Executing a proper social media marketing strategy is more difficult than ever before. Social newsfeed algorithms are tightening up and favoring noncommercial posts while also only rarely displaying commercial posts that aren't paid for.
So is all this time, effort and money worth it anymore? Is social media still valuable as a marketing channel?
How often have you come across an ad somewhere that promises you can get 1,000 likes for your Facebook page overnight? Or that it's so easy to "win" on Twitter – you just need to follow a simple formula and you'll be a true blue social hero.
Of course, what these high-flying promise-filled ads don't say is that those people worked really hard to get where they're at. And while social media might not look like the kind of work people were doing 20 years ago, it's still resource-intensive and requires an expert knowledge of do’s and don’ts. Those who have found the most success with social media marketing campaigns have put thousands of hours into the effort to get their followers and likes.
Buying followers or likes might seem like a good idea to give you a boost, but it can actually do far more harm than good. The thing is, buying likes or followers means those people have zero actual interest in your brand. And that means they aren’t going to engage with anything you post.
Why does that matter? Because social media algorithms take into account your engagement levels.Guess what happens when you are always posting things that get zero engagement? That's right, you're going to become known to the algorithm as someone who never has anything interesting to say. Why would they want to ever display your content in people’s newsfeeds if nobody ever engages with it?
Now, I don't say this to discourage you. Rather, I say it to inspire and to motivate you.
Buying followers or likes might give you a boost in a vanity number, but they certainly aren’t going to translate to an increase in sales or engagement. To increase what really matters – sales and engagement – you need to actually engage on social media.
Pretty straightforward, right? When you get right down to it, you can't fake authenticity, and being real is precisely what people want to see from other people on social media.
Anything else comes across as promotional; the tactics of a bygone marketing era. Outbound has its place, sure, but it sure doesn't belong on social media where inbound marketing reigns. Putting your social efforts on autopilot will not only be obvious to your audience, but it could also result in them unfollowing you.
Think about who you find to be the most engaging in your social feeds. It's the people who communicate openly, right? It's the ones who share hand-selected content. It's the folks that don't shout, "Hey! Check out my blog post!" a thousand times a day and instead invite discussion and community participation.
The people who are killing it on social media understand first and foremost that there are real, live people on the other end of those tweets. Twitter and Facebook are not your bullhorn. They are a means to having a conversation with your potential target audience to build brand awareness and authority in your field.
No, I'm not being purposely obtuse. I'm just being honest. There isn't a winning formula to social media that everyone can pick up, dust off and use unchanged. You have to put your own spin on things if you want to capture attention, make an impact, and establish yourself as a thought leader.
Creating awesome content, sharing compelling posts and tweets, and being an involved member of the social community are things you'll need to pick up by watching the best, then implementing in a way that’s true to your authentic self.
This is what I'd categorize as the "what" of social media work – what you're sharing. And using a formula for what you're sharing isn't a guarantee for success.
On the other hand, the "how" of social media work can (and should) be formulaic. Those who've totally mastered social media all use similar tools to get the job done.
I'm talking Hootsuite, Buffer and SproutSocial. Social media professionals use tools like these to schedule posts in advance. Social media is a 24/7 game, and since you can't realistically be "on" every hour of every day, you need to use scheduling to make sure you connect with your target audience – even if you're not awake.
Just be sure that you're also interacting and engaging with people in real time! And do your best to respond to comments you get while you're away.
While anyone can dive into social media marketing by creating an account and posting a tweet, I don't advise jumping in blind like that. Creating goals and a subsequent strategy for your approach to social media is about more than broad statements like, "I want to increase my followers!"
Rather, you have to think about what you want to get out of your time spent on social media. Your first step should be identifying and leveraging the right social networks.
Then you need to ask yourself, what is it all for? Why be on social in the first place? Here are a few common goals:
Of course, all these goals are really just ways to increase sales, right? That's what we're really talking about when referring to social media goals.
What do you want to get out of it? Why, increased conversions, of course! What savvy business owner wouldn'thave that as a goal?
Many people seem to think social media is just a place to essentially goof off and waste time. And sure, there are plenty of people who waste time checking Facebook all day, but when it comes to business, the time you put in correlates to what you get out of it.
To know whether or not your efforts are proving successful, you need to measure your ROI. You have to know where your time (i.e., money) is going, and you can use analytics to assist with that goal.
One of the simplest ways to see the correlation between your social engagement and sales is to use Google Analytics. The popular web analytics tool can show you which social networks are driving the most traffic, which content on your site attracts the most social media traffic, and what kinds of posts at what time of day lead to the most conversions.
Specifically, I recommend you start by setting up Advanced Segments. This allows you to set up filters for tracking data from the social networks you choose, like Facebook, Twitter, Google+ and LinkedIn.
Then, once it's configured, you can view all of your referral traffic from social sources in one place. You can break these down in any way you like, from tracking individual social sites or collections of sites. You could lump all the image-based social networks together – Pinterest, Instagram, etc. – to see how your visual strategy is faring, for instance.
You can also track how individual links you share on social networks are performing by using Google Analytics UTM parameters. This method is especially helpful if you're running ads on Facebook, for example, and want to see how many clicks you get – and how many of those clicks convert. UTM parameters are tags that are added to the end of a specific URL to enable tracking and source attribution. You can build them using the Google Campaign URL Builder.
We've covered the costs of social media, so let's examine the benefits. I covered the top 10 benefits of social media in another post, so I'll summarize them here:
Without getting into detail here about each of these benefits, suffice it to say that these benefits are just the tip of the iceberg of what you can expect with a well-thought-out social media campaign.
By now, I hope you have an understanding of what I mean when I say social media is hard work. It's going to take time and money not just to get your campaign off the ground, but to sustain it over time.
But that doesn't mean the results aren't worth every bit of your efforts. Because – and believe me on this – they definitelyare.