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How to create a social media strategy (with template)

By Chris Boutté · October 25, 2023
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I've been in the social media game for years now, and despite the vile cesspool of nonsense on social, there are plenty of decent people looking for what we marketers are offering. But you need to know what you're offering.

The first step for using social media for your business is developing a successful social media marketing strategy. You'll need this strategy before you develop a social media marketing plan (which contains the tactics needed to achieve the goals of the strategy).

To make the process easier, I developed this downloadable social media strategy template. Read on for details on how to fill it out.

How to create a social media strategy:

  1. Establish a clear purpose

  2. Understand your target audience

  3. Research your competitors

  4. Research your audience

  5. Choose the right social media channels

  6. Determine your KPIs

  7. Conduct a social media audit

  8. Perfect your publishing cadence

What is a social media marketing strategy? 

A social media marketing strategy is a game plan for using social media platforms to promote your offerings and stand out in an oversaturated digital market. It's not just a five-minute whiteboard drawing; it's a comprehensive document detailing how you'll use social media to achieve your business objectives.

Here are three questions to ask yourself when you're getting started, which you'll want to comprehensively answer in your strategy:

  • What are your goals? Your social endeavors should tie back to your business objectives. Be it driving sales, boosting engagement, or elevating brand visibility—know what you want to get out of it.

  • Who's your audience? Understand who you're talking to. Tailor your content to resonate with the people you want to reach, ensuring your messages aren't just broadcasted but effectively land.

  • What's the competition up to? Take a look at your rivals. Learn from their hits and misses, then carve your unique path. Inspiration is good; plagiarism isn't.

Remember, the purpose of this strategy is to guide your online endeavors so that every post, every comment, and every share has a purpose behind it.

Benefits of a social media strategy

Having a strategy for your social media isn't about cramping creativity but rather channeling it effectively. Setting a clear direction ensures that your online efforts lead to tangible business benefits:

  • Increase sales: When done right, your social media content should funnel people to your website or store. Then, you can use more middle- and bottom-funnel content to turn those visitors into paying customers.

  • Boost engagement: Strategic content isn't just seen; it's interacted with. And that doesn't just mean more likes. We're talking real engagement, like shares, comments, and conversations. That's what really builds brand awareness and fosters trust within your audience.

  • Track preferences: Predetermined metrics like reach, engagement, conversion rates, and ROI provide awesome insights into what types of content are and aren't effective, so you can take that content and scale it beyond social media.

  • Build communities: Your brand isn't just about selling; it's about connecting. A well-honed strategy helps cultivate spaces where enthusiasts can rally around what you offer and get the word out to others.

  • Gather feedback: Your digital communities also become treasure troves of insights. They're your direct line to what customers adore, desire, or would change.

  • Support cross-functional efforts: A cohesive social media strategy amplifies other departments' efforts, whether announcing a product launch, amplifying a PR campaign, or driving attendance to a corporate event.

How to create a social media marketing strategy

I've run quite a few social media campaigns for my personal brand as well as different businesses I've worked for. Each one had different goals, which is to be expected. But regardless of your end goal, you can use the same big ideas to formulate your social media marketing strategy.

1. Establish a clear purpose

I can't tell you how many social media managers I've seen just throw as many things at the wall as possible and hope something sticks: giveaways that get short-term engagement, services that guarantee followers and likes, or jumping on whatever the most recent bandwagon is. What these lack is a clear purpose. 

To outline how social media marketing will help your brand, write SMART goals, or goals that are Specific, Measurable, Achievable, Realistic, and Time-Bound. Some example SMART goals you might have for your social media strategy could be: 

  • Within six months, achieve a 20% growth in social media engagement through targeted advertising and influencer partnerships to enhance brand awareness.

  • Within three months, increase website traffic by 15% and online sales by 10% by implementing effective call-to-action (CTA) strategies and conversion tracking on Facebook, Instagram, and X (Twitter).

  • Within 12 months, identify and hire at least 50 brand advocates who consistently share our content and refer new customers through the implementation of a brand advocacy program.

When you have an overarching purpose, the rest of the strategy planning is simple. It also makes it easy to adjust your social media strategy as you go without losing sight of your long-term goals. Each time you make a social media decision, ask yourself: does this align with the purpose? Yes? Keep it. If not, get rid of it.

2. Understand your target audience

Before sitting down to map out your social media strategy, figure out who you want to see your content (and whether they want to see it). If your company already has a good understanding of your target consumer, boom—you're off to a great start. Use that research for your social media strategy. If you don't have a target audience already, curate an audience persona to flesh out their "character." For true crime fans, think of it like being a profiler. 

From there, orient each part of your strategy—from which platform you post on and when to what metrics you're trying to hit—toward that target audience. 

Aim to create a strategy that answers all of these questions:

  • Is your strategy respectful of your audience's backgrounds and experiences, and what value does it add to their lives?

  • What are you hoping they take away from your content, and what are they hoping to take away from it?

  • What existing knowledge do you expect them to come with, and what can you teach them?

3. Research your competitors

As much as we all want to feel like unique, creative geniuses, everything is inspired by something. But don't just copy what your competitors are doing—ask yourself why they're doing it that way and what the thought process is behind it. 

Here are some questions you can consider when filling out the social media strategy template:

  • Who are your competitors trying to target?

  • Why is their strategy working?

  • What social media platforms are they using and why?

  • What social media platforms aren't they using and why?

  • How often do they post content to each platform?

  • Are they replying to comments?

  • What is the ratio of posts trying to sell something compared to fun, interesting, or educational content?

Look for gaps and opportunities that your competitors—whether they're crushing it on social or not—aren't taking advantage of. What are they missing that you think your target customers would enjoy?

Let's say you're a vegan restaurant and other vegan joints only post images of their food. They may have plenty of followers, likes, and sales, but you know you can do more. You can post behind-the-scenes videos, recipe tutorials, and images of your clientele with rich anecdotes as captions, Humans of New York style, to show your audience you're more than a menu.

Or maybe it's even simpler. Let's say a competitor isn't getting a ton of engagement on their posts, and you notice they never end their captions with a discussion question. Try including this simple call to action in your own captions to encourage more comments and drive up your engagement.

4. Research your audience

Outlining a social media strategy without doing audience research first is like going out of your way to get your friend an iced brown sugar oat milk shaken espresso when they hate oat milk, brown sugar, and turns out they drink tea. But unlike your pal, your audience won't just smile and say thanks—they'll keep scrolling.

You need to know what type of content your audience likes, so you don't leave them scrolling for something better. Take these steps to get to know your audience:

  • Engage in social listening: Use social media management tools that offer social listening to monitor what people are saying about your brand, industry, or competitors. Create a list of relevant keywords (your brand name, industry-related terms, competitors, trending topics) to help narrow your search.

  • Send surveys and gather feedback: Use survey software to send out market research surveys. Offering incentives like discounts, freebies, or contest entries in exchange for taking your survey can help get responses.

  • Analyze engagement metrics: Look at posts from your account and your competitors' accounts that get the most engagement. What topics resonate the most? Do they prefer short, funny videos? Or educational deep dives?

  • Segment your audience: Not all of your followers are the same, so you'll want to divide them into groups based on their behaviors or preferences, like followers who engage more with your trending content rather than business updates. This can help you more precisely target your audience rather than trying to appease everyone with broad messaging.

5. Choose the right social media channels

Just as there's a "right" audience for your content, there's a right channel (well, channels) for it as well. We don't have to spell out what each platform does, but knowing some ins and outs of them will be key when using social media for your business.

A table showing the different social media platforms, their audience demographics, ideal content types, and what their audience is looking for content-wise

Make sure the social platforms you choose are right for your brand. Consider some of the following questions:

  • Does the platform host your target audience?

  • Is it working for your competition?

  • If it's not working for the competition, is it because your target audience isn't there or because competitors are doing something wrong?

  • Does it fit well with the content you plan on making?

  • Is it worth your time and effort to create content for it?

Once you've chosen the social media platforms you plan to use, check out these channel-specific guides for more detailed strategy tips:

6. Determine your KPIs

So, what exactly does social media "success" look like? Bringing in more business, sure, but that's a little vague. You want to see that your social media strategy is hitting smaller goals along the way. To gauge how your strategy is paying off, define some quantifiable key performance indicators, or KPIs. 

Here are some examples.

What is it?

Example KPI


How many people saw your post

1,000 unique users per post


How many people liked your post

100 likes per post


How many people shared your post

20 shares per post


How many people left comments on your post

Get 15% more comments 


Total engagements (likes, shares, and comments) on your post

Boost engagement by 10% 

Click-through rate (CTR)

How many people click your link

Average 40% CTR per post

View duration

How much of your video people watched

Average view duration of 20% per video


How many people converted after engaging with your post

25% of website sales originate from social media

With easy-to-use reporting tools, you can track your progression toward KPIs. 

You need to please the social media algorithms in order to get your content promoted organically, and the algorithms care about engagement. Social media engagement, like shares, comments, and likes directly impact every other KPI due to how the algorithms work, so engagement should be your main focus.

7. Conduct a social media audit

As marketers, analytics are our bread and butter (if you're wondering why you're salivating right about now). A social media audit highlights the data behind your efforts. 

It's probably a good idea to audit your accounts before embarking on a campaign to get a sense of where you're starting off. But most importantly, perform an audit after each campaign to ensure your strategy is paying off. 

Other than your KPIs, here are some things to track when you audit yourself:

  • What types of content you're posting and on which platforms

  • How much engagement each post received

  • How many followers you have (or gained/lost)

  • Any positive or negative comments

  • Whether you're reaching your target audience or not

For some of these, a human's perspective makes sense. For the more granular work, a social media management tool can help make the auditing process a whole lot easier.

8. Perfect your publishing cadence

If you send me an email at 5 p.m. on a Friday, you can expect a response Monday morning at the earliest. And if you spam me with 11 messages that definitely could've been consolidated into one, there's a chance they're all going in the trash.

The same goes for your social media strategy. When and how often you post can make a big difference in how your content performs.

Here's how to figure out a publishing cadence that works best for your brand:

  • Analyze peak times: Use analytics tools within social platforms or external tools like HubSpot or Later to find the days and times your audience is most active. Remember, time zones and holidays can affect engagement.

  • Prioritize quality over quantity: It's better to post high-quality content a couple of times per week than bad content every five minutes.

  • Test and learn: Conduct A/B tests by posting at various times and days of the week, and monitor engagement to see which posting times perform the best.

  • Plan ahead with a content calendar: Use a social media scheduling tool to plan your content in advance. Look for a tool that lets you schedule posts and view and adjust how your feed will look.

  • Stay on top of trends: You have to be able to adjust to changes like trending topics or news that's relevant to your brand. Hold space in your content calendar to create trending content.

Bonus: Get inspired by these 6 examples

Here are some examples of how real-life social campaigns knocked it out of the park. Each one has a clear strategy behind it (which I've teased out based on the campaign itself).

1. Olivia Rodrigo #ShotoniPhone15Pro campaign

Apple wanted to flaunt the iPhone's camera capabilities and knew it had to resonate with the younger demographic obsessed with photography and music. Enter Olivia Rodrigo—a contemporary musical sensation. Through their collaboration, Apple seamlessly blended tech and pop culture, using platforms like YouTube, where both visuals and melodies reign supreme. This helped showcase Apple's camera and Olivia's music while also boosting brand recognition among younger demographics.

Audience: Tech-savvy and pop culture-conscious Gen Z users 

Goal: Increase awareness of the iPhone 15 and its advanced camera capabilities

Tactics: Celebrity partnerships; high-quality videography and photography

Twitter screenshot of Olivia Rodrigo's #ShotoniPhone15Pro campaign

2. Marcus Theatres

Marcus Theatres, in a move that's pure genius if you ask me, put their CEO Greg right where he should be—front and center on TikTok. Embracing trending sounds and being his genuine goofy self, Marcus Theatres wasn't just looking to make a name; they were all about fostering brand love. And with 73K loyal followers, I'd say, mission accomplished.

Audience: Gen Z and Millennial TikTok aficionados

Goal: Build brand loyalty and resonate with the TikTok community

Tactics: CEO-led TikTok videos; tapping into trending sounds

TikTok video screenshot of CEO Greg chatting with customers at Marcus Theatres

3. Zapier

Zapier knows its audience loves being in the loop. By hinting about a soon-to-be-launched product, they weren't just teasing—they were turning product announcements into social media events. By nudging followers to make a guess, Zapier reminded everyone they're not just a tool, they're the ultimate tech community.

Audience: Tech and Zapier enthusiasts

Goal: Generate buzz for an upcoming product and reinforce brand community

Tactics: Interactive teasers; encouraging audience predictions

Screenshot of a Zapier Instagram post generating buzz for an upcoming product and reinforce brand community

4. Poppin Candy

In a sweet twist, Poppin Candy turned to its followers for new candy concoctions. Instead of guessing what their audience might want, they went straight to the source. By letting followers have a say, they're boosting engagement and making sure their treats hit the sweet spot every time.

Audience: Sweet-toothed fans and creative candy connoisseurs

Goal: Enhance engagement and customer connection to the brand

Tactics: Audience-driven candy mix challenges; crowdsourcing flavor ideas

5. Barbie

Ok, the movie was great, but I'd argue the social media strategy was even better. Warner Bros. got social media right, partnering up with big names like Burger King and Crocs, and diving deep into TikTok trends. And the cherry on top? A whopping 25% spike in U.S. Barbie toy sales post-movie release. Coincidence? I think not.

Audience: Kids, teens, and those with nostalgic connection to Barbie

Goal: Promote the Barbie movie and its doll catalog

Tactics: Brand collabs; capitalizing on viral TikTok trends

6. Starbucks

Starbucks knows a thing or two about creating a buzz. Their September ThursYays BOGO on fall drinks was all over social media. And if the long lines post-noon on Thursdays are any indication, their cups—and registers—were overflowing.

Audience: Fall flavor fans and deal hunters

Goal: Drive up sales and increase word-of-mouth promotion of fall flavor release

Tactics: Limited-time deals; heavy promotion of seasonal specials

Screenshot of Starbucks September Thursyays

How to get the most out of our social media strategy template

This template for your social media strategy will help you document everything we just covered. If your goals and KPIs change when you start a new campaign or marketing plan, you can reuse this template to outline your new strategy.

A snippet of the social media strategy template that can be downloaded via the button below

And as you execute your strategy, it never hurts to use social media automation as much as possible for promotion, so you can focus on content creation. Here are some tips for getting started with social media automation:

You can use Zapier's pre-built social media planner template to create captivating posts for different social channels, schedule them effortlessly, and track their posting status—all in one centralized tool.

This article was originally published in November 2020 by Tierney Mosier. The most recent update, with contributions from Michael Kern, was in October 2023.

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