Despite being more befitting of a Luddite than someone living in the digital age, the phrase putting the cart before the horse is a perfect description of the approach many take with social media.

It’s an incredibly valuable resource for any business. Yet, like most things in life, you only get out of it what you put into it. So what should you invest in your social media programme?

Often a question that many businesses do not adequately answer, hence why they approach it with a mixture of fear, trepidation, and confusion.

There is often little middle ground. It’s either apprehensive toe dipping, or being possessed by an unseen madcap force, that can pressure you into posting content without really considering what you want to say about your company.

The bottom line is that if you don’t fully understand what your business wants to achieve then it’s unlikely that you will find yourself getting anything out of social media.

Before you start planning towards deciding what social platform you may want to use – and way before you’ve decided the tone and style of content you’re going to post – you need to be aware that:

  • Social media takes effort
  • Consistency is the name of the game
  • Posting content will not be like turning on a tap to increased sales
  • You need goals and KPIs – if not, how can you measure if what you’re doing is effective?

There’s no hiding from the fact that it will take time and patience to get a social media programme working effectively. If you don’t accept the effort required, then you won’t cut through the noise from your competitors or be able to engage with your target audience. This is the first stage of the sales process – building awareness, trust, and rapport. In this respect, social media can prove to be a mighty ally.

So let’s address the first point: effort. Investing time and thought in clarifying your business goals and what you’re looking to achieve over the short, medium, and long term is the foundation to a successful programme. When you begin to plan content you’ll be looking to trace everything you post back to your business goals. You want a clear idea of why you’ve posted what you have and what the posts are looking to achieve. With this in mind, you will be able to measure the effectiveness of your activity.

Define your target audience. You need to have a clear idea of who you are talking to and who you want to attract to your business’s messaging.

So where do you talk to these people? Pick a platform and hope for the best? It depends on your business, who you want to connect with, and what you’re looking to say. The needs of a b2b and a b2c will be wildly different and this will have a big influence on your decision on whether LinkedIn or Facebook, for example, will be the best platform for your business.

Another point on effort: if you’re starting from scratch, don’t hedge your bets and plump for spreading your chips across three of four platforms. The key advice is to start with one platform, look to make it work, and advance from there. If it doesn’t work, you make a move. Trying to post to multiple platforms all in one go, unless you have the resources to back this, will likely result in an unsuccessful programme. It could be pretty morale-sapping too.

This is where there needs to be the consideration for consistency. Whatever your goals, whatever platform(s) you have chosen, you need to post consistently. Build expectancy among your audience. Get them to know when you’re going to deliver content. Without planning, and the discipline to deliver consistent content, it’s easy to miss a week, and for that week to become a month, and so on … and on … and on. Companies that deliver sporadic content end up with pages that cloud customer perception of your business.

Go into social media with your eyes wide open: a successful programme needs a strategy; a successful strategy needs to be planned; and a successful plan needs to be consistently followed.

Tether the horse and don’t go galloping off until you know where you want to go. Do that and you certainly won’t need to worry about that pesky cart either.