With cooler weather about to usher in the holiday season, it’s not too early to start making plans for your holiday social media campaign. In fact, some five million consumers in the U.S. last year had already wrapped up their holiday shopping before the end of summer.

Social media remains one of the most popular tools for business marketing, with 74 percent of marketers planning to increase its use within the next year, and 48 percent actively measuring related click-through rates. A poll this year shows the medium is most commonly being used for brand awareness (51 percent), lead generation (23 percent), and direct sales (17 percent). Overall, social media use increased 13 percent in the past year alone.

Once the holiday season really gets rolling, you’ll be glad for any social post preparation you made ahead of time. This year your social media and email can work in conjunction to promote your business, highlight specific products, and facilitate interest and trust in your brand.

While forecasters hadn’t made big predictions when this went to print, last year’s nationwide holiday sales crept up 3 percent to $626.1 billion. Act now to get your piece of the festive (pumpkin) pie with these social media tips.

Make a list, check it twice

  • Establish objectives. Are you trying to boost sales, reinforce your brand, drive followers to your website, boost email subscriptions, promote specific deals or products, create buzz, drive more foot traffic, or all of the above? Use that wish list to set specific goals for the season, like this for example: “We will entice 50 customers to redeem the coupons we post on Facebook.”
  • Choose effective venues. Each social media platform skews toward a demographic, so your decision may require market research and a review of where your competitors are active.
  • Establish a frequent posting schedule. Decide who will take on responsibility for the posting itself, understanding that posts can be pre-programmed to publish at different intervals. As a guideline, consider posting on Facebook three to 10 times weekly; Twitter five times daily; LinkedIn two to five times weekly; and Pinterest five to 10 times daily.
  • Map out a seasonal calendar. Online tools offer schedule spreadsheets that can incorporate plans for the timing, subject, and content of each post or Tweet while storing images and videos. Jotting down topics and image links on a paper calendar works fine, too. The most popular kickoff is sometime during the first two weeks of November, though some businesses like to start earlier to include Halloween.
  • Be observant. In general, your audiences should receive relevant messages several days ahead of any event so they have time to plan and ship any gifts. Possibilities include Movember (all of November); daylight saving time (Nov. 6); Veterans Day (Nov. 11); Thanksgiving (Nov. 24); Black Friday (Nov. 25); Small Business Saturday (Nov. 26); Cyber Monday (Nov. 28); Free Shipping Day (Dec. 16); Hanukkah (Dec. 24 through Jan. 1); Kwanzaa (Dec. 26 through Jan. 1); Christmas Eve and Day (Dec. 24 and 25); and New Year’s Eve and Day (Dec. 31 and Jan. 1). This year, some forecasters are also predicting Singles Day (Nov. 11) will migrate from China.
  • Take advantage of cross-marketing. That means getting out your message on multiple channels to increase visibility. If you’re taking the time to create a compelling social media post about an upcoming event, sale or promotion, for example, it’s fairly easy to tweak that information into a corresponding email or blog.

Hitting Santa’s workshop 

  • Offer a variety. In general, the industry-standard “Rule of Thirds” dictates that a third of your posts build your brand via personal posts and responses; a third promote your business and its bottom line; and a third provide visitors useful information or opinions related to your industry.
  • Publicly support philanthropic causes and events. When appropriate, give your brand a bit of personality beyond business as usual by using your social media accounts to acknowledge charitable organizations that are important to you. Also, consider giving a shout-out to employees who are going above and beyond.
  • Choose quality over quantity. When in doubt, avoid overly promotional messages.
  • Be interactive. Ask for opinions, respond to comments, sponsor contests, and so on. You might ask customers for one-minute videos about how they’ll use your products during the holidays, host ugly sweater contests, or ask for worst weather or favorite gift photos. A custom Facebook app from a company like PromoJam can help. Research shows customers who engage with companies over social media spend 20 to 40 percent more money with that company.
  • Feature clear, compelling visuals. The human brain perceives images in just 13 milliseconds, far more quickly than it perceives copy. Find a dozen interchangeable photos for your Facebook cover art, create a holiday-themed Pinterest board, and Tweet images from classic holiday movies, for example.
  • Offer exclusive giveaways, promotions, discounts, or info on special sales. Who doesn’t want free stuff, especially during the holidays?
  • Share holiday tips or advice. Find and present information that’s relevant to your audience, perhaps helping followers solve a problem. Consider festive recipes, decorating and entertaining ideas, or beauty and fashion tips.
  • Use surveys. A survey can be used to solicit and share valuable and timely information.
  • Conduct research on post timing. Determine the best times to publish posts for your given industry and audience.
  • Gather intelligence. Find out which posts and Tweets are performing best for current and future reference. Free tools like Facebook Insights and Google Analytics can help.
  • Count down to major holidays. Drum up excitement with a countdown.
  • Celebrate the 12 days of Christmas. A 12 Days of Christmas-themed campaign can be a fun way to spread out promotions, as RentMoola did here.
  • Tap into the urgency of last-minute shopping. Actively communicate shipping deadlines, product availability, and other time-sensitive information across all your social networks, as Walgreens did here. More than 40 percent of U.S. consumers do the majority of shopping in December or later.
  • Help them shop. Almost 65 percent of shoppers scroll through their social feeds to find ideas for the perfect present, so Tweet links to your products or set up a regularly updated gift guide on your Facebook page.
  • Respond quickly to comments, questions, complaints, and kudos. These days customers on social media expect immediate responses from brands, meaning your company will be viewed negatively if it fails in that regard.
  • Stay positive. Research shows customers who have a positive exchange with a business on social media are 71 percent more likely to recommend that business to others, so do everything you can to garner referrals.
  • Stay on top of unflattering reviews. Apologize for any inconvenience, be sympathetic to the customer’s needs, and offer to speak about the problem in private.
  • Promote trust. Offering stellar customer service and troubleshooting around the holidays will help build trust in your business.
  • Team up with a local charity. Consider holding a food drive or staging a BOGO promotion through which your business donates the other item to a family in need.

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