Many organizations want to know how to get started with social media, or how to take it to the next level. All too often, the answer they get is the name of a site or platform: Create a Twitter feed! Set up a Facebook page! Build your network on LinkedIn!

While it can be very helpful to know about different platforms, no one platform is right for every organization. To make good choices about where to spend your social media dollars, you need to be clear about what you want to get out out of social media, and how you’re going to do it in compelling way. These four questions can help to frame your planning and decision-making.

1. WHY do you want to use social media?

Social media can be put to many different uses — of which marketing is only one. You might use social media for employee recruitment and retention, to increase organizational efficiency, to gather business intelligence, or to fuel innovation.

Even if you know that you want to use social media for marketing, you could have many different ends in mind. The clearer you are about your goals, and the more specific you are about what you want to achieve, the better your results. Your goals might include one or more of these:

  • Increase the number of people who recognize your brand and know which products or services you provide
  • Increase your number of sales leads
  • Increase your conversation rate — the number of leads that turn into sales
  • Increase your fees by establishing your brand as the leading source of expertise in your industry
  • Increase traffic to your web site or store
  • Increase the number of transactions your customers complete or the average value per transaction
  • Reduce your marketing costs while keeping your revenue constant
  • Reach a new audience or market

Select the goals you want to achieve, and prioritize them. Then focus on your top one or two, at least while you’re getting underway.

2. WHO are you trying to reach?

This affects which channels to use, and how to approach them. (The hyperlinks take you to more Social Signal resources about how to use each platform.)

  • Facebook is key for marketing-driven organizations, especially for marketing consumer products or services and for reaching younger audiences (especially students).
  • LinkedIn is key for sales-driven organizations and B2B businesses or organizations. Use it to expand your network, identify prospects, and find your best route into an organization.
  • Twitter is useful for targeting bloggers and social media influencers, so you can give them a reason to blog about or link to you. It’s great for B2B businesses, too.
  • YouTube is great for marketing-driven businesses, and for reaching young and not-so-young alike; in our user surveys, we find that even folks who’ve never joined a social network aren’t above checking out the occasional video. If you have big bucks, you can create your own super sexy, hope-it-goes-viral videos. If you’re pockets aren’t as deep, you can still get great results with how-tos and tutorial videos if you know about something your customers care about.
  • Flickr is another good B2C platform. It’s effective for any organization with a visual story to tell. If your products or services offer a solution to a problem with a highly visual symptom (a messy house, a dented car, painfully high heels) ask people to submit pictures of the problem — for a chance to win your solution.

3. WHAT do you want your audience to DO?

If you’re focused on social media for marketing, you probably have two key audiences: people you want to sell to (your customers) and the people who will help you to reach them (your audiences and influencers). Even thought these audiences overlap, you want them to do different things.

  • Your customers are the people you want to buy from you, or sign up so you have some way to reach and, ultimately, sell to them (probably by joining your e-mail list, following you on Twitter, or becoming a fan or member of your Facebook page or group).
  • Your influencers are the people you want to talk about you so that their readers and friends — your customers — find out about you.

4. WHAT can your social media presence do FOR your audience?

You need a value proposition for your customers, and a value proposition for your influencers: How will your social media presence be concretely useful to them? Our Concept Jam process can help you find that value proposition; to get started on your own, you might:

  • Offer customers specific how-to tips, discounts, or a contest that gives them a chance to win a useful product or service (ideally yours).
  • Offer influencers content to write about, samples of your content or services, prizes for linking about/tweeting to you, or prizes that they can offer to their own readers.

Answer these four questions honestly, and focus on serving your customers and audience, and you will have a strategic framework that helps you make good decisions about social media platforms and tools.

Thanks to the Shop Symposium for inspiring this post!