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The Beginner's Guide to Creating a Social Media Marketing Plan From Scratch

Kevan Lee
Kevan Lee Former VP of Marketing @ Buffer
The Beginner's Guide to Creating a Social Media Marketing Plan From Scratch

10 min read
You will learn

When I went rock climbing for the first time, I had no idea what I was doing. My friends and I were complete newbies about ropes and rappelling and every other bit of jargon and technique that goes with climbing. We saw others doing it spectacularly well. We were thrilled at the thought of reaching the top of the climbing wall; we had no idea how to get there.

I’d imagine that a social media marketing strategy could feel the same way.

If you’re starting from square one, it might feel equally parts thrilling and overwhelming. You know what you want to do and why. You can see that others have climbed the social media mountain, but you have few ideas for getting there yourself.

It’d help to have a plan.

We’ve shared different parts of a social media strategy— the data, research, and personal experience behind what works on social media.

Now we’re pleased to put it all into a cohesive, step-by-step blueprint that you can use to get started. If you need a social media marketing plan, start here.

Step 1: Determine which social media sites you will use

social media marketing strategy

Social media is as homogenous from network to network as soda pop is from brand to brand. Sure, it’s all social media, but Instagram and Twitter might as well be Mountain Dew and Pepsi. Each network is unique, with its own best practices, own style, and own audience.

You should choose the social networks that best fit your strategy and the goals you want to achieve on social media.

You don’t have to be on them all—just the ones that matter to you and your audience.

Some factors to consider when choosing which social networks to try and how many to try.

  • Audience – Where do your potential customers hang out? Which social network has the right demographics?
  • Time – How much time can you devote to a social network? Plan on at least an hour per day per social network to start. (Pro Tip: Once you get going, scheduling content ahead of time with tools like Buffer can help you save time.)
  • Resources – What personnel and skills do you have to work with? Networks like TikTok emphasize consistent and relevant content. Visual platforms like Instagram and Pinterest require images and videos. Do you have the resources to create what's needed?

For the first part of this decision, you can reference the audience research and demographics from surveys like those conducted by Pew Research. For instance, Pew has complete data collected in 2021 on the demographics of social media users in the U.S. Here is a side-by-side comparison of the major social media platforms’ user demographics.

Step 2: Fill out your profiles completely

social media profiles

One of our monthly checks here at Buffer is to visit our social media profiles and ensure that our profile photos, cover photos, bio, and profile info are up-to-date and complete. It’s a crucial part of our social media audit. A completed profile shows professionalism, cohesive branding, and a signal to visitors that you’re serious about engaging.

Profiles will require two parts: visuals and text.

For visuals, we aim for consistency and familiarity with the visuals we use on social media. Our profile photo on Instagram matches our profile photo on Facebook. Our cover photo on Twitter is similar to our cover on LinkedIn.

To create these images, you can consult a social media image size chart showing you the exact breakdown of dimensions for each photo on each network. For an even easier time of it, you can use a tool like Pablo or Canva, which comes with prebuilt templates that set the proper sizes for you.

For text, your primary area to customize is the bio/info section. Creating a professional social media bio can be broken down into six simple rules:

  1. Show, don’t tell – “What have I done” often works better than “Who I am”
  2. Tailor your keywords to your audience
  3. Keep language fresh; avoid buzzwords
  4. Answer the question of your potential followers: “What’s in it for me?”
  5. Be personal and personable
  6. Revisit often

Step 3: Find your marketing voice and tone

social media voice and tone

The temptation at this point might be to jump right in and start sharing. Just one more step before you do. Your foray into social media will be more focused and more on point if you come up with a voice and tone for your content right off the bat.

To do so, you could spend time developing marketing personas and debating the finer points of your mission statement and customer base. These are all well and good. But for a social media marketing plan just getting off the ground, you can make this process a bit easier.

Start with questions like these:

  • If your brand was a person, what kind of personality would it have?
  • If your brand was a person, what’s their relationship to the consumer? (a coach, friend, teacher, dad, etc)
  • Describe in adjectives what your company’s personality is not.
  • Are there any companies that have a similar personality to yours? Why are they similar?
  • How do you want your customers to think about your company?

At the end of this exercise, you should end up with a handful of adjectives describing the voice and tone of your marketing. Consider this to keep you on track:

Voice is the mission statement; tone is the implementation of that mission.

Here are a few places to take inspiration for developing your brand's voice and tone:

  1. Mailchimp
  2. Sprout Social
  3. Buffer

Cultivate a voice that delights your customers, then your customers will be thrilled to spread the love about you.

Step 4: Pick your posting strategy

social media posting strategy

What’s the ideal amount to post per day? How often should you post? When should you post? What should you post? The solid gold, ironclad answer for questions like these is:

It depends.

So much of the social media experience is about your individual audience and niche. What works for you might not work for me, and you never know until you try (we’ll get to trying in step five).

That being said, there is some pretty good data and insight about where to start. Here’s what we’ve found to be good jumping-off points.

What should you be posting?

Videos are ideal for engagement.

The push toward video content has plenty of anecdotal evidence — the success of TikTok and constant updates to Instagram – and you’re likely to see videos all over. There’s data to back up this trend: Videos posts get more views, shares, and Likes than any other type of post. And it’s not even close.

On Facebook, video posts get higher average engagement than link posts or image posts, according to BuzzSumo who analyzed 68 million Facebook posts.

On Twitter, videos are six times more likely to be retweeted than photos and three times more likely to be retweeted than GIFs, according to Twitter.

If you want to start creating social videos, here’s our video marketing guide on creating epic content on Facebook, Twitter, and more.

The 4:1 Strategy

Now that you know what works, you can place these different types of updates into a consistent strategy. One of my favorite systems is the one used by Buffer’s co-founder Joel Gascoigne. It works like this:

  1. Start with the basic six types of updates we all post: Links, videos, images, quotes, reshares, plain-text updates
  2. Choose a “staple” update, a single type that will make up the majority of your shares
  3. Create a 4:1 ratio of sharing: for every four “staple” updates, publish one different type for variety

This way your followers know what to expect from you, and you can hone your sharing to a specific type, making it easier to perfect and experiment.

(Note: You might not want to post the exact same updates across each of your social networks. Adopt a cross-posting strategy that considers each platform's uniqueness and its audience.)

How often should you be posting?

There’s been a lot of interesting data out there about how often to post to social media. Some of the factors that might impact your specific sharing frequency may include your industry, your reach, your resources, and the quality of your updates. The social network you’re using will also have its best practices.

If people love your updates, you can typically always get away with posting more.

For a specific number, here are some guidelines we’ve put together based on some really helpful research into how often to post on social media.

  • Twitter – Three to fifteen times per day
  • TikTok – Three times a day
  • Instagram – Once or twice per day
  • Instagram Stories – Eight to 16 Stories, twice per week
  • LinkedIn – Once a day
  • Pinterest – Three to ten times per day
  • Facebook – Thrice a week
how often to post on social media

When should you be posting?

Here’s an overview of what they found regarding timing (all times are Eastern Time).

  • Twitter –Mondays and Thursdays at 8am
  • Facebook – Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday between 9am to 1pm
  • LinkedIn – Tuesday and Wednesday at 9am
  • Instagram – Tuesday between 11am to 2pm is the most ideal time
  • Pinterest – Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday between 1-2pm
  • TikTok – Any day between 2 am to 12 pm is ideal
best time to post on social media

I would recommend experimenting with these times (in your local time) and a few randomly-picked times as you’re starting out.

Once you have been posting for a while, you can use your own data and tools like Instagram Insights and Followerwonk to find your brand’s best time to post and refine your posting strategy.

Step 5: Analyze, test, and iterate

social media analysis

Remember how we talked about social media sharing being a very individual, specific endeavor? Your stats will likely start to bear this out.

The more you post, the more you’ll discover which content, timing, and frequency is right for you.

How will you know? It’s best to get a social media analytics tool. Most major social networks will have basic analytics built into the site; it’s just a little easier to seek and find this information from an all-encompassing dashboard.

These tools (I’ll use Buffer’s analytics as an example) can show you a breakdown of how each post performed in the critical areas of views, clicks, shares, Likes, and comments.

Top post in Buffer

Which social media stats are best? We’ve gained some insight from looking at each of these main statistics and the composite engagement statistic on a per-post basis. The resulting stat gives us a great look, over time, of how our social media content tends to perform, and we can then test and iterate from there.

Here’s one way to analyze your performance.

  • Set a benchmark. After two weeks or a month of sharing, you can go back through your stats and find the average engagement rate per post. This'll be your benchmark going forward. Remember to revisit and update this number as your following and influence grow.
  • Test something new. Avoid getting stuck in your ways – social media is dynamic and you should be too. We're open to testing just about anything at Buffer and find ourselves trying new things and adapting our strategy based on the success of our experiments.
  • Did it work? Check the stats from your test versus the stats of your benchmark. if your test performed well, then you can implement the changes into your refular strategy. And once your test is over, repeat!

Step 6: Automate, engage, and listen

The final piece of a social media marketing plan involves having a system you can follow to help you stay on top of updates and engage with your community.

To start with, automate the posting of your social media content.

Tools like Buffer allow you to create all the content you want to, all at once, and then place everything into a queue to be sent out according to your schedule. Automation is the secret weapon for consistently excellent sharing day after day.

Your plan doesn’t end with automation, though. Social media requires engagement, too.

When people talk to you, talk back. Set aside time during your day to follow up with conversations that are happening on social media. These are conversations with potential customers, references, friends, and colleagues. They’re too important to ignore.

One way to stay up on all the conversations that are happening around you and your company is to create a system for listening and engaging. Tools like Buffer and Mention will collect all social media mentions and comments on your posts in a single place, where you can quickly reply to your followers.

What would you share with someone new to social media?

Creating a social media marketing plan is an excellent step toward diving into social. If social media looks thrilling and overwhelming all at once, start with a plan. Once you see the blueprint in front of you, it’s a little easier to see what lies ahead.

  1. Pick your networks
  2. Fill out your info
  3. Find your voice
  4. Choose your strategy
  5. Analyze and test
  6. Automate and engage


How did you develop your social media strategy? I’d love to keep the conversation going on Twitter @buffer!

This post was originally published on July 16, 2014. We updated it with new research, statistics, and a cool new infographic on September 2017. We updated it again in October 2022.
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