I almost deleted my Facebook this week (still might), which is a pretty big play for someone who makes her living off of creating strategies for networks like, you guessed it, Facebook. It wasn’t because of the popular politics bantering, but rather because social media has created such a fake environment where it seems people are condemned for being themselves while others are applauded for spewing out incredibly fake bullshit.
In fact, I find myself often times wanting to put a prettier filter on my own life. The fact is, life is messy and it does not fit within a square with pretty filters. It fits in coffee-stained pieces of torn paper and in old cigar boxes with tiny clasps that lock to keep safe every relic you hold dear. Yes, sometimes it does fit in the nice polaroid digital shot on Instagram, but it also lives on offline as well.
And that’s not something we only forget as everyday people living our lives, but also as strategists writing social media strategies for brands. We want so badly for something to go viral, or for a client to see a 30-second video and applaud us on how well it will work natively on their Twitter account. We cut important words out to make sure that the story is told, rather than to make sure that the right story is told. I don’t care how good of strategist you are, you have, more than once, had to sacrifice an authentic, raw piece of content in order to fit it into the pretty little box of social media. Suddenly, it’s a polished, commercial-sounding clip rather than the raw, honest, shaky video you were working with in the beginning. While there is a place for the polished, there is also a place where you have to ask yourself whether the bells and whistles are more important than the real story.
It’s a question we often side with the bells and whistles on because that’s what we are told to do by others, instead of doing our jobs as strategists and seeing if that type of content actually fits into the strategy of the brand and appeals to its prospective consumers. In essence, we are taking our own strategy hat off in order to put on a diplomatic filter.
I’ve found myself in a few conversations in my career where I have had to stand up for strategies that are true to the brand when everyone else just wants to do what is ‘trendy’. Here’s a handy acronym I use to gut-check myself and my team when the social media strategy seems to be floating farther from the brand:
I’ve won many social media discussions by simply pulling an ad hoc report before the meeting that confidently supports my point. If someone wants to do something ‘catchy’ that is off-brand, I’ll pull examples of ‘catchy’ moments that tanked popular brands on social media. I’ll also come prepared with a solution of something we can do in lieu of the trendy idea that stays closer to the brand voice.
On the same token, if I want to do something more edgy that still fits within the brand, I’ll show examples of other brands kicking ass with the type of content I want to create.
Sometimes you don’t know what your audience will latch onto. Especially in the beginning of writing a strategy, it’s important to throw some stuff out there and see what sticks. Now, don’t go throw something out there that is completely off-brand and unrelatable to your target audience. Spend some time getting to know your audience and then find some creative ways to reach them on social media and see which way garners the most engagement.
Research, Research, Research
My background is in research and I would not be half the strategist I am without everything I learned from the researcher’s point of view. Know who you are targeting on social media inside-out. Live and breathe their lives until you almost could be one of them. You will never be able to write, or defend, an effective strategy without being best friends with the people on the other side of the conversation.
In my first job ever I had a coworker tell me that we needed to just move forward with our project, and apologize later if it ended up getting us in hot water. In social media, it’s often difficult to see the impact of a strategy until it is fully implemented. Until you throw it in front of humanity, you cannot be 100 percent sure what is going to happen. As strategists we get to a place where we can be nearly 99 percent sure, while some others are still at the 40 percent level. When that happens, sometimes you just have to go for it in order to prove that it is a good idea.
Now, I’m not suggesting that you completely highjack your company’s Twitter handle and go rogue. I’m suggesting that you implement a smart strategy if you have the room to, but also be prepared to have some tough conversations if it doesn’t go as planned.
Trust Your Gut
This would be absolutely listed as #1 if I wasn’t following an acronym here. As a strategist, you HAVE to trust your gut and you have to know that you know social media and your brand better than yourself. You are constantly in a changing environment where you have to make quick decisions with, often times, little support. You have to know you are doing the right thing and doing it well so you can defend it and produce awesome social media content.
I mean this in two-ways. Explore other brands to get a better idea of what others are doing, but also explore your consumers’ social media lives. Get to know what they are talking about and what kind of content they are sharing. Sometimes consumers are your best examples when you are trying to sell authentic, on-brand content to another team. You can’t quite argue with the consumer themselves.
Give More Than You Take
Once you’re in a place where you’re learning valuable insights, share them with other strategists in your field. Don’t think that in order to be a great strategist you have to hold all of your strategies secret. Be open and honest about what you are doing, and other strategists will be the same with you. Other strategists can be your most valuable asset. They are also great sounding boards when you’re wondering if a strategy is going to come across as inauthentic.
Social media is still so young that there is plenty of room to innovate and find new ways of using it. It’s important that you find the right way for your brand to use it, and it might not be the popular way everyone else is using it. I work for a very regulated industry and am constantly looking for innovative ways to reach patients, while also adhering to tons of regulations on social media. It’s challenging, but also rewarding when you’re able to create a new way of communicating and engaging on social.
This is a tricky one. You have to stay true to your brand, your consumers and yourself as a strategist. If you don’t stay true the brand, you will come across disjointed and out-of-place on social media. If you don’t stay true to the consumers, well, you’ll lose them. If you don’t stay true to yourself, it will be difficult to trust your gut when making quick, important decisions that the whole world can see.
Take It With You
Take every strategy you write with you as you go onto other opportunities, and constantly revisit them. It will show you how far you’ve come while providing you a jumping off start as you dive into new strategies. Remember, you always own a piece of the strategies you write and that’s something to be proud of.
So, at the end of the day, I probably won’t delete my Facebook because that will do nothing to subdue the fakeness. It would only remove one more authentic voice from the network. Hopefully, though, I can use my pet peeve of the increased filtered life to write even more authentic strategies that truly emulate the brands I work with. Who’s with me?
– Marji J. Sherman