Gone are the days of effortlessly tapping into every third-party conversation with some quip about your brand and calling it a social media strategy. As digital has evolved, social media has been forced to grow up right along with it. With social media networks focusing on quality content and cracking down on audience development scams, brands that have mastered the art of growing their social media along with the changing digital atmosphere are winning. If you are still stuck in the OG days of sweepstakes, contests, click-bait and tapping into every hashtag you see on social media, no fear. Here are some steps to help you grow your social media strategy into the effective strategy it deserves to be:
Write Branding Guidelines
Now, depending on where you sit in the company, this work might actually fall into another team and quite possibly could already be done for you. However, you will be unable to write a strong strategy without having the basic brand guidelines in place for your company. I’ve worked for some companies where it has been my role to write the brand mission statement and decide on the colors for the logo and messaging we are allowed to use. I’ve been with other companies where this work falls completely into a separate marketing team, and my job is to tweak the guidelines for social media. Bottom line >> You need to know your brand’s mission statement, values, goals, logo, and colors before you can go any further.
Get Familiar With BOTH Types Of Hashtags And Their Value
Hashtags are not as valuable as they once were in the social media world, but that does not mean they are obsolete. Instead of only falling into third-party hashtags and forcing your brand to have something clever to say where it might not have something to clever to say (think #ThrowbackThursday, #FlashbackFriday, #TuesdayThoughts), be picky about which of these actually applies to your brand. Even if you are just tapping into one of these per week, you are solid. You do not have to be in every conversation. It’s better to be in a relevant conversation once a week, than trying to stretch your brand into every conversation every day. Also start thinking about using hashtags to brand your company, rather than always having to tap into them for brand awareness. Create hashtags no one else is using and start using them on a regular basis wherever you can. This will help people identify with your brand and also tie in their conversations to the overall social media chatter around your brand.
Develop Solid Content Pillars And Never Stray Away From Them
This is critical to having a grown-up social media strategy. Instead of thinking how your brand can morph into any and every conversation already happening on social media, you need to be thinking about a few relevant conversations happening on social media where your brand can have a major impact. I usually recommend sticking to only four major content pillars that you can really focus in on. If you’re a non-profit, advocacy might be one of your content pillars to ensure that you are always advocating for others with your content. If you’re a lifestyle brand, inspiration might be one of your content pillars, so you are always tapping into conversations that inspire your consumers to live a certain kind of lifestyle.
Once you’ve landed on your four pillars, it’s important to never stray from them. Take every piece of content and measure it up against the pillars. If it can’t fall into one or two of them, it should not be published on your social media channels. Being this strategic can also help if you are working for a large brand and have a lot of cooks in the kitchen. When you know who you are as a brand, you can easily say something is off-brand and move on to the next piece of content.
In my first social media job, I could easily pull a meme from the internet, post it with limited copy and have a thousand likes by that afternoon. Granted, I was dealing with a bunch of bodybuilding meatheads as my target audience, but I have a feeling memes would not even cut it with that bunch today. Consumers are looking for more sophisticated content that adds value, as they have also been growing up with digital and social over the past few years. I don’t care who your brand is; you absolutely have to add some sort of value to your consumers’ lives for them to be interested in your content. Add a column to your social media calendar that includes a goal for each post. This will help you make sure that every single piece of content that is going out on social is not only providing value not only to your consumers but also to your brand.
Straying away from vanity metrics (likes/followers) has been happening for a while. Followers mean nothing in this pay-for-play universe and meaningful engagement is everything. I even go as far as adding a column to the social media calendar for what success will look like for every post. For example, if it’s asking a question in the copy, that post will be most successful if there are a lot of comments at the end of its run. If it’s asking people to apply for something, that post is successful if a certain amount of applications can be directly linked to it. While metrics reports at the beginning of my career touted an increase in followers each month, today they pull apart the five top posts on each network and why each one was successful on its own. Not only does this help inform future posts, but it also reinforces the value of engagement.
Avoid Contests And Surprise And Delights AT ALL COSTS
Even at the beginning of the social media craze, it was obvious contests did not always attract the most valuable consumers. I had an endless budget at my first job in social to run flashy contests. We would fly people to meet the most famous bodybuilders and effortlessly give them a year’s supply of all of our products. We quickly noticed a drop off in fans and followers less than a week after each contest ended. The same goes for surprise and delights. When you offer free loot, you attract people who just want free loot, rather than loyal consumers who are willing to pay for your product. Instead of falling into the giving-everything-away-for-free trap, think of other ways you can add value to your consumers’ lives while also showing them why they need to purchase your products/services.
Invest In A Social Media Tool
You are living in the dark ages if you think you can still get by using the ‘free’ version of any tool. Software companies are smart, and they have reserved the functions you need for a sophisticated strategy for the paid version. Not only do you need a publishing function, but you also need a strong listening and metrics function. Listening will help you stay on top of conversations happening around your industry and metrics will help you make sure your content is staying on-strategy and help you tweak your strategy if certain content is not resonating with your audience.
Include Your Employees
Employee advocacy is not just a hot trend in the social media space; it is here to stay. Employees are the single most effective marketing tool you have in your belt. Think about ways you can start incorporating your employees into your social media strategy. Whether it’s highlighting an employee a month on social media, or encouraging employees to share your brand’s social media content, employees help with the friend-to-friend recommendation factor that is so powerful in consumers’ purchasing decisions. For more on employee advocacy programs, check out this post: How To Supercharge Content Creation Via #EmployeeAdvocacy.
You Need To Think Larger Than Social Media
While my original social media strategies could fit onto a couple of pages, they now take up full decks. Instead of narrowly focusing on how to grow followers and engage them, I am also thinking about what customer service needs to look like on social, what we need to be listening for, and responding to on social media and what type of content strategically aligns with the brand and social. This means my strategies now include a baked-in customer service strategy, listening strategy, response strategy, and content strategy. Any arm of the brand that interacts with social media needs its own strategy of what the relationship will look like.
Know Social Media Is No Longer A One-(Wo)man Show
You can imagine with all of the strategic work that now goes into an effective social media plan; it is no longer something that can be done by one person right out of college. As social media has grown up, it requires a larger team that includes an experienced strategist at the helm. As the strategist is figuring out why, when, where, and how to engage in social media, someone else needs to be responding to customer service requests online. On top of that, a third person should be monitoring and listening every day for negative customer responses, as well as opportunities to engage in third-party conversations. This list can go on and on depending on how larger your brand is.
It’s time to revisit social media and grow up with the times. With more social media savvy consumers that see-through gimmicks and unauthentic content, it’s imperative to put more thought, time, and resources into creating an impactful social media strategy. The one (wo)man, follow-the-leader show just won’t cut it anymore.
– Marji J. Sherman