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Let’s start with a don’t based on the cover slide of my presentation, delivered to members of the Newport City Business Club, September 2023.
According to research (cited by Forbes), Generation Z are not fans of the thumbs up emoji, considering it too abrupt and even rude. If you’re not sure about what emojis to use, then check before you post using www.emojipedia.com. If your organisation is operating across different cultures then it’s also important to bear in mind that there are cultural differences in emoji usage, as highlighted in this research paper.
Data Reportal is my go-to resource for social media data. Updated quarterly it includes overview data and information platform-by-platform. Use of social media continues to grow, with over 60.6% of the global population actively using social media – for an average 2 hours 26 minutes per day. The average number of social platforms used each month is 6.7 (July 2023).
Facebook has held the ‘top spot’ for global active users for many users, followed by YouTube. For me this highlights the importance of video content. Over the next few months we might expect to see changes in active user figures, with the ongoing changes at X (formerly Twitter), and launch of Threads by Meta. But, size isn’t everything and opting to use a social media platform based on the largest number of active users might not be the best fit for your organisation. A key consideration is the activities that take place on a social media platform, ie what purpose does it serve to the user. For example, 79.6% of active TikTok users are on the platform looking for funny or entertaining content. They are less likely to be on TikTok to message friends and family. Conversely, 70.8% of Facebook users are on the platform for this purpose. More details are on the slide (6).
Key questions that will guide you in choosing the right social media platform/s for your organisation are:
- What do you want to achieve?
- Who is your target audience?
- What social media platforms are they using?
- Which platforms are your competitors using?
- How do they use them?
- What resources do you have available?
Details of the steps and information you need fully answer these questions can be found in my book, Planning for Success: A practical guide to setting and achieving your social media marketing goals. Available from mid-October.
There is no rule book
When it comes to using social media, there is no rule book. However, some sectors are subject to specific governance. Charities for example need to be aware of guidance from the Charities Commission. Similarly, financial services have social media guidance on financial promotions. The The Advertising Standards Authority provides a best practice guide for working with influencers.
If you are using social media to promote competitions, here are some links to ensure you comply with best practices:
- Facebook terms and policies
- Instagram promotion guidelines
- X (formerly Twitter) guidelines for promotions
- UK competition guidelines (please check local guidelines if you are operating outside of the UK).
There are no magic formulas
Please do not buy followers or likes for your social media accounts. Most of the followers obtained through these services are fake or bot accounts, which means they don’t represent genuine engagement or interest in your content. This is because these accounts are created solely for the purpose of boosting follower counts. They are unlikely to interact with your posts, purchase your products or services, or become loyal fans. Social media algorithms are designed to prioritise content that receives high levels of engagement, such as likes, comments and shares. When a large portion of your followers are fake or inactive, your engagement rates will suffer, and your content may be deprioritised by the algorithm, making it harder for genuine followers to see your posts. Social media platforms have strict policies against buying fake followers and engagement. If you are caught buying followers, your account may be penalised or even banned, which could harm your reputation and impact your ability to reach genuine followers and customers in the future. Instead of buying followers, it is better to focus on building a genuine following through organic growth strategies such as creating quality content, engaging with your audience and collaborating with other accounts in your niche. This approach may take longer to produce results, but it will result in a more engaged, loyal following – and this is more likely to benefit your business in the long run.
Going viral refers to a piece of content or message spreading rapidly and widely across social media platforms. While it can yield immense visibility, achieving this status is incredibly challenging and unpredictable. Even if something does go viral, it might not necessarily align with your brand’s goals or values, or generate any real opportunities for your business. Focusing on consistent and authentic engagement with your audience is a far more reliable way to build a strong online presence and achieve your marketing objectives. Success on social media takes time, effort, and a deep understanding of your audience and their preferences.
Things can go wrong
Things can, and do, go wrong on social media. There are many examples of poorly scheduled posts – Tesco’s ‘It’s sleepy time so we’re off to hit the hay” might appear to be a sensible customer service post at the end of the working day. But this appeared during a highly controversial horse meat scandal!
In January 2013, the UK-based entertainment retailer HMV faced a social media crisis when the company’s official Twitter account was taken over by employees who were being laid off as part of a restructuring effort. The employees, who were part of HMV’s social media team, began to post a series of Tweets under the hashtag #HMVXFactorFiring, detailing their frustration with the layoffs and criticising the company’s management. The Tweets quickly went viral and attracted widespread media attention, with many social media users expressing support for the employees and criticising HMV for its handling of the situation. The incident also raised concerns about the security of corporate social media accounts and the potential for disgruntled employees to use them to air grievances. In response to the crisis, HMV quickly regained control of its Twitter account and deleted the Tweets by the former employees. The company also released a statement acknowledging the situation and emphasising its commitment to treating all employees with respect and dignity. The #HMVXFactorFiring incident highlights the potential for social media crises to arise from internal issues within a company, such as layoffs or employee dissatisfaction. It also emphasises the importance of having strong social media policies and procedures in place to prevent unauthorised access to corporate accounts and mitigate the risk of negative publicity.
A 37-year-old Savills property manager suspected of posting a racist tweet following England’s defeat by Italy in the Euros in July 2021 was sacked by the estate agency, following an investigation.
More recently, May 2023, UK smoothie and drinks company, Innocent Drinks, faced controversy and backlash after promoting the transgender youth advocacy charity Mermaids. Innocent Drinks had invited Mermaids to deliver a workshop to its staff and shared some of what it had learned in a Twitter thread. The company later deleted the tweets due to a storm of negative comments from followers.
It helps to have a plan
All too often I see people diving straight into social media, without considering the strategic objectives of an organisation. It’s essential that marketing, and social media marketing activity, aligns with the big picture.
Shiny object syndrome is a term used to describe the tendency for people to be easily distracted by new, attractive ideas, tools or technologies, instead of focusing on what they have been working on or what they have already established as a goal. In the context of social media marketing, it refers to the constant distraction marketers face due to the ever-changing landscape of the platforms and the emergence of new features. People who suffer from shiny object syndrome tend to constantly switch their focus from one tactic to another. This can result in ineffective use of resources and a lack of consistent progress towards marketing objectives.
To mitigate the risk of things going wrong on social media, it’s also useful to have a crisis management plan in place.
Protecting your privacy
At the beginning of any social media training session, I focus on ensuring that the privacy settings of a platform are understood. This is important to not only protect your own privacy but can help you feel more confident in using social media when you are fully aware of what information you are sharing, and with whom. As a default, most platforms have sharing options open, which means you need to go through the options and switch off/restrict the visibility of information.
Here’s some useful links:
- How to manage your account and privacy settings on LinkedIn
- How to manage your privacy on Instagram
- How to protect your personal information on X (formerly Twitter)
- How to update your Facebook privacy settings
Making a good first impression
In the offline world, we spend time making a good first impression: for example, in the way we dress for a job interview or a first date. However, online we’re often a little, well, lazier. We create an account, fill in a few boxes with our details then log off until we need something, such as a new job. Not spending the time to complete and update your social media profiles is a huge mistake, but it’s one made by so many organisations and individuals.
Here are some core guidelines to follow for every social media platform you are using:
- Choose a recognisable username for your account.
- Take a good profile photo (for personal profiles), or use a suitable brand logo (for corporate accounts).
- Add a background/header image to brand your profile.
- Add an ‘About’ description or bio that clearly explains who you are and how you help your ideal customers.
- Include a link to relevant website page/s.
- Pin/feature relevant posts at the top of your profile.
- Include social proof, such as recommendations, and digital badges e.g. membership of professional bodies or an award-winning sticker.
A social media profile is like a job interview that takes place in under ten seconds. Former president and CEO of Amazon, Jeff Bezos, said: ‘Your brand is what people say about you when you’re not in the room.’ Your online profile is your brand representative, so it’s vital to pay it some attention – and keep it up to date. Social media platforms do have a tendency to add and remove features from accounts, so it’s useful to review them at least quarterly.
When you’re active on social media – making connections, following accounts, posting content, liking content, etc. – you are inviting people to find out more about you.
And what’s the first thing they will do? That’s correct. They will check out your profile. So you need to make sure that you’re ready to do business. Optimising your social media accounts is not only crucial to help you get found, but it’s essential to help you make a good first impression.
Making your content engaging
To increase engagement with your social media content, it’s essential to go beyond simply capturing your audience’s attention. Engagement involves gaining their interest, sparking conversations, and encouraging them to take action. Posting content without considering how to get your audience involved is unlikely to achieve the results you want.
Engagement on social media is measured by actions such as video views, likes, comments and shares. These actions can have a domino effect, as they not only amplify your content but also generate further engagement through increased visibility and participation. The key is to create content that prompts your audience to think, feel, and do something. Asking them a simple question can stimulate responses.
Including all the necessary details in your social media posts is vital to facilitate engagement. If you’re promoting a webinar, for example, ensure that you provide information such as dates, times, locations, booking instructions or links to additional resources. By addressing the ‘who’, ‘what’, ‘where’, ‘why’, ‘when’ and ‘how’ in your content, you minimise the chance that you will omit important details – and you maximise the audience’s ability to engage with your post easily.
Use content pillars
Content pillars are the core themes or topics that guide content for an organisation or individual. They are the foundation on which all content is created and organised, and they help ensure that the content produced is aligned with the overall goals and values of the brand or individual. Your organisation gets to share what you want your target audience to know about, and your audience gets to see/watch/hear content they are interested in.
Content pillars are typically determined by understanding the target audience, business strategy and industry trends. The pillars should be broad enough to allow for a variety of content types and formats, but specific enough to provide a clear direction for the content you will post and share.
If you don’t have content pillars, you risk producing content that lacks direction and consistency.
By consistently creating and sharing content that is in line with your content pillars, your audience will know what you do and how you can help them. They’ll recognise your areas of expertise, trust you, and come to you when they need you. They may also refer you to others.
The 2023 Content Benchmark Report from SproutSocial highlights the importance of video, particularly short-form (less than three minutes). Two thirds of consumers (66%) finding it engaging, with static images coming in at a close second (61%).
Approximately 15% of people worldwide experience some form of disability, so it’s important not to unintentionally exclude anyone from understanding your social media posts. By making your content more accessible, you ensure a better experience for everyone.
To make your social media posts more accessible, consider implementing these simple changes:
- Keep your posts simple: Stick to short sentences, limit the use of excessive text, and incorporate line breaks to create a visually appealing, easy-to-read format.
- Avoid formatting distractions: Minimise the use of bold, italics, capitals and special symbols that can make the content difficult to read or understand.
- Use emojis thoughtfully: Emojis can add visual interest to your posts, but avoid relying on them to convey essential information. Their meaning can be easily misinterpreted, so use them sparingly and ensure they complement the text rather than replace it.
- Think about typeface and colours: Ensure that your text and background colours have a sufficient contrast to make the content readable for people with visual impairments. Use a colour contrast analyser to check if your images meet accessibility standards.
- Alt text: Provide alternative text (alt text) for images to describe their content and context. Focus on conveying the meaning of the image rather than providing excessive details. Alt text is essential for individuals who are blind or partially sighted to understand the visual elements in your posts when using a screen reader.
- Consider captions/subtitles: You should include captions/subtitles in videos to make them accessible to individuals who are deaf or have some hearing loss. Additionally, consider adding a voiceover to describe on-screen actions or visuals. Make sure that captions are concise, easily readable, and provide a clear understanding of the video’s content.
- Use camel case for hashtags: Capitalise the first letter of each word in hashtags to enhance readability for assistive technology. For example, use #BlackLivesMatter instead of #blacklivesmatter. This helps to distinguish individual words within hashtags.
The importance of hashtags
The hashtag (#) is one of the most powerful social media features. First used in a Tweet in 2007, hashtags help to group conversations around keywords, phrases and topics. In 2009 Twitter formally adopted the use of hashtags into code, automatically turning words with a # in front of them into clickable links (note, hashtags cannot have spaces). By including hashtags in your social media posts, your content will show up to users who are following or searching those hashtags.
Each social media platform has a different approach to hashtags, and there is varying guidance on best practices and how many to use per post. When using hashtags, relevant words make all the difference, so consider what your target audience might be using when they search.
Providing customer care
Many users who contact brands on social media are looking to resolve customer care-related issues, including questions about products/services and airing complaints. According to research from Khoros (2022), brands who meet consumers’ timeframe expectations(three hours or less) in response to messages and posts involving complaints can benefit from:
- Consumers will continue giving their business to the brand
- Consumers become more receptive to a brand’s advertisements
- Consumers will encourage friends and family to buy a brand’s products or use their services
- Consumers will praise or recommend the brand on social media
Managing mentions and inbox messages can be time-consuming, so consider how you can help your customers self-serve by making it easy to find answers to questions without needing to contact you. This could be via a pinned-post that directs people to an online support centre, or it could be via an auto-responder message that directs people to useful content on your website.
Empowering your employees
Employee advocacy means the promotion of a company’s brand, products or services by its employees through social media and other online channels. In other words, it is the practice of encouraging and empowering employees to share company-related content on their personal social media profiles, to increase the reach and credibility of the company’s message.
The LinkedIn Official Guide to Employee Advocacy shares some statistics that support the value of this approach:
- On average, employees have 10 times more 1st-degree connections on LinkedIn than a company Page has followers.
- We’re 8 times more likely to engage with content shared by employees than content shared by brands.
- We’re 24 times more likely to reshare content shared by employees than content shared by brands.
- Content is clicked through twice as often when it’s shared by employees.
An employee advocacy programme should include training and ongoing support to help employees maintain their visibility while supporting the organisation’s online presence. Training is also valuable in allaying and overcoming fears that are involved with using social media at work. Consider how you can provide colleagues and partners with preapproved content, such as blog posts, infographics or videos, that they can share on social media. It’s also useful to recognise and reward employees who actively participate and share content – there’s nothing like tapping into their competitiveness to get people involved!
Measuring what matters
Measuring the effectiveness of social media refers to an assessment of its impact on your goals and objectives.
Understanding what you are getting back from the time, money and resource you’re putting into social media activities is critical. The key factor to bear in mind is that you only need to measure what matters to your organisation.
- It matters if it’s helping you achieve your business goals.
- It matters if you know what to do next when you look at the measurement.
Social media will keep changing
There’s no doubt that social media will keep changing. Each week I share a round-up of changes in an email (subscribe here). I also co-host a live webinar each week talking through latest data and feature updates. Check out my events calendar for the next one…