baddonkeyBy Meghan Bardwell, marketing coordinator and social media bad ass for Heinz Marketing

The social media world seems like a whirlwind, fly-by-the-seat-of-your-pants territory. After all, with the demanding work of posting content multiple times a day—every day—who has time to actually think about creating a strategy and goals? Having a purposeful plan for your company, though, is invaluable to making your work translate into results.

Before diving into the social media storm, develop a strategy. Building one out can result in benefits like demonstrating your company’s expertise in the industry, improving SEO traffic to your website, and developing leads and prospects. Here are some important key steps that will put you on the road to developing an effective social media strategy:

1. Pick a relevant theme
Find a theme that will resonate with your target customers—and your company. For example, “increasing collaboration and efficiency in the workplace” may be a good focus for an HR solutions company. You don’t necessarily have to share this theme with your followers. It’s more for yourself so you can guide your content development. The key is to find something that you can talk about knowledgeably, find articles and posts on, and provide value to your prospects.

2. Find the top influencers in your industry
If you want your voice to be heard, find the people who “matter” in your part of the social media world. Follow them on Twitter, Facebook, Google+, and LinkedIn. Share their content (making sure it’s relevant to your theme and strategy), and ask them to share yours. Ask them to guest-blog for you, and offer to guest-blog for them. Tools like Little Bird, Klout, and Traackr can help you find your industry’s influencers.

3. Set up a social dashboard
This may seem like an obvious step. But are you using the one that works best for your goals? There are a vast number of options available—the trick is finding one or several that work for you. Hootsuite is a great way to monitor and post to all your accounts. Buffer is great for queuing up lots of content and seeing immediate post results. A measuring tool like RivalIQ or SproutSocial can show your social growth over time. Explore, try out different tools, and see what works best for your goals.

4. Post value-add content
Whether you’re curating or posting original content, providing value-add content is vital. Don’t constantly post about why your company is awesome and what products are for sale. Instead, at least 80 percent of the time, post valuable content that will present your company as an industry expert and influencer. Share posts that your prospects will want to read and learn from. Over time, your prospects will see your expertise and keep you in mind when they’re ready to buy.

5. Use SEO keywords
To help drive SEO traffic, use the SEO keywords from your site in your social media work. Revamp your company’s “About” section on each social media profile, especially for LinkedIn and Google+, so it contains the core keywords from your site. Use relevant keywords in your Google+ and blog posts so they’re more likely to show up in natural search results. Also, make sure you use important keywords in some of your daily tweets.