A Guide to Building a Social Media Strategy

Article 7 min
Build a strong strategy to increase unit awareness of social media policies, boost engagement and maintain control of public perception of the unit using this guide.

A social media strategy keeps the unit aware of all DoD and unit policies that rule and govern social media both personally and professionally. It makes the unit more aware and engaged in the social media presence and helps the Public Affairs Office do their job more effectively. Most importantly, it communicates the policies that will keep the unit out of the news cycle for the blatant disregard of policies and ethics that should apply to all social media accounts and content. 

Social media strategies will vary depending on the unit or command needs but will usually include the following sections of information:

  • Research & Planning
  • Policies & Procedures
  • Execution
  • Evaluation

Research and Plan Purpose Audience Platforms Goals Digital Governance Policy Content Standards Conversation Management Crisis Communication Employee Guidelines Records Management Execution Voice & Tone Style Guide Content Curation Social Media Issue Evaluation Analytics Reflection
A graphic that will help build a strong strategy to increase unit awareness of social media policies, boost engagement and maintain control of public perception of the unit using this guide.
Photo by: Andrea Batts-Latson
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Consider the following topics and questions to help construct each section of the unit's social media strategy.

Research & Planning

Identify the why, who, what, where, how and goals of the unit's social media account.


Explain why the unit needs to be on social media. Commander’s intent must be considered and included in the purpose. Consider:

  • What is the purpose of the unit using social media? 
  • How will a social media presence benefit the commander’s intent?
  • How will it reinforce the unit's core values and priorities?


Use social listening, monitoring and Facebook analytics to determine the audience. Users can be broken down by gender, age, location and language used. Consider beyond the service members in the unit. Think about their families, former service members and anyone who may have a general interest in what your unit specializes in. Examine followers and the engagements on all platforms. Consider:

  • Who is the primary audience?
  • What other groups exist largely in the audience?
  • What other groups would benefit from being in the audience?
  • What social connections does the target audience have with the unit and with each other?


Identify the platforms the unit exists on and will maintain. State the reason for each individual platform. Consider including how each platform benefits the commander’s intent. Keep in mind that all platforms must be registered with the DoD. Consider:

  • What platforms does the unit currently exist on?
  • How often does the unit maintain these platforms? 
  • Who will maintain these platforms?
  • How will the Public Affairs (PA) staff continue developing these individual platforms according to the overall purpose?
  • Are there any platforms to consider for future use?


Determine the overarching goals for the unit's social media platform. Write measurable objectives to prescribe how the goal will be reached. Think about how to continue building the network. Evaluate the current and desired audience, building their trust and fostering engagement. Consider:

  • What are the goals for the unit’s social media networks?
  • What specific objectives and actions need to be taken to fulfill these goals?
  • Are objectives established using SMART (specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, time-based) criteria?
  • How will success be determined?

Digital Governance

Write out the unit's guidelines for operating across social media platforms to define the laws that define and protect users and how the unit will operate online.


Policy provided by the DoD and individual services outline the limits of what the unit’s social media can and should do. From there, the PA team detail the specifics. Provide the existing policy that applies to the unit. For example, Joint Publication (JP) 3-61 Public Affairs.

Content Standards

Outline the types of content that can be shared across platforms. Ensure that these types of content align with the purpose. Consider:

  • What content is allowed?
  • What ethics must be taken into consideration before posting?
  • What measures will be in place to ensure that these standards are followed?
  • How will the content be formatted on each platform?

Conversation Management

Social media is a conversation. People inside and outside of the primary audience will engage with the unit’s content. Plan for if and how to respond to various groups of people. Provide rules and guidelines for how conversations will be managed. Consider:

  • How will conversations be monitored?
  • How will conversations be reported to stakeholders/commanders?
  • What is the appropriate response to various types of respondents (i.e. trolls, support, general communication through the platform)?
  • How frequently will the unit respond to various groups? 

Crisis Communication

Social media is vital for crisis communication. A key reason for building a social media presence is to encourage the public to come to the unit for information in a crisis situation. This allows the unit to maintain control of the narrative and build trust throughout the community. Include general and specific crisis situations especially applicable to the unit. Consider:

  • What is the plan for social media before, during and after a crisis?
  • How and when will the staff respond to engagements from inside and outside of the primary audience?
  • Who will be responsible for carrying out this plan?

Employee Guidelines

Provide the rules and guidelines that all employees and service members are expected to follow on their personal pages. Each service has recommendations on their website.  Consider:

  • What ethics must they take into consideration before posting?
  • Why must they take these guidelines into consideration?
  • What is the consequence of not abiding by these guidelines

Records Management

Social media accounts and their content must be properly archived in compliance with United States Code Title 44, Freedom of Information Act and the respective branches’ policies.

  • What is the unit required to document?
  • What steps will be taken to ensure proper documentation and records mangaement?


Provide specifics of operating on individual platforms and in various situations while posting.

Voice and Tone

Consider what the unit’s social media presence will sound like. Choose the character and voice based on the current and emerging audience. Each platform can have its own voice and tone because of the differences in audience and platform functionality. Consider:

  • What is the tone to best fulfill the unit’s purpose and priorities?
  • What voice will speak to current audience to make them want to pay attention and visit the page?
  • What is the character or persona that will make the platform stick out?
  • What voice and tone will speak the best to the audience?

Style Guide

Provide an overview of what posts will sound and look like on individual platforms. This section tells those responsible for posting how they’ll align with the voice and tone and what guidelines there are for posting on each platform. Consider:

  • What are the guidelines for photo and video elements?
  • What are the guidelines for writing posts, captions and other text-based content?
  • What stylistic rules are required for posting and curating content?

Content Curation

Establish a plan or process or method for curating content. Content made specifically for a platform performs better than sharing links. Take into consideration the algorithms that decide who and how many people will see the posts. Ensure that the content being described and used still aligns with the social media presence. Consider:

  • What steps are put in place to ensure content continues to engage the audience by being dynamic and unpredictable?
  • How does the curated content resonate with the audience?
  • What characteristics, aspects or format will be used to ensure posts create meaning?
  • How will posts foster engagement?

Social Media Issues

Social media issues can also occur. Plan for what will happen in the case that a post goes viral in a negative light. Take into account situations that pose a safety or operational concern. Consider:

  • What safety and operational concerns exist?
  • What constitutes a social media issue?
  • How will concerns/issues be reported?
  • How will these issues be handled?
  • What steps will be taken to prevent a social media crisis? 
  • What will be done if the account is compromised (cyber-hijacking, cyber-vandalism, etc.)?




Identify key indicating factors that will be used to evaluate the success and failure of the social media presence as a whole and the success and failure of specific posts. Go beyond numbers and establish qualitative key performance indicators (KPI). Consider:

  • What metrics will be measured and why?
  • What will be considered a success? A failure?
  • What qualitative analysis will be done? How will this be monitored?
  • How often will posts and accounts be evaluated?


Metrics should not be taken and put away. They need to be utilized to continue developing the individual platforms and the strategy as a whole. Consider:

  • How will metrics be tracked over time?
  • How will the metrics be used to inform the strategy going forward?
  • How often will the staff hold a social audit to evaluate and update the social media strategy?
  • How will updates be implemented?