Peer pressure, media success stories and general buzz are convincing today’s entrepreneurs that they need a social media presence. That’s not to say that a business can not survive without using social media, but it will certainly miss numerous opportunities to establish itself and thrive.
One of the most common mistakes a brand can make is to jump into social media marketing without a clear goal, only with the nebulous hope of getting rich from it.
While there is a possibility that you will get rich from it, in most cases this unplanned strategy leads to unrealistic expectations, poor results, significant waste of time, and eventually a defeatist attitude that turns you off the idea of social media marketing altogether.
To avoid this and give yourself the best chance of success, I strongly recommend you consider the following social media marketing advice.
1. Decide which social networks will work best for you
Unless you’re a large corporation with the means to dive headfirst into every potentially useful social platform, it’s probably best to start with one or two “core” social networks. It’s preferable to succeed on a few social networks rather than mediocre on five or six, and while social media is (largely) free, your time is priceless.
Indeed, depending on the type of business you run, not every social networking site will be suitable for your marketing, audience, or goals. To help you select where to start, establish which social networks your target audience already “hangs out” on, or use customer personas and social network demographic data to determine where you would be accepted best.
Joining Facebook and Twitter is often a given for brands due to their sheer size and influence, but more “niche” communities with their own distinct characteristics – still with hundreds of millions of users, mind you – such as Pinterest, Instagram, or LinkedIn, may be where you can make a more successful impact.
To get started, experiment with a couple of social networks where you can invest some significant time, track your progress, and then either build on your achievements with them, or gradually begin to experiment with other platforms on which you might have additional (or better) success.
2. Define and assess your goals
Before you start posting content to social media, it is useful to define the guiding themes and overall goals of your strategy, as these will help you shape the way you approach what may well become the linchpin in your marketing machine. I’m a fan of the SMART technique for creating actionable social media goals. Here’s a breakdown, hopefully they’ll help you too:
Specific: Be specific in what you want to achieve. Do you want to raise awareness of your brand? Increase sales? Improve customer service? Strengthen loyalty?
Measurable: How will you know that your goal has been achieved? What analytics tools will you use to track your progress?
Achievable: Is your goal realistic? When you are just starting off, don’t aim too high at the risk of being deflated if you don’t hit your projected goal; getting really adept at all this stuff (particularly if you are approaching social media marketing seriously for the first time) takes a while.
Relevant: Is your goal aligned with your company’s mission, vision and values?
Time Specific: When do you want to have achieved the goal by? To add a focus to your marketing, stick to one overarching goal at a time, e.g. “I want to increase traffic to our website by 15% in the next 3 months”.
For example, if you’re a shoe store owner and you normally sell 20 pairs of shoes a day, why not aim to use social media to help you sell 25 per day? After a good amount of time (at least a few months), evaluate where you are by using analytics tools, social insights (likes, followers, comments), and other metrics to help you track and measure your activity – you’ll find lots more information on these shortly.
3. Perform an audit to help shape your content strategy
An audit is one of the finest ways to gain a sense of the type of social media content strategy that will resonate with your audience, as well as a wonderful approach to select what to post to your audience.
On social media, take the time to identify your audience’s needs, desires, and interests – ask yourself what problems you can help them overcome, what questions you can answer, what type of content they prefer (e.g., text, photo, graphics, video), and when they are most likely to be available to see it.
If you want to go into the details, tools like SEM Rush and TrueSocial Metrics are popular paid solutions, but you don’t need to spend a dime to get a good, broad picture… especially if you use your competition to assist you out!
First, identify your competitors (you presumably already know who they are, but a quick Google search will reveal them), then browse their websites and social media profiles. Make a note of how frequently your competitors publish blogs and status updates on social media, as well as whatever content appears to perform best for them in terms of likes, comments, and shares.
You can acquire more insight by determining how much of this content appears to be original vs copied from other sources, as well as the topics and tone of voice employed. Use the data you collect to replicate successful forms of content in your own social media strategy, but also to identify gaps and chances for improvement.
4. Plan ahead with a social media content calendar
One of the most difficult challenges for brands on social media is constantly publishing high-quality material for their consumers. A company’s social media presence that looks to be inactive is the digital equivalent of turning off the lights. People will assume you’re going out of business because you’re not updating online, even if the contrary is true.
Because it’s consistency that can really help to boost levels of engagement (by allowing fans to anticipate your next post) and foster a stronger relationship with your audience (who will keep coming back for more), creating a social media content calendar is one of the best ways to help get it right.
An editorial calendar allows you to schedule your activities for weeks, if not months, in advance. This forethought will help you to include seasonal themes into your posts and keep you from releasing subpar content just to get something out there.
In addition to planning for major holidays such as Thanksgiving and Christmas, you will be able to devise a strategy for “small holidays” such as July 4th or Valentine’s Day, when fans are actively looking on social media for offers, discounts, tips, and so on. The ability to examine a social content calendar on a regular basis will also allow you to take a step back from day-to-day posting and re-affirm your overall plan.
Of course, spontaneous social media posting has its place, but a content calendar is strongly suggested for the foundations of your approach. Create a daily theme throughout your social networks as an easy approach to design a content strategy (that may be utilized to populate your schedule and keep you from being overwhelmed).
For example, on Monday, share a fresh blog post, on Tuesday, ask a question, on Wednesday, share an infographic, on Thursday, and so on.
5. Re-purpose content across social media
It is worth emphasizing that something that might be distributed as one piece of content in the real world (a press release, say), can be marketed as four or five content pieces for social media: blog about it, tweet, make a video, share on Facebook, turn it into an infographic for Pinterest, etc. This is a fantastic strategy for making the most of your content creation, particularly if you are strapped for time or low on resources.
6. Drop old-style communication methods and get social – find and define your social voice
A successful social media strategy necessitates exactly that: a social strategy. Traditional marketing strategies such as TV and newspaper advertising worked because communication could only go one way (from brand to customer) with limited opportunity for response, but social media has changed that.
Now that a two-way dialogue has been established and your brand is in the spotlight around the clock, you must resist the urge to talk at people and adapt your tone of voice and communication methods to connect with them on a human level – speaking to them in a personable manner and listening with intent, rather than simply hearing and doing nothing.
This lesson applies whether you own a small business with a few employees, a multi-national corporation with thousands of employees, a “fun” business like a karaoke bar, or something more “serious” like a finance firm.
Brands that define their social voice (and aim to retain it in all of their social interactions) may cut through the noise and deliver a clear message, resulting in better results.
There are times when the old-school method of direct promotion is beneficial, but expect to spend the majority of your time being much more selfless, even going out of your way to make individual customers feel special in order to generate a positive feeling about your product or service that spreads far beyond that one person.
7. Humanize your brand and be emotive
Individuals use social media to connect with others, so drop your barriers and show followers the real you, as well as the people behind your company’s emblem. be transparent, open, and authentic in all of your communication – authenticity often means being a little bit more open about what your business might traditionally share with customers, but there’s a fine line – if you’re consistently sharing posts about internal conflicts or your love life, you’ve probably crossed that line! Create your own voice, be humorous, utilize everyday words, and so on.
And if being authentic endears you to customers, they will be more inclined to engage with your content, share it with others, and financially support you when the time comes to buy, by choosing you over another brand with whom they have no connection.
Rather of trying to trick customers into purchasing things or services, expressing your and your brand’s actual values and personality will help you stand out from the crowd.
While everything of the above advice applies to your text interactions and tone of voice, human, emotional connections are also crucial in visual material. According to studies, photos of humans (rather than inanimate objects) – particularly those smiling and making eye contact with the viewer – can aid to drive conversion rates.
Even if your product is intangible, such as data or financial services, you should still aim to incorporate people and human faces into at least some of your photographs, whether they are of you, your clients, or people in stock images.
Emoticons, on the other hand, are a powerful complement to text alone. Amex Open discovered that using emoticons in status updates increased comments by 33% on average, while Buddy Media discovered that articles containing emoticons earned 57% more likes, 33% more comments, and 33% more shares on average. Perhaps more importantly, numerous social sites, like Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook, all support the usage of Emoji – fully-drawn, emotive emoticons and ideograms that have quickly become their own worldwide language, and can bring a whole new layer of fun and expression to your status updates.
In a 2015 survey, Instagram discovered that over half of all captions and comments contain at least one Emoji.
8. Don’t over-promote: build relationships and provide value
The vast majority of social media users do not go to Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and other sites to be sold to; they go to engage with family and friends and to be entertained. If people “like” or “follow” brands on social media, it’s usually on a whim (consider how many you “like” or “follow”), and all but the most ardent fans won’t care to see every single post you write (in fact, it is unreasonable to think that you can even make it happen without spending a lot of money).
As a result, it is your responsibility to persuade people that having your business is an important part of their daily life, and to continue to earn your place – don’t consider it as a right, but as a privilege.
You achieve this by cultivating trusting and loyal relationships, being kind, sharing amazing content, and assisting people with customer service concerns (with the occasional commercial post thrown in for good measure… which, if the rest of your plan is sound, your audience shouldn’t mind).
Finally, when it comes to social media content, shift your attitude from “what can we sell you?” to “what can we do to help you?” because when it comes to deciding to follow a business on social media, your fans will undoubtedly wonder “what’s in it for me?”
With competition increasing and organic (non-paid) reach (the amount of people who view your content) at an all-time low, it is critical that the material you produce has a personal and emotional impact on people. Humor, astonishment, rage, and even narcissism are some of the most powerful emotional triggers (stuff that, by sharing, makes the individual look good in front on their peers on social media).
Once you’ve found your stride, do the following exercise to help you stay on track: Stop every now and then and check at your previous 10 social media postings and ask yourself, “What value am I providing and what purpose am I serving?”
If you can’t clearly identify the answer to this question, you should reconsider your strategy to better attract audiences who are smarter and savvier than ever before; individuals who can easily see beyond poor content or a sales-y message.
Just as in real life, social media followers will connect with a company they can love and trust far more than one whose primary mission appears to be to push them to open their wallets at every chance.
You should seek to become a seamless part of their expected social media experience rather than a startling feature that they wish to avoid. All of your hard work will help to create a positive image for your company, which will eventually lead to sales.
9. Consistently post high quality content
First and foremost, do not establish a presence on a social media channel, publish for a few weeks, and then abandon it! One, two, or three updates each day is a decent objective for most social networks, but you should post at least a couple of times per week so that your content continues to appear in the news feeds of your most active fans.
To use Facebook as an example of a social network that the vast majority of brands utilize, here’s a broader view on why consistency is so critical: When someone checks their Facebook News Feed, there are over 1,500 possible postings – created by the site’s complex algorithm – that they can see at any given time, from friends, Pages, groups, events, and so on.
When you consider that almost half of Facebook users do not check Facebook every day (and of those who do, they only browse for 30-60 minutes in total), the likelihood of all of your posts getting noticed and engaged with in amongst all of that competition decreases significantly.
Indeed, without paid marketing, Facebook makes it nearly impossible for all of your fans to see all of your posts, and marketers must now work harder than ever to eke out as much free, organic reach as possible from their Facebook activity. Facebook still has a lot of potential for businesses, but it’s not as simple as it once was.
In addition to the foregoing, in order to ensure that your content is seen by as many people as possible (whether on the social network where it was originally posted or if shared elsewhere), it must be of high quality, i.e. the kind of entertaining, helpful, inspirational, and valuable content that people will like, comment on, click (if a link is included), and share.
In reality, in an effort to filter News Feeds to display only “high quality” material from sponsors, Facebook surveyed thousands of users in August 2013, folded the replies into its machine learning system, and combined it all with a master algorithm.
When assessing whether a post is “high quality” enough to be displayed in the News Feed to its full potential, this algorithm evaluates “nearly a thousand different parameters,” including the quality of a business Page’s previous content and the level of completion of its profile.
Most consumers and businesses have a few “go-to” websites and social profiles that they regularly share from, either in their favorites or subconsciously (you probably have your own, in fact). This selection assures them of consistent valuable content to share with their friends and admirers, and your goal should be to become one of these trusted sources.
The bottom line is that the more frequently a client engages with your social media material – liking, commenting, and sharing – the more likely they are to do so in the future. In the case of Facebook, this type of good interaction will ensure that your postings continue to remain in their News Feed for future engagement chances.
To refer to Facebook one more time, its News Feed Algorithm filters content into individuals’ feeds according to what it thinks is most relevant to them, so if a fan never sees posts from you (because you are inactive), ignores your posts for a prolonged period of time because they are not engaging enough (or, worse, has used the option to hide them), they will disappear from that person’s News Feed and you may find it difficult to get them back in there without paying for the privilege.
Note: With organic reach on Facebook and other social networks at an all- time low, it might seem that the best solution to gain exposure for your content is to post incredibly frequently. However, in some ways this approach is actually counter-intuitive.
Not even your most passionate fans will enjoy being constantly flooded by posts from you, and by decreasing the pressure of needing to produce a rapid stream of top quality content day in, day out, you leave more time to make sure that what you do publish is as good as it can be – stuff that will garner the most engagement from fans.
In addition, if you substitute the time spent on “excess” content for supporting “core” content with a few advertising dollars, you increase the number of unique fans who see these posts and – if they engage with a like, comment, or share – they’re more likely (in the case of Facebook at least) to feed the next one organically in the News Feed.
10. Which types of posts get the most engagement?
One of the great debates amongst social media marketers is whether text, image, video, links, or other post types are the most effective in reaching fans and encouraging them to interact. The truth is that nobody can tell you for certain – social networks are forever tweaking their algorithms, forcing brands to play catch-up – and at the end of the day, it very much depends on what your individual data reveals to you is working best.
For example, back in 2012 Facebook was telling businesses that posts that include a photo album, picture or video generate about 180%, 120% and 100% more engagement respectively than text posts alone, but what use is that potential for engagement if you notice that your text posts at any given point in time happen to reach 5x the amount of people than when you use images?
And in January 2014, Facebook said that link-share posts (those that generate an automatic image thumbnail when a news article or website address is shared within a status update) should be favored because “when people see more text status updates on Facebook they write more status updates themselves.”
My advice is to resist the temptation to blindly follow trends, fads, or “no guarantee” tricks that promise to deliver high levels of engagement! Instead, use them as a guide but always focus on providing awesome, valuable content first.
Continue to test and tweak with a close eye on your own stats, and keep adapting to push on with what is working best for you (not everybody else) at any given time.
11. Don’t get hung up on reach; focus on creating loyal, passionate fans and meaningful relationships
As you now understand, fierce competition between individuals, brands and the way social networks’ algorithms work, means that not all of your fans will see your posts in their news feeds when you publish them, and by their own admission, sites like Facebook admit that this situation is only going to get tougher as more and more brands enter the fray.
Therefore, you need to think less about chasing “likes”, follower numbers, and post reach – as these metrics (although having some influence and merit, especially if they are from and reaching a target, high quality audience) can often be arbitrary.
Instead, concentrate more on producing great content that will grow you a loyal following of people who love what you do (showing it via post likes, comments, sharing your content, and eventually through sales), therein encouraging more people to invest in your cause.
This goes not just for Facebook, but all social media. I’d say if you’re getting anywhere near 10% reach to all of your fans without paid promotion, you’re doing extremely well.
12. Provide great customer service, handle complaints right
Unlike in times gone by, social media gives your company instant and effective exposure to your customers 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. Customers also have similar access to you, and this is no more apparent than in what can only be described as a revolution in customer service.
What’s more, as well as making your customers feel good, answering complaints provides a useful insight into your target audience’s personality, what your business is doing well, and what it could improve on.
With the instantaneousness of a Facebook post or a tweet, people’s expectations for a swift and effective response to their queries or problems is higher than ever.
Many social media experts will advise you to always reply within an arbitrary time limit of something like 30 minutes. If you employ a dedicated social media community manager, this may be possible, but for the vast majority of businesses, it just isn’t a realistic target.
I’d still recommend that you deal with customer service issues as soon as possible after they arise, but suggest that a response time of anything up to 24 hours (on weekends, too, if you can manage it) is acceptable to most people; and instead of constantly monitoring for problems, simply assign a few dedicated batches of time in a day to respond to customers and handle issues.
Using the “About” sections of your social profiles to tell people when you will be available to help and how long they can expect to wait for a reply, is a sound strategy to set expectations and prevent customer frustration.
Of course, the best way to avoid customer service issues being played out publicly on social media is to prevent them from happening. To facilitate this, give people several options to solve problems themselves, and for making contact – online FAQs, email, telephone, private message, and place them where people will see them easily, like in your main bio or about section.
The simpler it is to contact you, the more likely a customer is to try that first to help resolve a problem, rather than spouting off angrily at you online. In addition, demonstrate your willingness to accept that problems do sometimes occur by using your social media profiles as a way to announce less-than-positive news about product or services issues.
There will always be some fans who are upset when they read it, but they’d be a lot more aggrieved if they had discovered the issue on their own. If someone does post their angry grievances in public about you on social media, two of the most important pointers to remember when approaching such a situation are as follows:
Don’t ignore it: The longer you leave a customer complaint to sit and fester, the angrier said customer will be, and by refusing to reply to negative feedback, it looks to everyone like you are unwilling to deal with problems, and simply hoping that ignoring them will make them go away. Look to respond as quickly as possible, as most customers expect a swift response.
Don’t delete it: Just as bad (if not worse) than ignoring negative feedback is to delete a post submitted on your profile. When the customer who complained notices that their comment has been deleted, they will only be even more upset, and other fans who see what you have done (especially if the original criticism was screen-grabbed for evidence) will think ill of you, too.
In short, always respond to complaints on social media in a professional and courteous manner, and in a time frame that matches the resources of your business. Be ready to acknowledge the customer’s feedback (even if you don’t think you were in the wrong, as going off on the defensive is a very bad tactic, too), and willing to admit your mistakes.
We’re all human – customers realize this and will respect you a whole lot more for being open and honest about any errors, than simply trying to sweep issues under the carpet.
To sweeten instances like this, explain how you will work to fix or improve things if necessary, ask for input from your fans if the situation calls for it, and send a follow-up note a couple of days after the issue has been resolved as a way to make sure everything is still okay and to reaffirm a social connection between the customer and your company.
Occasionally, consider going above and beyond the call of duty to remedy a customer’s problem – in public – in order to harness a wave of respect and good karma.
When a Citibike customer in New York City fell off one of its bicycles and ripped his jeans, instead of just apologizing, Citibike delivered the gentleman a voucher to buy a new pair of pants. Surprised and overjoyed, the customer shared the news (and a photo to prove it) on Twitter, to all of his followers.
13. Automation doesn’t have to be a dirty word
With so much work involved growing and maintaining a strong social media marketing strategy over a variety of channels, automation will allow you to save time, stay flexible, and plan your social media strategy down to the minute.
Tools like Buffer (http://www.bufferapp.com) or Post Planner (http://www.postplanner.com) allow you to manage multiple social media accounts from a single dashboard (allowing you to upload in bulk for the week’s upcoming post, publishing content when you are asleep but your audience is not, or when you are on vacation, etc.).
In fact, automation tools can help to successfully build a long-tail social media strategy by scheduling new and “evergreen” blog posts for repeat exposure, i.e. sharing the same great content multiple times across several social networks, over a set period of time.
This will allow you more of your existing audience the chance to catch your great content and allow new followers to find it if they missed it first time around. Pay close attention to the frequency that you automate such posts.
It may be fine to post a blog post link to Twitter a couple of times in one day (where the flow of information is incredibly quick and dense), but for sites like Facebook and LinkedIn, a bigger delay between each share would be more apt. On that note, when you do prepare to share the same link multiple times, you’re best off re-styling it to make each share as unique and engaging as you can.
Note: On the topic of scheduling and automation, here’s a nifty strategy for scheduling posts that you might not have thought of: schedule posts to publish just before or after the hour (rather than right on the dot) as a way to catch people who are checking social media at the start of their day, lunch break, after work, between meetings, etc.
In spite of all of the help that automation tools provide, remember that building strong personal relationships with genuine one-to-one interaction should remain at the core of your work, and you certainly can’t automate that (i.e. automating replies to comments on your profiles is a bad idea!).
14. Draw up a social media policy, make employees ambassadors
A clear, company-wide social media policy will alleviate employee concerns about brand mentions on social media and empower them to positively support your brand, assisting you in becoming a more socially active firm.
Consult with key influencers in your organization to compile the information you need, follow state and federal laws, obtain feedback from your staff, and set guidelines for using social media (whether mentioning your brand or not), both inside and outside of working hours. Try to condense the most significant aspects in a paper that is no more than one or two pages long (otherwise, it may not be read, leaving you open to future concerns), and underline the benefits that appropriate social media use can bring to the firm as a whole.
Employees must feel confident about social sharing norms in order to be good brand ambassadors, so make it easy for them to write company-relevant statuses by, for example, creating a hashtag linked to life at your firm and encouraging them to take images and share updates using it. Of course, the individual in charge of social media content should be well-versed in the policy.
15. Experiment with paid ads
Several years ago, social media marketing was seen as a golden opportunity to reach and promote to customers for free. In certain aspects, this was true. Now, however, with greater competition and a more astute audience, paid promotion across is all-but essential.
That’s not to say you can’t still achieve brilliant results without spending a penny, but even a nominal figure, spent well (such as $5 per day on highly targeted Facebook ads), can noticeably compound a brand’s success.
The key to a lot of successful social media advertising are promotions that blend into a user’s experience of the site or app on which they appear, mirroring the tone and publishing style of the audience – as with non-paid content, think seamless instead of disruptive.
16. Reconsider return on investment (ROI) metrics
Social media return on investment is not like traditional marketing – in many ways, you may not always want to focus solely on monetary return within a fixed period. Consider metrics such as brand awareness, word-of-mouth promotion, traffic driven to your website via social media, and strengthening loyalty and engagement with existing customers.
These can all be just as valuable in the long run – leading to plenty of sales over a longer period of time, rather than a short-term gain that dies off quickly.
17. Measuring performance with Google Analytics and other tools
Understanding the performance of your social media marketing is key to being able to succeed in the long run. One of the most cost-effective ways (read: free) to monitor social media conversions is through Google Analytics.
Two of the most valuable reports for social media marketers feature under the “Social” section of the site: Network Referrals shows the data on social media traffic referrals to your website from social networks, and Landing Pages will show you which of your website pages are shared most often on social media.
You can also use Google Analytics to setup and monitor goals, like completed sales, enquiries, and engagement. One of the simplest goals to setup is URL Destination – Google Analytics will mark a goal as met when a visitor lands on a particular page on your website, e.g. a “Thank you for your purchase” page.
Other useful tools for measuring the performance of your social strategy include social networks’ native tools (Facebook Insights, Twitter and Pinterest Analytics, etc.) Bit.ly (to measure click-through rates on specified links), and Social Mention (to track mentions of your business name, competitor names, etc.
In essence, use analytics tools to set goals, see where your social media strategy is working best, and work out how your customers are finding you so that you can fine tune and optimize your efforts going forward.
It is unlikely that you will nail your social media strategy on the first attempt, so evaluate your progress often and don’t be afraid to test the water with new ideas, tweak old ones and repeat what works for you.
18. Be patient and ignore scams
Social media success does not happen overnight. Just like in real life, friendships and bonds between you and your audience can take a long time to build, and some people just take longer to warm to you and convert into paying customers than others. Sometimes the metrics that don’t pay off instantly (increasing brand awareness and customer retention, or improving customer service) are the ones that will have the greatest impact on conversions later on down the line.
I have seen so many instances of businesses diving into social media marketing with gusto, only to give up shortly afterwards because they did not have 1.3 billion Facebook fans and a ton of sales after their first week of posting ten times a day (okay, that’s an exaggeration but you understand what I mean!).
If you’re not serious about working at social media for not just weeks or months, but years, you are already setting yourself up for failure.
On a related noted, ignore ‘get followers fast’ scams. It might be tempting to use services offered all over the web to rack up fans and followers quickly, but you’ll only end up with hundreds of random strangers – or bot accounts – who don’t care about you or your business. 50 interested, engaged, and loyal followers are insurmountably better than 5,000 who are not. The only real “secret” to growing an audience on social media is to be consistent and patient in your efforts.
The stronger someone acquaints with your brand on social media, the more likely they’ll remember you and pass the positive word on to their friends and family. Be consistent, present, real and genuine in all of your communication if you want to foster genuine interaction with customers on a slow and steady path to creating loyalty, sales and brand advocates for life.