The following is a guest post from Vanessa Zucker and Mamou Kilambi of digital marketing agency Firewood. Opinions are the authors' own.
Social media is no longer in its infancy. People have developed channel-specific norms, indicating a maturation of where social media sits in their minds, and younger generations have grown up with social media as part of the fabric of their lives. So brands wishing to benefit from social media marketing need to dive deep into understanding what it is, the people behind the accounts and how to evolve strategies as social media use continues to evolve.
Beyond serving as a place to promote a brand's name and products, social media is an avenue for reaching people to communicate their hopes, fears, insecurities, opinions and more. Here's how to focus on the right metrics, empathize with your audience and strategize for social.
The problem with social media: treating it as an add-on
To some, social media is still seen as an add-on to marketing efforts that can be picked up ad hoc and used in a vacuum separate from other efforts. It's seen as a way to get a quick win from the masses, and it's expected that if a brand posts on social media, the content will go viral. Follower count is seen as the single most important indicator of achievement, brands believe they can simply identify the youngest employee at the company and they will automatically know how to succeed on social media, and they believe one size fits all when it comes to applying the same social strategy across each platform.
Sometimes these viewpoints arise when a company has few resources to spend on social media marketing, whether that's in terms of people power, budget or time. While surmounting the challenge of pulling off a comprehensive social media strategy can seem intimidating, brands — even when strapped for resources — can shift their approach to social media and make meaningful changes.
The myth of social media: follower count equals success
One outdated idea about social media still seems to live on, and is perpetuated by a desire to find a quick-fix marketing solution: Follower count is the most important indicator of success. But there's a more nuanced way of looking at metrics that can steer brands closer to success.
Your most important key performance indicators (KPIs) depend on your social media goals, which depend on your business goals. The KPIs can go as deep as you want, ranging from "views" to "number of people categorized as user persona A who follow up after engaging with a particular type of content that I publish." In general, three metrics serve as typical starters: engagements, impressions and followers. These affect each other in a chicken-and-egg quandary with no one metric leading the way.
Engagements: Likes, comments and shares are prioritized by some social media algorithms. That means more engagements can lead to higher placement in news feeds. To some channels, a comment is considered the highest quality engagement.
Impressions: An increase in the number of views of your content often means you are reaching a new audience ripe for their first engagements with your content and the potential to begin following you.
Followers: Ever seen an account with a high number of followers but very low numbers of engagements on individual posts? These accounts have somehow amassed a large following but that following does not genuinely care about that account's content. Followers may be consuming passively. The account could have purchased bots as followers. Or followers could have been hooked by something that caught their attention but then lost interest over time. High-quality followers (those who actually care about your content) should be prioritized over a high number of low-quality followers (who ignore your content). High-quality followers engage and may even share your content with other potential high-quality followers, thus increasing impressions.
The psychology of social media: Empathize with your audience
Social media is not a bulletin board for broadcasting self-promotional messages. Or, at least, it shouldn't be. It's a place for conversation that's not just "me me me me," but instead an even mix of brand-specific and topic-specific content. Treat your social presence as if it were a real human being with a clear voice and persona.
Social media is a way to reach people with real, complex lives, personalities and outlooks. And the way to reach, persuade and leave an impression on social media users is to understand them and respond to them in a way that engages them. It goes back to basics: If you're trying to persuade someone of something, it helps to know things about that person so that you can find common ground and build trust without simply imposing your viewpoint on them.
So how do you conceptualize your target audience on social media and begin treating them like real people, as opposed to a set of usernames? Empathy.
Think from their perspective. What do they care about? What do they believe? How do they act upon those things they care about and believe?
Go a level deeper. What is the reason behind what they care about, what they believe and the way they act? For example, do they act in certain ways out of fear? Fear of what? What is at the root?
Find out what they're looking to consume online. Are they looking for new information, confirmation of their beliefs, assuagement of their fears, entertainment to distract them, or something else? On which channels do they prefer to find it? How do they prefer to consume it? Passively or actively?
The strategy of social media: Consider every angle
Gone are the days when you could simply create a Twitter account, post ad hoc updates about your company's product and expect a big reaction. In fact, those days never truly existed. That kind of approach to social media may have worked for a brand that already had an emotional connection with its fans pre-social media, but if you spend effort strategizing for the other aspects of your marketing, you should be strategizing for social media too.
So how do you strategize for social media?
Map out your social media goals and objectives, connecting them back to business goals and objectives.
Identify your target audience and research what they care about.
Research competitors and differentiate yourself.
Select relevant social media channels.
Develop messaging, points of view, and social media personas.
Determine KPIs and metrics that will help you achieve them.
Integrate social media into other marketing efforts so that it becomes a seamless extension of your overall marketing strategy — for example, use the company talking points from your PR efforts as opinions when joining social media conversations.
Develop content: What is your niche? How do you uniquely provide value? Why do people want to hear from you, specifically?
Identify who you want to interact with and how — for example, start a conversation or retweet content.
Tying it all up
When done correctly, organic social media can do so much more for your company than make you look cool. You can build a loyal fan base who will serve as brand advocates. You will have a platform to help express your views on the regular day to day. You can use organic social to express your brand voice in exciting ways. Once you take the time to treat social media like the integral part of your marketing plan that it is, your audience will notice and reward you for it.