Social media should be approached through strategic planning.  Start by using your understanding of your business, industry, and competition to research where are online conversations taking place (external analysis). Watch them and follow them to uncover the “concerns” and “breakdowns.” People talk about what matters to them, and if you listen carefully, you will uncover what matters to those that matter to you.

Find out how are your customers and prospects “finding” what they are “looking” for. Recent research from Aberdeen Group states that 80% of customers find a product online before a vendor finds them; and, in the recent years, research made by prospects and customers has gone beyond search engines and has moved into social media sites, where there is a dialogue and not only a one way flow of information.

Then, relate those public concerns to the internal concerns and goals of your company, to your strengths and weaknesses and define objectives and key performance indicators for the campaign. You should have this analysis before engaging in social media activities and it is a good idea to order an Internet competitors analysis from a speciallized company.

Look closely at the social media platforms emerging in your market and, then, find the best potential intersections between business needs and social media platforms. Look around and see what your customers and people in your industry (your competitors, partners, vendors etc.) are actually using. Also, keep in mind that the social media strategy has to be aligned to your search engine web optimization strategies.

Not all social media platforms are useful to your business; you should have a professional firm to define the best platform or to set of platforms for your sector and business goal. For example, if you are a professional services firm, you should start with a blog and a strong presence in Linkedin while if you are a retail outlet you could benefit more by considering Youtube as a starting point.

And finally, remember that the social media strategy has to be supported by a content development strategy.