As we crawl into 2021, below is your punch list for taming the dreaded 24/7 Content Beast!

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2020 was rough in a lot of ways for a lot of people, especially small businesses and small business owners. While I do not ever suggest that social media is a set-it-and-forget-it endeavor, there are many steps that you can take now to maximize your efforts for the year. By organizing your social media with a strategic and tactical plan at the start (whether you’re a social veteran or a newbie) you will free yourself to be creative, engaging, and flexible in the coming months. These tips can be checked off in one sit-down or throughout a few brief sessions, laying the groundwork for a year’s worth of content. Large companies spend lots of money on each of these steps, but for the small business owner or solopreneur, you can set the stage for flawless execution in just a couple of hours.

1. Finalize Color Palette

A color palette means that you have a range of colors that you have identified as being associated with your brand. Your logo (if you have one) has a set of colors, as does your website. Using those for guidance, select a range of colors and color types that connects with your brand. You may be communicating in pastels or vibrant primary colors and you want your social media posts to be in alignment with your branding, especially on Instagram. Keeping your colors in mind will help you when gathering images (see step 2) and give you guardrails so to speak when searching through the millions of photos that are available for your use. There are 657 billion photos online—you don’t want to scroll through all of them to find your ideal photos. Organizing by color palette creates a visually streamlined social experience.

2. Gather Images

Once you have your color palette organized, begin to gather images that make sense for your brand and convey your key messages. I post about business and communications, so my images often include professionals having a meeting, employees gathering, an individual working, or a leader giving a presentation. Having a folder of photos that I have previously organized and approved makes posting so much easier. 

3. Create Themes

Themes are the general topics that you will be discussing on your blog or social media on an ongoing basis. Examples of my themes are public relations, communications, and social media. Themes are broad and are evergreen, meaning they are weighty enough to hold up over time and not constrained by time or specific events. Example: Measurement in Public Relations is a theme, a chat by a prominent PR practitioner is not. Create 12 themes—one for each month.

4. Develop Topics

Once you have your 12 themes, you then need to develop topics under those themes. Ideally, you have a least four topics per theme, but you can add many more. For example, in PR, crisis communication is a key theme and I have it slated for 2021 because the one thing I know for sure is there will be a PR crisis that I need to talk about. For 2020, one of my topics for crisis communications was a review of how the British royal family has handled the many public crises they have faced. This was timed to the release of the fourth season of The Crown and created fun opportunities to chat about PR, including a podcast with Molly McPherson.

5. Build Lists

By lists, I mean lists that you will use in your social media engagement. This is especially useful for Twitter but may apply to other platforms. For example, on Instagram, you can save items in Collections, and on Pinterest you have Boards. For each of your themes (or groups of themes), a list (or collection) of relevant people and topics that you can browse through at the click of a button to get up to date on a topic is very useful. Do not rely on inspiration and search to jumpstart your engagement. For example, if you talk about real estate, you probably do not want to follow every sing real estate agent on Twitter, but if you create a list and add real estate agents to it, you can quickly and easily get up to date on recent real estate tweets.

6. Follow Collaborators

You need a go-to list of collaborators with whom you can quickly connect on topics related to your themes. These will be professionals that you already know and have a working relationship with so that you can easily reach out with an email, DM, or text to ask for a quote when needed on your topics. I write about PR and I hang out with a lot of PR people, so I have a go-to list of professionals that I think are smart and who will generally respond if I have a request. These are not potential clients, potential bosses, or thought leaders. They are my PR friends. Collaborators are your helpers.

7. Set Hashtags

You are going to be generating a lot of content and you need to help others find that content by using hashtags (#) in your social posts. Your hashtags need to be researched ahead of time and need to be related to your themes and topics. For example, I use the hashtag #PR every single day. In personal social media, hashtags can be fun and funny, but for branding, they need to be useful. Think of them as SEO for your posts.

8. Purge

You posted something weird last year. Everyone did. Maybe it was a political rant or you dropped one too many F-bombs (if there is such a thing?) Maybe it felt right and was necessary then. That’s great, but you need to purge. Go through your 2020 posts and weed out what does not serve you going forward. For a client, I posted 6 times in one day about Ben Affleck and Kelly Clarkson. When I went back, it was just a lot of star-gazing, so I deleted 4 of the posts and kept the two meaningful ones.

9. Brainstorm Ideas

You need lots of ideas to have a robust social media presence. Many of those ideas will come to you spontaneously but you cannot rely on inspiration alone. Start brainstorming now so you can fill out your calendar ahead of time—your themes and topics will be a great guide, but collect all of your good ideas, even if they do not fit just yet.

10. Build Link Library

If you have a website or professional presence online then you are going to want to link to those pages regularly. If you are just linking to your LinkedIn profile then that’s easy, but you likely have dozens of pages on your blog that you need to promote, plus your social channels. Pull together a list of your top links. If they are long and ugly, use a link-shortening tool to brand them. Having your links prepared ahead of time will make posting easier and will help to build momentum.

11. Curate Sharing List

Your sharing list is the group of people you will ask to share your content. (They are likely from your Collaborators Group, but can be different). These are people who are also very active on social and like you enough to share your content. These are not strangers, but people you can message occasionally and ask to share a post. Probably it is a good idea to rotate these people so you are not asking for shares all of the time. Also, make sure to share their posts too.

12. Build Out Alerts

2021 is going to be crazy! There’s no reason to believe anything, in any category will calm down, go back to normal, or slow down. Note what topics, what accounts, and what responses you need to be notified of to help improve your experience and set notifications for those now. It could be Google Alerts on the topics you have outlined previously or in-app notifications for the people that you want to collaborate with.

13. Mute Noise Accounts

Use the mute function on your social media liberally. You can love someone and not read all of their tweets. If you need to grow professionally or are growing a brand, not every account that you follow will help you to reach your goals and many are simply distracting. You have my permission to mute brands or people who are posting too often or are not sharing content that you find useful. I don’t even want to know how many people have muted me, but after all that, I totally get it.

14. Prepare Scheduling Tools

To be successful on social media in 2021, you must work ahead on your content so you will need a scheduling tool—or three. I use Hootsuite daily as well as Buffer, Tailwind, and Crowdfire. Most apps have free plans but to maximize your social efforts I recommend at least one paid plan. 

15. Write Evergreen Content

Your themes and topics from above are going to be timely and relevant, but there are many things that you are going to say over and over again. That is your Evergreen Content and it could be the same tweet that promotes your LinkedIn page or a long-form blog post that draws new clients to your website. Write it now to make 2021 easier.

16. Discover Your Media

Someone somewhere is writing about your topics. Find those people and begin to build a small media list. You may never actually try media relations or need to speak to a journalist, but you will be far ahead of the game if you start familiarizing yourself with their work now by reading and sharing their articles. Plus, it is great content for you to engage in and share.

17. Build Your Tribe

These are your people. My tribe is on Twitter. I feel like my Twitter friends are my real friends. Yeah, we might be connected on LinkedIn, but we engage on Twitter. For many people, it is Facebook—wherever you feel the most comfortable, loved, and supported is where you should build your tribe. Figure out where they are and how best to communicate with them. If it is on Twitter, put them on a list or create a group chat. On Facebook or LinkedIn, create a group that you invite them to. Or if they are not that social, create a slack channel just for your group.

18. Plan your 70-20-10 Schedule

70% of what you post on social will be brand or business-related. 20% will be industry news or trending topic related. 10% will be personal. What does that look like for you? Will you do a week in review of news stories or comment on the news daily? Product reviews? How to series? Q & A? How much of your personal life will you share? Do you have a fun hobby that you can talk about or an organization that you support? Maybe on Sundays, you do an Oprah-style “super soul Sunday” or share a meaningful quote. Bullet-pointing these now and put it on your calendar. Like for real, schedule yourself to schedule your social media. 

19. Finalize Your CTAs

Everybody wants something. I want something. You want something. What is it and how do you make it clear, easy, and measurable for social media? Will you say “subscribe to my newsletter” or “join the PR party?” What do you ultimately want people to do? Like something? Share something? Follow you? Figure out how you are going to communicate to people what action you want them to take.

20. Set Goals & Metrics

Even a single individual who is simply needing to grow their professional social presence needs to measure their activities to see what is working and what is not. Small businesses and brands have to set goals and measure success—even if you are an army-of-one. Many of the social scheduling tools will tell you the best time to post, how many likes or views your content received, etc. Start using those basic analytics to get a sense of what people are connecting with. I was very surprised to find out that my top tweet in 2020 was a 2019 tweet supporting gay rights and humorously (if I do say so myself) condemning a group that is set on harming others. It did not blow up in one day or one week, but over time, it became my top engagement on Twitter. Go figure!

21. Understand What is Changing in 2021

Parler. Clubhouse. Reels. Stories. Social media is a never-ending carousel of new features, options, functions, and platforms. You do not have to be an expert, but you do need to understand what is new and what is changing to be successful.

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