A common (and understandable) mistake that many people make as they’re diving into social engagement is to limit their content to promotional updates. This is reflective of the traditional marketing world in which all outbound push messaging is just that, but things have changed; now we build our marketing efforts on trust, engagement, and community.
What kinds of content to publish and share
There is, of course, a time and place for marketing and promotional messages, but don’t limit yourself. Consider broadening your scope a bit. This will make your content more appealing and lessen the burden of creation. Some options for types of updates may include:
Adjacent content: It’s a pretty safe bet that if someone is following you they’re interested in what you offer. It’s an even safer bet to say their interests don’t stop there. Share content that’s tangentially relevant to your business or something involving common interests of your audience. For example, if you are a clothing retailer, you could post about up-and-coming beauty trends or news from a major designer. These topics quite likely directly align with the interests of your audience.
Tips and tricks: Add value to the conversation by sharing content that will make your customers’ lives easier (bonus points for tips and tricks that help them use your products or services).
Non-promotional company information: If your company does amazing volunteer work in your community, don’t be shy about sharing it! If there’s a rather impressive showing at the company Halloween party, you definitely want to share that. Giving a sneak peek into the culture and community within an organization goes a long way to building relationships by humanizing the brand. Social media provides a fantastic way to go about this.
Job openings: Social channels can be an incredibly fruitful place to find new talent and publicize job openings. Job seekers are increasingly using social media as a way of learning about companies and their open positions; it’s a match made in Internet heaven. Get those listings out there and be sure to highlight the most important ones.
Jokes: This is a tricky one, and it’s more of a branding question than anything else. First of all, know what your brand is and what kind of personality it embodies. If humor is not a part of that, you might avoid this type of post. It can backfire and be incredibly awkward. If you are going to try humor, safety first! Ensure you’re not unintentionally sharing something that could be offensive by testing it amongst your colleagues, friends, or even family. Always err on the side of caution with sensitive topics; a disaster can be really painful. Once you’ve made sure the humor is acceptable, make sure it’s actually funny, because a bad joke is just embarrassing.
How to share and publish your content
Frequency of updates
“How often do I need to update my account?”
“How often do I need to update my account?” is a common question, and there is no right or wrong answer here—no best practice set in stone. It simply depends on your audience, their appetite, and what you have to say. There has been some research on this topic that can act as a general guideline in your efforts; but as with most things, it’s best to test and see what works best for you and your audience on each platform.
One universal fact is that social media status updates don’t last long. The half-life of a tweet, for example, is around 18 minutes for most users. This number isn’t meant to suggest you should post that often, but rather understand that sending an update out doesn’t mean it will remain visible for an appreciable amount of time. Users move on to more recent items in their newsfeeds quite quickly. The takeaway here is to keep an eye on how long your users are engaging and sharing something. More than anything, this is indicative of the quality of your content.
Again, though, it all depends on what is appropriate for your organization. For example, news organizations or media publications could easily be expected to update multiple-to-many times per day, whereas a clothing retailer would be exhausted by this rhythm and consequently turn off users. You definitely don’t want to talk just for the sake of talking; if you don’t have anything of value to add, don’t post updates just to meet a quota. That said, you will need to make sure your account updates regularly enough to entice users to follow along. You want them to know they could be missing out on some good stuff if they don’t.
Fostering engagement as a brand comes in two flavors. The first is responding to users mentions, questions, commentary, etc. In the beginning of a community’s development it’s critical for a brand to be very present and active, and this means responding to most user commentary and all of their questions. The volume at this stage in the game should be fairly manageable for most.
The second flavor of engagement is that which results from a solid data-driven content strategy. By looking at things like search queries and social conversations, you can begin to build the foundation of a solid content strategy. As you’re sharing this content throughout your community, you should collect data on how your audience reacts to it and engages with it. Consider all of this data to be feedback on how you’re doing. You might re-evaluate the timing of your updates, the format or sentence structure you use (are you asking questions, making bold statements, etc.), and even the type of media you’re using.
Ask for help: Want your community to help or participate in a particular way? Sometimes it’s as simple as asking. If you’ve earned their allegiance by building value and investment into the relationship, you can ask for survey participation, product feedback, or whatever else you need. Maybe you need help supporting or sharing a new program or piece of content. You’ve made the relationship investment; they will often gladly reciprocate.
Monitor and listen: Monitor social channels as frequently as you can. Utilize services that will help push notifications to you so you can ensure you’re not missing meaningful conversations across the web. There are countless apps for Twitter and Facebook (SocialEngage, HootSuite, TweetDeck, etc.) available, and you can set up alerts, as well (Fresh Web Explorer, IFTTT). Often the admin tools of various platforms will have this functionality built in. As you monitor, genuinely listen to what your customers tell you. Social listening data provides endless insights for brands and companies willing to listen. This can be your product feedback channel, your user experience consultation, and even your early warning system for when things gone awry.
Keep it simple: Too many options may as well be no options. If your audience isn’t on a certain network, why would you promote that sharing option on your content? Conversely, if your main focus is B2B, you may (for example) not need to include Pinterest as a sharing option. Look at your social audience and match up your offerings with their behaviors.
Gamify: People enjoy competition and like being rewarded for achievements, and adding game-like elements into your marketing mix can help you motivate a community. Foursquare is one effective example of this, moving its users through mayorships and badges. You can identify ways to incent your own community in ways that align with your business goals, making engaging with your brand fun. This can be a great way to increase the number of answers your community is providing in a help forum—add levels and achievements for answering questions, for high-quality answers, or for sharing out unanswered questions. Match up behavior and goals with reward systems. Companies like Badgeville and BigDoor have products that can help you use virtual rewards. These efforts can build on your existing social marketing, increasing sentiment, retention, and loyalty, all while decreasing churn, acquisition expense, and customer service costs.
Cross-promote for discoverability: There’s nothing worse for a user than not being able to find your content, and cross-promotion is an easy way to help keep that from happening. Ensure your blog is linked to from your social properties. Keep all of your profile names the same across all social channels (utilize a service like KnowEm to be proactive on this one), and cross-promote your accounts. And (this is super-important): Develop and sell a unique value proposition for each account. Think about it—why would a customer need to or want to follow you on Twitter, if they already follow you on Facebook? Make sure you give them a reason.
Consistent branding and voice
There are many elements that go into a brand—both visual and otherwise—but ultimately what it becomes is your promise to your customers. You define their experience of what your product offering tries to fulfill. A “brand” can feel like a very amorphous concept; but consider the fact that your company’s brand helps add tangible value to the organization, and when managed appropriately, it can help to protect the investments made to the business over time. How one actually determines the value of a brand is a fairly complicated endeavor.
Most of us aren’t trying to compete with the most valuable global brands. That being said, there sure is a lot you can learn from them:
- If you do not already have brand guidelines developed, you’ll want to start there with your marketing team. Once you have those finished, you’ll want to address how they translate to social media. Most of the visual components (logos, colors, etc.) will remain the same, though you’ll want to make sure the users setting up your social profiles have access to any relevant creative assets. For more inspiration, take a look at the Cambridge Identity Guidelines and MailChimp’s guidelines. For most small and medium businesses, these will likely feel overzealous (they probably are), but you can glean inspiration for the parts that make sense for you. If you have a graphic design team, they should be able to help you with a lot of this as well.
- Know your audience. Be on-brand, but also be relevant to the environment in which you’re working. Your audience, or the social platform you are engaging on, may slightly change your tone and voice from your brand guidelines. This is where it’s important to have a really solid understanding so you can adapt as necessary. It’s not vital to be absolutely consistent between platforms, but it is vital to demonstrate cohesiveness.
- Be human. It probably sounds obvious, but this is the goal of social media. Human engagement is where the magic is, and keeping that in mind as you’re developing your brand will help you craft a voice that’s not only solid and cohesive, but also one that users can relate to and build relationships with. You know, like people.
- Integrate your campaigns. Integrating your campaigns across all of your social profiles can help solidify your brand and amplify your efforts. Using similar visual elements across all of your profiles will help ingrain your messaging and drive home the point in ways that are relevant and customized to the platform.
Your social presence is just an extension of your brand, allowing that brand to reach many more people through networked experiences. This can be both a risk and an opportunity, so it’s important to spend the time it takes to decide and define what your brand will be in the social environment, as inconsistency in this area can lead to a disjointed customer experience (or even a negative impact). Key questions to answer include:
- What is our brand voice and personality?
- What do we stand for, and what do we represent?
- What is our value proposition and differentiating factors?
- What are our defined visual branding elements (logo, font, colors, etc.)?
If you don’t answer these questions first, your social presence can veer toward one of two extremes: Either your communication will come across as stiff and corporate, and the people you’re engaging will feel like they’re dealing with a robot, or your community manager will use his or her own voice in your communications, leading to an inconsistent or even inauthentic experience.
Providing a cohesive, branded customer experience that is completely agnostic of site, network, or location will serve to galvanize your community’s comprehension of, memory of, and hopefully preference for your brand.
How to earn familiarity, trust, and likeability in your community
Building a reputation around these three qualities is part of what goes into building relationships. We’re all in this social media puddle trying to accomplish big things for our businesses, but step back for a minute—let’s think about this in a different way. How do you build relationships offline or in person? Building them online for your brand is not all that different.
Show up. Simple as that; just being present is the first step. But it doesn’t stop there. You have to continue showing up. Give people a reason to invest in the relationship. If you don’t prove you’re going to stick around or pop in at least somewhat regularly, they don’t have any reason to connect with you in the first place.
Be human. Be kind. Be real. Be funny. Be respectful. Be empathetic. Be all of the things you would expect someone to be toward you in every interaction. No one can easily relate to a bland personality. If your effort feels automated and heartless, you won’t come across as very likeable. Also good to remember: When you’re engaging with someone on social channels, it’s best to assume all interactions are completely public.
Don’t be exclusionary. This creates a balance in your relationships. You don’t want to treat a select few so specially that outsiders new to your brand or account feel as if they’re on the outside looking in. Strive to make every individual you interact with, and those watching, feel like they are special and part of the in-crowd.
Be off-topic. Closely related to being human, it is definitely okay to go off-topic now and again. If every tweet or Facebook post is only your marketing, people will tire quickly and leave. Turn it off once in a while. Post something that’s relevant, but perhaps only tangentially. Enjoy a joke now and again. Celebrate the holidays or world events. No one likes to be marketed to constantly, and that’s not where the magic happens!
Add value. Sure, you can show up and make friends just by being congenial, but you’re a brand. You want more than just “friends.” You’re building a network and trying to establish your company here. Adding value will help you be seen as helpful and authoritative, and ultimately, make you a wanted part of the community. Offer assistance, answer questions, and go out of your way to make someone’s life easier or brighter.
Practice etiquette. Do not spam hashtags. Brands have gotten in trouble for this in the past, and it can show your brand in a disrespectful and distasteful light. Don’t be too pushy or forward; you want to make a good first impression.
Be aware of current events. During solemn times, natural disasters, tragedies, events of terrorism, etc., you definitely want to turn your marketing messaging off. If you’re using a scheduling service to post content for you, turn it off immediately at the first sign of a catastrophic event of any kind. Your timing will be seen as incredibly insensitive and could cause severe backlash against your brand.
None of this will happen for you overnight. An investment in these relationships is ultimately a long-term investment in your community and brand. Keep it up, and be patient—the more you invest, the more you’ll get back.
We hope that we’re never faced with a crisis as a business, and social media can add an extra layer of complication to such a situation. A real-world incident can be amplified by social networks, casting a shadow over everything you say, and customer service issues can smolder and quickly spread through social platforms. At the same time, though, social networks can be a wonderful way to practice transparency, as the best way to fight chaos is with clarity. Buffer, a social sharing app, exemplified this type of response when it was hacked in late 2013. Their blog, and the comments below it, are a testament to the benefits of open communication through social channels.
When thinking about crisis management, all companies should be in one of the following four stages at all times:
- Preparation: Understanding risks, building out escalation processes, draft responses, roles and responsibilities, training, etc.
- Response and measurement: Responding if necessary, following up, measuring and monitoring reach, volume, etc.
- Recovery: Typically consists of more measurement, follow up, case-studies, and knowledge sharing throughout the organization.
- Prevention: Analysis of crisis and existing procedures, identification of opportunities for improvement, and acknowledgement of what worked well.
When in crisis mode work to first understand the level of severity, identify potential risks, and escalate accordingly. Work through the crisis by listening intently, showing empathy, transparency, and a willingness to correct whatever wrong had been done. After the fact, examining the impact and pulling insight from the situation can help the organization heal, move forward, and gain traction toward a strong preventative posture.
Measurement leads to action; it’s hard to argue with that. Conversely, what we do must be measured, or there’s no proof it worked. An analogy with a tree falling comes to mind.
There are really three big buckets for social media analysis. Some data points will cross between buckets, and others may even fall outside of these, but for most businesses these three major categories should cover your social data needs.
Account growth and competitive progress will fall into this bucket. We’re really talking about hard data points in this bucket. Growth in followers and likes, reach, and CTR are all examples of measurement data.
Listening and insights:
Social media gives us unprecedented access to conversations. Listening tools help you take the massive flow of information and distill the meaningful bits. The insights you glean will help inform you of key customer pain points, competitive opportunities, and even overall brand sentiment.
Monitoring and response:
Getting a little more tactical, marketers need the ability to monitor all of those social conversations in order to take effective action. These tools typically have workflow functionality built in, so you’re empowered to not only find, but act. This is not limited to reactive posting, either. These tools will likely function as your primary content distribution tool if you’re not doing it directly from within each platform.
Some tools may serve one or more of these needs. They can vary wildly in price and functionality, so taking a critical eye to what type and form of data you will need will help ensure you pay no more than what is necessary.