Effective marketing in the digital age mandates that you create engaging content for your customers, prospects, and social network fans and followers to consume.

First, let’s define what we mean by “content.”

Content can be anything – Facebook status updates, Twitter tweets, videos, images, or blog posts. The key point to keep in mind is that web is driven by content. If you expect to gain the attention and trust of customers and prospects, then you should think like a publisher and commit to creating great content.

Setting the content plan in motion requires four steps: determine your content focus; determine the types of content you wish to produce; determine how often you can publish (or post) content; and create a content calendar for the purpose of scheduling your posts.

four step content process

Content Focus

The first order of business is to determine your content focus. By “focus” we mean the direction in which you want to take your content, as well as its tone. For example, content can be educational in nature with “how-to” posts, helpful tips and product-related information.

Or it might be entertaining using humorous videos, photos or light-hearted status updates and tweets. Alternatively, is could promotional focusing on sales promotions, discounts or special events you host. Better yet, it could be a combination of the three. Regardless, your goal is to create content that stimulates engagement among fans and followers within social media.

Some other ideas to consider: focus on content that is thought provoking or that demonstrates your knowledge and thought leadership. Also, focus on content that is consistent with the mission and culture of your business.

Content Types

Once you’ve determined the content focus, next think about the different types of content you can produce. That will depend, in part, on the social media channels you are using – blogs, Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, etc – but don’t limit your thinking to one specific channel. In fact, it’s best to provide a mix of content in the form of videos, photos, blog posts, Facebook status updates and Twitter tweets.

Each social media channel has its own unique features and benefits. No matter which social media channel you choose, it’s best if you understand how your customer is using them. Social networks like Facebook can be a strong reach and high efficiency platform that serves as a hub for all your social media engagement activities.

Video and photo sharing sites like YouTube and Flickr can serve as places to archive content which gets distributed through other channels. And blogs can become niche-market penetration tools to reach individual audience segments.

Posting Frequency

Next, determine your posting frequency – how often you plan to post. Part of that determination will be made based on the amount of time you have to create content, and there is no “one size fits all” solution. To some extent, the more content you create the better off you are. That being said, here are some suggested guidelines:

  • Blog posts should be written at least once per week.
  • Facebook should be updated on a daily basis.
  • Twitter posts can be more frequent, up to 3 – 5 times per day.

As it applies to Facebook, express your core message within the first 90 characters, as longer posts tend to be truncated. Twitter allows for up to 140 characters, however.

Third, post at the optimal time. Only you know will know what’s right for your business, and that often comes as a result of trial and error. Optimal posting times can be determined by the level of engagement you have with fans and followers, so it’s important to pay attention to when you post, as well as the types of content you post. For example, videos tend to receive more engagement than text-based posts.

Facebook provides an analytics component called “Insights” that can help you in determining optimal times to post there. As a rule of thumb, many retailers find that posting between 8am and 2pm works best.

People engage with Facebook the most between 9pm and 10pm and the 18-24 age demographic is the most engaged during this time.

A tool called Edge Rank Checker can help you determine the best times to post on Facebook.

Content Calendar

Once you know where you want to post content, the focus and types of content you want to produce, and have determined the posting frequency, the next step is to develop a content calendar to schedule your posts. One person even referred to it as a “conversation” calendar. What I’m referring to is a calendar whereby you create a series of content entries for use on social networks.

Calendars can be created on a weekly, monthly, or quarterly basis and can be done using a spreadsheet or, preferably, a social media management application designed for that purpose.

Here is an example of a content calendar (click the image to enlarge) using a spreadsheet based on a monthly posting schedule. At the top of the spreadsheet is a field to include the name of the month, along with a field for listing the major theme for that month, should you choose to use one. This could include such themes as holiday sales, special product promotions, marketing campaigns, or anything else you choose to emphasize.

Content Calendar

In the left-hand column are the social media channels that will be posted to. The subsequent columns set forth posting schedules on a weekly basis for each week during the month.

A better way to manage your social media engagement activities, including creating a content calendar, is through the use of social media management applications designed specifically for this purpose. I refer to these applications as “tools.”

These tools enable you to more effectively and efficiently manage every aspect of your social media engagement from content creation, to content syndication, to community management.

For example, rather than writing a blog post, then going to Facebook, Twitter or other social networks to repost the content, these tools automate the process for you. Further, they provide a single dashboard through which you can engage with your fans and followers and administer each of your social media channels. In other words, let the tools do much of the work for you and save the valuable time needed to run your business.

Some of the tools I recommend include:

Each of these software applications is available for use in multiple languages and is affordably priced. Some, like Hootsuite and Tweetdeck, are free to use as the base level.

One of the best and most affordable tools I have found is Sprout Social. It performs just about every operation and function you would ever need. Using it you can:

  • Publish & schedule updates across social channels with a single click.
  • Monitor your brand and competition across social channels and the web. This is especially useful when doing research on where your customers and target audiences maintain a presence online.
  • Connect with highly targeted customers through the discovery tools it provides.
  • Measure the success of your social media engagement with reporting
    and analytics tools.
  • Collaborate with other team members, assign tasks and set permissions.
  • Monitor Foursquare Check-Ins and visitor loyalty, and
  • Manage it all on the go with a mobile version of the application.

Of course, there are many other such tools available, some of which may be better suited to your own language or the country where your business is located. The best way to find them is through a keyword search on search engines using terms like “social media management software.”

In terms of social media engagement, content is king. Engaging content can set you apart from your competition, help establish you as a thought leader and knowledgeable expert, keep your business top of mind with consumers, and can provide the leverage needed to keep your customers coming back time after time.

Check out my new ebook - Social Media for Small Business, Vol. 1 - the first in a 7-part series on using social media to market your business.