Don’t put the social media cart before the brand strategy horse.

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To excel at social media, you must be a social media expert, right? While this is true in some respects, having narrow social media knowledge can also be limiting. A social media-only focus can actually hold back your social media strategy from reaching its full potential. You are building more than a social media presence — you are building a brand. Social media is not an end unto itself. Vanity metrics — followers and likes — may be early indicators of good content, but the true test of social media is business impact. Management will eventually stop paying for social media activity that doesn’t lead to bottom line action.

Despite the hype, spending on social media has failed to live up to expectations. In 2017, actual social media spending was nearly half of predicted levels. This stems from a continued struggle to show the real impact of social media and to integrate social media with wider marketing strategy. CMO Survey results indicate marketers still rank social media low in its contribution to company performance (46 percent) and low in how well it is integrated with the wider marketing strategy (59 percent). Social media actions, and even plans can exist on their own, but without having an understanding of the larger marketing and business strategy behind them, they could be acting in vain. Are you putting the social media cart before the brand strategy horse?

Related: 6 Ways to Align Your Mission With Your Content Marketing Strategy

To help understand how social media fits into the bigger picture of marketing and business, consider the following key questions to help develop a basic brand understanding of your business or organization. The questions emphasize the consumer perspective which is especially important in social media. Answering these questions can help create a broader understanding of a business, its marketing and how social media contributes. They can help you gain more of a branding perspective, speak the language of business and move towards integration and improving ROI.

1. Why does the business exist?

Vision and mission matter to today’s consumers. To make money is not a sustainable answer for customers or employees. What does the company behind the product or service stand for, and where is it headed? This could be a focus on solving a greater problem or spreading a bigger message. Maybe the business supports a cause, community or the environment. Perhaps the mission is simply being the absolute best at something specific.

2. How did the business get started?

A brand’s backstory is important. People buy for rational and emotional reasons that can come from an organization’s origin story. Show the human side of the business starting in a garage, the founders investing their last five dollars or making a childhood dream come true. Perhaps an event put the cause on their heart, or something they couldn’t get as a customer motivated the creation of the company. Even large corporations can benefit by showcasing their humble roots.

3. How does the business measure success?

Business objectives are where the rubber meets the road. All marketing action, including social media, must help support business needs such as sales, average spend, market share, leads, contracts, awareness, customer satisfaction, retention, referrals, volunteer, or donations. To do this, brand building must start with specific objectives clearly defined. Make sure they are SMART:

  • Specific (quantified such as XX percent or $XX)
  • Measurable (data you can access)
  • Achievable (not too high)
  • Relevant (support vision/mission)
  • Timely (deadline like X months or X years)

Related: 5 Lessons on How You Can Deliver a Product Your Customers Actually Want

4. What does the business sell?

Don’t take knowledge of the brand’s products and services for granted. Start by literally listing every product and service offering, lines and versions. But then go further to describe each from the consumer’s perspective. What is the real value to the customer? Turn product and service features into consumer benefits. Then look for gaps in product lines and offerings from the company, but also its competitors. This can uncover key messages to emphasize and may uncover key opportunities for growth.

5. What is happening in the industry?

An industry overview provides valuable context. Is the industry and category growing or declining? What innovations and trends are important? Are there gaps in offerings? What do consumers care about most? What are their pain points, threats and opportunities? What are the consumer’s unmet needs? Once identified, clearly communicate how the brand meets these needs.

6. Who is the business trying to reach?

Be clear on the overall market and ensure you have the right target market. Don’t merely identify everyone who could possibly use the product or service. Focus limited resources on the segment with greatest possibility of return. Narrowly define the group most likely to have the unmet needs the business provides. Be specific with demographic (gender, age, income, education), psychographic (attitudes, values, lifestyle) and behavioral (products used, brand loyalty, usage) bases. Who needs the solutions the brand offers the most?

7. Who else targets this market?

Brands are evaluated by consumers against key competitors. Identify several top competitors by market share and sales in same industry and/or by replacement products and services outside the category. What do you offer that is different? Why should they pick you? With this understanding summarize the main distinctions of the brand.

Related: How to Master Social Media and Build a Real Brand

8. How can you sum up your branding strategy?

Understanding your main message focuses effort, ensures consistency and improves integration. Summarize all the answers above into a positioning statement written to the target market. Boil it all down to a main overall message. What is the essence of what the brand means to the target audience?

Now that you have a larger brand understanding, take that knowledge and apply it to current social media presence and actions. Where is the target market active in social media? Look at social networks, messaging apps, blogs/forums, ratings/reviews and podcasts. Look for ways to leverage geosocial, crowdsourcing, influencer marketing, social care, user generated content and paid social media. Identify the top social platforms for the target and then compare to the current business social media accounts. Do you need to make some adjustments based on the target market?

What about messages and content? Are you talking about the right things based on your products and services, industry and competitors? Look at business objectives. Are you driving to the right places and actions that matter? Are you telling the complete brand story? Don’t miss out on parts of the mission, vision and backstory that could drive consumer action. Finally, ensure that all social media is integrated in message, tone and look with other forms of digital and traditional marketing communication to optimize efforts. It could be a good time to perform a social media audit.

Being a better social media professional can start with improving your business intelligence and gaining a better understanding of overall branding. Having a strong foundation in branding will lead your social media activities in the right business building direction. The latest CMO Survey results indicate that the top use of social media by companies is for brand awareness and brand building. Answering these questions will increase your brand knowledge and help improve your social media strategy.

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