Jan 12, 2016

Managing Digital: Social Media Strategy On A Startup Budget

by Digital Marketing Institute

Social media is omnipresent. A potent force that has simultaneously spawned teen millionaire vloggers and inspiredpolitical action. It has the ability to connect, to compel, to convert. By the end of 2010 there were 0.97 billion social media users worldwide; by the end of 2016, there will be 2.13 billion.

Social media has had a real and irreversible impact on our lives, both personal and professional. In a marketing context, the priority given to social media continues to grow, as marketers and managers seek to reap the benefits of its unique potential for virality for their own businesses.

Yet despite this substantial statistic, social media marketing success isn’t contingent upon Elton-John-I-can-spend-300k-on-fresh-flowers levels of wealth (he was the richest person I could think of off the top of my head. I stand by it.); it’s still very feasible to yield significant results with limited funds. You don’t need to be managing a major budget to achieve your goals; in a few straightforward steps you will be able to implement and oversee an easily scalable social media strategy to complement any level of available resources!

Set The Scene: Set Your Objectives

It seems unquestionable that a seasoned digital marketer would start building out a strategy without outlining the specific outcomes they want their actions to achieve. But sometimes, small, simple (albeit essential) actions can often be overlooked.

To paraphrase Sting, every step you take, every move you make, is inextricably linked to the objectives you define from the outset. What do you want to achieve with your social media marketing strategy? You can answer this question easily by approaching it in two stages.

Stage One: High Level Goals

These don’t have to be particularly precise; documenting your objectives in a simple, concise manner provides a springboard from which you can move on to define your strategy in deeper detail. It’s easy to lose yourself in granular metrics, but always ensure that you keep sight of the bigger picture; an overarching vision is often what you need to stay motivated and ambitious.

Stage Two: Detailed Objectives

You’ve already set your high level goals. Maybe you want to generate leads, or maybe your intention is to close more sales. But how many leads do you want to generate? And by what percentage would you like to increase you close rate? If you want to increase brand awareness, how are you going to measure it? In case the italics for emphasis weren’t enough, drilling down into more detailed objectives will add an essential structure and specificity to your strategy. Once you know exactly what you want to achieve, you can identify how exactly you can achieve it, and underpin your strategy with actions that will really resonate with potential customers.

Size Up The Competition: Social Listening

When your resources are limited, the need to know what’s working and not working for your social media strategy becomes more crucial than ever. Gaining an insight into where and how your competitors are enjoying social media successes and struggles, as well as conducting an audit of your own, is the best way to understand both your position in the market, and your target audience. Social listening tools, to help you to carry out this analysis, are available for free, or you can access advanced features and reporting functions with a monthly subscription (anything from $59 to $99 for a basic package, depending on your requirements and budget).

Understand Yourself

Being able to benchmark yourself against your competitors and within the context of your industry will help you to optimize your social media strategy. You can use social listening to pinpoint which of your posts received the most Retweets or shares, and identify their common characteristics so you can iterate on the winning formula and generate more engagement.

So if your video content and infographics are performing better than text-only updates, the logical next step is to focus on visual content for your social media strategy.

Top tool: you can use SproutSocial to analyze and generate custom performance reports on your social media channels, including Facebook, Twitter and Instagram, which will identify which social posts garner the most clicks, reach and engagement. You can use these insights to guarantee that you’re posting what your followers want to read.

Understand Your Competitors

Monitoring the competition is just as important as having a firm understanding of your own social media strengths and weaknesses. What social media platforms are they utilizing? How many followers do they have? Who is talking about them and tagging them? What kind of content are they posting? How do they engage with their audience, and how often? Not only is this data very easy to aggregate through social listening, it can provide you with invaluable insights that will help you to replicate your competitor’s successes, avoid their mistakes, and ultimately refine your own approach.

Top tool: you can use SimilarWeb to identify which of your competitors’ social channels are driving the most traffic, and use that data to further analyze their social posting; everything from content and tone, to frequency. Complement this by setting up Google Alerts to track online mentions of competitors and find out who is linking to them and from where.

Understand Your Customers

Social listening tools also enable you to research the needs and interests of your potential customers. The more you learn about your customers, the better you can relate to them, which in turn increases the likelihood of you crafting a social media strategy that converts! Once you’re confident about what resonates with your audience, you can target them with specific deals or offers, engage them in meaningful conversation, and post content that is most likely to engage them.

Top tool: you can use BuzzSumo to identify the most shared content for any search term, topic or domain, drill down to pinpoint specific sharers and backlinks, and even find what content is trending in real-time.

Social Media With Substance: Create A Content Strategy

Even the most well-intentioned social media strategy will flounder if it isn’t underpinned by carefully considered, well-crafted content. Content is what adds substance to social media, and the best part is that you’ve already begun to devise your content strategy, whether you realized it or not!

Through social listening, you have ascertained what content is most effective for engaging your target audience, the content that is most effective for your competitors and the content with which your own organization enjoys the most success!

Creating unique, compelling content doesn’t have to be expensive; in fact, like all good things (in the context of a low-budget social media strategy at least), it can be entirely free!

  • You can enhance a simple social post with appealing stock imagery for guaranteed maximum engagement. Free sites like Death To The Stock Photo (my personal favorite) provide image packs that help brands enrich their visual impact “without shelling out wads of cash, or their sanity”, and offer an exclusive premium option for $15 a month.
  • Developing and maintaining a consistent tone of voice is essential to the ongoing quality of your content, regardless of who on your team is creating it. Take the time to put together a style guide and define how you want your content to sound to your target audience; this will help you align your social posting with relevant buyer personas and increase engagement.
  • Once you have established your brand voice, you should only consider content formats that fit with it. This will help you to eliminate unnecessary costs; if you can clarify that an animated video won’t complement your theme and you can instead film something simple in-house, you won’t have to spend money producing it! If in doubt; theme before format!
A more detailed examination of this content will provide you with an understanding of the ideas, themes and formats you should adopt to best connect with potential customers, whether it’s through written blogs, infographics or video.


It’s important to find the right moment in which to share your content, to maximize both the time and efforts of your team, as well as the impact that content has on its audience. Timing is key!

  • Create a content calendar and plan what you’ll publish at least a quarter in advance (a year is too inflexible). This shareable resource will help your team to stay on schedule with their content creation and map out how it will be distributed, to make efficient use of budget. Some organizations complete their content calendar with a social media channel plan, but I personally avoid using one. Social media is a fluid, ever-changing landscape, so it’s often best to avoid any rigidity in your plan, and remember to adapt your approach when necessary.
  • It helps to be responsive and flexible, but that doesn’t mean you can’t do it with a time-saving approach! Buffer (otherwise known as my holy grail of social media management) is an app that will let you schedule posting in advance for a range of social media accounts, including Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn and Google+. You can cross-post across all platforms, or edit posts for specific sites. Buffer automatically shortens links (saving you precious Tweet characters) lets you add images and even provides you with data on your best and worst performing posts, which again, feeds into the ongoing improvement of your social media strategy. And the best part is, you can avail of this time-saving goodness for $8.50 a month, which is less than I spend on coffee (otherwise known as my lifeblood) most days!

As if Buffer wasn’t great enough, you can also use it to define the frequency with which you should post on your social media platforms. All you need to do is decide how often you want to post on a daily basis, and Buffer will calculate the optimum times for you, to ensure maximum impact with your target audience.

Be Seen And Heard: Paid Promotion

It’s a universal truth that the most beautifully created content, be it ad copy or an ebook, means nothing without some discerning promotion behind it. Paid advertising has the ability to elevate your social media strategy and award it a place in front of the eyes that matter most (hint: your potential customers’), but if you’re not an expert, it can be difficult to know how and where you should be spending your budget. Once you’ve equipped yourself with some key information, however, paid promotion can yield some extremely positive results!

Who Do You Want To Advertise To?

Deciding who you want to target with your social media strategy is the first step in allocating your budget. Do you want to advertise your brand or your content to new followers? Would you like to advertise to existing followers? Answering this high level question will help you to decide whether you will prioritize acquisition targeting, or retargeting.

At the Digital Marketing Institute, for example, we spend approximately 40% of our budget on acquisition, and 60% on retargeting, because we have a high Average Order Value and are interested in nurturing existing relationships through valuable content and social customer service.

Where Do You Want To Advertise?

Again, this relates to whether or not your goal is acquisition or engagement, but the key platforms you should be looking to advertise on will either be where you want to build more of a presence, or where you’ve already establish a following that you are looking to convert. Either way, the key steps to guarantee you make the most of your budget remain the same.

  • Select your ad type: it could be boosting a post on Facebook (engagement), Clicks to Website/conversions (acquisition), Product Ads (acquisition using your website’s XML feed) or promoting your Page (acquisition), or video views (engagement) and leads (acquisition) on Twitter.
  • Target your audience: ensure that whoever is responsible for building and serving your social media ads takes advantage of the full range of targeting options available on each platform; location, age, interest, gender and language. The more detailed a persona you create, the less likely you are to waste budget and target your ideal customer.
  • Set your budget: choose your daily or lifetime spend based on your goals, forecasts and available marketing budget. A simplified way to forecast for conversions might be: conversions = budget/cost per conversion. By applying a formula like this you can forecast and estimate the budget required to achieve your goals.

Measure Your Success

Being able to assess the effectiveness of your social media strategy is the necessary final step that will enable you and your team to iterate its success. You should use analytics to identify issues and opportunities in your social media strategy and address them accordingly.

Each social media platform will have native analytics that will provide you with data on their individual performance, but doing this one by one can be a time-consuming exercise, especially if you’re interested in regular reporting. Buzzsumo will aggregate information on social shares based on content type, length and the channels from which those shares came.

If you would like to be alerted when my next post on digital marketing management is available, you can sign up to our newsletter to receive notifications of exclusive content as soon as it’s published. If you’d like to share your experiences of managing a social media marketing strategy, regardless of the size of your budget, let me know in the comments below!

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Develop a detailed understanding of key social media specialisms including content marketing, and platforms on which you can promote your content.

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