Editor’s note: Given the ongoing need for brands to handle their social media plan more strategically, we updated this previously published article.
Concerned that the death of the Instagram “like” count might kill your brand’s traction on the platform? Questioning where your Facebook ads might appear across its network of sites, including Messenger? Curious as to whether user trust has deteriorated to where social media is no longer a safe space for your brand to play? You’re not alone.
Social media can be a tough nut to crack, as the rules, opportunities, audiences, and value propositions vary greatly from one channel to another – and can shift gears abruptly without a moment’s notice.
The one thing that will help conquer your social phobias is a channel plan – an advanced directive for how your brand will manage its content on these rented channels – and what you should (and shouldn’t) expect to achieve through your efforts.
Many brands mistakenly assume they need to distribute their content anywhere and everywhere to maximize its reach. But plastering your brand’s content across every social network, trendy news site, and video platform that comes along is not a channel plan. That attempt to go as far and wide as possible on social media 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 – not the other way around. It’s always best to evaluate each social channel against your strategic goals and audience needs before you distribute content there. And when you turn this evaluation into an actionable plan, 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.
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Make informed decisions
There are three core steps to the channel-planning process: (1) understanding the value proposition of the platform, (2) creating the use case for your brand to engage there, and (3) ensuring that everyone on your team works from the same set of guidelines. Let’s take a closer look at each one.
1. Social media channel choices
The nature of each channel and the engagement preferences of its core community play major roles in deciding whether your content is a good fit. For example, your audience might be open to connecting with your brand in a Twitter chat but reserves Snapchat for conversations with personal friends. Long-form content might play well on LinkedIn or Medium, while memes and captioned photos on these platforms would be inappropriate.
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 you want to create to the best distribution channel for achieving your brand’s goals.
2. Use case for social channels
With a short list of potential channels in hand, map your existing content assets to their most appropriate distribution channels.
Answering the following questions (adapted from CMI’s updated Social Media Survival Guide) will help you decide whether a channel is a good fit. Your responses also may provide clues as to how to position your content to compel the audience to act on it:
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 in 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 or is there a chance to lead the conversation?
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 this an action this community is likely to take?
What kinds of content will 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 content vision and mission, it may be best to step away and reserve your team’s resources for channels that are a better fit.
3. Standards for your brand’s conversations
The primary purpose of content distribution is to build a trusted connection with your audience. While your company’s goals are important, you need to establish the right tone, the right topics, and the right way for your social team to conduct its conversations.
For example, everybody who posts content on your brand’s behalf should understand and align their efforts to a single set of social media guidelines to maintain a consistent voice and quality standards across your brand’s conversations.
As part of this effort, Erika Heald suggests reviewing your company style guide to help you refine your social personality and ensure that your content accurately uses (and spells) unique terms – like company trademarks, products, and service offerings.
Take note of any topics or issues your team might want to 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 the following 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 you should adopt for 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 for their values – like luxury British fashion clothing company Jigsaw did with its #HeartImmigration Twitter campaign to highlight its views on the importance of diversity in the fashion industry – it can earn them a critical boost in visibility and relevance in social media conversations they normally wouldn’t pursue.
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.
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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 all engagement specifics for each one. When all the fields are filled out, 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 and 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 the information I recommend accounting for in your initial channel plan, but you can also download the template (go to File > Download As > and select the format), and customize it for your needs:
- Who we will reach: The persona(s) most active/engaged on this channel
- Target goals/benefits: What this channel will help accomplish; any unique opportunities that can’t be achieved elsewhere
- Featured topics: Subject areas/conversations likely to resonate with this community
- Target velocity: How often and what time of day to post on this channel; how much time to spend monitoring and contributing to other relevant conversations
- Formats: Content types that have 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 that work best; special criteria or considerations to follow (e.g., “280 characters or less,” “avoid enabling videos to play automatically,” “emphasize visuals over text”)
- Team resources: Team member 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 to drive traffic to
- Key performance indicators: Metrics to gauge content performance against goals
Editor’s note: While CMI was used as a reference for this template, the sample data shown here does not represent our channel plan.
You may also want to consider including the following data:
- Target keywords/hashtags: A list of the keywords you are likely to target will make you more effective at including them in the content
- Potential distribution partners: Any influencers, industry experts, or network connections you may have at your disposal who can help manage and amplify your outreach on the channel
- Promotion opportunities: Tools, paid campaigns, and other opportunities you can leverage to support the content you post
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. Our model is one way to ensure that everyone involved with your content is working 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