Stop Doing Social Just to Be Social

Social media is such a fast-moving and exciting field, with its constant stream of new platforms, channels, and innovative ways to create and strengthen the connection between consumers, content, and brands. This is fueled by the massive growth in ad-tech (advertising-technology), the constantly evolving ecosystem around social, the rapid growth of connected devices in our homes, and the never-ending curiosity of today’s digital consumers.

This explosive growth has led to new challenges that brands and agencies must solve in order to turn social media into an effective channel. Some of those challenges center around the impulse to engage in social because it’s there – but without a carefully laid-out plan or understanding of how to do it right to achieve stated goals.

Today, I want to share some of my learnings and perspective on these issues with you.

1. Create Social Personas

I know we all love our Nielsen and MRI profiles; however, social is different and so are the consumer profiles there. Your social consumers behave differently on social platforms than they do in the “real” world. The interaction your consumers have with your brand in a retail location is different than in social, where you are competing with their spouse, mother, and friends for their attention. When they are in your store location or website, their intention is to buy; on their social feed, they don’t want to buy (yet) – they want to learn more, engage with the brand, and, depending on the platform, have some fun.

Therefore, before engaging in social, you need to understand your consumers. Start by looking at and evaluating their actions. I always ask brands four questions when going into a social engagement:

  • Where: What platforms are your consumers on?
  • Why: Why are they on there (this is important because it defines a tone: sales-y vs. informative or personal)?
  • What: Why would they engage with you in social? What is in it for them?
  • When: When is the right time and place to speak to them (least distracted/exploratory)?

Once you can answer those questions, you can start to define who you want to talk to, where should you talk to them, what to say, and when.

2. Integration of Social Into the Overall Strategy

Due to the burst of new platforms and changes in ways to communicate, social is still being treated as a silo rather than part of the overall marketing mix. I often hear clients talk about their social strategy, and even a separation between paid and organic social strategies. In reality, there is no such thing as a social strategy; you can have a strategy that is heavily focused on social, but not a social-only strategy. In order to really excel in social and have it become part your brand’s DNA, you need to make sure that your goals in social media are lining up with your other marketing goals and working (together) towards your overall brand benchmarks.

3. Learn From Your Consumers

Search has always been the most direct connection to the consumer. Their search behavior telegraphs consumer intent at the most honest level – it tells us what consumers are looking for, and where and when they are looking. Search is a great lens into the mind of our consumer’s passions, interests, and behaviors at the moment they are raising their hand to ask a question. And while this remains true, search has always been a pull medium, with insights limited by a single word or phrase, and we started to develop a dependency around the amount of data that search engines allow us to see. Each time search engines remove some of that data, we lose another indicator (take Google’s recent example of removing the search keywords).

Social is different. Social lets us understand and learn consumers’ emotional triggers, reactions, and their unique tone of voice. If we truly listen to our consumers in social, we can learn so much about them. Where we historically may have looked at survey data, social allows us to see what our consumers do in their daily lives, who they are influenced by, and more important, for the first time ever, we can do this on a one-to-one basis (vs. sampled or survey).

By connecting the brand interactions with their social profile we can truly understand the life of our consumers. In search, we could translate the data into statements like “I am a New York resident, searching on a mobile device for a vacation in Hawaii at 4 p.m.” Social yields much richer data; we can create compprehensive statements like “I am a married 30-year-old male with two children who works at ABC as an XYZ; I am married, live in New York, like soccer, and have engaged with the following brands in social…” The insights are priceless.

4. Social’s Impact on Other Channels

One of the biggest areas of opportunity today is the impact and relationship social has on other channels. As an example, search used to be heavily impacted by TV. Consumers would see a commercial on their television sets, then use search to learn more about the product. While this is still happening, more often we now observe the same behavior driven by social media. Consumers see a sponsored post, tweet, etc., and then go to their search engine of choice to learn more about it or (we hope) make a purchase. This allows us to literally manufacture search interest (Google’s dream ) via social media. So no matter what your business key performance indicators (KPIs) are, make sure that you have a clear understanding of how this might impact other channels and see if there are any “indirect” opportunities. As an example, you might not be able to drive a consumer to purchase online from a TV spot, but you might have better luck driving them from TV to social and from social to purchase.

5. Accept That It’s Not a Free Lunch

Social is a pay-to-play channel; there, I said it. Between Facebook’s algorithm change and the change in the way content is presented to the user, it is extremely hard in social media to reach consumers organically on scale with your marketing message. Don’t get me wrong – as support channels, the Facebook page and Twitter feed are still a great way to communicate with the users that are actively asking questions, but from a push perspective, it is becoming very much a pay-to-play medium. As soon as you accept this, and position it as such in your organization, you can start to realistically plan, budget, and measure your social media engagements.

6. Define and Measure Success

This is closely related to the headline: don’t play in social just “because.” You need to look at your overall business objectives and then establish how social can help you achieve them. Simply defining the social objectives is not enough; define what type of tactical executions will help you archive those objectives. (Go back to those social personas for a guide.) Too often, I have seen companies measuring only the like or the engagement metrics without defining any measurements that link back to business KPIs. Those days are gone. As paid social spend increases, and becomes more visible to the C-suite, there will be an increased demand for accountability and business-related KPIs. If your goal is a lead or an online sale, then tag your social messages so you can measure in your analytics platform which one drove the best conversions. If your goal is brand awareness, check the branded search volume after each campaign to see what drove it. We have come so far with measurements and analytics; there is no excuse for only measuring a like anymore.

7. Budget, Budget, Budget

If you want to win in social, you need to budget correctly. No other channels touch as many departments/agencies as social media. You need to have creative, content, legal, media, PR, and analytics involved; and if you really want to win, you need to have it in real-time. Add to that the scarcity in talent and established best practices, and you have one of the most expensive channels. That’s because, similar to search, social has a large reliance on content, and good content is expensive. And compared to traditional digital channels, in social you need content in different “languages”; an image on Instagram; on Twitter, a 140-character “tag line”; and on Facebook, a short enticing story. In order to dominate in social, you need to define your brand’s tone and voice for each channel and that means lots of content (cost). Therefore, make sure you have the right budget to support your activities.

8. Less Is Often More

There are hundreds of platforms your brand can play on. However, unless you have an unlimited budget and a very diverse audience, I would suggest focusing on the channels that your consumers are actually in and you can support. Be only where you need to be. Nothing is worse than going to a brand’s social channel, asking a question, and not getting an answer (“Is anyone there?”). Similarly painful are the brand-owned profiles that provide a horrible consumer experience, which often happens when brands are either abandoning a platform or cutting budget/support. If you can’t support a platform, close the profile. If you are on a platform for other purposes (like Google+ for SEO), then either clone content from another platform or be honest – tell your consumer that it is an inactive profile, and to please seek you out on another platform. Simply put, if you can’t be best, don’t be there.

9. Be Honest, Transparent, and Adaptive

Social is about creating a personal connection between you and your consumers. It’s the opportunity for the brand to sit at the family table. Social and the World Wide Web are closely connected; if you are not honest with your audience, they will find out and you will lose their trust. Be transparent and share; consumers love the behind-the-scenes, meet-our-team, backstage-style content. Share what your brand is about, make your audience feel like they are a part of it. Make sure that your social team has the support to be adaptive and move quickly. Provide them with pre-approved content and assets so they can respond quickly when needed. And most of all, have fun; social is about that personal connection, so be exciting and make your consumers eager to get your content.

I know there are about 89,325 (at least!) more things to consider when playing in social, but the above items are the most common issues I have come across in my work. As the field evolves and new platforms arise, I am sure there will be a whole new set of ways to engage. But if you follow the simple principle of connecting the social activities to measurable business goals, you will be on a good path.

Related reading