Back when the social media revolution began, there were few options available to businesses – blogs, forums and MySpace were the highlights. Shortly thereafter, Facebook, which began as a platform for college students became available to the masses and Twitter launched… fast-forward to today. Social media now takes the form of networks (Facebook, Google+, LinkedIn, MySpace), videos (YouTube, Vimeo, Vine), images (Instagram, Flickr), blogs (Blogger, WordPress), microblogs (Twitter, Tumblr), chats and video chats (SnapChat, WhatsApp, Skype), bookmarking/content-sharing sites (Pinterest, Digg, StumbleUpon, SlideShare), communities (reddit), music (Spotify, Last.FM, SoundCloud), Q&A forums (Quora, Ask.FM), location-based platforms (Foursquare, Swarm, Yelp), review sites (Yelp, OpenTable, TripAdvisor), and shopping (Amazon, eBay).
Online social opportunities for each and every business are endless. Unfortunately, time and money are not. Think you can just choose your favorite platform and dive-in head first? Probably not a good idea. It’s unlikely that your entire target audience will be devoted to one social site (see below). In fact, they most likely use several different social platforms at different times for different reasons. So try to be everywhere, right? NO. You’ll spread yourself too thin.
As Fuel Online CEO Scott Levy said, “Instead of having a sub-par representation in a lot of places, be awesome on a few of them.” So what’s a savvy business-owner and/or marketer to do? Research. Get to know the social habits of both your existing and potential audiences. What platforms do they spend the most time on? What types of content are they consuming? What are their behaviors on each platform? You can use platform demographic information that is available from sources like the Pew Internet Research Project or Business Insider’s Social Media Demographics Report. But the best way to determine how, where, when and why your audience is engaging on social platforms is to ask them directly. If you have an extensive email database, consider sending an email survey. You can include a pop-up survey on your website, or at the end of the online purchase process.
One important thing to consider is the mindset of your audience as they are using a specific platform. You may find that a certain segment of your target audience spends a lot of time on a certain social site, but depending on your business objectives and their mindset during usage of that site, it may not make sense for you to try to reach them there.
For example, let’s say you are a sports equipment retailer and one of your key target audience segments is young, professional, educated males. This segment may spend a significant amount of time on LinkedIn, so does that mean you should spend time and money trying to reach them on that platform? Probably not, because they are on the platform with one goal in mind: employment. Your time and money would be better spent attempting to reach this segment via a platform they use when they are in a recreational, relaxed mindset.
Once you have identified the platforms your audience frequents and you understand their intentions and behaviors on those platforms, you need to determine how your business can engage in those spaces.
We’ve all heard it before: CONTENT IS KING. But is that true? Perhaps. But what is a king without his queen? There are two competing theories as to the identity of this queen: Conversation/Engagement and Distribution. Some say that without a proper distribution plan, content will never reach its intended audiences. Others say that without engagement and conversation around your content, it does nothing to foster relationships with your audience.
In order to maximize success, I would argue that all three (the king and his two queens) are equally important. Sure, you can create content, but there is so much content online that the ol’ if-you-build-it-they-will-come Field of Dreams mentality will get you (and your content) nowhere. Your content gives you something to distribute and something for your audience to engage with and converse about. If you aren’t distributing your content, then there is no way for your audience to engage with it. And if you aren’t conversing with the audience about your content once it has been distributed, then you are losing the opportunity to build valuable relationships that create brand loyalty rather than just one-off sales.
So, clearly, the King Content is hardly monogamous. I think a better analogy for the importance of a content + engagement and conversation + distribution triad is a sandwich. Content is the meat – it’s the heart of the meal. Distribution is the bread (or whole-grain wrap, if you prefer) – it’s the foundation that gets the meat to the mouth. And engagement and conversation are all the accouterments – everything that makes the meat and bread yummier. Sure, you can have any one element without the others, but when you have all three working together, it makes for a perfect meal.
It’s important to consider several things at this point: your content, your distribution plan, and your social engagement and conversation strategy…
Is your content conducive for the platforms your target audience frequents? For instance, you may find out that your target audience spends a lot of time on Instagram. Do you have enticing imagery to post to the platform? If your audience enjoys watching Vines or videos on YouTube, are you creating engaging videos that will capture their attention? If your audience consists of frequent pinners, does your website include vibrant images on each and every page to elicit valuable pins from them?
Are you prepared to deploy your content via a variety of channels? Have you identified the best days of the week and times of day to reach your audience based on each platform and type of content? Is your content optimized for deliver via all devices (laptops/desktops, smartphones, tablets) and operating systems (iOS, Android, Windows, etc.)?
ENGAGEMENT & CONVERSATION
Are all stakeholders aware of content that is being produced and the timing of distribution? Are members of your marketing and/or customer service teams set up to monitor social channels for opportunities for conversation and engagement? Is staff prepared to address questions, comments and concerns in a timely way, and with messaging and a tone-of-voice that fits within the parameters of the brand? Does each piece of content on your website have a mechanism for easy sharing?
WHEW! That’s a lot to think about… let me recap the takeaways:
- Come to terms with the fact that you can’t be everywhere when it comes to social media. It’s better to do a few platforms well than putting all your eggs in one basket or spreading yourself too thin.
- RESEARCH. Understand your target audience, the platforms they frequent, and their intentions and behaviors while on those platforms.
- Evaluate your content – make sure that you are producing content your audience will find valuable that is optimized for the platforms you are posting to.
- Develop a detailed distribution plan.
- Empower and enable staff to engage and converse with your audience about your content and your brand via social channels.
- Make sure your content is easy to share.
Taking these steps will allow you to maximize both your content and your chosen social channels so you can get the most out of both.