by Tracy Vides | Featured Contributor
The last half decade has been an extended social media party that refuses to turn down its volume. Anybody in the free world with an internet connection is probably part of, and most definitely aware of this phenomenon that has brought us closer to hundreds of people we barely know, while cutting us off from the people actually around us. But hey, that’s social media and its magnetism for you.
As marketers, we have seen social media budgets going up with every passing year. The job of a social media marketer too has become more and more complex with time. However, there are some truths that are so universal about this medium that they promise to stand the test of time.
Peeps Go Social to Hook Up with Friends, Not Brands
This is the first and most important certainty that you need to accept. Much as you hate it, your audience on social media is there to connect with friends, keep up with the latest family gossip or even snoop on their exes. No one signs up to social media in the hopes of following a fast food brand or an ecommerce site.
In Facebook’s own words, “People told us they wanted to see more stories from friends and Pages they care about, and less promotional content.” This means, if you want users to connect with your brand on social media and stay engaged, you need to offer them something extra.
From inside scoops to exclusive social media discounts to special preview sales, give them a real benefit from connecting with your business on social media.
Getting fans and followers on social media is simply the first step. Real returns from social media come once you start engaging with your fans. Sharing your posts with their friends is probably the most significant form of engagement a fan can offer you. But social shares are also the most difficult thing to achieve. The trick to being extremely shareable on social media is to make your fans look good in front of their friends.
By painting them in a favorable light, you are virtually ensuring the fact that they will share your content among their networks.
Social Media is Not Free
Yes, creating your profile on most social networks is free of cost. Posting content on the sites and interacting with your followers is free as well. However, as social media has gotten more mature, the networks have begun monetizing nearly every aspect of reaching out to users on their platforms. We are all aware of how organic reach on Facebook dropped dramatically last year and has been on the decline ever since.
This however is not limited to Facebook. Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, SnapChat are all monetizing their giant audiences and extracting marketing dollars from brands who wish to engage with them on those networks. The lesson? Create awesome organic content. But back it up with requisite paid advertising muscle across the networks of your choice to be visible to your audience and make a difference to your bottom line.
Your Choice of Platforms Can Make or Break Your Social Media Marketing
Say you’re planning to set up a new online fashion store. If you’re like me, you’ll spend days (probably weeks) researching, understanding and agonizing over which platform to go with, before gingerly beginning with a free online shopping solution such as Spaces. Or, if you already happen to be running a small site selling apparel, built on a basic ecommerce platform like Shopify, you could try expanding your business to Facebook.
Use that same due diligence to pick social media networks that will work best to influence your target audience. Look at trusted data sources like the Pew Research Center to determine the audience profile for each of the social networks out there. Match these profiles with your buyer personas and ideal audience profile to figure out which platforms would work best for you.
Listening is as Important as Talking, Sometimes More
Many marketers tend to look at social media as yet another podium to broadcast their brand messaging. However, social media is not your personal soapbox. It’s a channel that thrives on two-way dialogue. You’d be doing you brand a huge disservice by discounting the inputs of your users on social networks – there’s some awesome free data for the taking! Chipotle spots a great hook by listening in to conversations about itself on social media:
Tracking brand mentions allows you to unearth customer problems and fix them on time. Understanding customer sentiment, tells you about how customers perceive your brand, what its strengths are and what weaknesses need to be fixed.
You can manually quantify mentions by setting up Google Alerts for your brand or related keywords and keeping count on a spreadsheet. Alternately, you can simply pick up the ready-made mention metric available through a bunch of tools.
A tool like SocialMention helps you keep track the number of mentions your brand receives on a regular basis. It also lets you filter by source – Facebook, YouTube, Instagram and so on, so you know your brand equity on each platform.
You can filter based on keywords used, identify top users, and also know whether users feel positively or negatively towards your brand. If you use social media dashboards like Raven or SproutSocial, they offer you the same data (in different formats of course) as well.
Not all users are equal. There is your average fan or follower who may like or comment about your brand once in a while. And then there is the super fan who evangelizes your brand like it’s their own. Or the celebrity who gushes about your service to their followers, sending an avalanche of business your way. Creating loyal customers and brand evangelists is definitely not as impossible as it sounds.
Bribing Users Only Works in the Short Term
Freebies and giveaways are an easy way to grow your fan base and increase engagement in the short term. However, users who like your page or share your posts in exchange for a bribe are mere opportunists who would do the same with your competitors too, given a chance. Instead of buying your customers’ love, try earning it on a more permanent basis. Post the kind of content that your users are automatically attracted to. Develop the kind of friendly, helpful social persona that your users love connecting with.
Social Signals Impact Your Search Visibility
We can debate till the cows come home the correlation between social media and search rankings and not get anywhere. However, multiple pieces of empirical data have conclusively proven that social media does impact rankings and hence cannot be ignored. Last year, data showed the growing importance of social media vs. search in terms of site traffic.
When we integrate with social media into our websites as a means of improving organic rankings, we need to keep in mind one key fact. Social media is not a bottom of the funnel, last touch medium. Social media is a top of the funnel medium that attracts the right users to your site. It can influence a user positively about your brand. The actual conversion push might come from a coupon or a sale at a store that a user exposed to your social media marketing walks into. However, that does not change the critical role social media has in positively influencing customer choices.
Integrate social media into the fabric of your site by doing the following:
- Place social sharing buttons strategically alongside shareable pieces of content. This could be product images, blog posts, quotes, or whatever else works for your site.
- Actively solicit social sharing of your content through specific social oriented CTA e.g. “Be the first to tell your friends about this awesome deal!”
- Showcase user feedback from social media platforms as a means of upping your social proof and winning credibility from new users.
- Encourage your existing users to refer their friends and family to your site via social media plugins.
- Consider including social login to your website with plugins like Janrain. Social logins make the experience of browsing your site seamless for your users. At your end, they offer you rich social data about each user that you would never be able to access otherwise.
Social Media Can’t Be Your Only Bet
Yes, we’ve all heard about those brands like Lolly Wolly Doodle that were built purely on social media. However, if we’re honest to ourselves, we’ll realize that those are exceptions, not the rule. Not every single customer of yours is going to be active on social media. Most businesses need a multi-pronged approach to reach out to their audience and get them to buy. A mobile friendly website, a content strategy that boosts brand authority, on-site SEO readiness, and an email marketing strategy, are all key elements of a successful brand’s marketing story.
Social media is a dynamic space. Some days your audience seems to love Facebook, the next day they switch to Instagram. Sometimes images are the biggest engagement tool on social media, and then suddenly images turn passé with videos usurping their spot. These are trends that you’ll learn to keep up with as you ride along your social media journey. However the fundamental truths that social media operates on remain constant. Master them and you’re closer than most to your goal of rip roaring returns from your social media marketing efforts.
Tracy Vides is a content marketer and social media consultant who works with small businesses and startups to increase their visibility. Although new to the digital marketing scene compared to her illustrious She Owns It counterparts, Tracy has started off well by building a good online reputation for herself. She’s now a “serial blogger” with posts featured on Sprout Content, Steamfeed, Soshable, and elsewhere.
Connect with her on Twitter @TracyVides for a chat any time!