Social media has had a tremendous impact on our culture over the years. Back when I first dipped my toe into social media, that world was dominated by kids and computer geeks. In 1998, I spent time on bulletin boards, forums, and chat rooms, telling college students not to "rip" their favorite music and instead to support the artists and pay for it. That effort didn't go too well because my client didn't respect the medium or the students.
Since that time, I've applied my learnings from that early experience to inform social media strategies for organizations large and small. One truth about social media is that it is dynamic in nature, and not just the platforms and features, but the people using them. Culture has evolved since then, with a new generation of socially-native children learning to communicate primarily via mobile devices.
As behavior has evolved, so too, should your social media strategy. Sticking to a social media plan or guidelines developed five or 10 years ago may be bad for your brand. In this article, I attempt to uncover social media rules you may have grown up with that are worth breaking. Feel free to add your own thoughts in the comments at the end of this article.
You are what you eat
When I was first asked to cover this topic, the very first rule that came to mind was "not tweeting about what you're eating." Eight years ago, as Twitter gained popularity, it made sense not to tell people you had broccoli for lunch, as that type of statement is tedious and boring. Times have changed, however. I've noticed that photos of my meals are typically the most engaging updates across my various profiles (Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook in this case). I'm not particularly active on Swarm or Pinterest, but I understand foodies are all over those platforms as well as other location, image, video, and blog platforms. Contrary to conventional wisdom, people do care what you eat. Take pictures and share stories, especially if you are in the industry or live in a food-centric city like Portland, Oregon.
Develop a social media marketing plan and stick to it
Remember MySpace? Ping? Orkut? Friendster? Digg? Ello? While those platforms are on the outs, others have replaced them. Are you active on Snapchat? Tumblr? WhatsApp? Get with the times! With such a dynamic environment of platforms growing, failing, being acquired, or generally evolving, there is no way that a social media marketing plan developed more than a year ago is 100 percent relevant today. Social marketing needs to be adaptive to changes with platforms. A social media marketing strategy needs to have the flexibility to change with the industry. How often are you revisiting your social media marketing plan? Employee guidelines? Management tools? At Anvil, we recommend quarterly strategic planning, including evaluating current platforms, tools, tactics, and content strategies.
Have a presence on all channels
A decade ago when I first started working with clients on developing a presence in social media, I extolled the virtues of getting your brand onto all major social platforms. The reasoning at that time was for online reputation management (ORM) for brands. Back then, your website would only rank once in branded search results, so it was important to control the remaining nine listings via optimized social media profiles. Times have changed, however. Google can display multiple pages of a branded website in the search results (with or without sitelinks), minimizing the need to jump on second and third-tier social platforms for ORM purposes. Users of social media are also much more savvy, and have high higher expectations of brands to provide an engaging presence. As such, it is far more important to have a deeper presence in platforms that best map to your objectives and your target audiences. Not all channels are equal, so understand the nuances of each before determining which make sense based on your bandwidth and budgets.
Write off Snapchat (or any other emerging platform) as a fad for teens
Don't be too quick to "dis" emerging platforms as a fad for teenagers. Remember when you first heard about The Facebook? It was originally for college kids, and look at it now. Early adopters are generally rewarded with more followers, credibility, and access to features. I've been a first million user of major platforms like Twitter and LinkedIn because I feel it is important to evaluate the platforms for marketing opportunities on behalf of our clients. If you're in-house, consider taking a similar approach, otherwise your competitors may get the jump on you. If your brand can authentically engage on emerging platforms, you have the opportunity to reach previously untapped market segments in a very cost-effective manner. I'm also a big fan of getting in early on beta testing for advertising opportunities within new social platforms for similar reasons.
You should post X number of times per week
There are a plethora of articles and infographics out there that tell you what to post, when to post it, and what kind of asset to attach to it. While this may give you an idea of how others are posting, nothing beats testing and analyzing your own posts. It's important that you don't post for the sake of posting -- post content that is relevant, interesting, and/or entertaining to your audience. Evaluate times of day, days of the week, and other cyclical trends. Also consider leveraging special events, topical news, and trends. Although your post volume may increase, the return-on-engagement may be significantly higher due to the timeliness. It's OK to start with a basic formula, but do not be afraid to veer off that formula. Also, constantly measure and adjust your strategies for optimal return.
Never cross-post content
Let's get real. Very few of your followers and fans religiously monitor all of your profiles and feeds all the time. Those that do are not likely to care if they happen to see the same post across multiple platforms. While an ideal ratio for original content to cross-posted content may be 80/20, the reality is that most organizations do not have the bandwidth or budget to create 80 percent unique content for each of the major social platforms. Since I personally touch nearly a dozen social profiles, my ratio is more like 20 percent original content for each platform, 80 percent cross-posted. Not ideal, but it works reasonably well for my personal brand. I would recommend at least a 50/50 ratio for any credible brand as a baseline, and test for optimal return-on-engagement from there.
Don't repost old posts
With the decline in organic reach, the odds of people seeing your post more than once (if you posted it more than once) are extremely unlikely. This is especially true on platforms like Twitter, where information is being posted and quickly buried in the feed. Reposting similar content with different images and copy can help identify what works best. Guy Kawasaki once recommended repeating important posts six to eight times over a 24-hour period (or something to that effect). My personal recommendation is three to four times a day initially for important posts on a platform like Twitter, and trailing down to weekly over a month, but each platform situation is different. With Facebook or LinkedIn, I would only repost similar content two or three times in a launch week. Otherwise, weekly is advisable as a default.
Apply corporate messaging review policies to social content like it's your job
Social media is real-time in nature and content needs to have an authentic voice (as long as it's within your brand framework). Few in your social community will engage with stuffy corporate-speak that sounds like it came straight from your legal, HR, or IT department. Similarly, posts that are required to wind through legal may not be timely once approved. While it is important to put policies and procedures in place to mitigate risk, be careful not to filter out your brand personality or relevance. People want to engage with a human-like brand they can relate to, and that rarely comes from corporate attorneys.
Avoid tying social efforts to ROI by focusing on fluffy metrics like "engagement"
While the landscape for social media measurement is certainly different from other channels, cultivating your social community and voice can have a measurable impact on your bottom line. Measurable return starts with engagement, as a socially-engaged audience is much more likely to convert to purchase. As a result, focus on connecting with your constituents and the revenue should follow. On the flip side, a bad social media experience can cost you customers, and that can occur when you ignore conversations or handle them poorly. As such, I recommend assigning social media monitoring to customer service representatives, as they have the timely "how can I help you?" approach that wins the hearts and minds of your social followers.
By breaking the above rules, you run the risk of being more successful with your social media marketing efforts. Be very careful, as it may get you that promotion.
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