I don’t have to tell you that social media is one of the most powerful tools you have in your marketing kit right now. What’s more, it’s free to use – up to a point – and always evolving.

Defining a really strong social media strategy can give you the edge over your competition. It creates a personality and brand that can help you to connect with existing customers and attract potential new business. On the flip side, if you don’t have a plan, you could just end up wasting your precious time posting random memes all over the place and getting nowhere.

So, what does a plan need to include?

SMART objectives

Your first step in creating a social media strategy that will be perfect for your business is to decide exactly what you want to achieve. What’s the main aim of your social media presence? Do you want to drive sales, build engagement or just raise awareness of your products and services?

To start with it’s probably best to work on one or two really important areas. Don’t try to do everything at once, just set a goal, a date and get started. For example, you might decide that you want to grow your Facebook fan page to achieve 1000 more likes over the next six months. Why do you want to do this, and how do you intend to do it? Work the finer details out, do some research and commit to it.

Make all of your targets and goals SMART – that is specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time based.

Narrow down your target audience

Now you know what you plan to achieve, you need to work out who is going to help you. There are many different types of social media user; different platforms, styles and media appeal to different demographics so some research into your target audience and where they ‘hang out’ online is vital.

A vital part of a spot on social-media strategy is making sure that you’re getting your marketing and brand messages across to the right people. Now you know who to ‘talk’ to when you post your messages, which will affect just about everything you do on social media and make it much easier to target your posts.

If you don’t know how to define your target audience, we’ll cover this in a future post, so come back to check out who do you think you’re talking to.

Define your key messages

With your perfect customer(s) in mind, you can get to work on deciding what your key messages are going to be over a period of time. Take into account any calendar dates, important events and plans for product launches/promotions you already know about and design your content to take all of them into account.

Create a set of key messages that you think your ideal customer will easily identify with. Just choose  a few ideas, more than two or three can get confusing. Use these top level messages to come up with creative ideas for content and posts. An example could be that one of your top level messages for your jewellery business is that everything you sell is handmade.

From that key message you can look at what goes into creating an item, the gems that you use, how you pick them, where they come from, and so on. Look at what your competitors are doing and see how well that performs on social media – if you see something doing well, don’t be afraid to adapt it for your own social media strategy (but don’t just blindly copy or share; you need to build your own brand persona)

Pick your platforms

Again, with your ideal customers firmly in mind, pick your platforms. It’s best to focus on no more than three if possible because if you spread yourself too thinly you’ll spend all your time on social media and never get anything done.

Think about where your customers will be logging on. Pinterest is loved by women – 42 per cent of all women who are online use it.  Instagram, Snapchat and Tumblr are popular with younger users and older audiences seem more at home with well-established channels like Facebook or LinkedIn.

Research indicates that men are more likely to use social media for dating and business, women tend to prefer connecting with friends, entertainment and even self-help from their social media. There is a wealth of information out there, and statistics to help you find and focus on whichever platforms you think will be more successful for you.

Now you have your strategy, you’re ready to put it into action.