How to create a great social media content schedule

Yeah that's right, I'm doin' that.

I often run into examples of poorly executed social media "programs". Generally this comes from a highly undervalued view of social media, poor planning and an under-estimation of the complexity of the channels.

Quite often this will lead to an inconsistent and off-topic communication plan when it comes to talking to your fans or brand advocates through social media channels. Here are a few things I see happen all the time:

  1. You talk endlessly about yourself, your product and special offers. You're talking at your consumers, fans, brand advocates not to them.
  2. You talk endlessly about completely off-topic content. Try to be relevant to your brand values.
  3. You are always borrowing the content of others. You have content in your business, I know you do. Now use it.
I'm going to give you some insight into a process I've used over the years at both Honeypot Marketing and ArtBarn Media in order to put together a simple, effective and organized social media communications program.
Step #1 - Define your company (brand) values. 
This is not a complex or overly difficult thing to do. In 3-5 simple words or basic statements describe what you stand for and what makes your company or you different. What's it all about?
Let's use the simple example of Bob's Restaurant.  It's a mid-range restaurant in a small urban center of 130,000 people, the market is competitive but Bob's been at this for 35 years. It's a family owned business with a loyal following, Bob is passionate about his work and the food that is produced. There is a focus on local suppliers, fresh daily specials and events which are catered and also regularly occurring weekly events.
At the most atomic and basic level, the things that make Bob's Restaurent different are in fact: food, events, people, environment. We're avoiding complexity and intentionally keeping it simple.
Step #2 - Expand on your values...
Now let's dig a little bit deeper (but not too much) into what those atomic brand and company statements mean...
  • Food - the food is made fresh everyday, daily specials are always unique, the ingredients are from local suppliers, the chef puts creativity into every special and plate.
  • Events - events are unique and frequent, from daily events to special events we are always dedicated to creating amazing experiences for all of our guests.
  • People - our staff are the heart and soul of our business, we care about each other and work hard to make our workplace fun and exciting even though it can be stressful at times.
  • Environment - we've spent years, countless hours and invested in the ambiance of our business, we are always looking to make our restaurant feel like home, a comfortable atmosphere where our customers are comfortable and welcomed.
Step #3 - Build a content plan based on your values.
Okay, we're getting there! Now that we've laid out our company in a simple and concise manner we can build out a content plan that makes sense. We're going to build content and messaging that always supports the values above and communicates these to our fans on all of the social networks we are engaged with daily.
When building out a content plan it's very important to plan, create and schedule. This will ensure that you're not running around every day trying to create content in an ad-hoc and chaotic manner. We're going to use photos, videos and small stories to communicate the points in Step #2 in a casual, fun and engaging manner.
  • Food - we're going to take 50 pictures of all of our menu items, the chef is going to give us a brief description of each and what makes it unique.
  • Events - we know that 50% of our events are planned. We're going to use the creative we've already made, take photos at the events and also re-use photos from our previous events.
  • People - we're going to take short videos and take pictures of our staff. We want to tell their story and we also are going to take pictures of staff in their environment and show some behind the scenes peeks for our customers.
  • Environment - we're going to take some pictures of our restaurant, the ambiance and tell our story. How did we get here? What did we do that was a challenge? We want our customers to understand and feel the same passion we feel for this business.
Step #4 - Pick a couple of days and get that content together!
Get a decent camera and video camera, plan out a couple of days and then simply build out a database of the content in Step #3. Use Flickr to store photos, load up videos on YouTube and get all of your content organized.
This is not a huge job, especially considering that we're building out a schedule that we can then have posting to our social media profiles on a regular basis. By doing this all at once you can work it into your workflow once a month or every 6 weeks. It will be very manageable, trust me. :)
Step #5 - Use a social media management software package.
I prefer Hootsuite for it's ability to tie into multiple social networks, multiple team member support, scheduling and authorizing posts. The most important thing here is the scheduling portion. Take a few hours and write your content, lay it out so that you're posting your content at the appropriate time of day and also planning it out so you're not flooding the channels all at once.
If you've never done this before then use your intuition on the most effective time of day to post content, social media isn't magic, it's a channel that allow you to talk directly to your customers and potential customers and allows them to talk back. Using the restaurant example above, posting food features 1 hour before lunch or dinner would be a logical and intuitive place to start.
Once you got some analytics data, you can then go back and start to see what content, what voice, what time of day and what rich media is the most engagig to your fans. You can revise all of this in fairly short order.
Step #6 - Implement your schedule and prepare for real time posting!
Congratulations! You've just off-loaded 60%-70% of the daily overhead of your social media program. Now you can focus on the real-time updates, cool events that happen and monitor your channels to provide responses to inquiries.
Your messaging will be on point and relevant to your business without being too blunt or being so completely off-topic that you're simply adding to the white noise of social networks. You'll be engaging and unique to your customers (turning them into brand advocates) and will give you the opportunity to reach into their networks naturally.
How can you prepare for real-time posting? Make sure you and/or your staff have capable smart phones and are comfortable with providing updates, photos and discussion with your customers. Be prepared, because the more successful you are with your social media program the more prepared you will have to be to respond to your networks.
Wrapping it up.
There's alot more to your social media plan than I've covered here. Landing pages, contests, engagement strategies, partnership programs and more advanced content campaigns are all a part of  a highly successful social media plan that doesn't suck.
The goal of this post is to give you a head start when implementing your own social media plan and community management. It's an important first step as it provides the organization and foundation to move into more advanced and effective program elements.
Social media marketing will lift your business, doesn't matter if you're a large enterprise or a local small business. Hopefully the simple steps above give you a jump start into your social media planning.

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