Social media is an ever-evolving beast; it requires diligence and flexibility from marketers who wish to harness it. ‘What worked a few months ago may not get you the same good results now,’ writes Joanna Carter for Smart Insights. ‘Habits change, platforms evolve, and new platforms come into existence. All of this influences how people use and react to social media marketing, as well as how marketers are able to reach their audience.’
With such a changeable landscape, rather than giving you our predictions or some prescriptive tips, we have instead collated some key points to keep in mind as you plan your social activity over the next few months. These are gathered from conversations we’ve shared, lessons we’ve learned, and recent experiences we’ve gained with our clients…
- Don’t believe them when they say organic social is dead
At one point in time, if you consistently posted good content on a given social channel, you could expect a community to start organically growing around your brand. As organisations exploited this, the platforms introduced algorithms to prevent over-saturation of branded content (and, of course, generate ad revenue) by only displaying what was ‘most relevant’ to the user. Thus was ushered in the pay-to-play era of social media marketing.
Today, it may well feel as though you need a massive media budget to achieve the same cut-through. Yet brands would be remiss to think of social media as simply a more targeted above-the-line channel now. That interaction with your audience, be it through in-feed comments and replies, in a private group or through DMs, is still what sets social apart. And that means consistent community management and speedy response times matter as much as ever.
Furthermore, while the reach and engagement of individual posts may be dwindling, it’s a fact that people are still searching brands out. Wouldn’t you rather your audience come across an up-to-date channel with a beautifully curated set of posts when they do?
Key takeaway: Rather than abandoning organic for paid activity, look to do both. Tell long-term brand stories. You want big, high-quality, hero pieces of content supported with paid media, but also a swathe of organic content to back those assets up. Look to create different series and styles that appeal to the full range of your audience, and which are tailored to their behaviour on different platforms.
- Be strategic with your social metrics
As the social media landscape changes for brands, it’s worth re-assessing your metrics for success. Paid ads generate greater reach, many more impressions and increased engagement rates. Whether they actually improve performance, however, is up for debate.
The futility of measuring performance against vanity metrics isn’t a new point. An article from TechCrunch nailed the issue as far back as 2011, noting they are ‘easily manipulated, and do not necessarily correlate to the numbers that really matter: active users, engagement, the cost of getting new customers, and ultimately revenues and profits.’
Today this point seems more pertinent than ever.
Ask yourself some serious questions about your brand’s social presence. A good one to start with is: Why are we even on [insert channel]? If your answer is, for example, primarily to answer customer queries, then the reach and engagement rate of any given post becomes less important. Instead, you may want to invest more in training for community management than paid ads, and a better metric to keep track of would be response time.
Key takeaway: Define your goals first, then set the metrics by which you measure success. If you are looking to get your brand in front of as many pairs of eyes as possible, then you should definitely measure reach and impressions. However, don’t forget that your ultimate goal is likely to be revenue generation, and with the rise of social commerce, attributable sales might be a much more useful thing to track. While getting 1m+ views feels great, did it convert people into buyers or donors?
- Use social listening tools to define your ‘normal’
Traditionally, there are some brands and industries that are just better suited to social than others. That doesn’t mean your brand shouldn’t be active on social if it is in a more ‘boring’ industry, though – it just means you should again be clear on what you are hoping to achieve by being on social in the first place, and measure accordingly.
An energy supplier is never going to compete with a sportswear designer on positive sentiment or number of likes, for example. ‘Normal’ social interchange for the former is likely to be dominated by people complaining about the price of gas. But instead of hoping for a viral hit and blithely producing a light-hearted comedy video that falls flat, the energy supplier could listen to their audience and compile a list of the most common complaints. From this, they could produce content which addresses some of the most persistent comments and move the sentiment dial a fraction or more.
To do this effectively, consider employing some social listening tools, so you can find your own ‘normal’. What is your average engagement rate? How many @ mentions do you get per month? And, perhaps most importantly, what is the typical sentiment towards your brand? With these questions answered, the question of what constitutes success for you will become much easier to answer.
- Remember there are no dry topics – only dry executions
Have you ever seen the documentary Helvetica? It’s an 80-minute-long documentary about a font. Sounds boring, but actually it’s great—and you don’t have to be a typography geek to enjoy it.
Likewise, remember that the people following your brand – and/or the people that you’d choose to target with paid advertising – very likely have at least some interest in your brand or industry. Don’t shy away from that.
So you don’t necessarily have to create the flashiest, loudest, most thumb-stopping video you can. Not all brands are created equal. For social, experts may incessantly be recommending animations that hook people within 4 seconds – but the reason you can’t see how that really works with your insurance brand is because it probably doesn’t.
I’m not suggesting that it is a bad idea to make things immediately arresting, far from it, but one should also bear in mind that Joe Rogan regularly posts podcasts that are over 3 hours long, and they are among the most downloaded in history. The narrative that people have short attention spans is a little over-played; the quality of the content is the difference.
Invest some time, effort and money to really bring out the interesting side of your business. Look for creative ways to tell your brand’s story. Everyone had that teacher or lecturer who was able to bring a dull subject to life. Don’t try to be someone you’re not; try to be that teacher instead.
- Let your thinking dictate your channels
No doubt you’ve seen and heard plenty about TikTok. TikTok is great! However, before nominating someone in your team to be your resident in-house TikToker, ask yourself: Why? It’s often more important to say No to new platforms than to jump on them immediately. If you’re not targeting a youth audience, then you may very well not need to worry too much about TikTok, for example.
You should let your wider business strategy dictate the channels your brand appears on. While as a general rule of thumb, for businesses operating primarily in the UK, I would suggest most brands should be on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter and YouTube, it is rarely necessary to commit an equal amount of time and effort to each, nor is it necessary to hop on the band wagon whenever a new platform arrives.
Key takeaway: Think about the Pareto principle (80:20) or Google’s 70-20-10 model. Invest most of your time and energy on those social channels where you know your audience congregate, and that you know have worked for you in the past. If you have some spare capacity, sure, then you can start to experiment with new channels. Social is great for experimenting, after all. But don’t lose your focus on the channels that work hardest for you.
- Don’t treat influencers like paid advertisers
So you have an idea for a video which you think would be great to do with an influencer. The temptation is to simply choose the person with the most followers. More followers = more reach = great, right? Well, possibly. However, not all views are created equally. In the context of your brand, 1m views from one YouTuber’s audience may be far less valuable than 100k from another’s.
Influencers are typically very smart, creative and personable people. They know what their followers respond to and may well have ideas you could never have thought of. The ideal situation when working with influencer(s) is to build a mutually beneficial direct relationship with someone who you know is engaged with your brand. You can then discuss your goals with them and develop ideas together. They’re individuals, after all, so don’t treat them like paid advertising and expect good results.
Also, it’s worth bearing micro-influencers in mind. A hundred people with an average of 5000 followers each who just need a selection of products sent to them to create original content may be far more effective (in both cost and collective results) than one influencer with 500k followers charging £5,000. Micro-influencers also boost authenticity – their content feels more truthful.
Key takeaway: Again, think hard about your goals. Are you purely after reach? Are you looking to gain credibility? Trying to directly increase sales? Hoping to appeal to a new market? Try and tailor the people you work with to what specifically you’re trying to achieve.
- Remember your customers are your biggest influencers
A broader point, this, but an increasingly important one: your most important influencers are your customers. How many of your friends do you know that have over 1000+ followers on one or more of their social channels? These days, possibly a fair few. A thousand followers might not make you an influencer in any professional sense, but a post slagging off a brand may well negatively influence a fair few of your friends. Upset enough people with a substantive following and you could soon see real-world effects.
A side note here on Facebook’s algorithm – don’t beg for shares in post copy as this will negatively impact your visibility. You can be clever with wording, but the best thing is of course trying to make content people want to share.
Key takeaway: Thinking of your audience as influencers should also encourage you to make things that they can easily share. Doing an event? Include a grammable background. Got a video idea? Make stimulating user-generated content a key part of it. Got a new release? Do a PR stunt for people to snap and share. Want to run a competition? Make the entry requirements visual and social.