We know it sounds cheesy, but to get the most out of social media, you first need to know what you’re trying to accomplish. “Getting X followers on Twitter” or “growing Facebook fans by X%” may sound great on paper, but goals like these miss the mark if they’re not connected to something more fundamental.
Let’s try something. Close your eyes. Ask yourself, “What are my personal and professional goals right now?”
Take a minute to brainstorm a list, and then prioritize it. What are your top goals? Do you want to land a great job? Find new clients? Perhaps network with like-minded thinkers or support a political cause?
There are many ways to accomplish goals like these, and in our increasingly networked world, social media is an important one. Yet without careful planning, it can also lead us astray. Many of us have been guilty of confusing the means with the ends: we turn being great at social media into the goal, rather than a way of achieving our goals.
For example, you can have millions of followers, but what’s the point if they only interact with your Buzzfeed shares and not your insightful industry analysis? For most of us, there’s more value to be found in smaller audiences than respect your opinions, circulate your topical content, and send new opportunities your way.
In order to distinguish between your goals and how you’ll achieve them, we recommend using the SMARTER approach first detailed by Paul J. Meyer. You may know this framework from a horribly mismanaged corporate goal-setting process, but we find it’s a powerful way to structure your thinking. Give it a shot and let us know what you think.
Create simple and well-defined social media objectives. It’s not enough to say, “I want to use social media to build my professional reputation.” First ask yourself which social media activities will help you accomplish your personal or professional goal — and then build objectives around them. Don’t forget that the best way to accomplish your goals using social media is to create great content and build meaningful relationships.
In this case, helpful activities might include:
- participating in industry conversations on Twitter
- creating original content for LinkedIn
- sharing helpful articles on Facebook
- answering questions on Quora
Beyond this, your social media objectives must be measurable. If they’re not, how will you know when you’ve achieved them?
To make them measurable, add specific numbers: “participate in 5 Twitter conversations related to my industry” or “write an article for LinkedIn that receives 3-5 comments.”
Creative types like artists or musicians might want to “use Twitter to build relationships with 20 journalists or music critics” or “share 2 work-in-progress Instagrams that each receive 10 likes.” If you have a blog or website, you might try to “share content on my Facebook fan page that increases traffic by 50%.”
Don’t set yourself up for failure. Start by benchmarking your present activity and audience size, and then set realistic goals. Remember that the bigger your current metrics, the harder it’ll be change them dramatically. For example, if your current Facebook posts already average hundreds of reactions, don’t try to increase them 10X. Aim instead for 2 or 3X.
Also ask yourself if you have the necessary resources, the most important of which is time. You only have so many hours each day. Try to strike a balance between working on the thing you love and using social media to be known for what you love.
It’s easy to get distracted when using social media, and this applies not just to consumers of content, but also creators. Be wary of setting objectives that don’t clearly contribute toward your personal and professional goals.
For example, while you may already have hundreds of followers for your recipe boards on Pinterest, it’s unlikely that spending time building & engaging this particular audience will prove beneficial if your real goal is to become a human resources consultant. On the other hand, if you’re an artist, it probably makes sense to set objectives around sharing your work and design inspirations on Pinterest and Instagram.
Specify realistic timeframes for your objectives. Having too much time can be just as frustrating as not having enough. Social media objectives that go beyond 3-6 months often fail because of a lack of urgency.
Another way to make your objectives more realistic is to reframe them in terms of frequency. Instead of focusing on a final result, ask yourself what you can accomplish each day, week or month. Reframing some of the objectives from above, we might decide to:
- participate in 5 Twitter conversations each month related to my industry
- write an article each week for LinkedIn that receives 3-5 comments
- share 2 work-in-progress Instagram posts each week that each receive 10 likes
- pin one image of my work every other day that receives at least 5 reactions
Enjoy yourself! While it’s true that you should be using social media to support your personal and professional goals, the process will be much easier — and faster — if you enjoy what you’re doing. Don’t overthink it: focus on the thing you love, and then create content and build relationships related to it.
Set aside time every few weeks to re-evaluate your social media goals and objectives. Since you designed measurable ones, you should be able to track your progress. How are you doing? Do your objectives still seem realistic? Are they as relevant as you thought they would be?
Give yourself enough time to evaluate your success, but don’t be afraid to scrap bad objectives or set new ones. Remember: the real goal is not to achieve social media greatness, but rather to achieve your real goals by being great at social media.
Now that we’ve covered how to distinguish between real-world goals and social media objectives, what are yours?
[Photo Credit: ©iStockphoto.com/mrpliskin]