“In the absence of social listening, strategic planning is under-informed or uninformed, and this can be costly for an organization’s time and resources.”
Strategic planning is an essential cornerstone of social media strategy and connects an organization’s social media efforts with other areas of business. For example, strategic planning enables a more productive relationship among overall business goals and social media efforts. It connects marketing processes with social media strategy so a brand’s social presence does not feel disjointed from their IRL (in real life) offline persona.
At UNF, I teach an upper level course in Strategic Social Media. In the unit of the course dedicated to content, we discuss the importance of strategic planning as it relates to content creation and management, and overall social strategy. Some years ago during my course prep, I came up with a framework for 4 phases of strategic planning which I dubbed SPIA, an acronym which stands for Strategy (S), Planning (P), Implementation (I), and Assessment (A).
Social listening is part of the groundwork of the SPIA model and is a process that I advocate for to both students and clients in my work. I believe that in the absence of social listening, any strategy is under-informed which can lead to compromising mistakes and lost opportunities. I’ll explain why in a moment, but first, let’s break down the SPIA model in more detail.
Let’s take a look at each of the four phases of the SPIA model –
First, Strategy, which encompasses social listening and targeting audiences. Since the focus of this blog is social listening, it is important to note up front that if a brand dives into audience targeting, or any of the other SPIA phases without listening first, they may miss the mark with who their audience is and what their needs are from the brand. Without clearly identifying the wants and needs of consumers, the brand may miss the mark with reaching their audience most effectively and optimizing their efforts on social.
Targeting audiences involves knowing who comprises your community, where your organization “lives” within the larger industry and market, clearly identifying and describing who you are trying to reach (who is your ideal consumer?), and how to position your product/service, content, and messaging in front of them. A common process associated with targeting audiences is the STP analysis – segmenting, targeting, and positioning.
A recent (2022) resource I’ve found helpful at better understanding the process and benefits of STP analysis is a blog published by Salesforce. Titled as a “Comprehensive Guide” to STP, this resource explains each item in depth, outlines the benefits, and discusses examples from major global brands such as Apple, McDonalds, and Coca-Cola. They also reveal that social listening is a vital aspect related to targeting audiences for the Godrej Group to tapping into the conversations of their consumers. This popular company from Mumbai, India boasts a diverse product array ranging from household goods to real estate. They utilize social listening to inform their content marketing strategies which, in turn, increases consumer engagement with the brand.
I am looking forward to learning more about this particular brand’s use of social listening for effective targeting and positioning and appreciate that the example illustrates the relationship between these two elements of the strategy phase.
The second phase of SPIA is Planning, which consists of the “what, when, and how” of a social media strategy. Some questions to consider at this stage of strategic planning include what types of content should we create or utilize? What social channels will we use? When will we post to best reach our audience? How will we engage with our consumers? What opportunities can we create to interact with consumers and encourage them to interact with each other? Social listening provides context and insight that informs a company’s responses to these planning questions.
Next is the Implementation phase, also known as “Showtime!” This is when we put all of the planning efforts into practice by launching, or re-launching, our social media strategy or individual social media campaign(s). By carefully planning strategic approaches, a brand can maximize its outcomes while simultaneously reducing unnecessary efforts. In a digital landscape that is constantly changing, it is important to fully execute the first two phases of SPIA prior to implementation. I recommend this process each time there is any major modification to social media strategy, before establishing a presence on a new social channel, and ahead of each campaign. Social listening provides rich insight to establish a healthy foundation for a strategy or campaign to thrive, or, if it doesn’t, how to pivot readily, seamlessly, and successfully.
The fourth and final phase of the SPIA model is Assessment. To understand what is and is not working for your community, it is important to frequently evaluate your social media strategy and efforts. Vanity metrics and platform analytics are extremely helpful in this regard but they can only provide a limited picture. For example, we can measure the likes, comments, and shares on a short video showcasing a new product, and these numbers reflect consumer engagement. But do we know if they consumers really like the product featured or do they just enjoy watching the video? Social listening can provide more depth and context to the consumer experience and enhance the value of vanity metrics. For example, is the content item truly helpful to the consumers and that’s why they like it, or is it that the time of day when they content is posted happens to impact the engagement rates? Social listening provides answers and insights that extend beyond what standard metrics allow.
To recap, social listening is an integral part of strategic planning for organizations – before, during, and after – the launch of a campaign and in tandem with everyday social media strategy. The four-part SPIA process comprises strategy, planning, implementation, and assessment of social media. Social listening should occur within each phase of this outlined process to best support strategy and align with bigger business objectives and goals.
Author: Margaret Stewart
Margaret Stewart is a college professor and a professional researcher, trainer, and consultant. She has a Ph.D. in Communications Media & Instruction Technology and teaches in the School of Communication at the University of North Florida (UNF). Recent client projects include training prospective medical school students and job-seeking professionals on interview skills, conducting an Internet-based research project for a legal case, and designing short courses for the National Institute for Social Media (NISM). Her academic research centers around social media and new technologies for strategic, professional, and relational purposes. She is the co-planner of an annual social media & digital marketing conference called Social Media Expo JAX.