“We don't have a choice on whether we do social media. The question is how well we do it”
- Erik Qualman, author of Socialnomics (2013)
This essay outlines the techniques and strategies needed to create successful social media campaigns, drawing on real world examples to illustrate their effectiveness.
It is important for brands to first adopt the most relevant social media platforms suited to their individual needs, rather than just what other brands are doing. This is only to ensure brands get the best return on investment from their social media. RedBull, for example, have visual content readily available to them. Thus, a live sharing platform like Snapchat is completely appropriate. However, an IT consultancy firm may struggle to find enough live, visual, and interesting content to share on Snapchat.
To drive people to social media pages, page admins could use paid advertising. However, brands will get much better retention if they target the right people in the first place. Facebook advertising gives the ability to select audiences based on their activity and profile information, such as age, location, education, likes. This data alone has limited application, however when collated on a large scale, can generate telling insights. In 2012, Cambridge Analytica proved that with only 68 Facebook likes, it was possible to predict a user's skin colour, sexual orientation and political views with 88-95% accuracy. The data could also predict intelligence, religious affiliation, and even if the user had a divorced parent (Henshall, 2017). Cambridge Analytica used their data analysis tools for both Brexit ‘leave' campaign, and Trump's presidential election campaign. They were able to be incredibly specific with what messages were sent to which people, on an almost personal level. At Nudgestock 2017, a behavioural psychology conference, ‘Vote Leave' campaign director Dominic Cummings used the example of a Scottish fisherman. Facebook data could tell his age, occupation, race, and Big 5 psychographic profile. This left the campaign strategists to simply match a specific, personal, benefit from the Vote Leave manifesto to the fisherman. Perhaps a reminder that if he voted leave, he could take back control of his fishing zones. This hyper targeted paid social strategy is clearly effective, as both the Brexit and Trump campaigns were successful, defying all expectation. A similarly powerful, tool has since been added to the social strategist's arsenal - Facebook Lookalike audiences. Page admins have the ability to upload a list of their most valuable customers, where Facebook then uses Artificial Intelligence (AI) to find more people who resemble that audience. Hubspot experts used to use traditional AB testing to optimise their audience targeting, though have since decided to stop as Facebook's AI outperformed their human efforts. “It's just best to get out of your way and let Facebook do its thing.” (Andrews, 2017).
It is important to note that despite these strategic advances, sometimes a product endorsement from the right person can have equal weight. In 2016, one 23 year old fashion student was paid £625,000 to become an influencer for the leave campaign (The Drum, 2016). Influencer marketing is effective because it adds credibility to a brand and quickly builds trust. Humans are social animals, so if a trusted figure is seen to be associated with something, people are more likely to trust the brand (Huff, 2017).
Another strategy used to implement a social media campaign is to create great organic (unpaid) content. Following trends through social listening tools such as Hashtagify, or Talkwalker can inspire relevant ‘of the moment' content ideas in a process that is sometimes called newsjacking. The most famous example comes from Oreo in 2013, when there was a power outage at a Super Bowl game. Within minutes, the brand had posted a singular image of a cookie in darkness, copy reading “You can still dunk in the dark”. The post generated thousands of likes and retweets, proving to be a very successful strategy.
In contrast, some content is periodical, so can be planned using a content calendar. This is simply a bank of content ideas against key dates throughout the year, such as Christmas. They're especially helpful in reminding social media staff of more obscure, but opportune dates, such as National Puppy Day. Costa Coffee seized the cultural buzz of the day by posting a photo of a lady holding a pug and a coffee. They used the opportunity to remind customers that their stores are pet friendly (Costa Coffee, 2017).
According to Postify, visual content versus text only content performs approximately 230% better across all social networks. Tools like Canva and Adobe Spark can make the process of creating visually engaging assets quicker, easier, and more efficient than ever before. Previously, to achieve the same level of graphic design, the social media content creator would likely have to have been proficient in specialist software like Photoshop or Illustrator. Adobe Spark can even automate the process of turning presets into branded content that meets the organisation's consistency guidelines. This might include the automation of typeface choice, logo placement, and brand colour scheme. The main benefit of these tools is they enable all design skill levels to create engaging content to a professional standard and in an efficient manner.
The leave campaign proves that leveraging social media and psychological insights concurrently can be an extremely powerful strategy. Hence, it's important for all content creators to understand the psychology of sharing. Ernest Dichter, known as the ‘Godfather of Modern Sharing' established four reasons that lead people to talk about brands and products.
To summarise, a person will share if their experience has been so pleasurable, or if they felt special and gained attention. For example, Bud Light UK responds to every Facebook comment in a humorous way, to which countless users have said “Made my day” (Bud Light UK, 2017). A further strategy is to make content that makes users feel they are helpful by sharing it. Finally, Godfather states users will share content when the message is “so valuable that it has to be shared” (Dichter, 1966). If content creators apply these insights to their content, their organic reach will likely grow.
Social media strategists should take quantitive data seriously, especially where it has measured real user behaviour. Sites like Coschedule outline the best times to post in general. However, tools like Buffer can increase data validity by specifically measuring the performance of a brand's own posts. This can then inform a content scheduling tool like Hootsuite or Buffer when the best time to automatically publish posts is. These tools also help automate labour, meaning content can be posted even when staff aren't available.
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