The world of marketing has come a long way in just a few short years. Chatbots. SEO. Funnels. Conversions. And perhaps the most ubiquitous method of all—social media. It’s strange to look back a mere 10 years ago. Only a handful of social media platforms were available, and very few were used for marketing purposes. For the most part, they were social devices. A novel, inexpensive and convenient way to keep in touch with friends and family members. But today? New ones seem to emerge weekly, with an estimated 3.4 Billion users worldwide. And while there will always be a core amount of social media sites which dominate the landscape, learning to leverage marketing plans effectively has become one of the key dilemmas for many businesses. It’s no longer enough to simply update a Facebook page regularly. Demographics are no longer constant. Neither is social media. Nor should your content be.  Reaching your ideal customer base requires insight. Knowledge. And above all, an effective marketing strategy. A documented strategy, with a proven track record. To effectively develop a strategy, you need a precise and consistent framework to build from. Here are five steps you can take to help develop an effective social media marketing plan for your business.

1. Know Your Product

What are its strengths? Its weaknesses? What sets it apart from your competitors? How are they using social media? Are they visually strong, but low on information? What platforms do they use? What is their success rate? Naturally, in the world of marketing there can be no universal approach. Otherwise, you’d see nothing but the same repetitive campaigns—and imitators rarely have successful shelf lives. But by careful analysis and auditing of your social media presence, you’ll gain a much more concise insight into how your product fares in comparison. And more importantly, how to improve its presence.

2. Know Your Customers

The more detailed understanding you have of your target demographic, the more effectively you can customize a social media strategy. Don’t settle for generalizations under any circumstances. If you develop a strategy targeting men between the ages of 25-35, you’re not going to get much traction. But if you develop a plan that includes not only age and gender, but income, education, lifestyle, activities and frequency of social media use, you’ll gain a more precise understanding of not only your demographic but what truly motivates them. And in marketing, motivation is everything.

3. Clarify Your Brand

A clearly defined, well thought out mission statement not only distinguishes your brand, but acts as a benchmark which drives all future interactions with it. It’s one of the single most critical identifiers of your brand, and needs to be as direct and accessible as possible. Avoid vague buzzwords and meaningless slogans. Not only are they going to need to constantly change, but your customers aren’t blind. They can see through marketing ploys. Aim for a statement that might be as applicable to a brick and mortar location as it is to the digital world—even if your business is strictly virtual. It gives your brand a sense of staying power, a crucial sentiment to convey in a sea of digital noise.

4. The 3 C’s of Content: Create, Curate and Customize

One of the most beautiful things about content is its versatility. Content can literally be anything—images, videos, promotions, long form posts, tweets… whatever you decide, and whatever’s best suited for your brand. But knowing where best to post content can also be challenging. This is one reason why it’s important to learn how to distinguish between social media platforms. Instagram is not LinkedIn. Neither of which are YouTube. And all three of them are not Twitter. Each platform has their own unique strengths as well as drawbacks, which is one reason why content simply can’t be universal. Especially if you’re in the initial stages of building a social media marketing plan. And while it may seem like a period of trial and error, ultimately you’ll discover the strategy which works most effectively—as well as the strategy which doesn’t.

5. The TAO of Social Media: Track, Analyze and Optimize

To track your engagements doesn’t merely mean to focus on success rates. It’s just as critical to track your failures and shortcomings as well. There may be a very good reason why your usage of Instagram is nearly as effective as your usage of Facebook, despite your best efforts. It may be your content. It may be your demographic. It may be any number of factors. This is where an analytic tool is invaluable in any social media marketing plan. Without it, you’re merely second-guessing your audience. And without a robust tool that can measure both engagement as well as trends in your key demographics, you can’t optimize your plan to its most effective potential. But trends and engagement change over time. Learning to optimize them and adapting accordingly is the key to your success. Your marketing should be as fluid and dynamic as your product. Anything less is simply noise. Be a signal, not the static.