If you could name just one innovation that has changed the world in the last decade, what would it be? Mine would be social media.
It’s now almost impossible to imagine a world without selfies, check-ins, photos going viral or firestorms of outrage generated by a comment from someone we didn’t know existed yesterday.
Social media has created a whole class of fabulously wealthy tech-nerds, led by Facebook founder Mark Zuckerberg and catapulted people like the Kardashians from obscurity straight into Hollywood’s A-list.
Along the way, it’s also revolutionised marketing, providing an easy to use, cost effective platform for brands to talk to global audiences while bypassing media’s gatekeepers and avoiding heftyadvertising costs.
Social media has catapulted some brands to instant stardom. But the story less often told are the countless businesses whose profiles attract just a few dozen followers and half a dozen likes.
So let’s unpack the hype and take a close look at social media and what it means for brand managers. What are the branding rules on the new digital frontier?
1. Play in the majors
It can be tempting to try and hitchhike on the ‘next big thing’, but I would caution business owners to leave gambling to the punters.
While hundreds of new social platforms are launched every year, 99% of them are quietly folded within months, while the biggest continue from strength to strength.
Nearly every successful social media branding strategy I have seen has its success anchored through a presence on the majors: Facebook, Instagram and increasingly Snapchat.
Similarly, for executives or business owners keen to build a wide reaching personal brand, a well thought out profile on Twitter and LinkedIn is a must.
Depending on how your marketing strategy is designed, YouTube, Pinterest and StumbleUpon may also provide opportunities, along with Twitter’s video sharing service, Periscope.
But if you’re interested in a strategy that works, don’t be in a hurry to rely on other platforms to drive brand awareness or engagement.
KeepCup uses social media to connect with their audience with promotions and community campaigns.
2. Social Media’s role in your brand strategy
It’s true that if you watch enough business TV shows, you will see examples of tear-away success created thanks to a brilliant social media campaign. But you should remember that’s the reason they are on TV – because they are so unusual.
For most small and medium sized businesses, a well thought out social media presence is now a must, but you should think of it as a derivative of your brand strategy, not the driver.
Having thousands of followers may be valuable to your business but that’s not your goal; having a rising number of your market niche engaging with your brand and getting excited about its offer is.
For most business owners, this translates into allocating around 2%-5% of your marketing budget and a couple of hours each week working on social media.
3. Personality counts
Not a week goes by where I don’t get asked the question, “What makes a “great brand?”
The short answer is that while there are many important elements, ensuring your brand has a true personality is the absolutely crucial factor.
Much like a human personality, brand personality lays the groundwork for how customers see your brand, what they can expect from it in the future and what buying your brand says about them to their friends and peers.
Having a brand personality which is engaging, recognisable and attractive to your market is the indispensable guide to how you design your social media presence; governing where you go, what you say and when you say it.
4. Local heroes
Of course, part of the promise implicit in all digital marketing is that it makes the world your oyster.
That’s fine as far as it goes, but if you own a fashion store in the northern suburbs of Melbourne, how important are the views of people in Rwanda or Cleveland?
The answer in nearly all cases is not at all, so take the hint and start with your local market.
Since Facebook launched its advertising in 2012, it has promoted many advertising tools but I find Pinpointing the most helpful.
Essentially, Facebook provides data allowing you to isolate users to within a radius of three to five miles (five to eight kilometres) of your location.
For the 92% of Australian businesses we refer to as SME or Small and Medium Enterprises, this radius is where 90% plus of their paying customers live.
Ecostore engages with their target audience using lifestyle photography to market their brand values.
5. Image conscious
We talk about having conversations on social media, but I have found photo based posts are the most effective.
Start by adding a photo, meme or image and when its loaded, add a targeted message in the description. Facebook will recognise this as a photo post rather than a link post, and these posts typically generate a far greater reach.
While we’re talking image, let’s also look at Instagram which last year clocked up 400 million registered users worldwide, including six million in Australia.
It’s been a boon for celebrities and a growing number of until-now unheard of beautiful people posting glamourous pics of their glamourous life, some of them raking in six figure incomes for the privilege.
These ‘influencers’ are the key to getting big numbers of impressions on Instagram but if you don’t have the budget for a Miranda Kerr or Shane Warne, don’t despair
There are plenty of ‘B-list’ sports stars, fashion models and others you can appoint as a brand ambassador for a reasonable fee. Just ensure they have a reasonable following (bare minimum 10,000) and fit your brand’s personality like a glove, then once they are on board, monitor their performance closely.
6. Keep it real and human
The thing to keep in mind is that social media is not just another advertising platform, first and foremost this media is truly social – helping people cultivate human connections.
That human connection explains why Snapchat’s here now, gone the next instant functionality appeals to teenagers wanting to keep their parents well away from their secrets and gossip.
So, before you launch a strategy, consider who your audience is and how they are using the media you have identified.
The human connection social media facilitates also means your strategy must be seen as authentic. Corporate style bland advertising typically fails in this environment.
KeepCup uses social media posts to link to competitions and promotions.
7. Include a Call to Action
Like any marketing communications, a great social media post has a cut-through brand message and a call to action.
Our experience shows that time-limited offers targeted directly to the needs and mindset of your target audience works well, as does endorsements of causes that you and your audience care about.
8. And now, a few of the don’ts
As I’ve mentioned above, a good social media presence is designed to increase the engagement with your brand but is not an end point in itself.
I’ve seen many examples of businesses so keen to build their social channel, they use their physical location to promote and incentivise likes and follows with an offer of a discount.
Lowering the price expectations of visiting customers and lowering your cash flow is a very high price to pay for attracting a few dozen followers.
Similarly, my agency has come across business owners who spend 20 hours a week or more pumping out messages into the social sphere without any idea of what their return on investment will be for all this time and effort.
For most SMEs, a weekly or twice weekly schedule of innovative, quirky on-brand social media posts is sufficient.
Don’t simply refashion same content from other platforms and run it across your social accounts; that can very quickly look inauthentic or worse boring. Mix it up and have a little fun with the medium.
And hard sales pitches don’t work – instead they usually result in turning most of your followers off.
A demographic breakdown of potential audiences using Facebook. Credit: SproutSocial
9. Now track you results
The beauty of all things digital is that these mediums come with ready to go tools so you can see exactly how your campaigns are travelling.
You can embed UTM tracking into your links to monitor which posts perform and which ones don’t. You should also Google Analytics where under the Attribution tab you can check how many visitors to your website landed through Social Media content.
There are many ways business can promote their brand on social media – so what’s stopping you. If you want a friendly chat about how your brand can be reinvigorated feel free to reach out and connect with the brand agency Liquid Creativity team.