It’s easy to get distracted by trivial social media arguments. Social media experts spend a lot of time hashing out old fights about the best tools and tactics for the same reasons some people can spend hours looking at new faucets or cabinet doors. The less important something is, the more fun it is to kibitz about, because the responsibility that comes with being wrong is relatively minor. It doesn’t really matter what your kitchen looks like; so long as it is functional, durable and built on a stable foundation, you can have those cabinet arguments worry-free.

The trouble is, too many people have the cabinet door conversation without ever talking about the foundation. The way I see it, there are only seven questions in all of social media that really matter. Of course, they’re pretty big questions. But if you can answer them to the fullest, then the answers to many of your minor questions fall into place.

  1. Whom am I speaking to? And don’t just say “potential customers.” That’s a dodge and you know it. Get specific. Think about who you’re trying to reach in terms of both demographics (age, location, income, etc.) and psychographics (what to they believe? what do they like? what are they worried about?). And remember that the latter often tells you more than the former. Unless you really know, on an intimate level, who are you’re speaking to, everything else you’re doing is essentially guesswork, because audience knowledge informs your answer to every one of the remaining questions.
  2. What do they want from me online? The temptation is often to focus on what you want from your customers — and we’ll get to that — but you’re setting yourself up for disaster if you focus on yourself first. Because before anyone is going to do what you want, you have to give them a reason to care about you first. All businesses, nonprofits and institutions exist to serve a function. You do something that people want or need — or you go away. So what function do you serve for these people within a social media context? You can start with a grand mission statement if you want, but then you’ll need to whittle it down to a social-media-specific context if you want to be successful. Maybe you run a restaurant and your function is feed people. That’s great. What do people want from you online? The way you answer this question depends largely on how you answered the first one. Steelers fans will want something different from the Twitter feed of their favorite sports bar than what dedicated foodies will expect from the Facebook page of an organic, local cafe.
  3. What do I want them to do online? Don’t just say “spend money.” Think of a specific “goal action” that you want your fans to take. It should be simple and easy for your fans to perform in the moment. It can be something that involves a financial transaction right now or it could be something that enables a transaction down the road, such as getting them to give you their e-mail address so you can put them into your lead generation system. Your goal action will be guided by the kind of organization you have and what kinds of fans you have. What’s the simplest thing someone can do to help you? What can you reasonably expect your fans to do, given what you know about them?
  4. How can I align those actions? Some people find this aspect of social media frustrating. They don’t see how blogging about your industry is going to drive leads for a b-to-b company or how offering customer service via Twitter will get people to come to their new downtown store. You need to find ways to tie what your customers want to what you want. Sometimes that involves denying fans the thing they want until after they’ve done what you want — like asking readers of your blog for their e-mail before letting them download your white paper. Sometimes that means working what you want into the conversation, by mixing promotion and informational tweets together on your feed. It could even be done afterward, such as by giving targeted special offers to certain customers after a successful customer service resolution. Just make sure you’re tying them together somehow.
  5. How will I know if it’s working? When people get frustrated, throw up their hands and say there’s no return on investment in social media, it’s often because they haven’t made their actions trackable. If you’re asking for e-mail addresses, use a campaign code on the submission form. If you’re handing out offers, give them a coupon or a code phrase to say when redeeming the offer. If you’re asking people to talk about you online, get them to use a hashtag so you can easily count the mentions. Whatever it is you’re asking for, find a way to keep track of how often its happening after people have engaged your social media presence.
  6. How will I keep the ball rolling? Social media efforts should be built to last. Even if you’re promoting a temporary deal or a one-time event, your actions should be part of a larger campaign and an enduring presence. Campaigns should be built to be repeated, extended or transformed ad infinitum. Otherwise, you’re discarding relationships — and all the business value that comes with them.
  7. How will this evolve? Don’t design a Twitter strategy or a Facebook strategy. Platforms sometimes die out, but more often than not they evolve. Don’t set your social media strategy in stone and then walk away. Instead of thinking about platforms, think about functions and design your social media strategy around those roles. If you’ve grounded your social media plans in the first six questions, it should be easy for you to remain flexible and adapt to fit new market conditions.

That’s it. Those are the questions that matter. Everything else is either a derivative of one of those questions or a distraction.

How are you answering the seven essential social media questions?

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15 responses to “7 questions every social media strategy must be able to answer”

  1. @hanelly says:

    Coming up with thoughtful answers to these questions can help to develop a useful framework that is based on logic and outcomes rather than hit-and-miss random rewards. Great stuff, Jesse.

    I think the other question that sort of ties in to "how will this evolve" is "how will this scale?" Assuming you're fortunate enough to have some initial success, what happens when you really tap into a sizable audience and you're expected not only to continue the mission but to expand and scale the mission?

    Admittedly, this is something you don't have to worry about starting out (and again, it's a good problem to have), but it's something worth considering sooner rather than later.
    My recent post 3 Ways Less Content Means More to Your Audience

  2. Ari Herzog says:

    When the 100-pound gorilla asks how quick it will take to answer these questions because it is so important to put something online, you know there's a long road ahead.
    My recent post Why Livefyre is Here and How It Helps You

  3. anonymous says:

    The color of your main text font makes your page totally unreadable on my comp. : (

  4. Wow, lots to digest. Thanks for generously sharing this useful info. Especially appreciate the acknowledgment that for social media, the goal may not be tens of thousands of fans but a few hundred solid ones.

  5. Wow, lots to digest. Thanks for generously sharing this useful info. Especially appreciate the acknowledgment that for social media, the goal may not be tens of thousands of fans but a few hundred solid ones.

  6. Social Media is evolving but you still have to have a marketing plan in place. I agree not to have a Twitter plan or a FB plan but to have a fully integrated plan where you have a way of tracking. This is a great article with tons of advice. In the end, all businesses are trying to find potential customers. Social media is our gig right now! LOL
    My recent post The Power Of One

  7. @patmcgraw says:

    Very nice post – but why limit #3 to online activity? Why not leave it open to what do I want them to do and how can I make it fast, easy, simple in the following channels (include trackable phone number, email, coupon code for in-store….)
    My recent post Google+: Rethinking My Approach Helps Find Value

  8. Aaron Eden says:

    Love these questions you posted as it gives you some kind of reality check with your social media campaign, even before you start one. I think, if I were to add Q8, it would be: How will I measure the success of my social media marketing plan? That's the toughest challenge I'm facing right now as numbers can lie. Just because you have this certain number of traffic, likes, fans, or followers doesn't really mean they will convert to buying customers. And so the search for that missing link continues…
    My recent post Social Media Analytics For Dummies (1) – Goodbye ROI & Welcome KPIs!

  9. Discovering what you want your audience to do online should be a well thought out marketing plan. People are weary to spend sporadically these days. The key goal is finding ways to keep them engaged and interested.

  10. […] Social media – Which social media tools make sense for your business? How will you leverage each one to drive inbound leads? How will you respond and engage those who share, comment and connect? […]

  11. […] read by Jesse Stanchak in Smartblog on Social Media on July 28, 2011:7 questions every social media strategy must be able to answer.  They […]

  12. […] be simple and easy for your fans to perform in the moment. It can be something that involves a financial transaction right now or it could be something that enables a transaction down the road, such as […]

  13. will says:

    well said… there's parallels to the people who believe software is the solution to their problems and not a tool to be used in the resolution.

    I've read a ton of social media posts lately and let me tell you how nice it is to find one with some real value.

  14. This is definitely a blog worth following. You’ve got a great deal to say about this subject, and you can also tell that by the huge number of comments! Blogging spot

  15. Carolyn says:

    The perfect Strategy! I love it when I come across information that I can actually use. I love it even more, when I can put that great information to use immediately. Thanks.