Social media content: What to say? When to say it? To whom should it be said?

If only I had a dollar every time a client told me, "We don't know what to say on our social channels."

I get it. Speaking to customer or client audiences through a social channel can feel awkward. A surprising number of people feel a digital shyness when publishing on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram, Twitter and other channels (even when the communication is on behalf of a business).

I suppose this is a good thing. It means people feel some apprehension about what to say to a nearly invisible, yet vast, audience. Use this feeling to ensure what you publish sounds the right notes for your audience to hear.

In the professions of law, medicine, consulting and even in retail, people aren't trained in college or graduate school to know just how to promote a business or service on all these new social channels. What should one say on social to promote a business? And to whom should these messages be targeted?

It is important to have a strategy that's grounded in your specific business reality.

There are a few steps that should be taken to ensure the communications approach is effective.

1. You must know who your audience is.

Define the various demographic avatars of the types of people you wish to reach who would care about your business. I can assure you the list of types of people will be longer than you would imagine.

Some examples of avatars are: current clients or customers; prospective buyers or customers; media contacts who would have an interest in your services or products; peer professionals who might be sources of referral; or simply specific types of people who would care about your business.

The list of types of people could become lengthy. It is important to consider as many types of customer avatars as possible and then map your messaging to these subgroups.

2. Define the types of content you want people to read or see.

Make a list of the types of messages or content you would like to share. Some examples of content areas are: positioning yourself as a subject-matter expert, presenting visually beautiful images of your products, educating your audience about benefits of your services or key attributes of your services, sharing thoughtful content from other high-quality sites such as news outlets or featured articles that shine a light on the work you do or the products you represent, showcasing people who work on your team and so on.

3. Once you have your audience and content defined begin to regularly publish an interesting mix of content types to audience segments.

Over time you will discover what works well for your enterprise. Don't worry too much about when you publish as you will discover what times and days of the week work best for your audience. And, if you are boosting (advertising) content, you will be doing so over at least a few days, if not longer, so the timing of when you publish becomes moot.

It is important to test messages and explore what works well for various types of stakeholders who might be interested in your business, product or services. When you adopt this posture with respect to your content marketing strategy you will uncover beneficial surprises and your business will grow.

• Rebecca Hoffman is the founder and principal of Good Egg Concepts, a strategic communications and brand marketing consulting practice serving clients around Chicagoland and nationally.

FILE - In this Oct. 10, 2011 file photo, a magnifying glass is posed over a monitor displaying a Facebook page in Munich. Facebook is letting its nearly 1 billion users vote on changes to its privacy policy beginning on Friday, June 1, 2012. This is the second time Facebook let users vote on policy changes. The first time was in 2009 when Facebook was a much smaller, privately held company with about 200 million users (AP Photo/dapd, Joerg Koch)
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