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.”

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.

 

 

 

 

 

Are You Simply Treating Symptoms? For better digital marketing results ensure that you are addressing the root cause [Template].

Today we are awash in digital data. Something that will only rise as we saw a 70% increase in Internet sales and an 11% increase in digital marketing spending in 2020, which is expected to grow another 17% in 2021. This can be both a blessing and a curse. After years of working in the marketing industry, researching and teaching, there is a strategic mistake that I continue to see. It is the tendency for marketers to treat surface-level symptoms when there are often deeper level problems causing an issue. Michael Porter said, “Strategic thinking rarely occurs spontaneously.” Realtime 24/7 marketing data dashboards have not helped with this propensity for expedient remedies.

A benefit of digital marketing is that nearly everything is measurable. Google Analytics tracks over 200 metrics. Facebook Analytics adds another 100 and that doesn’t include your email, social media monitoring, CRM and POS software. A typical marketer can collect hundreds if not thousands of data points across digital and general marketing systems. Yet studies indicate 21% of marketing spending is still wasted resulting in inaccurate targeting (35%) and lost customers (30%). Added metrics does not equal added results.

With all this data it is easier than ever to spot a problem metric which marketers want to resolve as quickly as possible. Yet, the first problem noticed, such as a drop in website traffic, often doesn’t have a quick fix digital solution. It is merely a symptom masking a larger problem. This calls for some guidelines for marketing managers inundated with digital data. I suggest pausing for a root cause analysis that considers both digital and general marketing factors. Even though your symptom suggests a digital marketing issue, the root cause may be a general marketing problem that needs to be solved first.

With over 50% of advertising spending today going to digital marketing, it is useful to organize individual symptoms and problems into digital and general marketing. They usually require separate solutions and separate experts or teams. Below is a visual representation of a root cause analysis process for digital marketers. It is a modified Ishikawa, or fishbone cause-and-effect diagram, that outlines a process of asking a series of questions modeled after the Five Whys iterative interrogative technique. Like a physician, marketers can assess a set of symptoms to arrive at a diagnosis.

How to perform a digital marketing root cause analysis

Identify related symptoms

To start this process you or someone on your team notices the first symptom. Maybe a dip in website traffic is what caught your attention, but what else may be declining? You may find other symptoms that can help identify the cause. Perhaps your email open rate is down in digital marketing metrics and in your general marketing data you notice new customer signups are starting to slip. Most of what you find will be signs or symptoms of problems. Make a list and sort into digital marketing symptoms and general marketing symptoms.

Identify contributing causes

Start asking “why” questions for each symptom. Why is website traffic going down? Why is the email open rate declining? Why is the number of new customers slipping? Contributing causes can be internal and external. External problems could include digital marketing causes such as Google changing their search algorithm or general marketing causes such as a new competitor, competitor strategy, or availability of substitutes. Internal problems could be digital marketing specific such as a change in your content strategy or general marketing such as customer service issues.

Identify the root cause

Keep asking “why” questions descending through a correlated list of digital and general problem causes. The root cause process “Five Whys” indicates that five “why” questions can get you to the root cause, but it may only take three or it could take more. Eventually, your contributing digital and general marketing problem causes will lead to one root cause. The root cause could be a digital marketing problem such as a significant Google algorithm change or a general marketing problem such as new competition in the form of a substitute product or service.

Plan actions for each problem

Create an action plan to address each digital marketing and general marketing problem starting at the root cause. If the root cause is a general marketing problem of substitutes drawing away protentional customers, a new product positioning should be developed to address this target audience’s needs. Then contributing digital marketing problems should be addressed with a new keyword, SEO and SEM strategy. New content should be created with the new product positioning. If repositioning isn’t enough, a new product or new services may need to be added.

Without pausing to find the root cause you could waste time and money on a product message and digital strategy that is not relevant to the customers that competitors are stealing away. You could end up investing in general best practices of optimizing content with infographics, videos, and increasing digital spending to no avail.

Today Porter’s five forces of competition can emerge quickly and are constantly changing. Adding a new product or service isn’t easy or a quick fix. However, discovering this larger problem sooner gives you more time to work on a solution. In that way, your digital marketing metrics can serve as an early warning system. Early detection enables your business to pivot promptly saving wasted resources on misguided action plans.

Sometimes a drop in website traffic is just a technical website issue or it could be a symptom of a larger problem. A root cause analysis may not be a simple solution but it can reorient your marketing actions away from short-term survival to long-term success.

Flip the analysis to plan for an opportunity

Finally, sometimes there may not be a general business or digital marketing problem and you are simply wanting to take advantage of a new opportunity. Perhaps you are trying to reach a  new target audience group, launch a new product line or service, or move into new geographic territory.

To plan for an opportunity flip the root cause analysis and begin with the root cause as the intended end goal. Then work backward identifying general and digital marketing problems and symptoms that need to be addressed (adjusted or added) to help take advantage of the new opportunity.