Social Media has become a necessity for any marketing plan. In my research into this article, I wanted to look into the notion of a ‘social media bubble’. Articles over the past year have predicted an ‘end of days’ for a marketing communications channel that boasts 2.77bn global users. This is linked to the new regulations of promoted content and influencer marketing, the devaluation of social media companies, social ‘filters’, and negativity around cyberbullying and fake news distribution. However, when I researched further, these ‘doom and gloom’ articles had been making the rounds since 2011.
Social Media has helped startup brands grow into multi-million-pound businesses – like Cards Against Humanity. They’ve reinvigorated brands that embrace its innovation and widen their consumer base – like Burberry. Chipotle is a personal favourite. It invested well and used a two-pronged approach: a) community interaction with users, and b) incredible branded content. Check out their Scarecrow case study – one of the many ways Chipotle have harnessed their values and overarching mission to create engaging content on an emotional level to millions of people. I’ve used Chipotle in seminars, training sessions and presentations to clients as a great example of a brand using social media and content right. This was a few years ago now, and things are indeed changing.
We must distinguish between a brand that’s celebrated for being ‘cool’ on social media (in the eyes of the industry) and brands that use it to generate tangible business results. This culture of self-congratulation through awards and case studies does not have the client in mind. The client cares about their bottom line. A Marketing Director’s objective is going to be based on the needs of the business: return on investment, sales, revenue, market share. A Cannes Lion won’t help them when they disclose their results at the end of the quarter.
Whichever way you cut it, social media is continuing to grow, and it offers a valuable platform for brands to generate awareness, engagement, consideration, and even sales. It’s not as easy as opening an account and posting ‘stuff’. If used ineffectively, it can drain your resources. Or worse, be detrimental to your brand.
There are thousands of ‘tips’ and ‘cheat sheets’ that claim to guarantee success for brands who use social media. They usually give you rather ambiguous advice: ‘be engaging’, ‘upload content often’, ‘use images and videos’. Most of which is valid, but often doesn’t take into account the pivotal differences between social platforms and how consumers use them. They also fail to recognise the complexity of social media – a rapidly evolving yet saturated communications marketplace.
Truth is, there is no step-by-step template you can copy. If there was, there would be no need for marketing agencies and consultants. However, there are some overarching considerations you must take into account to give your brand the best chance.
This is a guide that provides tangible examples to learn from and explores the difficulties a brand might face when they embark on their journey into social media and content marketing.
In essence, the successful use of social media for your brand is the correct use of:
authenticity. time. context. form. message. call to action. resource.
Brands must be authentic when using social media. This sounds like a cliché – especially to those of us in the industry. However, the biggest brands in the world continue to get it wrong – so it needs repeating. You must remember to show consistency in your personality. Do the work on your brand: your brand values, your personality, and how you want to interact with consumers (physically and virtually). Keep this top of mind, and always act in accordance with it. Chipotle’s social media success I mentioned earlier couldn’t save them this summer when they suffered a 52 week low in their share price and plummeting consumer sentiment score – after reports of vermin and the norovirus in some of their restaurants in the US. This wasn’t the best reflection of their self-proclaimed brand values.
The era of ‘buying likes’ is dead. Encouraging consumers to follow your brand through competitions is totally inauthentic – and will most likely furnish you with an unengaged audience. It’s also banned. Avoid this tactic. You want organic brand affinity through the relevant content you push out – even if you’re boosting your content with ad spend for maximum visibility.
You need to talk to your audience, so you must identify who they are, and where they’re spending their time. It’s also about how they’re spending their time: a brand must understand how to use each social media platform correctly. Each one has useful support i.e. reporting tools, ad features to maximise engagement and targeting capabilities. The insights and data are out there – use them.
Timing is everything. You want to grab the attention of your audience at the right time so that a) you have maximised visibility of your brand (organic reach of posts among fans is as low as 2-6.5% on Facebook), and b) you’ve caught them when they are in the right mindset to engage with your brand.
The peaks of social engagement on each platform differ completely, and for different reasons. There are a number of studies on this and I’d suggest you check them out, but remember the relevance for your specific brand and the content you’re putting out there.
Posting about hard-core fitness services on a Friday at 4 pm when people are excited about going out for drinks will make people mad. On the flip-side, it’s an opportune time for a beauty brand to post ‘5 easy ways to freshen your look from office to dance floor’. That just won’t work on a Monday morning during the rush hour commute.
Be mindful of the social environment you operate in as a brand. Adapt your behaviour (but not your personality) accordingly. Below are some examples:
We know that over half of Snapchat users are teenagers, so if you’re selling dentures, you might want to spend your precious resources elsewhere. Equally, if you’re a B2B brand selling IT solutions to corporations, you might want to avoid Instagram in favour LinkedIn and G+.
We know that Pinterest users go there for inspiration around their key passions, so don’t go in with a hard sell or engagement levels will be near nil. You’re passionate about the product/service you sell – so focus on your passion, not the product.
Take note of key dates in the year i.e. Mother’s Day if you’re a florist or Fashion Week if you’re a clothing brand. Keep track of current trends and emerging news. Can your brand add value, either in the form of information or entertainment? We refer to this type of marketing as ‘real-time’, and it’s blown up as a trend over the last 5 years. One only has to look back at Oreos’ ‘Dunk in the Dark’ tweet during the Superbowl’s 2013 blackout. Of course, there is a question over the actual business success resulting from this tweet, as opposed to mere intra-industry acclaim. What the brand did achieve was an alignment with the Superbowl for free when other brands spend millions. They entered the hearts of the American family home. They also grew a huge social media following that they continue to utilise.
We know that Facebook users can’t stand videos longer than 30 seconds.
Brands have taken this insight and started to butcher their long-form content for social – but they must be very careful. Cutting a 60″ TV ad for social media isn’t as impactful as creating purpose-built social content. Most creative agencies are rightfully defensive of their 60″ ‘masterpiece’. Consider the backlash Dove recently faced when it cut down their TV ad without considering that the edited version appeared racist to some users.
The video needed to be seen in full to understand the context. Your message can be distorted if you simply chop content for each platform. It shouldn’t be retrofitted. It must be ‘built for social’.
We also know they’re less inclined to view your content if they need to flip their phone for full view – which is why video content teams are creating purpose-built vertical video for smartphones.
Consider a) what your message is, b) how your message is delivered and c) through what vehicle.
Tailoring your message to the platform is imperative. Here’s an example. We know that Instagram users have ultra-short attention spans when using the platform. People love to snack on high impact visuals. So, brighten up their day, don’t give them information overload.
Before you post, ask yourself what that message will do for your brand. Will it drive consideration, affinity, engagement, awareness, gain fans, or start a dialogue? Is the message aligned with your brand identity and personality?
Before you post, consider why it’s of use. ‘What’s in it for me?’ will be the primary driver of any user. The message (whatever it might be) must be of utility for consumers. Is it entertaining? Is it informative? Is it both? If it’s of no use to a consumer – then they will not engage with it.
Finally, make sure your message is validated and justified. If you’re championing a cause (or piggy-backing off one), execute it well, with respect, and back it up through your company’s behaviour. Being on social media you are vulnerable to severe backlashes that can damage your brand. Click here to learn more about ‘Brand Purpose’.
Call to Action
What do you want people to do when they come across your content on social media?
Do you want views and shares? Awareness.
Do you want them to click to your site and purchase? Action.
Do you want them to engage in a conversation with you and form a brand community online? Interaction.
It’s important to understand what your objectives are so that you can create a social media plan that will support it.
All marketing investments come with risk attached to it. We talk about this a lot in our blog on branded content. However, you can minimise risk by analysing, tracking and optimising your activity to help steer performance that supports your KPIs (key performance indicators).
In the end, formulating a successful content strategy relies on applying common sense with consumer behaviour data to guide your social media marketing plan.
You must have enough resource to build and manage your social presence. This first relates to having a dedicated social media expert running your channels (if this is you, train yourself). What platforms should your brand be on and how much time and money will it take to create a compelling campaign. Invest in a thought-out content calendar and ensure you have the resources to keep it running smoothly.
Secondly (and often an afterthought for even the biggest of brands), you must have a community manager who manages all communications with your consumers. Whoever is managing your social activity must behave in accordance with your brand values and personality. Ensure you have the manpower needed to deal with prospects and inquiries, but also complaints and discussions. Think of it like owning a physical store. If a customer has a bad experience with a salesperson, they’re unlikely to return. It’s no different in the digital world.
Thirdly, streamline your activity. Go where your audience is. Don’t waste time and money on platforms that aren’t effective. Pick the right social channels, and do it right.
Whenever you embark on a social media marketing campaign, remember to:
Be relevant, be useful, be true to your brand.