This article originally ran in 2019 and is part of our annual countdown of the most-viewed stories from PR Daily.
PR pros agree that social media is vital to their work.
Your social media channels are a crucial part of your content distribution strategy and an important way to stay connected to your consumer base. These tools have their own letter (S) in the PESO model—designating paid, earned, shared and owned media—which many PR pros have adopted amid tectonic shifts in the media landscape.
However, industry insiders will tell you that it isn’t enough to blurt your thoughts onto your Facebook page and wait for consumers to click. With changing algorithms and the shrinking organic reach found across all platforms, your strategy has to be targeted and specific, or you won’t see results.
Even if you do get results, you have to validate them to your bosses and clients, or you risk losing budget dollars.
So, how do you keep it all straight?
It starts with a social media editorial calendar. This calendar should track your organization’s goals for its online channels and help you schedule daily posts to ensure the optimal content mix.
First things first
Before you start frittering away your hours crafting witty jokes to share on Twitter, you have to identify your social media goals.
For many communicators, social media is primarily a tool for raising awareness and driving a public conversation about your brand and products or services. In Sprout Social’s 2019 Social Media Index, 70% of marketers say raising awareness is their top goal. Almost two-thirds (60%) call interaction with customers a success.
Other top goals include sales and lead generation, increasing community engagement, growing your audience, and increasing web traffic. The prevailing objective: getting your message in front of new people.
Kathleen Mudge, a social media manager with the Cisco Live Social Team and winner of PR Daily’s Digital Marketing & Social Media Award for Best Use of Twitter, says her calendar is built around key launches of the year, including Cisco’s big yearly event “Cisco Live.”
Activations for the event had four goals: building awareness, bridging the gap between in-person event attendees and virtual participants, encouraging on-site conversation, and enriching the overall event experience.
Based on those goals, Mudge built a full-year content calendar for her channels.
“Our Cisco Live social media communities strive to be a valuable resource for everyone participating all year long, not just during the event,” she says “The event lasts five days, and we want the networking, friendships and all of the brainpower resources to last long after the event concludes.”
Casey O’Looney, senior manager of global marketing for Cisco Live, says the Cisco Live team has seen extraordinary success in creating community for its attendees.
“One of the things that has proven so successful for us is that our social media has created such a community for attendees,” says O’Looney. “They have created this amazing community for people and ask each other questions all year round. Kathleen [Mudge] runs a social media hub on-site [at the event], and it becomes a real meeting spot for attendees.”
The community of users does more than just help boost the team’s messages.
“The community drives what kinds of content we post,” says O’Looney. She says one of the main goals for their social media strategy is to share content that “is enticing to attendees that they will respond to and share.” She says that could be milestones, such as the event’s annual launch, or announcing speakers that will headline the event.
Mudge says she loves that the campaigns have created a community of online users.
“Attendees often site examples of reaching out on Twitter with an engineering challenge and hearing back immediately from their #CLUS community with solutions,” she adds. “We love to hear that.”
Decide up front what you hope your campaign will achieve, and put things in measurable terms.
I want the campaign to get people talking about my product.
That’s a fine place to start, but it doesn’t spell out specifics.
I want to post a picture of customers enjoying our product every day for a year.
The Barcelona Principles say this is a bad way to go about your campaign. Instead, focus on the outcome you seek.
I want to generate a 10% increase in web traffic and 15% increase in sales from this campaign.
This kind of guiding principle will tell you what to measure and will hold you accountable for the money you will spend promoting your content on a social media platform.
Keith Pillow, founder and CEO of Caddy Marketing, says creating a successful calendar requires knowing several things up front, such as “the content types (e.g., photos, videos, event listings, polls, etc.) which engage a brand’s audience the most; the optimal content distribution frequency on a daily basis; and the dayparts during which a company’s social media followers are most active—and vocal.”
Be prepared to do research.
“It starts with a strong, organized, shared calendar that works for everyone on a particular team,” says Laura Bedrossian, vice president of social strategy at Hot Paper Lantern. “Calendars should be informed with research, analytics, trending topics/news, and client preferences to drive what’s included and how we optimize.”
Pillow also honors clients’ traditions. “If there are certain regular features my client employs, such as #TravelTuesday or #ThrowbackThursday, I make sure to include those posts on the calendar for the days in question,” he says. “I structure each social media content calendar in such a way so it can be easily modified on the fly if some forms of content are not resonating with the client’s customers, or if the company needs to promote specific products or services to boost sales.”
Set your budget
Gone are the days of free social media successes. In today’s landscape, regardless of platform, there is going to be a price to target your audience and boost your reach.
“While most calendars focus on organic content distribution, I also build select boosted posts/paid ads into the schedule to ensure those pieces of content are getting the eyeballs they deserve,” says Pillow.
Don’t have a budget? That’s OK, according to Mudge.
“When I do have ad dollars, Facebook works well with all the targeting features, but 99% of the time my efforts are organic,” she says.
Pick your platform
Know where your audience is spending its time. Plenty of studies can help you identify your best option. Younger demographics prefer Instagram and Snapchat. Others see big wins on Twitter.
One thing to note: Facebook is still dominant. As PR Daily previously reported:
Despite recent scandals that have rocked the social media industry (data misuse, election tampering, hate speech and fake news), Facebook still holds the prime position for social media marketers. Marketers report overwhelmingly using Facebook to represent their organizations (89%), and consumers are most likely to follow their favorite brands on that platform (66%).
However, marketers are struggling with the loss of organic reach on Facebook due to algorithm changes.
Pillow says the answer to Facebook’s new algorithm is to pony up the cash.
“I advise clients they need to add paid social to the mix, even on a limited basis, to ensure their more important content garners the attention it deserves,” he says.
However, organizations can still get free wins with stellar content that fills an audience’s needs.
“In certain instances, some of our clients with robust social media audiences are able to secure very high levels of organic reach and engagement simply by knowing their customers extremely well and regularly serving up compelling content which goes viral,” Pillow adds.
Other marketers advocate for looking at other social media channels.
“Twitter rules for our community and produces the best results in terms of Cisco Live registrations,” says Mudge. “Instagram provides the highest engagements, but it’s a smaller slice of our social community pie currently, but it’s growing faster than any other group. Our Facebook community continues to grow, but the growth has declined significantly in the past year.”
Pillow says, “While the exact platform mix varies from company to company, depending on where their customers are most active, I’ve found that most brands tend to focus on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube.”
Pillow adds that the platform of choice usually is dictated by your audience. “Our B2B clients tend to want more activity on LinkedIn, where sales prospects can be better engaged and targeted. Other clients, particularly those in the B2C realm, want a Snapchat or TikTok presence to capture the attention of younger consumers.”
O’Looney agrees that Facebook and other platforms are limiting organic reach. “You can’t blame them for trying to monetize their platforms,” she says, “and we continue to post on all those platforms and will continue to have a place there.” She says that because of how the algorithm has changed, their posts on Facebook must be perfectly targeted.
She also suggests that brand managers follow their customers. “Our attendees are shifting to Twitter to have the conversation,” she says, but concedes there is an ongoing debate about whether to invest in Facebook with paid posts.
“If we have something to share that is really important, we will spend a little,” she says. However, she says that livestreams on Facebook still pack a punch for frugal communicators. “When we livestream, if someone has followed our accounts, they will get that at the top of their feed,” she says.
How often should you post?
This will depend on your goals and content mix, but there are general rules about where to start. Some marketers adhere to the 80/20 rule that says 80% of your content should inform and educate consumers and 20% should promote your business. Others argue that model is outdated.
How much you post depends on what platform you choose to use, and the timeliness of your subject matter. This infographic from Constant Contact offers basic rules for posting to Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Pinterest.
Perhaps the biggest note here is the difference between Facebook and Twitter. On Facebook, posting 10 times a week is sufficient, but on Twitter the graphic recommends upward of five times a day.
Mudge agrees that you should follow different rules for different platforms.
“During the year, I target posting three times a day during the ‘off’ period, and it builds as we approach the event,” she says. “During the event, I’m posting on Twitter multiple times an hour, Facebook about once an hour, Instagram a couple times a day and LinkedIn (we have a Cisco Live group) and Snapchat as time permits, as they are a lower priority during the event.
“Snapchat is always a lower priority, as it doesn’t match our audience demographics,” she adds, “but we are always looking to target a younger crowd.”
Find the right tool
Every communicator has a favorite tool for managing social media content.
For Mudge, the platform is Sprinklr. “A group monitoring tool is essential, particularly onsite when we try to engage with as many people participating in the #CLUS conversation as possible,” she says. “With over 74,000 total mentions for the Cisco Live event this past June, we need a tool to assign social media posts and engage effectively as a team.”
“The content-scheduling feature is also essential,” Mudge adds. “We had just under 1,000 pre-schedule posts over seven days leading up to and during the event covering all of the Cisco Live social media communities.”
For Pillow, the best tools are Hootsuite and Buffer. “We’re big fans of Hootsuite and Buffer for social media content development and scheduling, and good old Excel for easily creating, color-coding and modifying content calendars,” he says.
“Since many clients need significant help in this area—which is why they turn to practitioners like us—it’s our experience that simple, easy-to-use, cost-effective tools which provide solid analytics and reporting capabilities are best.”
Other tools like PromoRepublic, Canva and RelayThat can be used to create images and designs for visually-oriented platforms like Instagram. Remember not to share any content that you do not own. Linking to another website is OK, but why spend your days boosting traffic to someone else’s website?
OK, but what goes on the calendar?
Think about your specific needs to stay organized. Do you need reminders? How much lead time do you need for content?
If you are still stuck, this infographic from Quicksprout can get you started.