatory policies they must follow. For example, if you don’t want to risk falling afoul of the EU’s GDPR rules, North Coast Media’s Bethany Chambers suggests documenting these criteria in your social media guidelines:Distinguish editorial from advertising – commercial messages have stricter rules. Get a signed model release for every original image or mention you use on social. Include attribution for images sourced from third-party sites and cite original sources for images shared on your social channels. Remove any content for which you can’t identify the source.
Consumption preferences and audience trends: Are there industry events, media innovations, or consumer behaviors on which your content distribution can capitalize (e.g., livestreaming video consumption habits, device-specific capabilities like memojis, popular memes)? How might these impact the tone/velocity of your distribution? Are there controversies or algorithm shifts that might cause you to reconsider their value to your brand?
Current events: Trending topics can present timely distribution opportunities. For example, important, culture-related topics like diversity and inclusivity, racial sensitivity, and gender equality are at the forefront of the U.S. media’s conversations right now. When brands use their social content as a podium to express their values and lend their support to important issues – like Chase and Fubu CEO Daymond John did by co-creating Black Entrepreneurs Day, a Facebook livestream event that featured roundtable discussions, audience Q&As, and musical performances – it can earn them a critical boost in visibility and relevance in social media conversations that may have been closed to them.
Team resources: If you only have an editor or two managing the content marketing process, the bandwidth for consistent distribution and conversation monitoring may be limited to a few outlets; however, if you have a full team of writers, editors, and other distribution partners at your disposal, the extra manpower (or womanpower, see above) affords increased flexibility and control to manage content across many more channels.
Build your plan
Now that you have the information to determine where, when, and how to distribute your social content, building the plan is simple. Create a matrix of the channels that make the most sense for your brand and note engagement specifics for each one. When all the fields are filled, you have a template that can be referenced easily, updated as necessary, and shared throughout your organization.
In my experience, it can be useful to outline as much information as possible in your initial plan so your team can refer to it when new opportunities emerge or a snap decision needs to be made. But it’s perfectly OK to start simply then build on or refine your data fields as you learn what’s working and what isn’t.
The following is a snapshot of recommended information for your initial channel plan. (You can download and customize the template [go to File > Download As > and select the format.]):Who we will reach: Persona(s) most active/engaged on this channel Target goals/benefits: What this channel will accomplish; any unique opportunities that can’t be achieved elsewhere Featured topics: Subject areas/conversations likely to resonate with this community Ideal velocity: Frequency and post timing on this channel; how much time to spend monitoring and contributing to other relevant conversations Formats: Content types proven successful or emerging formats that might present a chance to own the conversation in that social space Tone and rules of engagement: Conversation style and voice; special criteria or considerations to follow (e.g., “280 characters or less,” “avoid enabling videos to play automatically,” “emphasize visuals over text”) Team resources: Role of person in charge of communication on this channel; other personnel authorized to post on company’s behalf; whom to notify if questions arise or issues escalate Call to action: Owned media/conversion point where to drive traffic Key performance indicators: Metrics to gauge content performance against goals
You may also want to consider including:Target keywords/hashtags: A list of the keywords to include in the content Potential distribution partners: Influencers, industry experts, or network connections who can help manage and amplify outreach on the channel. Promotion opportunities: Tools, paid campaigns, and other opportunities to support the posted content
Make your brand the life of the social media party
No matter how far and wide your business intends to extend its reach, successful content marketing distribution often comes down to having a strategic, systematic, and scalable approach. This model ensures that everyone works from the same social media blueprint, but it’s not the only way to get the job done. Let us know what processes you use to determine where, when, and how you share your content and spread your brand influence.
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Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute