It always surprises me, but I frequently come across medium-sized organisations without a social media strategy. They are posting content frequently, but without a strategy it often ends up being unfocused and doesn’t reflect the organisation’s overall objectives. So I thought it would be useful to share my thoughts on how to develop a good social media strategy and luckily I’ve found the perfect step-by-step approach we can work through together.
Introducing the social media planning cycle
I love a good planning cycle! I find the step-by-step approach breaks a somewhat daunting goal into bite sized chunks I can get my teeth into. I’ve also found that by making each step the focus of a weekly hour-long strategy session for my team it really enhances our strategic thinking skills both individually and as a group. And as a bonus, when you write down the results of each step you end up with a strategic plan.
So over this and the next three posts I’m going to apply the social media planning cycle developed by Barker et al. in their excellent book “Social media marketing: A strategic approach” (2016) to educational organisations – schools, colleges and universities.
I’ll go through it step by step but I know reality is rarely this neat – you’ll probably find yourself going back over previous steps to refine your thinking as you go through.
Stage 1: Truly listening
One of the key features of social media is that it is conversational, and in any two-way communication truly listening to other people is as important as talking. So it’s critical that organisations listen to what is being said about them and their competitors across a variety of social media platforms (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram etc.).
Focusing on the content will help you identify the topics your audiences (students, staff, parents etc.) are passionate about. But it’s also useful to note the tone of the conversations and whether this varies by platform or audience.
Although developed for face-to-face situations, active listening can be adapted to social media listening. Here are some ideas to try out based on a couple of great blog posts by Adrian Try and Dianne Schilling.
Stage 2: Setting social media goals
Once you've listened to the conversations on social media, next you need to consider how joining them could help your organisation. Ideally, at this point you can reach out and pick up your organisation’s strategic plan and marketing plan and think about which goals social media can help you achieve. But not all organisations have these documents. If that’s the case for you then talking to senior colleagues about their priorities can substitute for this (although I’d highly recommend you work together to create these strategic plans as soon as possible!).
Like any strategic planning process, adapting some of the general frameworks such as PESTEL and SWOT can help, but make sure you focus on the areas that affect social media so you don’t get overwhelmed by information.
Often goal-setting in educational institutions is more challenging than businesses where generating profit is the overall objective. A useful approach to goal setting has been developed within social marketing, which adapts marketing for those attempting to influence behaviours with a social benefit like blood donation. (Check out this excellent book by Lee and Kotler (2015) if you want to dive into this further). They suggest defining behaviour, knowledge and belief objectives. So for a school, college or university thinking about social media their goals could be:
If you’re struggling at this point...
The social media planning cycle recommends focusing on goals, then strategies and then target audiences but these are often interlinked. So if you struggle with any of these areas I suggest you move on to the next stage (see the next post) and then go back to review your options.
Your next step is thinking about the general strategies you'll use, which we'll look at in the next post.
Part 2: general strategies (stage 3) and identifying target audiences (stage 4)
Part 3: selecting the right tools (stage 5) and implementation tips (stage 6).
Part 4: monitoring (stage 7), fine tuning (stage 8) and creating your strategic plan.
Juliet Corbett is an experienced education management professional and consultant. If you need any help developing your social media strategy do get in touch.