Chapter 2: Foundations of Social Media Communication

Why Use Social Media?

Before diving into specific strategies and tactics of social media, let’s review why social media is important to digital communication and marketing. There are many advantages to using social media for professional purposes and to promote your organization’s brand, products, services, and/or mission. Here are several areas where social media shines:

  • Connecting with New Audiences
  • Building Relationships
  • Increasing Website Traffic
  • Distributing Targeted Messages
  • Conducting Market Research
  • Sharing Expertise
  • Managing Reputation
  • Evaluating Analytics and Insights

A Six-Step Social Media Framework

6-Step Social Media Marketing Framework

This six-step framework supports your social media strategy and activities. As you learn more about digital communication, you will be presented with a variety of frameworks. Understanding the similarities and differences is important, but what you do is ultimately up to you, which may mean your own personalized framework. Used correctly, the framework will align your chosen strategies and tactics.

Step 1: Listen and Learn

Social media allows organizations to listen to their target audiences and see what they are doing. Without any prompting, organizations can listen to what their customers are saying about their needs, wants, and desires. Communicators can cut out most of the guess work.

Listening is the first place for communicators to start when developing a social media strategy. Listening is key to understanding your target audience’s perceptions on key topics:

  • Your brand, products, services, and/or mission
    Since social media conversations are happening in real-time and directly from your community, you no longer need to guess about why people are behaving a certain way; they will tell you.
  • Your competitors’ brands, products, services, and/or mission
    If you find out what your competitors are good or bad at, you can position your organization to meet some of those customer needs better. Or, perhaps, you can identify new products and services you can offer or change your mission to better fill a specific niche.
  • General topics and trends
    If you can find out what’s popular, you may be able to take advantage of emerging opportunities and generate new relationships and revenue streams.

Step 2: Define Goals, Objectives, and Target Audiences

With a well-defined scope, which includes specific goals, objectives, and target audiences, you know what you are aiming for and can put the steps in place to get there. Successful organizations know what they want to achieve and have a clear focus on goals and objectives that ultimately guides their actions.

Identifying goals, objectives, and target audiences is a critical step in getting buy-in from key decision makers, assigning resources (human, financial, and technological), and planning social media campaigns and ongoing activities. Everyone in an organization should work and plan towards achieving these goals and objectives so getting this step right and achieving buy in is important.

Social media managers should plan to complete this step collaboratively because some of the required information might exist in different areas of the organization. There are several points of information that are needed:

  • Lessons learned from the listening step of the framework: what the community is saying about your organization, your competitors, and trends
  • Audience archetypes (a.k.a. “customer personas”) and customer journey maps developed
  • Competitive intelligence learned in the listening step or through other research
  • Knowledge about the preferences of the online communities
  • Lessons learned from previous social media campaigns/ongoing activities
  • Organizational goals and objectives

If organizations don’t properly align their goals, objectives, and strategies, they will waste money, time, resources, and effort.

For a startup, this could be quite costly and, ultimately, result in going out of business. For an established organizations, this may result in losing ground to the competition, missing an important opportunity, losing key people who do not feel supported, falling stock prices, or even going out of business. It can also lead to organizations becoming reactive and developing a culture of crisis management where they are constantly putting out fires instead of planning and being proactive.

Step 3: Choose Channels

While setting goals and objectives is a critical part of planning, how you achieve them has more to do with your implementation plan. Therefore, selecting the appropriate digital channels and platforms is important to achieving those goals and objectives.

Since there are so many social media options, organizations often struggle in selecting the appropriate social media platform to use. Instead of trying to pick specific social media sites, organizations should focus on the type of social media engagement that will work best for their target audiences and build a presence on 2 – 3 platforms that support those activities and cater to those audiences. Organizations with enormous communications budgets may push into a few more, but consider that soft drink mega-giant Coca Cola shows five social media icons on their website; sports mega-giant Nike shows only four.

Step 4: Create Content

After choosing your channels, the next step in our six-step framework is content creation. After selecting the appropriate social media networks, organizations can focus on creating the content that works best for that specific channel and the target audience.

This is not about creating content for the sake of it. Think strategically about what you are trying to achieve, which should be clear after the listening stage, and then deliver content based on that. And, remember to follow a clear content strategy, calendar, and evaluation plan.

Step 5: Engage the Community

Listening is just one side of the equation. Once you have listened to your community, you will need to go out and build positive relationships that last. This is done by engaging your audiences with content they find valuable. However, simply pushing out content and hoping that your community will like, comment, and share the content is somewhat unrealistic and unproductive. To get the best out of content and to develop meaningful relationships and trust, you must meaningfully engage with your community.

Usually, the key to successful engagement is two-way conversation. Engagement can take on other forms such as sharing, liking and posting and, to a certain extent, your community will determine which form is most suitable. However, conversations lie at the heart of social media. It is a central facet: people want to talk to each other. This leads to the following questions about conversations:

  • What is a conversation?
    Simply defined, it is a dialogue between at least two people, possibly more.
  • Why are conversations important?
    Conversations communicate who we are, what our needs are, and what we feel.
  • How do conversations impact organizations?
    Conversations are not new; commerce and governance have revolved around conversations for millennia. The rules that applied to good conversation back then also apply to today’s social media business conversations. In 44 BCE, Cicero, a Roman senator, put forward the following rules for good conversation:
    1. Speak clearly.
    2. Speak easily, but not too much, give others their turn.
    3. Do not interrupt.
    4. Be courteous.
    5. Deal seriously with serious matters, gracefully with lighter ones.
    6. Never criticize people behind their backs.
    7. Stick to subjects of general interest.
    8. Do not talk about yourself.
    9. Never lose your temper.

All these rules still apply to maintaining good conversations in social media. For example, although you or your organization may want to talk about your brand, it is best to avoid direct marketing and sales via social media as part of a conversation or dialogue. If it makes sense to bring it up as part of a conversation, feel free. But, remember, no hard selling!

In addition, to Cicero’s rules for conversation, there are three more pertinent social media conversation guidelines to consider:

  1. Get to know who you are talking to. (In Chapter 8, we’ll look at audience archetypes.)
  2. Listening is more important than talking.
  3. If you’re going to be talking, have something important to say.

Again, the secret to successful conversation and engagement will be listening to your community and finding out what they like to talk about and in what manner. Knowing this, you can have more impact when to say something. As part of your content strategy, write down the tone of conversation common to your community. For example, do you want to be light and informal or are you required to be more serious and formal? Develop your conversational style according to your community.

Engagement Pyramid

Organizations should also be aware of the engagement pyramid and the passive majority. Not everyone on social media will engage. Usually, the vast majority of a community will be passive. The individuals doing the most talking represent a small percentage of your target audience. The digital team needs to be aware of this, as it will affect responses to your content, as well as engagement around your posts.

  • Passive behaviours represent the majority of people who see, view, and even read, watch, or listen to content, but choose not to comment or share. In fact, in many of the larger social networks, a good engagement level (Facebook uses the term “people talking about this”) is usually anything above 10%.
  • Active behaviours refer to the types of action most digital communicators seek: liking, commenting, and sharing. This primarily refers to the endorsers, contributors, and super fans in the pyramid. Advocates are the ones who take engagement to another level. They are the ones creating their own posts about your brand and promoting your brand to their own social networks.

The key takeaway here is that 10% may be a rough guide as to the level of engagement to expect for your content. Clearly, this will differ depending on industry and how inherently social your product is.

Also, make sure that you allow the most engaged members of your target audience to flourish. Offer them rewards and incentives for their hard work. Tell them you appreciate their efforts and give them something back in return. This could even drive user-generated content and/or competitions. Take, for example, a Pinterest competition created by Peugeot cars. In this competition, Peugeot posted pictures of cars to their Pinterest board showing tiny sections of cars. Followers then had to go to Peugeot’s Facebook page to find out which car the picture was taken from for a chance to win something.

As well as conversations, another key goal of social media is virality. Most organizations want their content to go viral. Many marketers have studied why a piece of social media content goes viral and there does not seem to be one definitive answer. However, there are some commonalities. Apparently, most viral content pieces tend to be in one or more of the following four categories:

  • Very helpful/practical
  • Unique/amazing/spectacular
  • Funny
  • Controversial

Viral content can be a combination of any of the above categories, but generally at least one is involved. However, from a business perspective, before trying to make engaging content, determine what is appropriate for your target audience. For example, while edgy and causing more buzz and reach, does a controversial video fit with your community’s sensibilities/personalities, your content strategy, and your overall brand image and personality?

During the engagement stage, organizations need to be aware of how to build and foster trust in their online relationships. To tap into virality and achieve massive reach, communicators will need to understand which content types are most likely to truly engage their target audiences.

Step 6: Measure, Analyze, and Optimize

Measuring is crucial to social media’s impact on an organization. Without measurement, there is no yardstick and no means of understanding whether activities are succeeding or not. Through analytics, surveys, and content analysis, organizations can measure the success of social media activities. Collate and collect all  data so that you can analyze whether communications succeeded. In addition to your social media analytics and insights, you will potentially need other information:

  • online web analytics
  • a timeline of important events or activities that may have affected the organization in the online, social, and offline worlds
  • KPI data regarding sales, donations, or other indicators that are vital to the organization

Once you have all the data, assess the success of your social media campaigns and ongoing activities by examining how it all fits together. Review any lessons learned and optimize your strategy for the next iteration of the cycle.

Once again, start with a listening phase to find out if there is anything new and/or what’s changed for your target audiences. For example, if you found out that one product was less popular in terms of engagement and sharing, you may want to focus your attention on monitoring keywords associated with that product in the next listening phase.

Measure, analyze, and optimize your activities so that you can properly evaluate what worked and what didn’t. This is crucial for future planning of your social media activities.

Additional Resources

Here are several articles and free industry certifications that provide more social media marketing details:

Media Attributions

  • 6-Step Social Media Marketing Framework by Rochelle Grayson is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.
  • Engagement Pyramid by Rochelle Grayson is licensed under a CC BY 4.0 licence.

Image Descriptions

Engagement Pyramid

A pyramid-shape diagram demonstrating the engagement level of social media users with the brand. From top to bottom:

  • Advocates – brand promoters
  • Super fans – very active & responsive to brand content
  • Contributors – engaged and adding to the conversations
  • Endorsers – like what they see and willing to publicly “like” and possibly share content
  • Followers – interested, but may not be convinced
  • Observers – looking to see what your brand is about

[Return to Engagement Pyramid]


This chapter was adapted from Foundations in Digital Marketing: Building Meaningful Customer Relationships and Engaged Audiences by Rochelle Grayson, which is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.


Icon for the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License

Social Media & Reputation Management Copyright © 2023 by Sam Schechter is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 4.0 International License, except where otherwise noted.

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