I've been publishing on commercial social media channels for four years now. Let me tell you, social media marketing can be a tricky little beast. In this article I put together what I think are the most important details for introducing social media marketing. I'll walk you through the foundation, the basics, and mention some general strategies. To begin with, I need to tell you the harsh reality of it.
Harsh reality of social media
Social media isn't free
It's true, social media is not free. Sure, it's free to sign up, but good social media marketing takes time and effort. It's not a magic wand; it takes work.
Social media may not be worth it for you
Social media isn't for every company. For example, let's say you work for a bail bondsman who's considering social media marketing. Bail bonds are a service most people never need in their lifetime. And when someone does need it, it's most likely a once in a lifetime occurrence. Hence, a topic like bail bonds is something people have zero interest talking about on social media. In this case, social media wouldn't be worth it.
However, I'm not saying it's impossible to have engaging social media activity for an uninteresting industry. There are many articles on social media for 'boring' companies. Radio stations, for example, have popular Facebook pages for always posting hilarious photos. It boils down to the question of how far you're willing to go for social media popularity and how much time/effort you're willing to put forward for it.
Social media won't increase your profit
Unless you're a big company with full-time social media specialists, don't expect social media to increase profit. Not directly, anyway. The main benefit of social media marketing is exposure. With engaging social media activity people are more likely to think about you and recommend you.
Popular social media
Let's take a look at what's the most popular social media channels right now. Check out the chart below from Google Trends. I excluded Facebook since it's overwhelmingly popular and Google+ since it's overwhelmingly unpopular.
Altogether, here's the most popular social media:
- Facebook - Everyone knows about Facebook and pretty much everyone is a member.
- YouTube - The king of video.
- Twitter - The king of micro blogging.
- Instagram - The king of picture sharing.
- Tumblr - Popular for pornography.
- LinkedIn - Corporate America's favorite.
- Pinterest - Followed mostly by women.
- Google+ - Largely ignored, yet required.
What about Google Places, Foursquare, Yelp...?
Google My Business (Google Places) and those other channels fall under location based marketing and that's beyond the scope of this article. For help in this area I recommend Moz Local (check your listing score!).
Which channels do I sign up for?
So which social media websites should you sign up for? I listed my general recommendations in groups in order of importance below. You should only sign up for what you can dedicate yourself to. If you don't have the time/resources to regularly update everything then don't sign up for everything.
- The 'ol Ball & Chain: Google+ & LinkedIn
I'm bringing these two up first because they can benefit you without regular updates. Creating a Google+ page is good for SEO. Once you do, you should also verify your Google+ page. If you're a company you should sign up with LinkedIn so that you're in their database. Some argue that it's essential to regularly update your LinkedIn. Mabye for big companies, but I don't think so for small business.
- The Essentials: Facebook & Twitter (& Google+)
You absolutely must sign up with "the big two": Facebook & Twitter. It's a no-brainer - you'll get the most exposure possible when you're on these sites. And while you're updating Facebook, it doesn't hurt to copy & paste updates to Google+ and LinkedIn if you have time for it. It helps your website on Google to have an active Google+ page.
- The Extras: Instagram, Tumblr, Pinterest
I consider these optional. If Facebook and Twitter keep you occupied enough, there's no need to throw more work onto your plate to sign up with more social media. If you can't sign up for all three of these and had to pick one, I'd recommend Instagram. Instagram has a very active audience.
- The Beast: YouTube
I put YouTube last because it's a different beast altogether. As opposed to simple picture/text updates that you'd post on other social media, regular video updates on YouTube are very time-consuming. Even if you're just shooting amateur videos with a web cam, it takes time, planning, and editing every single time. The trade-off is that YouTube could potentially give you far more exposure than any other social media can. YouTube is an option only when you're really determined to step up your game.
Let's get this party started!
Establishing your angle
Deciding what to post can be really easy or really difficult, depending on your industry. Here's a great article with good suggestions on what to talk about: Keeping Readers Interested: 17 Things to Write About. To drill down further, think about the following:
- Think about the fundamentals of marketing.
- What awes and interests your audience? Find out your trigger.
- Why would people come to you to solve their problems?
- What kind of reaction do people get when you do solve their problems?
With the answers to these points in mind, think about how to post about it in an entertaining manner. I know that's easier said than done, so I'm going to review with you several examples.
A look at how others do it
Here's a list of popular Facebook pages for some common industries. And most of these are 'boring' industries; it's interesting to see how they manage to engage people.
- Agriculture: Agriculture Technologies - Their angle is passion. They post industry buzz, humor, and just overall love for agriculture technology. Posts are mixed well with variety. The pictures are beautiful. Every post is highly engaging.
- Advertising: Zubi Advertising - This humble page doesn't talk much about their company. Their angle is fun. From photos of dogs to silly shenanigans during work hours, this page knows how to make you smile.
- Chemical: Chemical Engineering - Everyone loves science. Their angle is intrigue. They regularly post fun facts with detailed diagrams.
- Education: Harvard University - Harvard does a great job with variety to avoid crossing the line of becoming a commercial. Their posts are a mix of campus news, interesting articles, and beautiful campus photos. It's a celebration of knowledge.
- Financial Services: ClearDebt - This is a tough topic since finance is boring. This page isn't wildly popular, but given the boring nature of the subject this page is actually very popular. ClearDebt's posts emphasize that they understand their customers' problems. The admin swiftly responds to every question posted. Their angle is care.
- Legal: Lawyers.com - Their angle is controversy. Every post wants to get a rise out of people to state their opinion. The heat instigates lots of comments and shares.
- Music: Rihanna - Her page has nearly 90 million likes! It's essentially a blog. She posts many glamorous, sexy photos. Mixed in are posts about her music and accolade. Her angle is selling her beauty and talent.
- Private Equity: Private Equity Growth Capital Council - This is the toughest topic on this list! The posts on this page are hit or miss, and I don't blame them. However the posts that do engage people are the ones about community, interesting topics accompanied by an infographic, and their case study videos. The admin of this page could do a better job by paying more attention to what works and doesn't work.
- Real Estate: Coldwell Banker - They're not pushing properties for sale at all. At Coldwell Banker's page they focus on helpful articles on topics such as home maintenance and house hunting tips. It's highly effective; every post gets many comments and shares.
- Technology: Comcast Florida - Comcast is the most hated company in the United States! This is a good example of a page that doesn't have an angle. The majority of their posts are TV entertainment news, along with sports and salesy messages. This page is struggling. Even when they post about helping the local community (something people always love), people aren't interested. Their most engaging posts are when they talk about a popular show like Game of Thrones. They're trying too hard to appeal to as many audiences as possible. That's a big marketing no-no. Since news about popular shows works best for them, I would recommend exploiting that and taking it to the next level. I would even go as far as to post, say, Walking Dead fan art; anything that would engage the fan base of such popular shows.
As you can see from the above examples, finding your angle is all about putting yourself in the shoes of your audience. Give the people what they want.
Be careful not to be salesy
People go on social media to have fun and interact. The moment you push any kind of salesy message, people automatically ignore it, or worse, label you as a spammer and unsubscribe. As I mentioned in the beginning of this article, you can't expect social media to increase your profit so don't try to. Your goal is exposure. Post things that are as entertaining and interesting as possible that touch the hearts of your audience. Focus on helping people.
Writing a good headline
Any kind of post on social media requires a headline. If you want to engage people it needs to be a good one! Here are some articles to help you in this area:
- 100 Good Advertising Headlines
- 10 Awesome Headlines that Drive Traffic and Attract Readers
- Copywriting: How to improve headlines on landing pages and blog posts
These articles, however, don't throw in the interactivity factor that social media provides. The majority of your social media posts should ask a question to encourage comments and debate. No matter what you're posting, a habit of pushing good, healthy debate is key to popularity. However, variety is also key so don't ask questions with every single post.
Types of posts
There are four types of posts on social media.
- Pictures: Posting a picture is the best thing you can do in social media marketing. Picture posts have the highest possibility of engagement. Here are some tips for picture posts: The Ultimate Guide to Using Image in Social Media.
- Links: Posting a link to an article or other web page puts to the test your ability to write an engaging headline, because of success of your link post is depending on it.
- Video: Posting a video is tricky. You have barely a second to grab peoples' attention. A video forces people to click play and dedicate several minutes of their time, which is a lot to ask for on the Internet. The video you post needs to be short and highly entertaining. In your post's headline you shouldn't leave the content of the video a mystery. People want to know what to expect. This article has good video tips: How to Optimize Videos for Better Conversions.
- Text-only: With the exception of Twitter, text-only posts don't work. Especially after Facebook tweaked their News Feed formula in early 2014, your text-only updates will probably never be seen.
How often & when to post
The question of how often to post and when to post is tricky. It depends on your audience. They say it's best to post once per day at around 5 PM. Others say it's best to post on weekends and after hours. This is a hot topic in social media - there are many articles on the subject.
Don't treat all social media alike
What works in one social media site may not work with the other. For example, Facebook is a great place to ask questions due to the ease of their threaded commenting system, while on Twitter people are much less inclined to respond to questions. Expect your audience to be fragmented across different social media channels. For example, on Facebook you might have an audience that prefers funny pictures, while on Twitter your audience prefers awe-inspiring pictures. This article breaks down the difference between each social media channel and offers best practices for publishing on them: How to Create Awesome Content for Facebook, Twitter and Google+.
People will get offended
Every now and then one of your posts will offend someone. For large companies it can be disastrous. It can happen even with your best intentions. People on the Internet are sensitive. When deciding what to post it helps to always assume you're posting for a highly sensitive audience. However it's important not to be too careful, or else your messages will be bland and never attract engagement. You should always try to (cautiously) stir a bit of controversy to keep things interesting. Oreo's Gay Pride cookie is an example of a good controversy.
Success isn't measured by number of subscribers
Asking all your friends, family, neighbors, barber, mailman, ex wife, etc. to subscribe to your social media channel will not help it gain popularity. The popularity of your channel isn't measured by the amount of subscribers. The popularity is measured by the engagement of your posts. You could have a million subscribers, but if they weren't interested in your channel to begin with then they won't care about anything you post.
What you want are authentic subscribers: people who subscribed to your channel because they genuinely wanted to follow your posts. You find authentic subscribers by asking your customers, existing fans (from your website), or people interested in your topic to subscribe. When you have good engagement people will share your posts and attract more people to subscribe.
Your website is important too
You can't have strong social media channels without a good website to back them up. And by saying 'good' I don't mean you need to be paying $5,000 to hire an agency or have an amazing flashy site with full screen videos. This article has some good, practical tips for improving your site: The Shocking Truth About Most Small Businesses. Content and functionality are more important than the wow factor of aesthetics. You're okay as long as your pages are well written and your site is mobile friendly.
After posting over time
Not popular? Be patient
Popularity doesn't happen overnight. They say it takes a new website around 3-6 months to gain the traffic that's meant for it. Social media channels aren't very different - it takes months of dedication and patience for you to see the fruits of your labor pay off.
Paying attention to activity is critical
Don't be like Comcast Florida and repeatedly create posts that have zero engagement. Unless your channel is still in its infancy, consider such posts a failure and slap yourself on the hand. Pay close attention to what works and doesn't work. Most social media sites offer analytics to give you further insight on the success of your posts. Facebook is awesome in this regard; their analytics section tells you everything.
Be prepared to unlearn & relearn your audience
The first, tough lesson social media marketing teaches you is that you don't know your audience as much as you think you do. It takes months, maybe even years of experimental posts to get a strong grasp of what your audience wants to see. The wait is worth it; with an intimate understanding of your audience you can do a better job in your overall marketing efforts in your company, not just in its social media.
This lesson, of course, doesn't apply if you're new to the industry that you're managing the social media for. Over time you can become a star in your company if you tell everyone what you've learned about the audience so that everyone can do a better job.
Think you found a golden formula? Think again
Let's say you found that your audience loves funny cat pictures. Hence you're posting funny cat pictures all the time. Over time you'll find that doesn't work. One day the cat picture might have high engagement on Facebook, but on Twitter no one cared for it. Or maybe one day the cat picture doesn't work at all. There are many variables that come into play to randomize the success rate of your posts. Variety is essential.
This might be a lot to take in. When you look at the big picture there isn't really much to it. Learning social media marketing is just a matter of being informed with the do's and don'ts. The awesome thing about it is that it's very forgiving (for the most part). The worst thing that can happen is that your efforts get no engagement. Practice and dedication goes a long way.
For further reading I recommend the following articles: