There is definitely not a shortage of social media self proclaimed gurus and experts willing to tell you exactly what you should do to achieve results in business using social media strategy.

As a consultant of social media strategy for healthcare businesses, I spend a lot of time each day day reading blog posts, analyzing industry reports, identifying the best practices from the social scientists. Some are brilliant. Some … not so much.

I read advice on everything from how to tweet, how to get retweeted, what time of day to tweet, and when, how and why you should be on one social network over the other. In addition you can find a ton of advice on how to become a social rockstar overnight with their magic social media pill for a low price of $49!  I have never paid those $49 landing page specials to read more.  That should tell you something, all by itself.

There is a hard reality you must understand. You need to quit building your strategy based solely on the advice of social media gurus and scientists.  Especially the ones that don’t specifically develop or advise on strategies for healthcare businesses, because healthcare providers have certain regulated codes of conduct they must follow, some of which fly in the face of the gurus’ recommendations. Overlook them, or violate them and you risk huge sanctions, fines, brand damage, and more.

Why do I recommen a specialist? Because you need to build your own plan that supports the needs of your audience and your own business goals and objectives. These gurus we are referring to do NOT know your audience, your business or your goals and objectives. Their recommendations are generic, and for healthcare the strategy is not the same as that which might be used for an apartment complex, a shoe brand like Prada, an e-commerce platform like Amazon, or a lawnmower repair shop.

Social business does not = Facebook or LinkedIn. Social business is about integrating social technologies and processes into the DNA of your business for the benefit of your
employees, audience, clients and greater ecosystem.

To begin a social media strategy, you will need a vision, a budget, and a reason to do this.

Answer the following questions for yourself or your consultant to get started:

1. What do you want to accomplish with social media and why?
2. Where are you going and who needs to join you on the journey?
3. What value you will you offer those who join you on the journey? (Likes or Follows or Check ins)
4. What does your audience need from you? How have you determined this?
5. Do your customers care if you are on social media? If you think “yes” why do you believe this?
6. How will you provide your audience and community the most value possible in exchange for their time and loyalty?
7. How will you create and maintain establish executive support? Who will be responsible?
8. How will you manage reputation intelligence, response to comments, and listing accuracy?
9. What risks need mitigated?
10. How much will you govern the strategy you ultimately choose?
11. How will you empower your team? What time will be allowed? Who will be assigned? What training do they need, if any?
12. What resources and funding need secured to enable success? Budget for efficient tools? Budget for staff? Budget for editing content and blogs? Time for writing
13. What do you define as “success” and how will you measure it?
14. What technology requires investment to help you achieve your vision? Must you buy it or can you access it as a service?

Understand why and how social media helps you create brand awareness and value

You must first define your business objectives. In later phases you will more closely refine and align social media and your social business investment with business goals
where it can have the greatest impact.

Common business goals may include such things as social listening to learn more about your audience and target markets, thought leadership, nurturing relationships, earning support of loyal brand advocates, maximizing reach in existing and new markets, sales support, talent recruiting and of course lead and revenue generation.

It is critical to know your intended audience or know who you would like to be your audience

If no one follows you, checks in, “likes” you or comments, it will be tough to perform social listening or to learn more about your target markets. This is a chicken and egg thing.

If you don’t have follower or Friend data, look internally at your brand demographics. Who already bought? What are the demographics of your present clientele? From where did they come when they chose to buy from you? Whose former market share did you capture? Why did they change brands? What is it they seek? Are they getting it? If they don’t will they go someplace else? What do you want more of? What don’t you want? Who competes with you? What are they saying to the market? How many followers, likes or friends do they have on their social sites? What are their reviews like?

Build a social marketing and advertising and promotional road map

What is your over all social business vision? Where are you going and why? Why is just as important as where. What does success look like? How will you measure results? Who needs to go with you and what is in it for them? Be ready for the journey and know it is going to take time to train, empower, plan, implement and optimize.

You must be able to determine if that audience will be reached by your efforts, not just that readers and listeners and viewers will be reached

Don’t let anyone selling you marketing, advertising, promotional spots on radio, TV, cable, and newspapers or social media services to convince you that you cannot track results. That’s pure nonsense. The rule in marketing is if you cannot measure ROI, the campaign has ZERO value.  For example when a media consultant tells you that you’ll “reach” a listener or reader audince, it is not the same “reach” that brings success if you reach 50,000 readers or listeners who are not the slightest bit likely to buy your product. They make money (fees and commissions) on each and every insertion and the design of the promotional piece, the graphics and the printing, or layout or artwork even if the campaign nets you ZERO results. The more you buy, the fatter their commissions. The more frequently and frantically you advertise in hopes of striking it big, the more they dance all the way to their bank. It’s business. Become a prudent buyer.

Likewise, if you have messages to share on your social media platforms (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google+ or Twitter) that are links to rich content on your website, coupons or other materials, but you have no followers listening to you, consider carefully what you’ll post in an empty room. You can’t repost it later when people join. This is because reposting things that are identical is tantamount to spamming. You’ll get nastygrams from the Terms of Service people and you could risk getting your account suspended or cancelled. So you’ll need an editorial calendar from which to schedule your posts and organize them to align your strategy with your current and future realities.