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.”

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