Six Steps to Building a Sustainable, Multi-Platform Social Media Calendar

Social media is inescapable anymore. How do you use it effectively as an ongoing part of your work in the public or social sectors? Too often, social media suffers from inappropriate or inconsistent use of content or platform. Follow these six steps to establish a social media calendar and process to generate consistent results in support of your mission and goals.

Step One:  Know Your Audience

When deciding to adopt a long-term promotional activity like social media, always start with the end in mind. What are you trying to achieve? Keep your goals for social media aligned with the mission and strategy of your organization.

Possible goals for using social media include

  • Bringing clients to your product or service
  • Attracting donors
  • Encouraging volunteers
  • Recruiting staff
  • Engaging with media, influencers and thought leaders
  • Influencing policy

Each of these goals involves persuading an different audience to adopt a different behavior or idea.

Step Two: Pick Your Social Media Platforms

You have multiple social media platforms at your disposal including Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, Pinterest, Snapchat, and a host of others. Which one(s) should your social media calendar and process focus on?

You need to use the platforms that your audiences use, not the ones that are trendy or that you know the best. How do you find out what platforms your audiences are using? There are a couple ways of finding out:

  • You could ask your audience, either through a formal survey or through informal conversations.
  • If a platform allows it, you can search by audience attributes or keywords such as job titles, and see who shows up.

Here’s an example. At one job, I was trying to reach directors and vice presidents of utilities and persuade them to investigate buying our software. I knew this audience to be older and more risk-averse than your average social media users. That narrowed our list of platforms down to LinkedIn and Twitter. The search functions of those platforms helped us learn that only half our audience used LinkedIn, and hardly any used Twitter. We focused our main social media work on LinkedIn. On Twitter, we instead spoke to the media and industry analysts who used that platform.

Step Three: Use Themes, Topics and Forms

Here’s where you put audience and platform together. What topics does a specific audience care about, how do those topics relate to your social media goals, and how can those topics be best portrayed on the social media platform that the audience is using?

Every organization in every sector has some core themes. When I was working in the utilities field, core topics included safety, reliability, sustainability and cost. We all expect our utility service to be totally safe, totally reliable, non-toxic, and as inexpensive as possible. That’s the worldview of executives at utilities. As long as I addressed one or more of those themes, I was speaking the language of my audience.

Topics are categories of information related to a theme. Here are some types of topics you can use on social media:

  • Interview
  • How-to
  • Best practice
  • Villain / victim / hero
  • Behind the scenes
  • Meet the staff
  • Q&A
  • Upcoming Events
  • In the News
  • From our CEO

Forms are how your present topics, and include print, audio, video,  and graphics such as photos and infographics. For example, on the topic of safety, you can create social media content from an interview with a safety officer, share best practice information to prevent accidents, take questions from the audience, announce an upcoming training, and publish a letter from the CEO.

Some forms work better on some social media platforms. For instance, I think that video works better on YouTube and Facebook than on Twitter and LinkedIn.

Pro Tip: Remember the 80/20 Rule of Social Media

At least 80 percent of your content needs to address the concerns and interests of your audience, and no more than 20 percent of your content should be direct promotion of your organization’s goods and services. Remember, this is a social context, and no one likes that person who talks only about themselves in social contexts. Don’t be that person.

Step Four: Pick a Social Media Publishing Schedule and Stick To It

How often should you post social media content? Frequency is good, but consistency and predictability may be better. One post every Tuesday is a better schedule than either spurts of daily activity followed by periods of silence, or posting only when you think you have something to say.

Pace yourself, is what I’m saying. Establish a pace that you can maintain and that your audience finds useful.

Step Five: Put It All Together In A Social Media Calendar and Process

Here’s how to build, populate, and implement your calendar grid:

  1. Make the rows your time periods, typically days of the week or weeks in the month.
  2. Make the columns the platforms that you’re using to reach your audiences.
  3. Fill the cells of your grid with the topic and form of content you’re going to post. Days of the week could have consistent topics, such as Tuesday Q&A or Friday Video How-To.
    • First put in your no-more-than-20-percent promotional content for the week, month, or quarter. You want to make sure that this gets done, that it’s evenly spaced, and that you start in plenty of time to impact product, service, and event launches.
    • Next, fill in with your 80 percent of industry-themed content that’s of interest to your audience.

Step Six: Measure

Social media platforms give you ways to measure how many people see, read, and engage with your content. Learn them and use them. This will tell you what’s working and what’s not. Measuring helps you refine what you publish, for whom, and where and when you publish it.

Follow these steps, and you’ll have a social media calendar and process for easily generating content to sustain your social media efforts, knowing that your work is aligned with your organizational mission and strategy.

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