Social media is an all-seeing, all-powerful presence in the life of a content marketer. In fact, it’s become so ubiquitous that we have cause to wonder: If a piece of content won’t have social relevance, is it even worth creating?
Before you answer, consider this: 93% of B2B marketers surveyed in CMI’s latest B2B Benchmarks, Budgets, and Trends report say their organization uses social media. That’s a lot of true believers. Yet, despite its high penetration, only 50% of the marketers consider it to be among the most successful of their content marketing tactics.
What’s holding content marketers back from proving the existence of social media value? With the wealth of platforms, techniques, and creative options available, the problem may lie with confusion around how to leverage the technique strategically, systematically, and smartly — so that your efforts help grow your brand, not just your follower count.
“Gurus” abound in this field; but when it comes to making sense of the social world, the CMI editorial team often puts its faith in the wisdom of one Jonathan Crossfield (our social “J.C.” if you will). This outspoken storyteller, content consultant, and columnist for Chief Content Officer magazine has a knack for separating the truth from the hype and distilling the complicated decisions involved in managing social media into simple, no-nonsense insights and advice.
Whether you are trying to make a specific strategic decision about your company’s use of social media or just want to stay in step with the latest rules of social engagement, read on for some of our favorite words of wisdom from Jonathan — along with a few tips that will help you get more value from your social media efforts.
Carefully cultivate your social soapboxes
Chances are you have existing content you want to put in the hands of your target audience. Or maybe you are looking to create new conversations among your brand fans. Regardless of the exact nature of the content you want to socialize, you first need to understand the unique characteristics of each social platform you plan to use and decide whether it’s the right fit for your outreach intentions.
As Jonathan says, the wrong network will erode resources and attention from those that already are working well for you. And, once adopted, if results from the new network are disappointing, there will no doubt be pressure from above to divert more time and resources to get that plate spinning.
Another consideration is whether your brand will be diluting its impact by sharing your content on every new network to emerge on the social scene.
Jonathan contends that the more networks you use, the less effective you’re likely to be. Instead of amplifying your content, you may end up killing it: “Before you can reap genuine benefits from a network, you’ll need to put in many hours of building and nurturing an audience,” he says. “You will also need to earn the necessary status, trust, and authority-attracting followers before that carefully cultivated audience will happily share and interact with your content in meaningful numbers.”.@Kimota contends that the more social networks you use, the less effective you’re likely to be. Click To Tweet
What J.C. would do: Before you decide to plant your brand flag on a particular social playing field, ask these questions to make sure your efforts will be positioned for success:
- Who are you trying to reach and how do they use this network?
- What content types are you trying to distribute? Is this network the best way to do that or are there more effective channels?
- What action do you want people to take? (Hint: “Liking” your page is a pretty low goal to set. You’ve motivated a noncommittal action that took less than a second. Then what?)
Lead by example
There’s a difference between brands that simply post their content on a social network and expect to rack up the followers and those that use their social conversations as a strategic means of driving marketing results. As Jonathan says, “If you want people to do more than push a button, you need to do more than push buttons.”
What J.C. would do: What does it take to lead the social flock toward the Promised Land of brand value? Jonathan outlines a few distinguishing characteristics brands should embrace if they want to gain recognition as worthy social media thought leaders:
- A passion for the tasks at hand: Social media content marketers are skilled multitaskers, able to dip in and out of their networks throughout even the busiest of days. They don’t need to be reminded to check the various channels because it’s instinctual.
- A signature style and tone: Social media is a relaxed medium. The best practitioners often have a sense of humor and a casual style that’s more “backyard barbecue” than “bank manager’s letter.” Social pros should be adept at conveying complex issues in a simple manner that can engage a broad audience, and should be prepared to join in the banter without sounding uninformed or disconnected from the real world.
- The ability to balance personality with professionalism: The role of a social content marketer can require exceptional skills of diplomacy and flexibility. Leaders in this arena need to understand how to communicate with their audience on the audience’s terms — for example, being able to address customer issues and moderate hot-headed forum disputes — while simultaneously upholding the values and interests of the business and its stakeholders.
- A solid grasp of the basics of writing: Style and diplomacy don’t mean much if poor spelling and grammar detract from your message. Your social media interactions reflect on your brand, and maintaining your brand’s standards is critically important to its welfare. A good social leader needs to be able to write, and write well.
- Undying social curiosity: Above all, Jonathan believes that the best practitioners understand their limitations and, thus, are actively interested in learning, exploring, and experimenting as the social media and technology landscape constantly evolves around them.
How to Spot True Social Media Talent Amongst the ‘Experts’
As Jonathan says, your content should be treated as far more than a fluffy distraction. You don’t want to attract readers who are merely curious to find out what you’re about. You want to attract an audience with an interest in your chosen topic area that cannot be sated in 10 words or less. Think true disciples, not just passers-by.
What J.C. would do: When shouting about your content from the social mountaintop, follow these guidelines to achieve the best results:
- Start with a fantastic piece of original, relevant, and useful content. It seems obvious; but it’s worth repeating since many marketers skip this step in favor of cheap ploys to gather more “likes,” followers, and clicks without providing anything of real substance.
- Tailor your message to its medium: Remember that thousands of followers won’t appear overnight just because your new e-book is ready to “go viral.” Instead of trying one-format-fits-all approaches, you’ll get better results if you reinvent your content in a format that suits the strengths of each particular network – for example, an article for the blog, a video for YouTube, an infographic for Pinterest, a slideshow for SlideShare, and so on.
- Describe the content in highly descriptive and relevant terms, particularly if the headline itself doesn’t make it clear. Five Ways to Boost Your Business is far too vague.
- If space allows, add context. Avoid generic, cut-and-paste phrases such as “Here’s our latest post” or “This week’s edition of the Brand X newsletter is out.” These are wasted characters that could be used far more effectively. Consider writing every update from scratch so it always feels spontaneous, fresh, and relevant.
- Get creative: 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. 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. Find a way to be interesting, entertaining, and relevant.
- Be sure to add an image or visual — and make sure it’s one worth adding. That cheesy stock photo or clichéd vector graphic implies that your content may be equally unremarkable. Your choice of image is another way to indicate relevance or topic. Choose descriptive imagery and don’t get too abstract. Our brains read images far faster than words, so make the right impression in those crucial split seconds.
- Choose the right hashtags. Hashtags may have started on Twitter, but they have become the glue that binds various social content tools, making your conversations more searchable and impactful. But it’s critical that you select your tags strategically – particularly if you don’t want to lose control of the message or, worse, invite ridicule. It’s best to stick with only one or two hashtags per update, researching them beforehand to make sure they’re appropriate, are actively being used and shared, and will be effective for reaching your intended audience.
#Hashtagology 101: How to Use Hashtags in Your Social Media Content
Preach to existing choirs
In Jonathan’s post on how to improve social content media results, he shares some valuable advice for increasing the value and impact of your social media efforts: Instead of spraying your content across large numbers of generic followers in the hope of hitting the right target, look for a ready-made community that’s already eagerly consuming the content you want to share.
Social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn, and Google Plus have established various types of groups-, community- and/or fan-page functionalities, all of which enable brands – even those that operate in incredibly specific niches – to engage in relevant ongoing conversations with a receptive and actively interested audience.
Jonathan points out that the smaller scale of these groups means your content stays visible in the update feed for longer (instead of disappearing into obscurity after a few seconds as it might on Twitter). In addition, group members are also more likely to revisit previously posted conversations – and retweet, comment on, and share them within their other networks of like-minded people.
What J.C. would do: When sharing content with social media groups, brands need to proceed with caution. For the best results, Jonathan recommends following these basic rules of engagement:
- Earn their interest: Don’t assume that just because you’re a big brand you can demand attention and respect. It doesn’t matter that you have hundreds of thousands of followers elsewhere. In each new group, you’re starting from scratch.
- Listen and learn: If you join a group only to push an agenda and spam your special offers, you may find yourself cast into the wilderness very quickly. Instead, spend time joining conversations and building relationships before you start to share your content. (In short, your first post shouldn’t be your latest press release.)
- Be transparent when serving as the voice of a brand: In most (if not all) cases, you can’t join these groups as the brand itself – only as an individual member – and your participation will be judged by the group as worthy based on your own merit as a member. Make sure you are honest about your relationship to your brand when engaging in conversations.
Beware of false idols, agents, and algorithms
Though some may view social media as an easy, breezy marketing discipline that should just come naturally, there’s a lot more to the job than casual observers may realize. For example, it can be a time- and thought-consuming endeavor to keep up with every new social trend, platform, community, promotional technique, and best practice – let alone to do so in a way that cuts through the chatter and gets your message seen by the right people at the right time.
When a brand is struggling to crack the code (literally and figuratively) of social success, outsourcing these efforts to a specialist agency or implementing an automation solution can seem like the shining path to salvation. But while there are plenty of reputable agencies and automation tools that will truly ease the social suffering, Jonathan points out the need to distinguish them from the false prophets – those that claim to have an expertise, ad strategy, or an algorithm that is beyond reproach or is guaranteed to improve your results.
What J.C. would do: Jonathan believes that brands shouldn’t obsess about achieving social media perfection or omnipresence, reminding marketers that creativity and simplicity marks many of the best brand uses of social media. “If it takes a committee of highly paid professionals over a month to produce a handful of social media content updates, you’re definitely overthinking your approach.”
Jonathan also cautions against an overreliance on technology to soothe our social media angst, emphasizing that social media automation works best when used as a tool that can augment and enhance a brand’s ability to participate in genuine, human-to-human conversations – not serve as a stand-in for them:
Remember when Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and YouTube didn’t have advertising programs? Social was about conversations and relationships, gathering feedback, and joining the community. The platforms were listening posts, and places to share good content, ask questions, respond to concerns, and – you know – network. It’s extremely important that we don’t lose sight of those goals by chasing algorithms and crunching data. Social still has to have something worthwhile to offer in return for audience attention.
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If it’s more social media wisdom you seek, subscribe to Chief Content Officer magazine, where you’ll find exclusive new social web insights from Jonathan Crossfield in every issue.
You can meet Jonathan this September when he speaks at Content Marketing World 2016. Register today and use code BLOG100 to save $100 off of the main event and all-access passes.
Cover image by Joseph Kalinowski/Content Marketing Institute