There Are No Good Social Media Tools. Only Good Social Media Plans. Get Our Free Social Content Calendar.

By August 12, 2013 Social Marketing
There Are No Good Social Media Tools. Only Good Social Media Plans. Download Our Free Social Media Content Calendar.

There are countless social media tools. Buffer, Hootsuite, SproutSocial, Tweetdeck, SocialBro. The list is huge and gets bigger all the time.  While these tools all have different features and benefits, one thing they all have in common is that they will not in and of themselves improve your social media marketing.

I always ask new prospects, “What is your present social media marketing strategy?” More often than not, the answer is, “We use [social media tool X].”

Using any of these tools is not a strategy. A social media strategy consists of identifying an audience and developing a plan to engage them. In most well-developed social media strategies, the tools are (mostly) irrelevant and even interchangeable.

Why Do You Need A Social Media Strategy?

If you are a part of a business that uses social media, you need to have a plan of action and some way of measuring the results of that plan.

If you don’t have a plan, you’ll have no baseline and no idea if your social media marketing is purposeful, effective or successful. Eventually, frustration will set in and when that happens, social media marketing declines.

Bad Social Marketing

Without planning, many companies handle their social media as an afterthought. They post when they think of it and then in an undisciplined fashion.

Two typical scenarios are the “ad hoc marketer” and the “brute force marketer”.

The ad hoc marketer posts reactively, sometimes as a result of realizing that they haven’t posted to any social media channel in a while. Reactive posting is many times riddled with typos and bad grammar causing embarrassment to the organization.

The brute force marketer is similar except they post everything they can think of in a stream of post after post. This method just comes across as noise and is often accompanied with the same spelling and grammatical errors that haunts the ad hoc marketer.

The commonality is that there is no thought to the “why” and “what”.

The Solution

There’s a simple solution to unorganized, poor, stressful social media; develop a plan and stick to it.

It sounds hard, but a well thought out plan will actually make your social media marketing easier, trouble free (mostly) and stress free (mostly).

For this magazine, we post to Facebook, Google Plus, LinkedIN, Twitter and Pinterest on a daily basis. We use Buffer, Hootsuite and a few other tools to manage how we publish to each channel. We have a team of 6 people who are involved in some aspect of this magazine’s operation on a day to day basis.

Getting our social media ducks in a row could present a real challenge, except for one thing:

We have a plan.

Our social media marketing plan was developed by our editor-in-chief, Carol Lynn Rivera, documented and distributed to our entire team.

It is canon. It is law.

More importantly, it makes our lives a heck of a lot easier and stress free.

We are providing our social media content calendar as a free download so that you can adapt it to your needs. Whether you are a one-person shop or a 100 person company, the concepts are the same.

Before You Download

There are a few things to be aware of. We follow our social media schedule to the letter, but that doesn’t mean that it can’t change and adapt. The version you will download has gone through so many revisions that we stopped counting. Any good social media strategy must be adaptive to the needs of your business and the needs of your audience.  This shouldn’t be considered a license to make changes in a poorly thought out way, but instead as a suggestion to be unafraid of change.

The Social Media Strategy Schedule

Our guide is an Excel document that consists of two parts. The “Key” tab and the “Content” tab.

The “Key” tab identifies what channels we will be posting to and illustrates the rules that we have adopted for each channel. While there are measurable differences between channels – for example, Twitter imposes a 140 character limit while Facebook does not – there are some stylistic differences that we have developed based on our own preferences. For example, sometimes when we link to content we opt to use that content’s title whereas other times we prefer to go with a comment about the article instead. The Key tab focuses on what we do and why we do it. More importantly, it is a written guide that gets everyone on the team moving in the same direction.

The “Content” tab identifies the content that will be published as well as the date and time. The constraints of the content are established by the Key.

The Key Tab

Social media marketing calendar: key sectionIn column A, we identify three major divisions. The {Web.Search.Social} section identifies content that we will be sharing that is produced by the {Web.Search.Social} team. The “Third Party” section describes how we treat content that we share that is curated from outside of {Web.Search.Social}. And finally, the “Method” section provides insight into how we will share the content.

Columns D and E indicate each social channel and the rules about how content is to be posted to each channel based in order to establish consistency across the team.

The Key tab tells us what kind of content we will be posting, where that content will be posted and some basic instruction on how to structure that content based on each social media channel.

The Content Tab

Social media marketing calendar: content sectionThe Content tab identifies each post, where it should go and when.

Columns A and B set the date and time. Column C is the channel. Columns D and E identify the type and method based on the Key.

When there is no “type” value in column D, then we assume there is nothing happening on that channel.

Column F is a calculated field that gives you a character count of your post. If there is no “type” in column D, then no value is calculated. We did this so that we could have a visual indicator when content is being published. The length is important mostly for Twitter, but it also helps keep you pithy.

Column G is a “safety” that we wrote in. If we have a “type” in Column D, but no content in column H, then the word “Error” appears to let us know that we are scheduled for a particular channel, but there is no content available.

Column H contains the content to be published.

In cases where graphics are being posted, those graphics are not included in the Excel doc. We use a service called Box.com where we centralize all of our graphics and each team member has access to any graphic or Photoshop template they may need.

It’s important to recognize that we do not post to every channel at every time. We’ve come up with a specific channel and time schedule based on our own research. How we came up with that strategy is a complicated conversation that we’ll discuss in another article. In the end, it’s about engagement. You need to determine when your audience is at its highest and lowest interaction points. Publish at high points, don’t at low points. Determining the best schedule is a mix of science and gut.

Additional Content Notes

We keep a week of social media activity on the content tab in order to make our process manageable. In the downloadable version, we have entered in actual values for Monday as an example and left the remaining days blank.

In the Method section we make the following distinctions:

  1. Buffer – These are items that will be either buffered or scheduled using the Buffer app.
  2. Direct – These are items that will be entered into the appropriate channel manually. This method represents the greatest challenge because it requires a person to make the update in real time.
  3. Hootsuite – These are items that are published via Hootsuite. We use Hootsuite where Buffer does not provide a specific feature such as posting to LinkedIn groups or uploading photos.
  4. Direct Schedule – These are items that are scheduled directly to a channel without a third party tool. For example, we can schedule a piece of content directly from within Facebook and bypass Buffer and Hootsuite altogether. The advantage to doing this is that posts entered directly into Facebook gain better EdgeRank over content supplied from outside of the Facebook ecosystem.

Challenges

There are a few challenges that I want to make you aware of. These don’t have simple resolutions, but they’re worth mentioning.

  1. Some channels present a problem when you attempt to schedule content that isn’t yet published. If you have an article scheduled for Friday, but you are scheduling your posts on the prior Monday, then you may not get the correct preview thumbnail because the article is not yet available. This is where the tools you use begin to show their strengths. Hootsuite allows you to upload a social thumbnail for articles that are not yet published eliminating the need for the article to be addressable on the internet.
  2. Scheduling really far ahead sounds great in theory, but if you schedule far enough ahead of time and you then want to adjust the schedule or add new content somewhere in the middle, then it could wreak havoc on you overall schedule. We typically do not schedule more than a week ahead of time even though we may have articles written and prepped a month in advance.
  3. Centralization. If you are working with a team of two or more people, figure out a way to centralize your strategy so that everyone has access in real time. We use Box.com and Google Docs for centralization. There are lots of alternatives. Don’t put yourself in a position where two or more people are cross-posting or doing the same work.
  4. This post does not address engagement, only initial posting. If you are posting, you should make sure that you respond to people who engage you. That’s a topic for another day.

So What Now?

You can get the social media content calendar and a bunch more useful resources in the Marketing Game Changer Kit so go download it right now and get started marketing!