How brands can do less and mean more on social media

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This post is a precis of our Social & PR Director Ian McKee’s presentation at #OiConf Cardiff 2017.

If you draw a comparison timeline between social media marketing and SEO, social media’s about six years behind. It’s a loose analogy, of course, but given Google was founded in 1998 and Facebook in 2004, that’s where we are.

Do you remember what SEO was like six years ago? I do — it was a total mess. It was all about SEO people getting up to all sorts of nonsense to try and game the system.

“There’s too much stuff and too little time”

Not much has changed then, I can hear the cynical amongst you mutter. But it has moved on — Google’s slowly forced everyone towards an emphasis on quality content over quantity of links and keywords with the constant tweaking of its algorithms.

Not so in social media. We are still very much in the ‘spray and pray’ phase where everyone’s experimenting and an awful lot of ‘experts’ are claiming to know what’s going on.

Content shock

The problem we’ve got is content shock. You know the stats — 90% of the data created in the world today has been created in the last two years.

The amount of content we’re able to consume has gone up thanks to mobile devices, but time in the day is not infinite. And there are plenty of things that are higher on everyone’s priority list than reading brand’s tweets.

There’s too much stuff and too little time. Something’s got to give, and it’s not going to be the boundaries of time.

At a broad level, content marketing is the culprit — the very idea that all brands must be publishers. But the content marketing genie is out of the bottle here, the media landscape has changed to make this irreversibly true. So what are the worst tactics that are really exacerbating the issue?

‘Agile’ social media marketing

The first culprit, from a social media marketing perspective, is this idea of ‘agile’ or ‘real time’.

It’s Oreo’s fault, really. Them and that bloomin’ dunk in the dark tweet. It’s been repeated ad nauseum in social media marketing circles that the super viral, super fast, Super Bowl tweet was not a one off. It was the product of regular, constant reactive social media.

Essentially, it was a battering ram approach. A strategy that could also be described as ‘throw as much shit at the wall as is possible, and hope that some of it sticks’. ‘Agile’ is the polite term, frankly.

Now the accepted wisdom is that every brand needs to react to everything, because one effort out of 10 (20? 100? 1,000?) will go megaviral.

Which, of course, is ludicrous. When everyone’s taking this approach, it makes it harder for it to work for anyone. It increases consumer skepticism — they see these cynical quirky branded social media efforts, and are increasingly switching off.

Apart from anything else, it’s massively inefficient. The best you can ever hope for are spikes of activity really working. Wouldn’t you rather carefully craft a piece of meaningful considered content with a far greater chance of working than constantly churn out reactive noise?

You don’t have to comment on #InternationalCarrotDay, #NationalDoughnutWeek and #DonkeyWeek unless you make carrot cake doughnuts that are delivered by donkey.

The fallacy of being first

The other major culprit is this desperate rush on the part of brands to experiment with new stuff first.

Chatbots, virtual reality, live video — these new technologies are largely unproven. There are some examples where brands have used them well, of course, but ask yourself — are you using this tech because it’s the ideal platform for your idea? Or are you using it because it’s new and exciting?

If the latter, have a rethink.

There are benefits to being among the first to use a new platform, technology or feature. Industry recognition, access to an early adopter audience, opportunity to ride a bit of the wave of early buzz. But unless your audience is the marketing industry, or early adopters, these benefits are minimal.

Much like the spray and pray approach, wouldn’t you rather be recognised for doing something well, than for doing it first?

So what do you do?

Ultimately, it’s about taking an approach that merits quality over quantity.

There are a few practical tips that can help lead you down this path:

  • Do schedule, don’t automate. Scheduling is a practical necessity for anyone managing multiple channels and brands. But automation? The robots aren’t clever enough yet. If you’re using one of those bots that aggregates content based on keywords, or letting software choose your influencers, you’re adding to the noise.
  • Do recycle, don’t rehash. All good ideas are worth using more than once. If you find something works with your audience, by all means keep ploughing that furrow. But if you see something works for another brand, don’t rehash the idea for yours.
  • Do pay, don’t prop. Paid social is an essential component of a successful campaign nowadays. But it’s about how you use it. Too often I see brands using cash to prop up content that isn’t working — a way of guaranteeing it gets the impression count promised to the client, or boss. You should be paying to promote your best content, see it as a way to reach a new audience with the stuff you know is going to work, with a view to increasing organic engagement.
  • Do influence, don’t be indiscriminate. The blogger who has pitched your brand might be the one that works, assuming they’ve picked your brand as one they care about, rather than the more likely scenario — they’re spamming an email list to get free stuff. Just because they’ve come to you doesn’t mean you need to work with them. Assess the influencers you work with, spend time reading and getting right into the content, follow them yourself and understand their worlds. Then handpick the ones you know will work.
  • Do relevant, don’t be purely reactive. Without proper planning, it’s easy for your social media strategy to become a reaction to whatever’s trending that day. The likelihood of that being relevant is very low. This is all about preparation. Which doesn’t mean don’t be reactive, but be prepared to react, when relevant.
  • Do innovate, don’t imitate. Yeah… sorry about the cheesiness of this one. Just wanted to say that although you don’t need to be ‘first’, that doesn’t mean don’t innovate. As a marketer, just using new technology is not innovation — that’s where the innovation has been done for you already. True innovation can be a new approach to an old idea, or a new idea with an old approach.