Recently I was talking shop with a fellow social media marketer. We discussed how to setup an effective marketing program and get organizational buy-in. He worked for a healthcare provider nestled in the mountains of Mammoth Lakes, California (dreamy for an ultrarunner). It was during this call that I reflected on my career in social media—an area of marketing I’ve worked in ever since I first setup up a Wordpress blog for the University of Washington Career Center over a decade ago. While consumer habits have morphed and social network preferences have changed wildly during this period, the magic of being able to effortlessly create and share content in WYSIWYG-interfaces—sharing stories frictionlessly—has yet to lose its magic.
Interesting, while change has washed away emergent social media platforms time and time again (Friendster, MySpace, Google+, Vine... to name a few), there are core marketing social strategies that I've experienced that have remained relevant throughout this evolution of the Web. And in my mind, these are pillars that every successful social media marketing program should include.
1. Align with a Real Business Goal
Before you start setting up Snapchat accounts, counting “likes”, and asking employees to post with #HashtagsAreAwesome, I recommend holding social media to the same standards of any marketing program by answering “why” you want to spin up this program. You wouldn’t buy a billboard with no strategy, or print and post a million mailers without a marketing goal. Social should be aligned with a specific identifiable goal like all well-defined marketing programs (think: SMART). A goal could include growing brand awareness, sustaining employee engagement or driving traffic to your website, or retail location. Having an answer to “why’ you should be using social marketing isn’t just good to have if the CFO stops by your desk and inquires. It will make you a better marketer, requiring more strategy and intent in your actions.
Applying this rigor to your marketing program also helps you to get resources from your leadership team, too. When your actions are aligned to a goal your boss just can’t say “do it”, without the initiative being placed into a broader, likely measurable context. Remind him/her that your marketing stories won't get "viral" without a properly-sized budget to fund advertising, PR or content development. While you’re at it, set a few social-specific goals too, like a growth in online mentions, an improvement in your local listing profile rating or an increase in website social referrals. Being measurable is a good thing. Don't dismiss it.
2. Define Your Stories (and Hold Yourself Accountable)
The biggest mistake in social media marketing is tweeting for tweet’s sake. The goal of your marketing program should not be to simply post random news and artificial holidays to get likes and engagements on behalf of your brand. If you're a storyteller, what story are you telling?
Who cares if a toilet paper brand reminds me it’s National Dog Sweater Day? Should that make me feel more affinity?
What do random memes shared by a brand genuinely tell consumers, especially when dozens of other radio stations and social news sites are stirring up chatter about the same fake holidays, moments and memes?
Be honest. Will sharing that gif of a cat napping help you achieve your business goal? Maybe, maybe not. Whatever the truth is, every social post should be with intention. Every Snap should reaffirm a truth about your brand, otherwise you might want to reconsider.
I recommend defining your stories based on genuine messages your company believes in and can back up with real actions and words (AKA proof points). As a consumer, you just believe in Old Spice’s silly social posts and videos because they reaffirm the affable nature of the brand—weird, silly and surprising. In the same way Starbucks can talk about subjects beyond coffee because they seek to engage in the complete coffee experience and cultural issues like hiring vets that extend well beyond your morning buzz. If Dunkin’ Donuts tried to do the same thing it would feel awkward, and out of sorts.
This is a long way of saying—pick your three or four key messages for your social media program and build content around those messages—links, copy, images, gifs, videos, etc. Be rigorous, too. In one way or another, every post or tweet should reaffirm your key messages (seriously…track this in a spreadsheet), or you should have a rock solid reason why that particular content doesn't need to be aligned. Quality social programs shouldn’t include the reposting of fake holidays and copying of memes, unless those stories are at the heart of your company.
The worst thing you could do is to relegate your brand to being a generic. Transparency is nowhere more present than on social.
Lastly, in the day of limited organic social reach, ensure you're employing paid, earned and owned promotional tactics for your social stories. Otherwise, you might tweet, but no one will see it.
3. Know Where to Start; Then Focus
There are a dozen social sites to choose from. Where should you launch your brand's social media presence? Snapchat? Tumblr? Instagram?
Here's a pro-tip.
Look at your company's public blog. If you have analytics on the social sharing buttons on the content (ShareThis and AddThis make this easy), this data can give you an idea of where your customers are already active and where they share your stories—presumably their preferred social networks. This, along with social referral traffic from Google Analytics can start to give you an idea of which networks your existing customers are most active on. As a last resort, you can ask your customers in an email survey, which networks are their favorites.
Once you are empowered with data and know your customer's preferences, build a presence on the top two or three social media networks they identified, ensuring that you can support regular content on those networks and can field the customer service questions that inevitably arise. The absolute worst thing you could do is to try to be everywhere, to everyone. A social media team of one cannot authentically creative daily content, field questions and draw insights from six social networks at the same time.
The easiest people to connect with on social media are the people you are already connected with on other channels —Web, app and email.
Grow your following on your desired networks by weaving in "follow" call-to-actions into your website customer experience, in your email marketing and by hosting promotions and give-aways all wrapped around great content. The last step to growing your following is using paid tactics like Facebook, LinkedIn or Twitter custom audience features to target specific customer lists and ask for a "like" or "follow" from your existing customer base. The goal is to build another durable digital connection to those who care about your brand.
This is also an important time to onboard a social media publishing platform. The free posting apps and tools from networks like Facebook, Snapchat and Twitter are great for publishing by a single person, but when you're setting up a brand's social media program you'll want to be a little more sophisticated. Plus, your community will have a expectation for having their questions answered 24/7, something that's not easily achieved using the free, single-user apps.
Instead, look to onboard a tool like Hootsuite or Adobe Social. My favorite social monitoring and publishing service is the mid-range Sprout Social. These tool will give you an editorial calendar, scheduling capabilities and valuable analytics at a reasonable price.
4. Define Your Voice and Practices
Just like in print media and video, brands that succeed on social have an engaging, authentic voice that's true to each company. At a running company I used to work at we drafted a supplemental guide to our brand book to outline how we talked on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Then, when we announcing a major new product, or responding to a customer's question we were able to get direction from this document, maintaining a consistent voice in front of the customer.
At the credit union I'm with we keep a walking deck—a collection of screenshots and tactics to codify what we do in our social program. Combined with our editorial calendar and list of key stories, my colleagues and I have a clear picture of what social means when we're planning our promotions. This is particularly helpful when you're working with team members who have less experience with this type of marketing. Plus, documenting your social program helps you go through the rigorous process of defining your practices.
5. Make Great Content
This is subjective at the brainstorming stage, but when you actually produce a blog post, video or live stream, the light of customer feedback shines bright. Be sure to listen to what you're told. You'll know within minutes, and sometimes seconds what your followers like and don't like. When I'm developing content, I like to ask myself the following questions:
- Is this content on brand and look genuine to "me"?
- Is this creative optimized for this platform?
- Is this content share-worthy? Emotive?
- Am I inspiring a conversation? Telling a meaningful story?
- How can I make this creative execution stronger within budget?
And always hold yourself to a high bar. Do the best work your can do within scope, budget and time. Resources are always tight, but that doesn't mean you can't ensure your social content isn't engaging. Creativity can go a long way.
6. Test and Learn
Actively testing and learning in your social media marketing is another essential element of a successful social program. This information can help you continually evolve as a marketer, and better understand your community's needs and habits. Facebook has come, and it will go at some point, but the practice of learning from what you do will remain a dependable strength.
You can A/B test the timing, messages, channel and other creative elements to maximize marketing efficiency and to learn what your followers and business partners enjoy most. Then, do great stuff more often. That's how you improve. One inch at a time. If you embrace your work like a scientist-storyteller, there is a good chance you'll make some interesting discoveries.
And like mastering any marketing channel, be sure to read blogs and news article, and attend conferences to stay on the cutting edge of what works for social. Being a "learn it all" marketer versus a "know it all" is a particularly valuable quality for social media.
Test and learn, and learn some more.
While you're evolving your marketing program, don't forget to keep a monthly or quarterly record of how your social media program is performing. Record the amount of content you're publishing, social impressions, engagements and other key metrics so your marketing partners understand how you're contributing to the customer's experience.
While this is far from an exhausting list of social media marketing best practices, if you can build a program that touches on these five areas you're headed in the right direction. This best practices made just as much sense in 2007 as they do in 2017... and maybe 2027.
Social media marketing will continue to evolve as a way for consumers to share information and as a way for brands to tell stories. Luckily, the pillars of great storytelling are much less fickle.