Let's face it. It's not an easy time to be a social media marketer. After all, it's hard to build a social media marketing plan with all of the uncertainty that we face. However, in my time advising clients at Firebrand Group, I find that there are some attributes that separate those that succeed and those that don't, and one is a proper social media marketing plan. Here's how to go into 2018 with the best possible plan:

1. Review Business Objectives

This one is critical, and surprisingly, many people skip past this step. You've got to make sure to take a step back and look at what your business objectives may be if you hope to have any help at being successful. Without evaluating your business objectives, there is no way you can develop a proper social media marketing plan that ties back to those objectives.

Let's say one of your business objectives is to grow your market share in a specific region. Well, then your social media marketing plan needs to be developed in order to support that objective. All too often, organizations start posting on social media or engaging with fans and followers without a specific goal in mind, and that just won't cut it in 2018.

2. Plan Time

Figure out where you're going to spend your time. This isn't 2013, when you needed to ask yourself if your customers were on Facebook. Spoiler alert: they are. For that matter, they're probably on Instagram as well. Now, that doesn't mean they all use social media in the same manner. If you're developing a social media marketing plan to support sales of a database software to engineering firm executives, they may be spending less time in their Instagram feeds and more on, say, LinkedIn. But don't build a social media marketing plan without Facebook and Instagram at its core. And if you do, have a very good reason for doing so.

3. Set Aside Budget

Social media is free. Remember reading that somewhere a while back? Weren't those great times? The truth is that the above statement is no longer true. Social media is not free. Like anything else, there is a finite amount of space out there, and you base your entire social media marketing plan around organic reach. Even if your content is terrific, it pays to have a budget in place.

4. Staff Accordingly

The converse is also true: you can't just throw money at the problem. Most organizations will find that for their social media marketing plan to be effective, they will need to have terrific content. Gone are the days when you could hope to outperform others with a stellar community manager. To succeed in 2018 you'll need the right mix of skills and resources. A great community manager is still very helpful, but so is a content development pro. Depending on what kind of organization you're in, your content lead may be a blogger, photographer, or illustrator. In some cases, you'll want to loop in multiple individuals with a number of the above skills. For many organizations, you will also need some people with video skills: typically speaking, someone with an aptitude for shooting and someone who is good at editing. To promote all of this content, most organizations will want to have a social media advertising specialist. To keep these personalities all working in harmony, it's not a bad idea to have a project manager as well.

Of course, depending on the size of the organization, you may either have some team members wearing multiple hats, or you may simply rely on freelance resources to provide some of the above capabilities. What's important is that you at least give some thought to how you're going to handle all these different responsibilities.

5. Stay Current

Things are moving pretty quickly out there, and it's important to keep your skills fresh if you want your social media marketing plan to reflect the times consistently. As you develop your plan, make sure to develop a list of resources you plan to continually use to stay ahead. If you enjoy getting inspiration in your inbox, Social Media Current is a great newsletter (disclaimer: I'm one of their guest editors). But if you're more of an RSS nerd, Feedly is a great way of subscribing to a number of resources to keep your social media marketing plan current.

It is also worth building attendance at a few conferences into your plan. Just because social media is virtual doesn't mean your learning has to be. Here are several worth checking out in 2018.

Ultimately, competing in the wild world of social media is difficult, but if you follow these five steps, chances are you'll have a social media marketing plan that stands out from the competition.