A Guide to Building a Social Media Strategy

Article 12 min
Build a strong strategy to increase external awareness of your organization's social media policies, boost engagement, gain feedback and monitor public perception. Remember, a good social media strategy is one part of a larger communication plan. As such, it should nest under or positively impact the commander's overall strategic objectives and/or communication objectives.

A social media strategy sets the tone and rules for the organization on social media. It keeps your organization aware of all DoD and local policies that rule and govern social media both personally and professionally. Your strategy should make your organization more aware of and engaged in the social media presence and help the Public Affairs Office do its job more effectively.

While risk mitigation is an important aspect of a social media strategy, the focus is on aligning the efforts of the digital space with the commander's intent and producing quantifiable results toward meeting the commander's end state. Social media strategy operationalizes our approach to social media.

Unlike using social media as a tactic to achieve a specific goal, social media strategy is a broad framework for operations over a long period of time. By focusing on the big picture, social media managers have a robust reference for managing and assessing accounts, posts, audience interaction and more.

Social media strategies vary depending on the organization's needs but usually include the following sections of information: Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation.

A graphic depicting the four sections of a social media strategy: Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation. Within each section are bullets providing key points on what each section entails.
A graphic depicting the four sections of a social media strategy: Research, Planning, Implementation and Evaluation. Within each section are bullets providing key points on what each section entails.
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Consider the following topics and questions to help construct each section of your social media strategy.


Build a foundation for all the other steps in the problem-solving process.

The services have already gone through the lion's share of trouble to develop policy. Social media managers primarily need to educate themselves rather than try to "reinvent the wheel" by creating substantial local policy. Local policy should be minimal and meet the unit's unique requirements while largely deferring to the enterprise-level policy – nested from top-down. Work through these ten "hows” to arrive at a viable policy:

  1. How does social media support the command?
  2. How is digital release authority managed?
  3. How is policy updated, published and disseminated?
  4. How is social media training conducted at the echelon?
  5. How are platforms selected?
  6. How is social listening conducted/reported?
  7. How will you maintain your command voice and tone across platforms?
  8. How are brand ambassadors managed?
  9. How will you communicate and respond?
  10. How are crises defined and communicated?

The policy provided by the DoD and individual services outlines the limits of what the organization's social media can and should do. From there, the Public Affairs (PA) team details the specifics.

For example, Joint Publication (JP) 3-61 Public Affairs provides specific guidance on records management, digital release authority and public standards. The Hatch Act Guidance on Social Media covers what federal employees may and may not do on social media (whether they are at work or not).

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

  • Types of digital content
    • General content (untargeted)
    • Targeted content (designed and delivered for a specific stakeholder)
    • Broad content (appealing to multiple stakeholders within a public)
    • Cross media content (delivered to multiple publics)
    • Viral content (where your stakeholders effectively become spokespersons on your behalf and share your content to other publics that you couldn’t have otherwise reached)
  • Community terms of service for each platform
  • Ethics to be taken into consideration before posting
  • Measures that will be put in place to ensure these standards are followed
  • How the content will be formatted on each platform

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

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

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

More guidance on archiving official social media accounts and content can be found via NARA Bulletin 2014-02.


Make decisions about goals, relevant audiences, platforms and messaging.

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

  • What is the purpose of the organization using social media?
  • How will a social media presence benefit the commander’s intent?
  • How will it reinforce the organization's core values and priorities?
  • What is the digital end state (goals)?

Audiences are broad groups of people with common characteristics such as gender, age, location and language used. Within that audience, you’ll have key publics and stakeholders. Individuals or groups of people are stakeholders when they are affected by–or are in a position to affect–joint force efforts. Stakeholders could be key individuals in government, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), individuals that live outside a military base, etc. A public is a stakeholder individual or group that has become more active in its communication efforts.

Identify the stakeholders that the commander is interested in creating knowledge and behavior changes in and search them out on social media. Depending on location, these groups may not be domestic, so special care and consideration should be given to language, culture and coordination with other federal agencies.

Consider publics beyond the service members in the organization. Think about their families, former service members and anyone who may have a general interest in what your organization specializes. Examine followers and engagements on all platforms.

  • Who is the primary audience?
  • What other groups exist in the audience?
  • What other groups would benefit from being in the audience?
  • What social connections does the target audience have with the organization and with each other?
  • Are additional resources needed to connect with the new publics?
  • What new information can be gleaned from assessing the information environment?

The framework of digital success is creating progress toward the commander’s end state. It is only attained by achieving the four "rights": communicate the right message to the right person at the right time on the right platform.

To aid in this process, it’s necessary to create personas. When creating personas, consider:

  • What platforms do I use?
  • What sort of content am I interested in?
  • Who are my digital influencers?
  • When is the best time to reach me?
  • What do I think about your brand?
  • What is the best way to reach me?
  • How do I make decisions?
  • How do I get my news?
  • How are you defining social media success?

Our stakeholders know/feel/do these things that we tell them. They no longer believe/feel/do the thing they were doing before we started. Through our efforts digitally, certain stakeholders have been activated to take action in the conventional spaces on our behalf.

Platform identification should start with identifying where our stakeholders are. If a strategy isn’t built around the stakeholder, you're creating an echo chamber, and missing out on an opportunity to get in front of topics and drive the conversation. Identify the platforms where the organization exists and can be maintained. Commit to the requirements of the platform, but be selective and smart about where to put your energies/resources. State the reason for each individual platform. Keep in mind that all platforms must be registered with the DoD. Consider: 

  • How does each platform benefit the commander’s intent?
  • On what platforms does the organization currently exist?
  • How often does the organization maintain these platforms?
  • Who will maintain these platforms?
  • How will the 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 organization'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 organization'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?


Use strategic implementation by focusing on social media management, content standards and content curation to carry out the plan.

Consider how the organization's social media presence will sound. 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 organization's purpose and priorities?
  • What voice will speak to the current audience to make them want to pay attention and visit the page?
  • What is the character or persona that will make the platform stand out?
  • What voice and tone will speak the best to the audience?

Provide an overview of how posts will sound and look on individual platforms. This section tells those responsible for posting how they’ll align with the voice and tone and gives guidelines 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?

All content, whether it is being shared internally or externally, must meet 508 compliance standards. Consider:

  • Section 508 of the Rehabilitation Act of 1973 requires that federal employees with disabilities have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to the access and use by Federal employees who are not individuals with disabilities unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.
  • Section 508 also requires that individuals with disabilities, who are members of the public seeking information or services from a Federal agency, have access to and use of information and data that is comparable to that provided to the public who are not individuals with disabilities unless an undue burden would be imposed on the agency.

Establish a 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 the content 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?

A successful social media strategy requires careful deliberation, strategic planning and continual evaluation. Since social media is a conversation, having an organized content calendar will ensure people inside and outside the primary audience will have relevant content to engage with. You will want to differentiate content across platforms while adhering to the same themes and strategies. 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., support, general communication through the platform)?
  • What is the plan for inflammatory comments, trolls and spam?
    • People cannot be stopped from joining a public conversation on a social media account because of the views they express on the topics at hand.
    • Critical voices cannot be blocked from asking for government services through social media accounts because of those critical viewpoints.
    • People cannot be prevented from being able to see social media posts that publicly announce government information or policy because of their viewpoints.
    • Allow for some flexibility. Is the commenter trying to cause trouble, looking for attention, signaling that they need help or are they simply misinformed?
    • Coordinate responses with the legal department. When can and should a user or comment get deleted/banned/blocked? When does a post no longer fall under the protection of the first amendment?
    • Before deleting/hiding a comment, always document and log the action. According to the National Archives Records Administration (NARA), you may delete/hide the following types of comments:
      • Direct threats and personal defamation
      • Obscenity that violates the platform’s terms of service
      • Promotion of commercial services or products
      • Links that pose a threat of malware
  • What is the standard operating procedure for inflammatory commenters who are currently serving? Depending on the motivation, discipline or offline conversations, other resources may need to be considered.
  • How frequently will the organization respond to various groups?
  • How will you build and maintain trust across platforms?


Assess the progress and results of the program to answer the questions: How are we doing? and What should we change?

Social Monitoring tells “what.” Social monitoring is the process of identifying, tracking and responding to individual brand mentions on social media, blogs, websites, review sites and forums to learn what people are saying about your brand and competitors online. Social listening tells “why.” Social listening is the process of tracking conversations around specific topics, keywords and phrases, collecting data about broader conversations and pulling insights from them so you can make better decisions. Common services for social listening include Sprinklr, Hootsuite, Google Analytics and Sprout.

Social listening will allow you to leverage insights and discover opportunities to create targeted content. It will help you course-correct if necessary. Social listening involves:

  • Learning how global sentiment impacts messages
  • Using historical data to determine how people feel about an issue and/or organization over time
  • Helping understand the “why” if you observe a sudden shift in how people feel
  • Helping identify the types of language people associate with your organization

Filtering is a tool used to inform your command of what is happening and why it is happening. There are four kinds of filtering to be aware of.

Conversation Filtering

This is the baseline of social listening as it tells you what folks are saying. Filtering allows you to monitor trends and conversations through the most basic tools, such as hashtag analysis. Information will then be used for building thematic profiles of groups for message tailoring.

Network Filtering

This shows you how groups are interacting internally and externally. Use for profiling influencers to determine how they make decisions and connections. Network filtering is also important for watching how things jump from platform to platform or off the platforms and into the real world–protests, for example. Some examples of network filters are:

  • Black Twitter
  • TransTok 
  • MarvelTok  
  • CottageCoreGram
  • ThirstTrapGram

Demographic Filter

This filter sorts individuals by socio-economic or location data. It's used to track activities across groups or spaces and to segment stakeholders for message tailoring.

Psychographic Filtering

Measure individual attributes to develop personality profiles that provide actionable insight into decision-making. These filters are difficult to create and often require proprietary data. You’re not likely to conduct this filtering, although it is actively being done to you. Bad actors are conducting very targeting personality profiling to make the jump to reflexive control.

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 organization for information in a crisis situation. This allows the organization to maintain control of the narrative and build trust throughout the community. Include general and specific crisis situations especially applicable to the organization. 

For a real-world emergency, the best practices for DoD communication channels are:

  • Review and adjust the content calendar
  • Review and confirm release authority
  • Communicate with compassion
  • Amplify credible voices
  • Use social listening to stay informed
  • Avoid “trend-jacking”
  • Leave room for questions
  • Don’t disappear

For reputational crisis – moments where, due to unit or service member actions we have lost the public trust – the best practices are:

  1. Acknowledge the issue publicly
  2. Pause all other content; tag your crisis
  3. Don’t squabble or argue semantics
  4. Engage personably and continually listen

Make sure crisis communication plans coordinate with and support emergency management functions. Share information and make sure outside departments are on the same page.

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 (KPIs). 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?

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