The Anatomy of a Social Media Plan: How It Has Changed Over the Last 10 Years.

Anatomy is the study of the structure or internal workings of something. This can apply to the human body, plants, or a subject such as “Machiavelli’s anatomy of the art of war.” Over the years the “anatomy” or structure of the strategic use of social media in marketing communications has changed.

When I first began integrating social media into marketing communications plans for clients it was still a novel side project. Most clients used experimental budgets to fund brand social media activity. We would present the traditional advertising, direct marketing, and PR as our main recommendations with some social media ideas.

When I began teaching social media marketing it was the first time, I created a strategic plan focused only on social media. I developed a strategic framework for that first course back in 2011. Social media has evolved, and the framework still applies, but the structure has grown

Anatomy of A Strategic Plan

Anatomy is about knowing the structure of something, and this can occur on several levels. The first level or structure of any strategic plan is goals, objectives, strategies, tactics, and KPIs or metrics.

Anatomy of A Strategic Plan

Goals are long-term changes you’d like to see while objectives turn those goals into measurable metrics within a specific time frame. Strategy is the approach you will use or the way you will meet the objectives. Tactics are what you will use to implement the strategic approach. Finally, KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) are metrics you use to measure the performance of individual tactics.

The most common mistake I have seen in strategic plans, in the past and today is confusing objectives with strategies, tactics, and KPIs. The objective of a social media strategic plan should not be “Improve brand social media,” “Open a brand TikTok account” or “Gain 1,000 social media followers.” No matter which organization or company you are working for your purpose in creating a social media plan is to help achieve larger goals and objectives.

Opening a TikTok account is not an objective. The objective is to increase sales, raise market share, attract investors, add volunteers, grow attendance, boost downloads, etc. Opening a brand TikTok account is one tactic, part of a bigger strategy that may help achieve these larger objectives. Social media is no longer experimental. Today companies spend 15% of their marketing budgets on social media and expect real results for that money.

A company may have a goal to grow the number of younger customers. Their objectives could be to increase sales to 16–24-year-olds by 20% this year. A strategy may include using social media to engage with younger consumers. One tactic to implement the strategy could be to open a brand TikTok account. A KPI of that tactic could be the number of followers.

Anatomy of A Social Media Plan (Circa 2012)

When I taught my first Social Media Marketing course in 2011, the tactics available to use in a Social Media Plan were limited compared to what we have today. Social media was growing and valuable but there were fewer tactics available to implement strategies.

Early strategies and tactics in social media focused on organic content. Paid was not a necessity and not as available or sophisticated as it is today. Growing brand communities delivered results. Many brand messages were “Follow us on Facebook” and they celebrated milestones such as reaching a million followers or fans. Before algorithm dominance, more fans meant real increases in reach and results for both KPIs and plan objectives.

Anatomy of A Social Media Plan - 2012

The basic tactics of social media included real-time brand social media conversation. This is the brand interacting with its brand community in real-time through social media monitoring. Scheduled brand organic social media content was also important. The brand creates its own content to post on its feed.

Social media plans also emphasized curated brand-related third-party social media content. Finding and sharing content created about the brand by media is still effective. Finally, consumer-generated brand social media content was an important component. Early strategies featured consumer contests like Lay’s Do Us A Flavor. These tactics emphasized owned, shared, and earned media.

According to Gini Dietrich’s PESO media model, Owned Media is brand-created content, Shared Media is consumer-generated content, Earned Media is content created by the news media, and Paid Media is advertising, both traditional and new media.

Anatomy of A Social Media Plan (Circa 2022)

Over the last decade, social media use by consumers and companies has grown. As a result, social media news feeds grew crowded, and platforms introduced algorithms to prioritize posts. For most platforms that meant emphasizing personal posts over company posts. Organic reach plummeted and a brand follower or fan was no longer as valuable. In response, paid media entered the mix and three new tactics have emerged.

Anatomy of A Social Media Plan - 2022

The first new tactic was paid social media brand content in the form of social media advertising. To reach followers, fans, and other social media users, brands could now pay to have their posts appear in people’s feeds. Brands were not happy at first but quickly saw the value in social media ads being highly targetable for efficient and effective ad buys. This was the first wave of new social media tactics under the category of paid media.

Influencers have always been part of social media. In the early days, we talked about the value of being a thought leader for company management. We also had brand evangelists, advocates, or brand ambassadors who voluntarily posted about their favorite products and services. Brands engaged these superfans with gratitude and sometimes rewards.

Then online influence reached a new level. Certain people became social media famous reaching numbers of fans brands used to celebrate that matched or surpassed the reach of media companies. Influencer Marketing emerged with brands paying to reach an audience through an influencer’s social media account.

Brands purchase posts and campaigns from mega-, macro-, micro-, and nano- influencers by buying ads through influencer marketing platforms. This was the second wave in social media plan tactics and the second form of paid media.

The latest tactic to emerge in social media plans is social commerce. Early forms of social media advertising paid to appear in feeds with non-commercial content. The social platforms had restrictions on not making the post too much like advertising. For example, brands had to get creative with posts such as saying “Link in bio” to get people to a website from Instagram.

Today social media platforms have added shoppable ads where users can buy a product or service without leaving the app. Social commerce is when e-commerce happens through the social network. Instagram Shoppable Ads was one of the first options.

Now Facebook Shops enables brands to create online storefronts on Facebook and Instagram. Other social media commerce options include Snapchat, TikTok, Pinterest, and Twitter. This is the beginning of the third wave of paid media social media tactics.

What changes have you seen in the last decade in your social media plans and strategies? For other ways, social media has changed see “What Has Changed And Not Changed In Social Media.”

Do Marketers Always Want Consumer’s To Consume?

In marketing we call our target consumers. Yet not all marketing goals or messages are about increasing consumption. Sometimes marketers want the target market to consume something different, consume less, or simply consume an idea.

Patagonia famously ran an ad with the headline “Don’t Buy This Jacket” on Black Friday. They sell clothing, but their overall mission is, “We’re in business to save our home planet. We aim to use the resources we have–our voice, our business, and our community–to do something about our climate crisis.”

Patagonia balances selling new clothes with its mission. For example, they encourage consumers to consume less by trading in old Patagonia clothes to be resold with its Wornwear program. They call for climate action on Twitter, and share conservation messages on their YouTube channel.

One video features Salvar Una Cuenca running to save a watershed. Another has an employee explaining how to repair a zipper to keep a jacket longer. The message is getting through. In a recent Harris Poll, Patagonia is listed as the most reputable company in the U.S.

Sometimes marketers want consumers to consume more of their product by consuming more but by consuming something different. An example is Campbell’s sharing recipes featuring their condensed soup as a key ingredient.

Campbell’s meets the needs of busy adults giving them quick and easy recipes that while increasing purchase of their soup. They send the message where their target is looking for meal ideas with timely posts on Pinterest like “Get hammy with your Easter leftovers.”

Gatorade is another example. They don’t want their consumers to consume more sports drinks during workouts. They want their target to drink Gatorade over competitor Powerade.

They position themselves as hydration for high school athletes by helping their target tell their sports stories on social media. They created a free app “Highlights” for teen athletes to capture and share pro videos of their best sports moments.

A nonprofit or government agency often wants marketing messages that encourage consumers to consume less such as a natural resource conservation effort. Right now many western states are facing severe droughts. They need marketing messages to get residents to consume less water.

Some public health efforts aim for no consumption. The Truth anti-tobacco campaign has used marketing to reduce teen smoking. In the 1990s, they used PSA TV ads to reach their audience. Now Truth is reaching teens on Instagram and Youtube to reduce teen vaping.

Other marketing messages encourage donations. The nonprofit Dress for Success targets women on Facebook to donate their professional clothes, talents, and time to help other women obtain opportunities and reach economic independence.

What other goals do social media marketing efforts try to accomplish for organizations, businesses, or clients?

To learn more on consumers, target markets and target audiences see “Are You My Audience? 6 Misconceptions About Target Audiences in Social Media and Digital Marketing Strategy.”

Are You My Audience? 6 Misconceptions About Target Audiences in Social Media and Digital Marketing Strategy.

A narrowly focused message stands out and reaches and motivates an audience. General messages addressing everyone get lost in the crowd. As a communication professional or student, you need to know the target audience for any strategy or plan.

How to determine target audience.

Usually, clients do provide a target audience defined by the various bases of segmentation shown above. Yet it is not always the right target. Oftentimes business people are good at their business but are not the best marketers. Even top marketers at Fortune 500s can get it wrong. If you don’t start with the right target your strategy will not be successful and not meet the objectives the client is hiring you to help deliver.

Remember that clients are hiring you or you are getting a new project from a boss because current efforts are not working. There is a problem to be solved. Sometimes it’s an SEO problem, sometimes a social media content problem, but it can also be a target audience problem. How do you know you have the right target?

  1. Don’t assume your target is your social media followers. A client for the social media agency BSquared defined their target audience as 18-24 year-olds. They had the most followers from this age group. Yet BSquared took the time to look at additional social listening data beyond the brand pages and social media and digital advertising data. They found that the next two older age groups actually accounted for 90% of sales compared to just 10% of sales coming from the younger group.
  2. Don’t assume everyone that could use the product is your target. Gatorade learned this shifting to a mass-market target of hydration for everyone 18-49 and sales declined 10%. The core athlete got the message – Gatorade was no longer for them. Further research revealed high school and endurance athletes made up just 22% of customers but accounted for 46% of all sales. Only when they focused back on these two niche audiences with fewer mass ads and more target digital ads did sales return.
  3. Don’t assume the people who use the product are your target. Proctor & Gamble’s brand Old Spice sales were declining. Additional consumer research revealed that women purchase 60% of all men’s body washes. For the first time, the brand targeted women as the audience for its men’s brand. Within a year, sales grew 125% surpassing competitors to become the #1 brand in the category.
  4. Don’t assume your target audience is current customers. When sales level off or decline marketers need to reach a new group of people that is not their current users. The market for two-door coupe cars has been declining for years. The Ford Mustang Mach-E all-electric SUV is designed to reach a new audience. Targeting current Mustang drivers would not be effective as the car was designed to gain EV market share from Tesla. In the first year of sales, 70% of Mach-E buyers were new to the Ford brand.
  5. Don’t assume there is only one target audience. There may be multiple target audiences that influence a purchase decision. Colleges know that parents influence high school students’ college decisions. Therefore, enrollment strategies often include a primary target audience of high school students with a secondary target audience of parents of high school-age children. Messages and channels must be targeted for both.
  6. Don’t assume the target is consumers of the product. Other audiences can be selected for corporate communication and public relations to manage company reputation with employees, investors, suppliers, regulators and the media. With the Crock-Pot ‘This Is Us’ crisis an episode of the popular show killed the main character in a fire from the brand’s faulty product. The PR agency responded quickly with a message to multiple stakeholders assuring the public that Crock-Pots were safe.

Also, note that business to business (B2B) target audiences are usually segmented with different variables called firmographics based on company size, industry, geographic market, and business needs. A B2B target audience can include people with certain job titles, and members of professional organizations.

If you are a marketer at a business or marketing communications professional working for the business, it is always good practice to verify that the target audience is really who you think. You need the right target audience to meet the business objectives. How do you know you are addressing the right business objectives? Perform a Root Cause Analysis.