The key ingredient for great social media marketing? A great social media marketing strategy.
Venturing into social media marketing without a strategy is like wandering into the unknown without a destination in mind — never mind a map to help you get there. If you don't know the basics: your goals, target audience, the kind of content that will resonate with them, you’ll be directionless. It’ll be impossible to know how your social media marketing efforts are meaningfully contributing to your business, if at all.
In other words: Random acts of content = random results. So whether you want to grow your brand or level up as a marketer, developing a social media marketing strategy is essential. Here’s one way to do it — in five steps.
Social media marketing strategy vs. social media marketing plan
Some social media experts will advocate for a separate social media marketing strategy and social media marketing plan. The idea is that a strategy is where you’re headed, and a plan is how you’ll get there.
However, at Buffer, we prefer to work with a combination approach — our social media strategy contains much more than just high-level goals (though we do have separate plans for specific marketing campaigns where we get more granular).
Every company and seasoned marketer will have a different methodology. Some may prefer an all-encompassing document like the one I’ll walk you through here. In contrast, others might want to zoom in on specific platforms and develop a Facebook marketing strategy or Instagram marketing strategy.
But the method I’ll be outlining here is my favorite. It’s straightforward but will help you create a comprehensive, actionable document to set you on the road to success in social media.
How to create a social media marketing strategy
The foundation of this approach is these five questions or the 5Ws:
Why do you want to be on social media?
Who is your target audience?
What are you going to share?
Where are you going to share?
When are you going to share?
Social media marketing strategy template
To help you create your strategy, I’ve pulled all the guidance in this article into a lightweight social media marketing strategy template.
To use this Notion template, duplicate it in your own Notion space. You could also copy the text, paste it into your documentation tool of choice, and fill it out there. (Don’t worry, we won’t ask for your email or anything!)
Keep this article open as you work through this social media strategy template: all the paragraphs contain important context and guidance to help you make the most out of the template.
Template at the ready? Let’s get to work.
5 steps to creating a social media marketing strategy
1. Why does your business want to be on social media?
The very first question to answer is the ‘why.’ Are you on social media to promote your products to new customers? To drive traffic to your website? Or to serve your customers? Your social media goals should tie into your overarching business goals to ensure you see a return on investment (ROI) on your social media presence.
You’ll likely have more than one social media goal, and that’s fine. Generally, it’s great to focus on just a handful of goals unless you have a team where certain people or groups can be responsible for specific goals.
For example, at Buffer, the marketing team uses social media both to increase our brand awareness and drive traffic to our content. Our Advocacy team uses social media to provide timely customer support.
You’ve likely heard of SMART goals — there’s a reason this old business school chestnut is still a strategy staple. They help you set defined, measurable goals that will deliver a return on investment (ROI).
SMART goals are:
Specific: What are you trying to achieve on social media? e.g., Increase brand awareness, drive traffic to your website, generate leads, or increase signups/sales.
Measurable: How will you measure whether or not you have been successful? What metrics will you use? e.g., An X percent increase in followers or subscribers, a Y percent increase in engagement rate, or a Z percent increase in click-through rate.
Attainable: Are your goals actually achievable? e.g., Growing a new YouTube channel to 5,000 subscribers within a month might not be realistic if you’re new to video.
Relevant: Are your goals in line with your high-level business objectives?
Time-bound: What is your deadline for achieving your goals? It might make sense to work in quarters or months.
2. Who is your target audience?
Once you have figured out your ‘why,’ it’s time to tackle ‘who’: your target audience.
Understanding the demographics of your target audience will help you refine your social media direction, the types of content you should be sharing, and when you will be sharing it.
A great exercise to try here is to build marketing personas.There are plenty of ways to do this, but my favorite approach is (again!) to lean on the five Ws, with one H thrown in for good measure. (Also, there are two ‘Whats’ in this list, but who is counting?)
Who are they? (e.g., job title, age, gender, salary, location, etc.)
What are they interested in that you can provide? (e.g., entertainment, educational content, case studies, information on new products, etc.)
What goals and challenges do they have? (Ideally, this will be one your content or company can help them achieve or solve.)
Where do they usually hang out online? (e.g., TikTok, Instagram, etc., or niche platforms)
When do they look for the type of content you can provide? (e.g., weekends, during their daily commute, etc.)
Why do they consume the content? (e.g., to get better at their job, become healthy, stay up to date with something, etc.)
How do they consume the content? (e.g., read social media posts, watch videos, etc.)
You likely don’t have to start from scratch. If your business has been running for a while, you probably already know your target audience well.
Pro tip: Connect with your sales team and your customer support, success, or advocacy team at this step. They are on the front lines with customers and potential customers every day and will be able to paint the most precise picture of who your business should be talking to.
If you want to go the extra mile, you can set up one-on-one calls with current customers that fit your ideal customer profile (ICP) to learn more about them. You can ask them all of the questions above.
3. What are you going to share on social media?
Comprehensive answers to Step 2 above will go a long way in helping you pinpoint exactly what kind of content will most resonate with your audience on social media.
With all that in mind, it’s time to define your social media content pillars.
A content pillar is a central theme or topic you want to focus on in your content and become known to your audience on social media — you’ll likely have several of them, and they may differ slightly from platform to platform. Having a handful of pillars is perfectly fine, as it gives you the space to share a range of high-quality content to keep your audience engaged without being seemingly unfocused.
A good understanding of your target audience is essential when pinpointing your content pillars. When you created your marketing personas, you asked what goals or challenges your audience has — much of the content you create should help them achieve or solve those goals.
At this point in your social strategy planning, conducting a competitive analysis is a great idea. Effectively, this involves evaluating the social media platforms of other businesses like yours. What platforms are they using? What are they doing that works? Which content types are most successful? Have they made mistakes you can learn from? Are they leaning into influencer marketing? Answering these questions and more can be immensely helpful as you build out your strategy.
4. Where are you going to share?
The next step is to determine where you will post content. In other words, which social media platforms does your brand want to be on?
Our guide to the top social media sites to consider for your brand has more than 20 platforms — but fear not — you certainly don’t need to be active on all of them. But how many should you choose?
In this #AskBuffer article, one of our readers asked precisely that: How many social media platforms should a small business be active on? The answer, of course, is: “It depends,” — but deciding which ones to prioritize starts with understanding where you’re most likely to find your target audience.
Here’s a high-level overview of the demographics of each of the most popular social media sites for social media marketing:
51.8 percent men, 48.2 percent women
Dominant age group: 18 - 24 years (closely followed by 25 - 34-year-olds)
X (formerly Twitter)
Understanding your target audience will come in handy when deciding where to share. Which platforms is your target audience most active on? What makes them visit that platform? For example, teenagers and young adults might like scrolling through TikTok when bored to see what their friends are doing or what products their favorite creator is using.
Understanding the algorithms of your chosen platforms will help you pinpoint what kind of content to post, along with the best content formats. So, it’s worth revisiting your content pillars once you have nailed down which social channels to focus on.
Finally, consider smaller, niche platforms, too. For example, Zwift, a multiplayer online cycling training software company, has started a club on Strava, a social network for athletes. Their club has more than 57,000 cyclists, and thousands engage with their posts on Strava.
In recent months, a host of X (Twitter) competitors sprung up in reaction to the changes to the platform. Mastodon and Bluesky are increasingly popular, though they don’t quote boast the monthly active users (MAU) of the biggest social networks just yet. But if that’s where your target audience spends their time, building a following on the platforms is a no-brainer.
5. When are you going to share?
Setting up a content calendar, even if it’s just a high-level overview at this point, is an important stress test for your content strategy.
Seeing a bird’s eye view of how your plan will look in action will help you uncover any potential pitfalls early. For example, have you overcommitted on the number of social platforms you’ve chosen? Will the content pillars you’ve identified yield enough ideas to maintain momentum?
Social media content calendar
A social media content calendar is crucial for any social media manager — particularly if you’re juggling multiple accounts. It helps formalize the process of creating and publishing content by giving you a structured schedule to work with.
With any luck, all your content pillar planning has sparked many great content ideas that you’re eager to get mapped onto your shiny new calendar. But before you do that, I’d advise getting these essential things noted down first:
Product/service launches or announcements you have in the coming months. You may want to steer clear of any other major posts on our around these dates so as not to detract from your company’s news. You’ll need to start planning digital marketing campaigns around these launches.
If you have a content marketing team, any new resources they’ll be putting out — this is an excellent source of social content inspiration and a great way to provide value to your audience.
Holidays your target audience celebrates. These will significantly impact engagement as people are much less likely to be online if they’re celebrating or relaxing with friends and family. For example, at Buffer, we avoid big announcements or high-value social posts during periods like Thanksgiving.
Now, you can begin to map out your posting schedule. As you get more granular in planning your content, it’s worth researching the best time(s) to post.
Before deciding which time of the day and days of the week you want to post, consider the behaviors of your target audience.
When do they usually use social media to find the type of content that you’ll share?
Here are some examples to consider:
Sports fans are likely on social media just before, during, and just after sports events to find and interact with content about the event.
Athletes might be on Instagram while cooling down after their morning or evening workouts.
People who love to travel might be more active on social media during the weekends when planning their next trip (or during their work breaks, dreaming about their next trip).
Mothers of babies might be scrolling through social media when breastfeeding in the middle of the night.
You might have inferred from these few examples that there might not be a universal best time to post — but it depends on your audience. So, for this step, start by focusing on the general behavior patterns of your target audience.
When you have created your social media marketing strategy, you can find your brand’s best time to post through experimentation.
Now it’s time to execute — and analyze
The good news: your social media strategy is ready to be moved into the implementation phase. In other words, it’s time to put all those big plans into action.
But that doesn’t mean your social media strategy is ‘done.’ It likely never will be. In this next phase, you’ll keep a close eye on those social media analytics you pinpointed in Step 1 as part of your SMART goals. These goals and metrics will be your north star, helping you identify whether or not your social media tactics have been successful — and when you may need to go back to the drawing board.
This is where a social media marketing tool like Buffer will come in handy, particularly if you have multiple platforms to manage.
With Buffer, you’ll have a single dashboard for all your social media analytics and reporting. It’ll give you insights on post engagement, the best time and post frequency for your business, plus more details on your audience demographics.
One final point before we go: your strategy will never really be ‘done.’ You will build on, refine, and iterate on it as you build your social media channels and presence. So, your final step in creating a social media strategy is this: set a reminder to revisit your strategy every quarter — and do just that.