In the first of her monthly columns for Hiscox, journalist, social media trainer and media expert Sue Llewellyn assess why many social media campaigns are started without a map or a plan.

Ask a child to draw a map and you’re likely to find a land of mountains and monsters with an X marking the spot where to find buried treasure.

Looking at or creating magnificent maps their little faces light up with excitement as they venture into the unknown, an uncharted territory inhabited by strange beasts and mythical creatures – like Middle Earth. Or the Internet.

Indeed maps are so familiar to us that, when helping businesses and journalists ‘get social’ I’ve often used this map of online communities as a starting point to help explain the world of social media.

Imagine each platform is a different country, with a different culture and a different language. The landscape of each ‘country’ might look a little different but the people seem much the same. This assumption would be your first mistake.

The inhabitants of Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn might appear to be similar but there are significant demographic and psychographic differences and a wide range of dialects – not everyone speaks ‘hashtag’ for example.

So just imagine that you were planning to visit a country you’d never been to before, would you go without doing some homework? Probably not.

For starters you might read a guidebook, get a few recommendations and perhaps even try to grasp a few basic words of the language but it’s unlikely that you’d simply arrive and expect to know your way around or make yourself understood.

Would you want to be thought of as that embarrassing English tourist who speaks slowly but increasingly LOUDLY to make himself U N D E R S T O O D?

Don’t worry, it’s not that bad but it never ceases to amaze me how many businesses launch into the world of social without even a basic roadmap. No plan, no strategy, no idea. “Let’s set up a Facebook page” Why? Because we can.

It’s vital to do your homework and create a roadmap for your business, just as you would with your business plan. So where should you start? As a journalist, I’d always start by asking questions. Lots of questions.

Who, what, why, when, where and how

1. Identify your audiences

Who are you aiming at and where are they spending their time? Are they even on Facebook or Twitter? What are they like and, most importantly, what would they like from you?

Mind-mapping your audiences and their needs can be very helpful here.

2. Determine your goals

What exactly do you want to achieve? What are your objectives and how do your business objectives align with your social media activities? Are you trying to raise awareness, generate leads or do you simply want to start by listening for opportunities?

Also watch out for obstacles, have a ‘here be dragons’ section on your map where you identify potential problems and how you could overcome them.

3. Ask yourself what has my business got to offer?

Remember, it’s not about you, it’s about them (your clients and customers) so how can you build trust and add value? What would you share on social media and would you create or curate content?  How much time have you got to devote to it?

And ultimately how are you going to measure success? After all it’s not just the impressions that count but the impression you make – qualitative or quantitative – both are important in social.

Finding a trusted guide to help you navigate this fast-moving new world is hugely important and you are bound to make a few wrong turns along the way. Everyone makes mistakes so be prepared but don’t panic.

The rules are changing as fast as anyone makes them and new platforms and tools spring up daily. Keeping up with the Joneses (or Kardashians) is a full-time job, so start small and break it into manageable chunks.

As a small business owner myself I know the pressure of time, or rather the lack of it. So begin by identifying the places and spaces most relevant to your business and your audiences and start mapping it. Only then will you have a clear idea where you’re going and where to find the hidden treasure … along with a few kittens, unicorns and the keys to social media #success.

For further insights, follow Sue on Twitter @suellewellyn.