The Evolution Of Social Media

In the saturated world of social media, cutting through the noise has gotten, well, really hard. We’re inundated with posts 24/7, and social media managers are constantly adapting to changes and learning new skills to even have a chance at their posts seeing the social media light. When it comes to executing a seamless social media marketing strategy, you have to make sure you’ve covered all of your bases—and we’re here to help. It’s time to Marie Kondo your social media strategy—out with what’s not working and in with what is. If you’re a budding, doe-eyed social media editor looking for tips on how to hone in on your social media plan, or interested in why data and analytics play a pivotal role in your long-term strategy, here’s how you can master the social media-sphere from start to finish.

First, let’s get this out in the open: Social media shouldn’t be overlooked. It is important, in fact, 81 percent of marketers have integrated their social media and traditional marketing efforts. Social media’s attention seeking, eager to please sibling—paid advertising (like Facebook Advertising)—often takes the spotlight for driving the most traffic and having the highest return on investment (ROI)—and for a good reason. Social media has become a pay-to-play market, further placing emphasis on quality, attention-grabbing content. And we’re back to square one: organic social media—because brand awareness and brand presence is just as critical, and often the first step on the user journey.

Organic traffic is dwindling, and new social media algorithms make it harder for brands to get eyes on their content. Focusing on quality and engaging content still holds merit, but paid social continues to flourish. This is where the goals of organic and paid social split: The former is meant to curate a brand presence, build awareness, and drive traffic—you’re just beginning to nurture the user on their purchasing journey—whereas the latter is focused on optimizing the user to convert—it’s another touchpoint along the user’s path to conversion. Paid social ads will reach more eyes, but you still need a baseline to fall back on, as organic social supports paid media efforts—the two work hand-in-hand. Your social presence is a place where users can be more intimate with your brand, which helps guide them through the funnel.

How Do You Cut Through The Noise?

There are hundreds of different social media sites and billions of social users, which means there’s a lot of “noise.” It may make organic social media seem daunting, but following some best practices will ensure that you rise above and find your audience on the appropriate platforms. Keep these best practices in mind:

Stay On Top Of Updates:

Social media is constantly evolving with platforms adding new features or changing their algorithms daily. It’s critical that you stay in-the-know. Bookmark social media blogs since all of the networks have their own to stay abreast of trends and updates. To further my point, the day that this white paper was due, Instagram added a new feature that allows you to save your live video once it has ended—something you’d like to know, right?

Who’s In Your Playing Field?

Research competitors and keep track of what they are doing on social and see how you can improve your own social strategy to be ahead of the curb.

Plan Out Your Content in Advance:

Make sure that you have a content calendar built out at least a couple of weeks in advance. The one key to making sure that your channel growth continues is to have consistent content thoroughly planned out. This allows you not only to see a visual outline of how your content will look, but it will also save you tons of time when you have other content to create.

Goodbye, photos:

Hello, video. Video now drives more engagement than photos. According to the 2016 Social Media Marketing Industry Report, incorporating video into a social media plan has become essential. Nearly 60 percent of marketers use video in their marketing and 73 percent plan on increasing their use of video. In fact, the time spent watching social video on Instagram increased by 40 percent last year, and with similar results on Facebook. If you’re posting videos, though, remember to include subtitles to capitalize on the 92 percent of users who watch with sound off.

Automation Isn’t The Answer:

While there are scheduling tools aplenty, don’t let automation tools take the reins. Use management tools for efficiency, but ensure effectiveness by keeping real, human interaction alive—automation is robotic. Develop campaigns that promote customer interactions and build an organic following with better user relationships—take community management seriously to increase user engagement, generate leads, and foster an online community and brand presence. There’s a difference between efficiency and autopilot, and your users will notice. From automated, canned responses (like ASOS’ blunder) to untimely messages around current events, automation can present a number of issues. Instead, focus on personalizing the process where you can.

Pay Attention to KPI’s (Key Performance Indicators):

Take note of your KPIs (likes, shares, comments, click-throughs, etc.) to keep track of your growth each week. This will help you evaluate what content is performing best, which isn’t, and help you build a much clearer social strategy. Later in this paper, we’ll address data and analytics in depth—stay tuned!

Cross Promote to Grow:

Some of your channels might have a larger following than others. Ensure that you’re taking advantage of your bigger accounts by leading your followers to find you on other social platforms.

Go Live:

With features like Facebook Live and Instagram Live, live video is catching wind with 50 percent of marketers planning to use live video in the coming year. Even Twitter jumped on the live video bandwagon. As aforementioned, Instagram allows you to immediately save your live video once it has ended, allowing for broader sharing capabilities across other channels. As you focus on your live streaming efforts, consider where your audience already spends time on social media and try to connect with them on those networks.

How Do You Make An Impact?

So, now you know all the best practices when it comes to staying on top of social media. You’re ready to start posting, right? Nope, not quite yet. Before you launch your social media presence, it’s important to ask yourself a series of questions to ensure your social media plan has the most impact. Even if you’re a seasoned social media manager, asking these questions every so often will ensure your plan is up-to-date and meeting your current goals and objectives. Regular evaluation and analysis is all part of the process!

  • Who are you trying to reach? What is your target audience? Know who your user is and why you want to speak to them.
  • What resources do you have? Do you have a plethora of high-resolution images and well-edited videos? Do you have a photographer at your disposal? Are you on a small budget and need to include third-party content into the mix?
  • How much money are you willing spend? Are you going to incorporate boosted posts into your plan? Can you spend money on content creation (i.e. photoshoots, videographers, designers, etc.) for custom, original content?
  • What are your goals? Do you want to generate brand awareness? Build a community? Increase engagement with customers? Solidify your goals before you develop your plan—it will provide guidance.

Once you’ve addressed the who, what, when, where and why part of your social media plan through the questions above, you can then focus more on the how part—the content.

What to consider before you post, regardless of what channel:

  • What’s the story? Your followers aren’t users—they’re humans. Is what you’re about to share going to inform, inspire, or persuade them? Will it get them to talk to you, or with each other? Forgo branded clutter to fill a void—choose an objective, fulfill a promise, tell a story.
  • Is it shareable? The hallmark of a good story is that you want to repeat it. Would you want to go back to this post later on? Or even better, share it with a friend or colleague. If you wouldn’t share it, no one else will either.

How Do You Choose The Right Channel?

Now that you’ve outlined your goals and objectives, you need to decide where you’ll implement your social media plan. There are quite a few platforms out there. Which ones are most applicable to your business? When it comes to the different channels, we’re divvying up a few of the top social media platforms and compiling what you need to know about each one—from demographics to new features.

Facebook

Facebook continues its reign as the most popular social media channel garnering 80 percent of online adults as opposed to the 20 percent that all other channels reach. Facebook is the one place where you can find everyone from your baby cousin to your grandma, and everyone else in between. It’s no exaggeration to say Facebook is for all ages. Their demographics break down to 62 percent, at a minimum, to 88 percent of representation from each age group from 18 to 65 and older! Last year, Facebook incorporated more social and e-commerce hybrid functions for businesses and continues to develop the cross-functionality between its other platform, Instagram—a big plus for marketers. The leading social network had 1.87 billion monthly active users as of January 2017. A serious competitor to YouTube for video viewing, Facebook surpassed 100 million hours of video watched per day last year, and that number continues to rise.

Instagram

As of December 2016, Instagram had reached 600 million monthly active users—up from 500 million in June of the same year. Users who are 18 to 29-years-old make up 59 percent of the visual sharing platform, which made big strides last year with the introduction of user-generated Instagram Stories (which garners more than 150 million views per day). They also followed in Facebook’s footstep with a new algorithm, which did away with the chronologic feed. Instagram also rolled out more robust features for businesses, like in-depth analytics and the ability to shop e-commerce products directly within a post. Get ready to see more users go “live” since Instagram added a live video feature to compete with Facebook Live and Snapchat’s real-time feel.

Snapchat

With 150 million active users in 2016 and more than 8 billion views a day, Snapchat is the platform of choice for the young 18 to 34-year-old cohort, with 41 percent of the age group interacting with the network daily. If you incorporate Snapchat into your social media strategy, you can upload photos that weren’t taken in real-time with Memories, which helps when planning out a digital editorial calendar. Keep in mind that with a younger audience, fewer users than its competitors, and fewer means of measurement and analysis, Snapchat may not offer as great of an ROI as other networks.  

Pinterest

The social image-bookmarking site surpassed 150 million monthly active users last year, and while the visual platform used to be thought of as mostly just for women, nearly 40 percent of new sign-ups are men—up 70 percent from last year. Most applicable to lifestyle brands, Pinterest users share and “pin” ideas like do-it-yourself projects, fashion, beauty how-tos, fitness, and home decor. With new product and technology updates that personalize the user experience, and multiple tools for businesses, Pinterest continues to grow. Pinterest’s analytics platform became more granular allowing users, specifically e-commerce businesses and influencers, to shape their content based on what their followers want to see or purchase. Pinterest also added a new feature that allows users to highlight their best content with a carousel of handpicked boards.

Instagram is a great way to showcase the other side of your brand’s personality with authentic, unscripted, and unpolished content—especially for business-to-business (B2B) brands.

LinkedIn

The world’s largest professional network, popular amongst recent college graduates—their fast-growing demographic—and top-earning professionals, most recently reported 467 million members worldwide. Most applicable to B2B brands, LinkedIn allows businesses to showcase their company, establish credibility, and become thought leaders by sharing informative, relevant content on one’s page and a large network of groups.

Twitter

Roughly one-quarter of online adults are on Twitter, and the majority of users are among the 18 to 29-year-old age group with the 30 to 49-year-old cohort following suit. Twitter made strides last year after announcing new updates where users have more bandwidth with the 140-character posting limits. Twitter further developed their audience insights platform, allowing users to track high-level statistics, connect with relevant influencers, and spotlight top-performing posts. Forget the short blurbs, though, with the Twitter-owned Periscope live-streaming app, users can stream live video with the Twitter mobile app. With 319 million monthly active users, Twitter is the platform for sharing concise, in-the-moment updates.
As you can see, there are a lot of options when it comes to social media platforms—choose one or choose them all! You’ll want to look at your brand’s demographics and your target audience, then choose a few platforms to start out. You can always add more later down the road.

How Do You Know What’s Working?

As aforementioned, there’s no doubt social media algorithms make it harder for businesses to promote organic content. With the introduction of the Instagram algorithm in 2016, nearly every major social network now uses some sort of content preferential treatment. The majority of these algorithms have one simple purpose—to make its users are satisfied with the content they see in their feeds, ensuring users are viewing the content they care about most. But this is making it difficult for brands to be seen if they strictly publish organic social content. The need for quality and engaging content has never been higher. Paid or organic, content has to have a purpose and be engaging—and tracking what works is critical.

With social media, you’re working to cultivate brand awareness, credibility, user trust, and generate traffic. With each post, you’re nurturing the user and, inevitably, directing them further down the sales funnel. It’s the user’s first impression of your brand, and the message you convey should be powerful, clear, and consistent across all channels. Although social media and the brand awareness it brings is top of the funnel, it’s important to utilize data and analytics to inform your ongoing strategy.

What’s data got to do with it?

Keeping track of how well your content is performing is critical. Focus on a data-driven plan and use analytics to guide your evolving social media strategy. Analytics and reporting features are nothing new to the industry, and many platforms have their own native analytics tools. The competition is only getting stronger in the social landscape, which results in more analytical thinking and marketing. The problem is understanding the data to make better decisions about your social. Having analytical data to back up things like engagement or response rates helps you make smarter decisions and informs your ongoing social media strategy or a new campaign.

Find out who your target audience is and make sure you’re speaking to them. At its most basic level, data will tell you who your current audience is—like whether 34 to 45-year-old women make up 78 percent of your followers, or if the majority of your fan base is in Australia. Check these demographics across all platforms, too, as your user base may vary depending on which network you’re on (i.e. younger audience on Snapchat).

Stay on top of your demographics, though, because they too can change. For example, one health and wellness client of ours was targeting young male professionals because when they first launched their website their gender was split 64 percent male and 36 percent female. However, as we were tracking their website analytics for a New Year’s Resolutions campaign, we discovered that throughout the first two months of the year, their audience was shifting. During that period, their audience flipped to be 53 percent female and 47 percent male—and that required a completely different type of message!

To measure success, here are few things to keep track of:

  • Follower growth over time: Is your growth steady, or are there peaks? If there are peaks, is there any data that informs why growth happened more rapidly during one period versus another?
  • Average post engagement: Track the number of likes, comments, shares, etc. to see if you can spot any trends. For instance, when you post about a certain topic, does it receive more engagement?
  • Link clicks on your official URL: Keep an eye on how much traffic social is driving to your website and which platforms are performing the best. This can help you optimize campaigns and/or decide where to focus your efforts.
  • Custom hashtag use: Are you customers engaged with your brand and willing to share their own posts with your custom hashtag? If not, how can you nurture your following to start doing so?
  • Mentions or tags: Similar to hashtags, are your users mentioning or tagging you often and, if not, how can you increase that?
  • Reach: This will give you an idea of how many people saw your post even if they didn’t engage with it.

In order to leverage your data, you need to be smart about testing. Get creative and play around with different captions, posting times, hashtags, days of the week, time of day, text link or clickable photo—the opportunity for refinement is endless. How do you go about testing all of these variables, though? One step at a time. Control your tests and try out only one variable at a time. For example, if you usually post at noon, try posting at 9 a.m. one day a week for a month to see how that impacts engagement. If you see that 9 a.m. is performing better, then take a week and post at that time each day and track the changes to engagement. Your social media plan should never sit still—continue to test and refine week over week, month over month, and year over year.

Social media is constantly evolving, and you need to be prepared for anything. Will Facebook continue to engage the most users? How will Snapchat compete with the new Instagram Stories? With more robust ad platforms for paid social and “boosting” options, we can count on seeing even greater decreases in organic visibility across all networks. This year, social media trends will continue to evolve and surprise us. Focusing on engaging, relevant posts and high-quality, custom content—like infographics and videos—will be more important than ever. Having a data-driven, goal-oriented plan in place from concept to post to analysis will ensure your social media plan evolves with any changes. And if you’re not sure where to get started with social media marketing, don’t worry, we’ve got you covered.

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