How to create your 2023 social media strategy

There's never been a better time to get this right.

The Social PHD by Tom Miner

So, uh, I got a little behind on my writing. Apparently social media is hot right now, so I had to quickly figure out how to grow/delegate/etc. in order to meet demand these past few months.

And if I'm being honest, there isn't an end in sight, so my publishing cadence may be sporadic for the foreseeable future. My goal now is to just get one of these articles written each month. I think I can, I think I can...

Anyways, enough about me. How are things at your business? I always love getting replies, so never hesitate to hit the reply button and run any current social media questions/challenges by me. 

Because it's Q4 and we're all in that weird space between accomplishing 2022 goals and preparing 2023's, let's talk about strategy. Today's issue of The Social PHD is all about social media strategy: what changed in 2022, how to create your 2023 strategy, what to watch out for.

What changed in 2022 that will impact 2023 strategy?

We’re seeing a seismic shift in the role that social media strategy plays in the modern business organization.

This time last year I believed strategy was more than 50% of the formula for organic social media success. Now I think it’s only ⅓ of the equation. 

What gives?

There are three macro changes driving this reevaluation:

A. Short form video is forcing people from behind the camera to in front of it.

It's much harder to create compelling video content than images, carousels and graphics. And because of this, it's more important to simply be creating it than it is to have some elaborate strategy in place. Just look at Duolingo's TikTok account to see what I mean. No offense to the team behind it, but it's more important that a twerking owl gets up and twerks than it is for the owl to have a deeply thought-out brand message. 

DuoLingo knows that its competitors are stuck distributing corporate messages through their social channels, so they just donned the owl costume and grabbed an iPhone.

There's a lesson to be learned in their moxie. 

B. As creators have risen in popularity and become as important to the social media companies as brands’ ad dollars, the algorithmic incentive has swung in favor of individual creators over brands.

There’s a reason why you see YouTube and TikTok publicizing their battle over whose platform is better for creators – not whose is better for brands. In the current landscape, these platforms see a lack of creator interest as a bigger existential threat than advertiser interest levels.

This means brands have an ever larger need for compelling creator partnerships and UGC to keep growing their organic reach and engage new audiences.

C. Discovery algorithms are changing the game

We're living in the good ol' days right now. Organic reach is alive and well thanks to platforms evolving their algorithms from follower-based to interest-based. This started with TikTok's famous 'For You Page' and now Instagram, YouTube and Twitter (among others) are all following suit.

Add in the SEO capabilities these platforms are investing in and – once your content starts indexing – you can get in front of hundreds of thousands of people without needing to spend a dime on boosts.

As my thinking has changed in recent months, I thought it important to visualize how we approach this discussion with clients. And the STS Framework was born as a result (STS stands for Strategy, Talent, Scale). 

Strategy, talent, scale framework

Let’s unpack the framework.

S - strategy:

  • Aligned. You’d be shocked how many brands don’t tie their social media presence back to business goals. Aligned means approaching the strategic process top-down. Meaning start with business goals, followed by overarching marketing/communications calendars, then social media strategy, and finally individual platform strategies.

  • Holistic. Don’t let social media live in a silo. Your social media strategy should be integrated with every other channel in the marketing mix, both paid and organic. This is more important for some channels than others, with email being tops.

  • Custom. This should be a no-brainer, but many brands simply operate off a list of best practices or imitate the latest trend. A successful social strategy should be led by custom, proprietary data, a deep study of the competitive landscape, and an even deeper understanding of the target audience (i.e. personas you know better than you know yourself). Additionally, your brand should have a compelling, well-thought-out social media personality.

T - talent:

  • People. I hate to break it to you, but a strategy is worthless without the right people to execute it. Who do you have in-house that can bring a winning strategy to life? Does your team have the talent needed to execute a best-in-class strategy spanning multiple platforms?

  • Resources. If you're lucky enough to have the people it takes to execute the strategy, do you have the resources too? A social media studio? A management and listening tool? Video editing and design tools?

  • Creators. Creators are now vital to social media success for brands. Are you building relationships with top creators in your niche? Are they creating content that’s growing the brand to their followers?

S - scale:

  • Paid. Here’s where you can start deploying ad spend effectively to throw fuel on the fire. Boost your top performing organic. Run performance marketing campaigns with great creative that’s already been tested organically. Run ads in front of audiences that you now know more intimately thanks to all the hard work you’ve already put in.

  • Repurposing. How can you strategically repurpose your best content without cross-promoting the same stuff everywhere? Are your podcast snippets on TikTok? Are your TikToks turning into YouTube Shorts? Are your carousels in emails?

  • Analytics. Track your data to find out what’s working and do more of it. Improve or stop doing things that aren’t working. Rinse and repeat.

How to set your 2023 social media strategy

Ok, so I wrote a minute ago that strategy is only ⅓ of the flywheel. But it’s the engine that makes the whole flywheel spin in the first place. Therefore, in a priority sense, strategy must still come first.

But, unfortunately, most brands are operating without a social media strategy. Instead, what they have is a plan masquerading as a strategy.

What do I mean by this? What’s the difference between the two?

Well, here’s my favorite litmus test: if a manager likes it, it’s probably a plan. Managers LOVE plans because they’re simply a list of doable things that are under your control. In social media, a plan might look like this:

  • Post once per day on Instagram

  • Post four times per week on Facebook

  • Alternate our feed with video post --> image post --> video post

  • Post two times per day on TikTok

  • Publish 8 tweets per day

  • Post at 10am, 12pm, 2pm, 4pm and 6pm

  • Use a scheduling tool to post all content

Congrats – you now have a list of doable things 100% under your control (AKA a plan). And at the end of each week or month you can go through this list writing in checkmarks next to each one. Then, assuming your business functions like the rest of the businesses executing on plans instead of a strategy, you can tell your boss that you achieved a 100% success rate and everyone can have a pizza party to celebrate.

Strategy, on the other hand, is often scary. In fact, my favorite litmus test for strategy is this: if it makes you feel angst, it’s likely a strategy. Because you can’t prove in advance that your strategy will succeed, there should be a substantial feeling of uncertainty.

Most manager-run marketing teams hate this feeling. These teams prefer plans that can prove in advance that their decision will work. Which creates a massive opportunity for the rest of us willing to embrace strategic angst.

Roger Martin, one of the preeminent thinkers on business strategy in the world, defines a strategy as a coordinated set of five choices:

  • A winning aspiration

  • How to win

  • Where to play

  • Core capabilities

  • Management systems

When it comes to guideposts for setting social media strategy, your team can apply Roger Martin’s definition alongside our STS framework as follows:

1) Goal setting (here’s what our winning aspiration looks like)

2) Channel strategy (here’s where we’re choosing to play)

3) Content strategy (here’s how we’re choosing to win)

4) Talent (here are the core capabilities we need to have in place)

5) Scale (here are the management systems needed)

Then you can lay out the logic behind these choices: what would have to be true about our brand, the industry, the platforms, the competition, and our customers for this strategy to work?

Any of this logic could potentially be flawed, of course, rendering the strategy less effective than desired. So, to combat the feeling of angst caused by this realization, the top-performing organizations instill both a culture and a mechanism for measuring, optimizing, and tweaking as they go.

Final thoughts

You're not imagining it. Social media is becoming more challenging to execute. Longgggg gone are the days when a solitary social media manager could be strategist, content creator, community manager, paid ads specialist, and data analyst all at the same time AND harvest meaningful results from multiple platforms. 

But don't worry, you're not alone. I'm working with billion dollar, household name brands on their 2023 strategies and even they are struggling through this.

Hopefully the insights and recommendations outlined in this article can help your team navigate the 2023 social media landscape a little bit wiser. 

Happy holidays!