In this episode of Smirkcast, Smirk New Media strategist Allie Carrick explains why content should still be the foundation of any social media strategy, how to put content quality first and breaks down what effective content looks like for brands these days. Allie gives tips to help brands craft content that adds value to the conversation, instead of consuming it with noise.
A significant announcement from Google was overshadowed last week in the wake of “the dress” debate that split social media conversations.
According to WIRED, Google+ has finally met its imminent demise as a competitor for Facebook and Twitter and has announced its breakup. Google hopes to continue as a social network site, though. With these changes, your social, interactive experience won’t be relegated to a single screen with too much white space and not enough people.
As social media has shifted from updated streams of content to specialized and specific aspects of communications through photos and messaging, Google+ follows the trend by splitting their services into their own platforms.
The original concept of a one-stop spot for all things social is changing into three branches (or more) of the social sphere – Google+ stream, photos and communication. Much like other platforms, which have specific functions, Google intends for each of their platforms to excel in their own ways.
Google+ already excelled in photo storage, editing and sharing that offering users advanced techniques, like the capability to combine multiple photos to create one with everyone smiling and create high-speed gifs of your favorite successive shots. Now, the service will optimize these features, making storing, editing and sharing your photos even more enjoyable.
Hangouts were also a versatile communication tool for Google+ that supporting text, audio, video, emojis and photos for a variety of communication outlets and preferences.
This multi-platform split allows for Google to continue observing the things that make their users unique individuals, which Google+ excelled in as a platform. It transcended all other services and created an image of the individual user, allowing Google to tailor advertisements to the right audiences on the right avenues.
Content will still stream on Google+ and businesses can still generate creative content on the platform, leading to better SEO and higher search rankings. The specialized streams and photos will allow businesses to maintain a multi-platform voice for their audiences and specialize messages based on the function of the stream or platform.
Businesses can optimize the photo album feature of Google+ as its own branch, allowing easy sharing between co-workers and create and archive photos from their business for future marketing pieces.
Hangouts will become a specific messaging platform, similar to Facebook messenger and WhatsApp, allowing for businesses to have open and instant communication with each other and consumers.
So, whether the dress is blue and black (which it is) or white and gold, the more important split is the one on Google+, which will open the possibilities for more specialized (and useful) platforms for businesses and consumers alike.
Mark Zuckerberg is many things, but he’s not a dummy. He’s also a multi-billionaire. He also holds (and pulls) the strings on a social media platform very important to us and our clients.
So it’s been no surprise as Facebook has become more focused on money. Since going public, Facebook is looking for a steady steam of revenue. And, frankly, for too long we’ve been able to leverage content on the site, especially promotional business content, to a captive audience without ever having to pay a penny to Facebook.
That all changed at the beginning of this year, when Facebook turned around the rules of what kind of reach sales-driving content got for free. The answer: Zero.
Boosting posts and buying ads in order to improve reach is now a must for all businesses. And for people sitting in our seats as strategists, so is the importance of understanding the nuances of just what they are getting for that money. This is not a matter of throwing tons of money at a platform and all your problems are solved. Like everything with social media, there are a lot more intricacies to that, especially if you are looking to reach very specific audiences with very specific messages.
This is where we can put into play what seems to me to be the Moneyball aspect of social media strategy work. For those of you nerds who haven’t been plugged into sports for the past decade, “Moneyball” is a best seller written by Michael Lewis, about how the Oakland A’s used data to make decisions about the players they would add to their team rather the gut instincts of their scouting department, because it allowed the A’s and their limited payroll to compete with teams like the Yankees who were able to stock up on talent with big-money contracts.
This Moneyball idea has since spread to many other sports teams and businesses, who are looking to analytics in order to draft the best players and make their personnel dollars stretch when it comes to competing with other, often larger and more revenue-rich, organizations.
As someone who works with small and medium sized business, and is part of one myself, this Moneyball philosophy has a lot of appeal. But I’ve also seen the idea of precise targeting of dollars in social media spending be trampled by a run-away elephant of brands who are throwing cash at agencies, who in turn throw it at the platforms with no real strategy in place. Aside from the strategy of SPEND!
This is the New York Yankees plan, and I guess works at times, but it becomes a battle only the most bloated powers can fight. A big enough company could, in theory, buy so many ads on so many platforms to make any targeting unnecessary. They want to reach everyone, and indeed they will reach everyone. But then does that reach turn into transactions, or by then are people so sick of the brand buying its way in front of their eyeballs that they want nothing to do with them?
And on the agency side, is there any effectiveness in taking loads of money to buy a wide reach when none of those customers are going to have any relationship with your brand. It’s like we say about follower and fan numbers – you can get a billion Chinese people to like your page if you pay enough money, but unless your small business in Edmond needs a billion Chinese customers it doesn’t do you any good. Anyone who has done and continues to do this sort of unfocused cash dump for clients is only interested in their piece of the cash dump.
Now let’s get back to Moneyball. What does that look like in the digital marketing space? It looks a lot like targeting to a very nitty-gritty audience in order to make $5 or $10 a day into a potent weapon, while at the same time using great content to continue to service the audience who are sticking with your brand every day on social media. Fortunately, the platforms continue to provide us in the social media strategy building world with metrics, statistics and data that shows results, often in real time, just as the originators of Moneyball had at their nerdy fingertips when they were determining the real value of players who got on base or were efficient with each at-bat.
In a world of online marketing, where every dollar counts, where every piece of content is a doorway between your brand and a potential sale, and where the rules can be changed from day-to-day on the whim of a young billionaire, it pays to be agile and able to make smart moves instead of big ones.
Smirk New Media strategist Allie Carrick brings back Smirkcast, our podcast breaking down the changes, strategies, campaigns and content winning in the world of social media. This week, Allie breaks down all the changes that have happened in social media since the start of 2015.
We’ll skip the gory details of life in the 1980s and skip straight to today’s underlying premise: I’m old.
Totally. For sure.
But as social media has evolved over the past decade or so, I’ve tried to evolve with it – while remaining true to my favorite platforms. But for all of the changes sweeping across the web, up until the past few weeks, one social network had failed to trip my trigger.
Didn’t like it, didn’t get it, understood the value for a brand and as part of a social media strategy, but otherwise, it was one big meh.
That was until early last month, when we revitalized Smirk’s dormant account and I began to check it regularly. The Smirk New Media team already had some diehard Instagrammers and we had been executing content on some interesting client accounts, but in February, it all clicked.
One of the biggest benefits I’ve seen is how Instagram really redefines how you see potential content as well as how you can frame content with a little more eye to artistry than some of the other platforms (especially now that Facebook seems to be going against the grain to de-emphasize photo content in order to prop up video reach on Pages). Plus, at the moment, they’re not playing games. When users log in, they will see the most recent content from ALL of the accounts they follow.
As a big fan of Twitter hashtags, I’m also interested in how Instagram has grown its Twitter culture. I’ve witnessed first-hand how clients (and my teenage son) have connected with subcultures and ardent fans just based on hashtag use. Though I’m still not crazy about wild hashtag abuse on Instagram – the record I’ve seen for one post is 27 – I think using it as a niche audience finder is great.
Knowing Instagram’s solid audience numbers amongst the young – Fieldhouse Media’s latest survey found 80+ percent of college athletes are using it daily – it’s fair to say there are strategic advantages to using it. Are there workflow issues with it? Lord have mercy, yes. But, for the most part, Facebook’s ownership has done its best not to muck up a good thing, and if that continues, I just may like it more.
We’ve all known that middle-aged relative that tries too hard to be hip with the times. They start conversations with sayings like “the good ol’ days” and tales of “when I was your age” and frequently asking what “you kids are calling it these days.”
Some brands have crossed the line of relatable and, in doing so, became THAT middle-aged relative, making their messages something to sigh about rather than respond to.
These brands grasp at the waves of trends and end up looking like fools among the masses of millennials. Referring to your newest item as “clutch” does not appeal to the younger generation and infiltrating snapchat translates as an invasion of their privacy. Instead of following the ever-changing trends, brands need to be generating creative, yet appropriate messages that have a voice of their own.
Creating a Voice
Find a tone that communicates your brand’s items, products, services or mission effectively, while maintaining the interest of your audience. Especially if you’re not targeting teens, why would your brand sound like one? Instead of jeopardizing the loyal fan base you’ve already established, focus your efforts on catering to your niche network. Brands should not be chameleons, changing their ways to entice and fit in with every crowd. Instead, brands should own their image and be consistent with it.
Reaching Out vs. Selling Out
Being part of the trending network is not always creating trends in your messages. Brands can be an active part of conversation if their business or product is directly intertwined with the topic at hand. Consumers do not expect businesses to participate in every trending topic. In fact, most audiences get annoyed with brands that they perceive are trying too hard to insert themselves into every conversation. There’s a difference between participating in a conversation with your industry and fitting your products into trends that do not pertain to your brand at all (square peg, round hole).
Stand Your Ground
Everyone can respect a brand that knows their voice and sticks with it. No one expects an oil company to know the ins and outs of the upcoming Oscar awards. Knowing your avenues of conversation is the first step to successful relationships with audiences. Understanding the when, where and why of all messaging is essential to survival in the muddy waters of trends and slang.
Don’t be the brand that people are rolling their eyes at for referring to your product, service or customer as being your “bae.” Be a contributor of useful content, not more noise.
Quick quiz, hotshot: What did Facebook do this week to radically change online advertising? Answer.
What did Twitter do last week to pump up Tweetdeck and transform social media content management? Answer.
What was the hot hashtag during the Academy Awards? Answer.
If you went 3-for-3 on our quiz, congrats. Please head to our contact page, so we can get your resumé. If you’re scratching your head, it’s understandable. If nothing made sense after the word hotshot, then strap in because we have a lot to talk about.
While we spend much of our time at Smirk Headquarters digging jewels out of the Content Mines, managing our clients’ many platforms and consuming mass quantities of caffeine, a lot of our time is taken up talking about the undulating landscape of the social media space.
When Smirk was born in 2010, it was very much about the birth of new social media brands and what they brought to the table. During our company’s lifetime, we’ve seen the rise in prominence of sites like Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, Houzz, Snapchat, Cyberdust and the simultaneous deaths of things like Google Wave, MySpace, Okurt and others.
These days though, the conversation is less about the brand new shiny toy and more about the nuances of how the established brands work, the features they are rolling out to make conversation between brands and consumers better and the continued tango of getting the most relevant content in front of the best audiences.
One of the biggest stories of 2015, in the way we work, has without a doubt been the announced partnership between Twitter and Google. We’ve long expected search and social to grow closer together, so now that the giant of search is holding hands with one of social media’s powerhouses, the importance of social media strategy for businesses in Oklahoma City and beyond is now echoing even louder.
This was the bottom line, according to Ad Age:
Due to the symbiotic relationship between search and social, agencies have been advocating for integrated executions for years. Now consumers are seeing search and social as an integrated experience and the platforms are moving in that direction; therefore, it is crucial for brands to have integrated strategies, executions and delivery in order to win with today’s digital consumers.
Changes to the platforms and how they continue to transform the relationships between advertising, content, search and audience metrics are going to be critical in how brands flourish in the years to come. Our question for businesses then is this: Who’s on the wall for you, keeping track of those changes?
The internet – and especially social media – moves pretty fast. Even the most dedicated marketers can miss the subtle changes Facebook makes to its algorithm (Zuckerburg!!) or new tools, which get rolled out to help brands be more effective.
It’s important to me that the Smirk New Media team read and research almost as much as they write and post. It enables us to keep our feet steady while the wobbly world of the web sometimes shifts all around us.
What is it about February?
Maybe it’s the ability to breathe after the busyness of the holidays and the inevitable re-evaluation of all things that happens around New Year’s.
That one-one punch, along with the fun and challenges that come with our continued growth seems to hit Smirk New Media in February as well.
In 2012, it was the first major overhaul of our website. In 2014, it was the launch of Social Network Staffing. Today, it’s a brand new version of our website – the best yet. We felt like it was a critical time to do it for a few reasons, a few of which we hear echoed by clients.
First, is this whole February thing again. I don’t think it’s just us who get antsy about flexing our creative muscles, and trying out new ideas. All our pals at the most popular social media platforms have been bowling us over with changes since the new year flipped. Twitter has added native video, group direct messages and continues to improve promoted Tweets. Facebook tweaked the rules for promotional content and is turning social media video on its head. Pinterest is getting deeper metrics. LinkedIn’s muscular content publishing abilities are growing. Instagram is opening up ads to more brands and Snapchat keeps being gross.
With the challenge of keeping up with those changes is one of our most important roles — to provide great social media strategy — the Smirk New Media brains have to be the first line of defense for our clients. We wanted our site to reflect that speed of change and how important relevance is in what we do.
Second, words are important. We do words. We aren’t designers or developers, coders or conductors. We create great online content, on social media and on the web. It was time our own “words on the web” got an overhaul. Each one counts. It counts for us and it definitely counts for other small businesses looking to break through to a larger audience. Words matter to search engine optimization (SEO), words matter for strategy, words matter in content strategy. Honestly, I was getting tired of using the “shoemaker’s children” excuse as to why our site was older than the web sites we’d project managed. No more excuses. Only results.
Finally, here’s to flexibility and personality.
When we talk about “Smirk New Media” to someone new to us, there’s always that puzzled look of “You’re what now?” about the name of the company. When I get a speaking engagement, I often hear about my “unique” or “laid-back” speaking style. We have a Smirk New Media way of doing things. We’re not a huge, full service agency. We’re small, we’re scrappy, we have fun and fight to do the best job we can in space that drives us crazy and makes us happy. We want a site that reflects what we try to explain to everyone about the Smirk name and what we do. A smirk is an intersection of a ridiculousness and seriousness. We know that’s what we do and we’re glad to do with with more and more clients in new and improved ways.
It’s no a secret that customer service is what keeps people engaged and connected to brands. With social media, customer services reaches beyond the counter tops and into the hands of consumers. Tapping into this well stream of possibilities is essential for brands to put their absolute best foot forward to their audiences.
Despite this reality, however, there’s still a significant gap between what customers want from brands on social media and what many brands are actually delivering. Exceeding expectations may be easier than many think, though. When customers are treated like real people and see brands genuinely caring about their issues (and about fixing them), businesses win their hearts and their loyalty – take brands like Coke and Denny’s for example.
Customer service matters on social media because customers want, expect and are prepared to reward great social media customer service. Unfortunately, many brands are not living up to these expectations, even if they think they are doing a decent job.
On the bright side, that means there is a huge opportunity for brands to stand out and really wow the customer or open the door for competitors to do so. Looking at the numbers, that means:
- Only 36 percent of consumers that make customer service enquiries via social media report having their issue solved quickly and effectively
- When companies engage and respond to customer service requests over social media, those customers end up spending 20 to 40 percent more with the company
- 71 percent of those who experience quick and effective brand response are likely to recommend that brand to others, in comparison to a mere 19 percent of customers that do not receive any response
- 43 percent of consumers say that a direct response to their questions is most important at a social media site; 31 percent of which expect the social media site to provide direct access to customer service representatives or product experts
- 86 percent of social media customers would like or love to hear from a company regarding a complaint
Furthermore, social media customers stand out from other customers in terms of expectations and these responses produce more reward for exceeding customers expectations, but also present more risk for failing them.
Unfortunately, every interaction being open for public view on social media can be a negative for brands. Roughly 80 percent of customer service related tweets are critical or negative and one bad interaction can outweigh the positive ones.
What Consumers Want
Understanding exactly what customers expect and want is the easiest way to turn these statistics in the favor of a brand.
Ultimately, customers want fast responses. According to an Edison study, 42 percent of consumers expect a response on social media within one hour, and 32 percent think it should be within 30 minutes.
While quick and effective responses are obviously valued above all (71 percent), more consumers would recommend a brand that provides a quick but ineffective response (33 percent) than would recommend a brand that provides a slow but effective solution (17 percent). And nearly three times as likely to recommend a brand that responded to their problem in a quick and effective manner than not responding at all.
In other words, speed is more important than accuracy to many customers on social media. Brand representatives should not rush to give speedy, useless answers, but they should understand the importance of speed for social media customers. The vast majority of Twitter and Facebook users – 83 percent and 71 percent respectively – want a response within the same day of posting. And yet, lots of brands aren’t picking up on the urgency customers have.
Care and Honesty
With 70 percent of the buying experience being based on how a person thinks they’re being treated, care is just as important as speed in dealing with real-time responses with customers.
In the vast ocean that is social media, it’s easy to feel like an insignificant speck among the masses, but it’s important for brands to show customers that not only do their opinions matter, but they matter as people as well. Audiences need to know that their issue is as important to brands as it is to them.
Simple phrases like “I hear you” or “I’m sorry” can quickly transform a conversation and lay the foundation for a real relationship. Admitting failure or inability to answer a question right away is better than ignoring the problem as it surfaces. A simple “I’m sorry. Can I get back to you about that when I know more information?” changes the entire tone of a social media complaint (so long as you actually follow-up with the customer about their concern).
Making a conversation personal can help establish these relationships too. Adding first names to customer replies and/or comments make people immediately feel that they are talking to an actual person and not just a machine generating automated responses. As Dale Carnegie says, “a person’s name is to that person the sweetest and most important sound in any language.”
Help Them Where They Ask
Generally, people want help in the same place they ask for it. If a customer asks for help on Twitter, they want their answer in the form of a tweet, not an email. If they post a question on Facebook, they don’t want to be told to call an 800 number. Rerouting customers to various locations to get the help they need is just another source of frustration.
Twitter is where you’re most likely to hear from a customer, according to a report from SocialBakers.
Customers might also reach out on a blog or another social media site where the brand is active. They may even post comments on forums or message boards specific to that industry.
When to Monitor and How to Respond
Knowing where customers are reaching out to brands is half of the battle. Approaching the situation is the second half of the equation for effective social media customer service.
Making sure you know everything that’s being said about you online so you can listen in for issues and respond when needed is the first step to customer service on social media. There are plenty of online monitoring tools to do just that, including Google Alerts.
Not every mention or complaint is an invitation to enter a conversation. A Netbase survey that asked consumers how they feel about social listening from brands revealed that more than half want to be able to talk about companies on social media without them paying attention and many believe brand listening is a direct invasion of their privacy. Knowing the difference between reaching out for help and having social media as a venting outlet is make or break for brands managing customer service through these outlets.
Understanding the difference between when to step in and when to just listen can be tricky. It helps to work on cultivating a strong sense of empathy.
Looking at each message from the customer’s point of view can help you understand muddy territory, identify problem areas and figure out the right tone in responding to an issue. Here are four rules of things to consider in these situations:
- There’s a difference between listening and understanding. Try to understand the real meaning behind the comment or question.
- Consider the context of the message.
- Only engage when you can truly deliver value.
- Focus on listening that builds insights and relationships, rather than intruding.
Most companies view social media as a marketing medium, but customers expect more and are willing to reward brands that go the extra mile. Using social media as a customer service channel allows brands an additional way to impress customers and expand their reach.
Social media is this century’s Model T – the accessible and affordable vehicle that drives efficient interaction between small businesses and their audiences.
According to Hubspot, 92 percent of marketers in 2014 viewed social media to be an important asset for their business, which is a six percent increase from 2013. Social media is no longer an option for businesses; adaptation is essential and only the most fit survive. Here’s a quick look at the top five benefits (of the top ten from Forbes) of social media marketing for small businesses:
Increases brand recognition. Every interaction fuels more interactions. So, sharing content immediately produces more reach and generates better brand recognition. Audiences only know as much about you as you provide and the frequency in which you share with them, the better recognizable you become. For example, say you meet someone for the first time and when you part ways, you immediately forget their name. The more interaction you have with that person, the more likely you are to remember their name and you build a relationship with them.
Reinforces brand loyalty. People want to talk to people and interaction increases interest. Engagement with customers transforms you from a number-crunching organization into a living, breathing organism. The more your audience cares about what you do, the more loyal they are to your company and the more likely they will become brand ambassadors.
Builds brand authority. When people have something to say about a product or service, they say it on social media. Their social spheres become your social sphere through association. If their followers like your services too, a ripple effect is formed and the more people talking about you on social media, the more valuable and authoritative your brand seems to new users. Posting valuable nuggets of information allow your followers to rely on you for new reliable information about their interests.
Creates better SEO rankings. Search engine optimization (SEO) is the process of affecting the visibility of a website or a web page in a search engine’s “organic” search results. Studies show that more than 58 percent of marketers who have been using social media for one year or longer improved search engine rankings (Hubspot). Search engines look for the best possible site for what their users are looking for. It does this by figuring out which websites provide you the most satisfaction through four key elements:
- Content – What are you contributing to viewers? This includes the products, services and/or ideas you provide audiences.
- Performance – The speed and functionality of your website for providing information.
- Authority – Determines if your information is unique, consistent and sharable among multiple platforms.
- User Experience – This establishes how satisfied your audience is with your website based on appearance and how ease the website is to navigate. If a user is frustrated with their inability to find what they are looking for on your social platform, they are less likely to visit the site multiple times.
Improves customer insights. Finally, in an era of mutually beneficial relationships between customers and brands, social media enables businesses to break the one-way glass and have open communication with their audience. As customers get to know your company, they invite you into their social circle and allow you to know them as individuals. This allows brand messaging to be relevant to your audiences based on their interests. According to eBizMBA, the top user sites of 2015 are:
- Facebook (approximately 900 million unique visitors monthly)
- Twitter (310 million/mo.)
- LinkedIn (255 million/mo.)
- Pinterest (250 million/mo.)
- Google+ (120 million/mo.)
- Tumblr (110 million/mo.)
- Instagram (100 million/mo.)
While businesses may have been able to survive without social media in the past, they simply cannot in this day and age. Not adapting has serious repercussions, consider these:
- It’s highly likely that your competitors are connecting with potential customers through social media and if you’re not, they have an advantage.
- The sooner you begin, the sooner you benefit. Your audience is waiting for you.
- Long-lasting marketing, branding and sales benefits outweigh the cost and time it takes to launch your accounts and create effective content.
You’ve passed your driving test (starting a business), you just need to get in the car (social media) and drive (promote your brand).