By Jonathan Crossfield published August 27, 2013

How Social Media Content Tools Can Work for Your Sharing Strategy

vine on mobileForgive me for a moment while I make an incredibly broad and general statement — the sort of simplistic statement I usually complain about when made by other people. But I’m not other people, and I need a hook for this article. Don’t worry. If I can’t make it stick, you’re welcome to point out the flaws to me in the comments section below, or on Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn.

And that sort of speaks to my point (when I get to it, that is): I’m betting no one would choose to respond and debate my hastily constructed theory on Instagram, or FourSquare, or Vine. That’s not how those networks work. In any case…

There are two types of social networks — sharing tools and content tools

Sharing tools are the classic social networks: We share updates, ideas, news, links and content of all kinds — but the content is largely created elsewhere. We upload videos to YouTube, post blog links to Twitter, share family photos on Facebook, and so on.

Even some niche networks fall into this category, so this isn’t about size or whether a network is mainstream. A Yammer network of 100 wedding planners can work in exactly the same way as Facebook, only the scale is different.

Then there are content tools: Although these share many of the same features as the first category — user profiles, follows, “likes,” etc., — the primary functionality is the creation of social content to be shared across those other networks.

Who doesn’t immediately share their Vine videos to Twitter and/or Facebook? Relying on Vine alone to get your six-second video to the masses would completely miss the point of why Vine was created in the first place. Vine is meant to create content for those other networks.

Vine, Instagram, and others are smartphone apps first and social networks second. And that changes how we should approach them from a social media content strategy standpoint. By all means, create away using these social media tools, but do so with these recommendations in mind:

Be spontaneous

The point of these social media content tools is not to spend three weeks plotting a highly strategic piece of content, then spend lengthy production time with multiple drafts and arguments with the art director in search of perfection. Rather, content created on Vine or Instagram should serve as the in-between meal snacks that keep the ravenous beast of social media happy for just a little longer.

There are some fantastically creative uses of Vine out there. But the secret is that each of these has an extremely simple premise behind it. Choosing to create content using Vine’s linear shoot-and-stop approach means you can’t be too fussy about editing and production values. Part of the charm lies in Vine’s content looking a little homemade or imperfect. Inspiration is more important than perspiration.

Be creative

You know I still have to say this, right? Otherwise, there will be someone who thinks Vine is perfect for that quick pitch from the sales manager: “I’ve got just six seconds to tell you about the great customer service at Fiddly Bits™ Computing Technol…

No.

Similarly, when Instagram announced its new 15-second video feature in June, there were plenty of comments from marketers that it seemed a perfect length for sharing short TV commercials.

How unimaginative and predictable.

There is more to an effective social media content strategy than just hammering an audience into submission with calls to action. Build your audience by having fun with them. Be interesting, entertaining, and relevant.

Seriously, just play. Take your followers behind the scenes to catch a few seconds of the indoor cricket match between marketing and accounts. Or, give them an informal photo tour of your factory. Maybe even share the view of a sunset from the office and challenge your followers to beat it. (I was always amazed how much engagement we got on sunset photos.)

Be searchable

Hashtags may have started on Twitter, but they have become the glue that brings these social content tools together. Even Facebook finally succumbed.

Hashtags work just as well on Vine, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram, and others, which provides some interesting possibilities.

Instead of a single stream of tweeted comments, bring your event hashtag to life by encouraging attendees to tag photos and videos on Vine, Instagram, Pinterest, etc., before sharing to your main networks.

Or, build a campaign around user-generated content. For example, Tiffany & Co. encouraged Instagram users to tag photos with #TrueLovePictures as part of its “What Makes Love True” campaign. And take a look at how Morningstar leveraged Tumblr, Twitter, and Vine in tandem by asking its advisers to complete the sentence, “Investing is… ” and then using a conference hashtag to gain a following. 

morningstar advisor on vine

Above all: Don’t think too hard

No, you don’t need to develop a new Vine strategy or research Instagram influencers. Not yet anyway.

An Instagram gallery is unlikely to drive direct leads or sales conversions by itself. But these social content tools are perfect for building an audience at the top of the sales funnel that is ready to share and interact with your next piece of strategic content. 

This article originally appeared in the August 2013 issue of Chief Content Officer. Sign up to receive your free subscription to our quarterly magazine. 

Author: Jonathan Crossfield

If it involves putting words in a row with the occasional punctuation, then Jonathan has most likely given it a bash; from copy writing to screenwriting, blogging to journalism. He has won awards for his articles on digital marketing and his over-opinionated blog, Atomik Soapbox. Follow Jonathan on Twitter @Kimota.

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  • Bradley Robb

    As much as you hated to say it, your sharing vs creation tools theory was almost correct.

    All digital social networks, dating back to the days of BBS and plaintext emails, rely on the creation and sharing of content. The hook seems to be where the content was created, and whether that content derives meaning meaning from the channel or whether the channel is merely the most appropriate place to share that piece of content.

    The channels that you flagged as “creation” channels are inherently visual, where any other created content is metadata (likes, hashtags, etc) that really only has meaning (and serves as a distinct value add) within the channel. The content, as it is almost always explicitly visual, can exist outside of the channel supported by other means of communication, but benefits most within the channel.

    The channels you flagged as “sharing” also rely on the creation of content, though the content itself can be representative of something outside of the channel – such as linked content – as well as content that was created to communicate through the channel – such as an @reply. The channel, however, rarely adds meaning to the content, instead serving as a vehicle.

    As all channels allow for direct creation in some way, and all have some manner of metadata association, the sharing/creation divide becomes much less black and white when we look at people who have achieved a level of notoriety within their channel and only their channel – the so-called-rockstars. Twitter has them. YouTube has them. Instagram has them. Hell, I’ve got a buddy in Japan with over a million Pinterest followers.

    The crux is in the metadata and well it grants meaning.

    • http://www.jonathancrossfield.com Kimota

      Totally agree. Even a 140 character update is a form of content, so I was being deliberately simplistic in creating such a black and white distinction so as to illustrate the difference of approach suggested by the different networks.

      The article was inspired by recent comments I’ve read and discussions I’ve had with Marketing Managers about Vine and Instagram (and others) that required these new tools to be put into some kind of context within the broader social media strategic landscape.

      Of course your response is a far more intelligent analysis to the glib magazine column style of my piece. 😉

  • Mike Booth

    I’m sure you have a point–or even more than one–Jonathan. But I don’t have time to ferret it out. I do admire your panache when it comes to boasting about bad writing, however. Best of luck to you.

    • http://www.jonathancrossfield.com Kimota

      Ooh a well-played backhander. 😉

      I always have a point, even if it sometimes hides behind my soapbox bluster and ranty-pants writing style. This piece was first written for the magazine, which assumes a different and more forgiving reading style of course, but point taken.

      • Mike Booth

        Thanks for your thoughtful reply, Kimota. A nice gesture.

  • Ryan King

    Interesting article. I’ve been trying to find ways to incorporate Vine and Instagram into my marketing and been stymied thus far. I have always recognized Facebook as more relational so I typically communicate more personal, cultural messages on Facebook. Is that what you find with Instagram and Vine as well? For example, should an Instagram lean more towards your mentioned sunset picture and less towards an infographic or company info?

    • http://www.jonathancrossfield.com Kimota

      Well Instagram is part of the Facebook ecosystem, so that would suggest a more relationship-building focus. Instagram is primarily a photo service (and now video) and I wonder therefore whether there are not better channels to circulate an infographic. After all, the premise behind Instagram was sharing content created in it’s app – photos taken and edited within the smartphone app.

      Similarly, Vine is primarily about the content created using its app. There are other, arguably more effective, alternatives to upload and share content created elsewhere. Vine is not a replacement for YouTube, for example.

      Pinterest has recently changed some of the ways it displays images to make it easier and more practical for infographics. And as Pinterest can just as easily be shared to FB, Twitter and elsewhere – hashtag and all – it might be redundant to also use Instagram for the same job, if you already have both. Then again, an infographic sitting on your website can just as easily be shared to FB, Twitter etc. So you need to consider what the goal of sharing the content is. Driving visitors to the website? Building FB, Twitter or other followers? Creating awareness of a new channel? Etc, etc.

      If you don’t currently use Pinterest, I wouldn’t start up a Pinterest account just for the occasional infographic every few months. Too many networks in a strategy can work against you if there aren’t the resources to make each independently successful. So it depends on what channels you already have and deferring to the strengths of each.

      Naturally, a content strategy needs to contain a lot, LOT more than sunset photos if it is to generate any practical benefit for the business beyond Facebook likes and comments. Brand relevance and consumer relevance both remain important in every channel, so there should be a mix.

      Ultimately, results will always differ from brand to brand and strategy to strategy. So experiment.

      • Ryan King

        Thanks for the thoughtful reply!

  • Robert Crown

    Very nice article on social media, it is the first and most important work of individual to be on social sites. It is a very good approach.

    http://www.seloger.com/immobilier/viagers/ville/

  • Julien

    “Be interesting, entertaining, and relevant.” Great article. I stumbled upon it by chance, but I’d say that here at http://www.crowdbase.com, we think that it should be the same for content sharing inside businesses. Having a tool to share relevant and great content among teams is a great way to propel creativity and engagement among the workforce, and then to have better ideas for maketing the company’s products!