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How To Write Your Social Media Plan In 8 Steps

Maybe it’s because you’re in marketing.  Maybe it’s because you’re from the younger generation assumed to be digital natives.  Or maybe it’s because you’re already experimenting with social media and your success has been noticed.

For whatever reason, The Powers That Be have chosen you to write your company’s social media plan.  Or perhaps they haven’t asked, but you know social media is big and getting bigger, and so you want to write a plan to persuade your management to get involved.

Where do you start?

Here are some ideas on the main topics you need to cover in creating an impressive, yet realistic social media plan that garners executive buy-in and a clearer path to success.

1.      Paint The Picture of The Big Opportunity of Social Media

Start your social media plan with some startling statistics and pithy quotes about the huge shift away from traditional publishing towards social media.

If you wrote this plan two years ago, you would have leaned on the endorsement of old media with quotes like this:

 “Consumers are flocking to blogs, social-networking sites and virtual worlds. And they are leaving a lot of marketers behind.” – The Wall Street Journal

But now you can tell the big opportunity of social media by just relying on social media’s accomplishments.  Include nuggets like:

  • 4 of the top 7 highest-traffic websites (Facebook, YouTube, Wikipedia, and Blogger) are social media websites
  • Two-thirds of the global internet population visit social networks  — Nielson, Global Faces and Network Places
  • More than half of all people in the U.S. over 12 have set up a social media profile
  • With over 400 million users, if Facebook were a country, it would be the 3rd largest country in the world
  • Twitter now has 110 million users and is adding 300,000 a day

Add with a flourish a quote or two from a top social media book, such as Trust Agents by Chris Brogan and Julien Smith, or The New Rules of Marketing and PR by David Meerman Scott.

2.      Define Social Media

Because social media is such a nebulous thing for many, you need to put concise parameters on what it is.  However, don’t start your plan with the definition of social media because it’s not as exciting as the first section about the big opportunity.  Get their attention first, and then you can go Webster on them.  Include something like this:

“Social media is user-generated content on the internet.  It’s created with free or inexpensive technology, is easy to update, and can reach a niche audience or millions.  It can be mere words in a blog, but also user-generated videos, photos, and audio.  It can be interactive with unfiltered comments from visitors.  And as user-generated content, it does away with controls associated with traditional media – and most of all, it removes the need for big media.”

3.  List Tangible Business Goals

If you don’t already have a social media plan, it’s very possible that your top management fears that social media is only a plaything.  You have to show them you mean business.   Tell them how you will use social media activities to:

  • Build awareness
  • Strengthen relationships with clients, prospects, and influencers
  • Better understand your buyers
  • Improve customer service
  • Identify new product ideas
  • Increase web site traffic
  • Improve search engine rankings
  • Drive traffic to your trade show displays at events
  • Generate leads
  • Generate sales

You don’t have to promise to do all these things.  And preferably your goals will match top management’s goals.  But whichever goals you choose, make them attainable, and include a measurement plan.  Ask for a grace period (at least several months) for learning and experimentation until you have to start proving tangible results.

4.  Plan A Timeline Of Steps

You can’t just push a button and have a full-fledged social media marketing program running full-swing.  But management won’t wait forever, either.  Give them an idea of what your steps will be, which may include:

  • Time to define goals, objectives, and strategy
  • Time to get trained on social media
  • Time to determine team, either internally, choosing a social media consultant, or both
  • Setting up accounts on Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and YouTube
  • Finding your existing community of clients, prospects, and influencers on the main social media sites listed above, on niche social media sites, and on established industry blogger sites (if you determine your clients are not yet on social media, you may not have a plan!)
  • Time to set up your own blog
  • The sequence of  social media sites you will concentrate your efforts
  • Time needed for listening to each online community
  • Time to develop a following
  • Time to create content, such as a blog (which is ongoing), videos, white papers, podcasts, and more
  • Time to learn time-saving tools such as RSS feeds, Technorati, Hootsuite, Bitly, and more
  • Dates of pre-scheduled progress reports

Write this timeline of steps on paper, not in stone.  This is a working plan that you use every week, and change as you learn what works and what doesn’t.

5.  Set Realistic Expectations

Because social media revolves around so many free tools, and because it has become the darling of marketing hipsters everywhere, expectations run high.  So you also need to help your team understand there’s no guarantee it will be a silver bullet.  Tell them things like:

  • Social media is not a panacea: if your company or product sucks, social media is not going to make that go away
  • While many of the tools are free, it can take a substantial investment in time and consistent effort to build up a loyal following on the main social media sites
  • Social media is not just another advertising channel – old-school product messages will go down in flames
  • There is a substantial learning curve of the technology, language, and culture of the various social media sites
  • Social media is always evolving, so successful methods can stop working
  • Success may require effort from a team, not just one person

6.  Ask for Resources

Getting this plan accomplished will require resources.  Don’t be shy, ask for help, be it training, people’s time, or budget to pay for consultants, website hosting fees, a video camera, or useful web applications you later determine you need.  Because social media requires near constant attention, tell them you need a laptop with broadband access, and a smart phone with an unlimited web access plan, too.

And ask for something free but priceless:  For your top management to share their buy-in with your plan to help you get more cooperation from the rest of your company.

7.  Recommend Who Does Social Media For Your Company

The first step of choosing who does social media for your company is deciding between doing it internally, hiring a consultant to do it, or a combination.  You can shorten your learning curve with social media consultants who can train you and help identify online communities where your clients already gather.  But ultimately, your social media activity really should be done by people who work for your company.  It’s just too hard to hire an outsider to be the authentic voice of your company.

Then figure out who does social media within your company.  Just remember that while the youngest member of your marketing or customer service team may be the most familiar with social media, they may not be the best choice to represent your company in social media.  You want someone who has:

  • Deep knowledge of your customers, industry, products, and company
  • Exemplifies the personality of your organization
  • Insatiable curiosity
  • Integrity
  • Good people and communication skills
  • A quick study on technology
  • Very strong work ethic

That person, of course, may end up being you.

8.  Finish with an Urgent Call to Action

While similar to how you started your plan, you want to finish with some more strident points that create a sense of urgency.  End your plan with things like:

  • “We no longer control our brand – it is being shaped by our customers in social media with or without us, so we must engage with them to protect and enhance the brand.”
  • “Social media is where our communities are shifting their attention; we ignore them at our peril.”
  • “If we delay our entry too long we risk being left behind by our customers and our competitors.”

Social Media is a vast universe of communities, cultures, and ultimately, for the marketer, choices.  I hope these 8 parts of a social media plan will help you to inspire your organization to get engaged with your clients, prospects, and influencers via social media.

About the Author

Mike Thimmesch is the Principal at Thimmesch Marketing. For over 25 years, he has created and implemented innovative marketing, lead generation, and exhibiting strategies that profitably grow company sales and brand awareness. Mike rose to Director level at Skyline Exhibits, where he helped generate over a half million leads, resulting in over $1 billion in sales. He published 11 industry white papers and eight exhibiting books, presented over 100 trade show webinars, and wrote over 200 exhibit marketing blog posts.

50 responses to “How To Write Your Social Media Plan In 8 Steps

  1. Mike — An excellent overview of how to do a plan.

    I’d add one more thing:

    Measurement — While you do talk about measurement in your “goals” section, I think they are different and need to be clearly separate.

    I’d recommend getting buy-off up front for how you will measure. Too many people start a social media marketing initiative without agreement on success metrics and then get into trouble when the suits want to know about “ROI”.

    I recommend a book “Social Media Metrics” by Jim Sterne to help in this area (disclosure – the book is part of my series and I wrote the forward).


    1. David,

      Thanks for your kind words, and for your tweet about this post, which helped to put the article into the top 100 tweets Saturday morning. That’s some rarefied air I never thought this blog would breathe!

      Thanks for your emphasis on measurement. Exhibitor Magazine did a study recently about trade show marketers’ use of social media. That study showed how fraught with disconnect marketers can get about measurement, because while 90% of the responders said they achieved their goals, only 30% did measurement … and they measured things different than their goals.

      I’ve ordered Jim’s book to glean more insights for measurement. I hope it includes ideas about measuring the value you get offline from your social media as well. The value of relationships with influencers developed via social media won’t necessarily show up in a Google Analytics report.

  2. Thanks for this. The article is succinct, anticipates obstacles and objections and does a really nice job cutting through a lot of the excesses and proselytizing of other articles on the social media planning process.

  3. Excellent post.

    Once the powers that be agree to your plan it’s you’ll need to write a social media strategy.

    This 10-point sequence is effective.

    1. Listen to conversations about your brand/company/industry
    2. Calculate your share of voice – and your competitors’
    3. Set yout goals to align with PR, marketing and business goals. Get agreement on the goals.
    4. Find relevant communities and bloggers who write about your subject
    5. Identify the influencers in these groups. Tip: In all liklihood, they are not famous A-list bloggers.
    6. Develop a content strategy based on what you have found in your previous steps.
    7. Evaluate the platforms and tools: which tools are best for your business to reach the people you want to start conversations with.
    8. Create and deliver that content – monitor responses and reactions.
    9. Participate in and facilitate conversations. Provide tools to make it easy to find, share and discuss the content.Syndicate your content so it can filter into the social web.
    10. Track and measure results.

    1. Sally,

      I really like that you don’t get to strategy until point #6. So rather than “Shoot, ready, aim,” you don’t take aim until you know where the targets are.

  4. Great article!!!!

    I love this line…

    “Just remember that while the youngest member of your marketing or customer service team may be the most familiar with social media, they may not be the best choice to represent your company in social media.”

    I totally agree and am happy to see this become more of a critical discussion point for businesses.


    1. Thank you, Gunnar. Yes, it’s not too smart having someone be a voice for your company if they understand the language of Twitter, yet don’t understand the intracacies of your industry.

  5. Precise indicators, for someone entering into the social media.

    Over and above ROI and stats measurement, it is time management one really has to pin down, here I am again in Social!

    Above noted and thanks, great article.

    1. Hello Joan,

      Yes, it is very easy to get lost in the vast Social Media world. It’s not easy to balance between needing to wander around to get comfortable, and also having to “achieve deliverables” as you’re expected. For motivation, as my boss once said, there’s nothing like a deadline! Thanks for your comment.

  6. very good layout that anyone can start with, then adapt as conditions, strategy and goals change. Love the additional input from other commenters on other things to consider.

    It might be no-cost, but it’s not easy, and like so many other things, preparation is critical to making social media successful.

    I’ve talked to way too many business owners who think if they just throw a FB page up or start a Twitter account, they’ve accomplished their social media efforts, then wonder why it’s not working for them.


    1. Nancy, you said, “too many business owners who think if they just throw a FB page up or start a Twitter account, they’ve accomplished their social media efforts, then wonder why it’s not working for them.”

      I’m struck by how that could be said about a lot of other marketing mediums. Some people also expect instant success when they put up a website, send a direct mailer, place an ad, or exhibit at a trade show. The reality is that marketing involves intelligent and sustained effort, no matter what medium you employ.

  7. Excellent article on how to go about it. What I like especially is that the very first line is about objectives, goals and strategy. Too many organizations skip those essential first steps and start dabbling with the tactical tools that get all the media attention – Twitter, Facebook and YouTube. A successful social web engagement doesn’t start with those tactics, that has not changed from traditional marketing. Another essential point to make is that social media is not a replacement for all other marketing activities but a complement and calls for an integrated approach and most of all a commitment to the long haul. No instant successes and shortcuts here.

    1. Hello Joe,

      Thanks for the comment. When a new marketing medium appears, the first-movers can stand out so well they feel like they’re packing a gun loaded with silver bullets. But after the rest of the party gets there, there is so much more clutter and competition that it takes, as you said, “an integrated approach and most of all a commitment to the long haul.” Surprise: Marketing is hard work.

  8. Very helpful article, Michael. I enjoyed reading it, and the accompanying comments.

    I deal with many in the “boomer” generation (50+) who see social media as a bunch of noise. One client tells me he feels like people are yelling at him all the time, when he checks in on Facebook or Twitter.

    My recommendation to small businesses and individuals new to social media is to start with one, and only one, first. Get comfy there, before you move on to another platform.

    The differences between Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and others are significant. To learn the nuances of several platforms at the same time is overwhelming, for many of us.

    Thanks again for the great information! You have a new follower.

  9. Judy,

    Thanks for the insight about how boomers can get overwhelmed by trying to immerse themselves in too much social media at once. I agree with your idea of one platform at a time, and now realize I did that myself: first LinkedIn, then Twitter, and now I’m learning more about Facebook.

    I’m glad you visited, and look forward to your future perceptive comments!

  10. Awesome article. I’m heading up the SMM department of my company and needed to create a proposal template to hand out to clients. This really helped organize my thoughts.

    1. I found the statistics by going to to find the top 10 websites by traffic volume. Alexa lets you find the traffic volume and rank for about 20 million websites. While it’s not gospel, it uses a large sample size of millions of websurfers to determine overall web traffic.

  11. Nice article, one thing which should be done is to keep the blog or conversation going.
    Like you’re doing yourself here, keep taking place in your own discussion.
    If you don’t people may unfollow you or delete the friendship.

  12. I stumbled across this helpful article and thought it ironic since I’ve just left the trade show business after many years (Founder of Hill & Partners) and started a new career in real estate …. without my crack social media “team” – I’m back to the “do it yourself” days!!!

  13. “For whatever reason, The Powers That Be have chosen you to write your company’s social media plan.”

    Yes. Thank you for this article! Holy cow, you may have saved me. I’ve been hitting Google all morning for this information and this article has been the best I’ve found.

  14. Hi Mike!

    Thanks so much for both the post, and the follow-up. It made a huge difference, and I ended up getting the project!

    Thank you!!

  15. Hey Mike,
    This is really a masterpiece. It cuts the jargon, sticks to basics and at the end leaves you fulfilled.
    It’s generic and relevant even now, after 1.5 years. That’s the beauty of it.
    Also, I’d like to thank Sally for making it even more straightforward.
    Keep up the good work.


  16. excellent piece of writing mike..proved to be highly useful for my current project..though i think your second step should have been first and vice versa instead.just an opinion.anyways hats off to you all the same.thanks.

  17. Thanks so much for this! I am going for a job in this field next week and have been asked to write a proposal. I have only logged 4 days of research in this area and the 10 minutes I just spent reading this plan and the related comments have been more beneficial than all 4 days put together. This is great.

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