There's No Magic Pill for Social Media Success
There's always some new diet trick floating around, right? There's a new device that makes exercise less of a chore, a new pill that'll make you movie-star buff with minimal effort. There's so many of these new tricks that you wonder why people still buy them - 'surely people don't buy this stuff, right? Surely not'. But they do - the reason you see so many of those get in shape fast, get rich quick, get better with less effort offers is because people buy them. People continue to buy them over and over again. The self-improvement industry is awash with quick fix ideas because losing weight is hard. Getting in shape is hard. To achieve results takes time and effort - you have to do the exercises and watch what you eat, day after day after day and then, eventually, the results will come. But people don't want that. People want to see results fast, want to reach their goals without having to impact on their lifestyle. But the truth is, getting results, in anything, takes time, it takes effort and you have to commit to the task to get the best rewards.
The same is true for your approach to social media - while some would like to believe that they can build it and the people will come find them, there's much more to it than just setting up a Facebook page. In the social media world, the quick fix people often look to is automation - with so much data, so many tools, so much technical info to work with, surely you can automate a lot of it and save yourself a heap of time, right? And it's true, automation does save time, and it's an essential part of any serious users' social media arsenal, but it can't be relied upon to do everything. True social media success requires time and effort in order to build an authentic, trusted and human presence. There are no shortcuts to achieving this.
Here are some of the ways automation should, and should not, be used in order to maximise your social media presence:
Statistics and data are great. They are one of the main strengths of social media, the ability to access conversations and data about your brand and industry. It's invaluable to be able to listen to the voice of your customers, to hear people's concerns and to be able to use that in your planning and execution - and it's only going to become more relevant as more and more people integrate social media into their daily lives.
...but you have to know what data is important to you (and why). Follower counts, likes, these are all good indicators of your social media success, but they're meaningless if you're not converting those metrics into sales or business engagement. It's important you know what data you need, what you're aiming to achieve with your social presence, and how you can track those numbers and use the information to drive better business decisions. This requires analysis of the numbers, rather than the numbers themselves, breaking them down, examining who you need to reach and when, and that, ultimately, will lead to success beyond the basic metrics.
Analysing your social media profiles is an integral step. It's crucial that you analyse your social profiles and see where you're at, what you're doing right, what's generating the most interest amongst your fans. You need to know your audience, know what they want and need from you - the better you understand this, the more well-recieved your posts will be.
...but you have to do it regularly. It's great to have a social media 'health check' to see where you're at, but it's important that you continue to track these numbers, continue to analyse and interpret that data so you see continued improvement. You need to know what works, you need to experiment, check in on what competitors are doing, and you need to stay on top of it, regularly. A large part of social is learning. No one has all the answers, there are always new things you can try, based on your knowledge of your audience. Staying on top of your results, as well as industry advances, will help you fill holes, close gaps and, over time, build your community and social media presence.
Scheduling posts is a massive help. It can help you save time by scheduling a heap of content in the morning, allowing you to get on with whatever else you need to do. This ensures you can maximise your content curation and sharing efforts, sending out posts and tweets at optimal times for your audience. You can also schedule posts of your own content to go out several times over a week or month and not have to be online to do this yourself. It's an efficient and effective way to manage your social presence.
...but you have to be aware of what you're sending. There's been a rise in 'content discovery' tools, with HootSuite, Klout and others implementing content curation and recommendation capabilities. This can be a huge help, it can cut significant time and effort out of your processes to find the most relevant content in your industry, but it's also easy to use this functionality to share content you haven't actually read. This is a very risky. What if the content you share argues a point that opposes your personal view? What if you do this, then you go to a client meeting and they question you about this or that article that you auto-shared and you have no idea what they're talking about? It's important, when you're sharing other people's content, that you read and agree with it first. Auto-sharing recommended content might help you maintain a consistent social presence, but if you're not reading it, it's helping you none, in terms of expertise.
...and you also can't automate interactions. People still send automated DMs to new followers on Twitter or even automated responses when they're @ mentioned in a tweet. This is also a poor and, in the case of the latter, risky practice. The idea of an auto-DM is obviously to generate engagement - by sending them a personal message to thank them for the follow, you're making your new follower feel included and welcome in your community, right? Wrong. 'Automated engagement' is an oxymoron - if you're not actually engaging, then automating those interactions is really doing the opposite. For example, if you call a company and get a robot voice, does it feel as engaging as speaking to a person? No matter what the robot says, even if it's asking about how your day was, there's no way that automation is going to feel engaging. It makes you feel more like a number, more like just another person in the crowd. Auto-response - unless it's providing useful information like 'we're not in and we'll get back to you ASAP' - is not engaging. The more you can actually communicate, express gratitude and acknowledge, human to human, the better off you'll be.
Social media monitoring is a business imperative. All brands should be listening in. Even if you aren't sure of the value of social media for your brand, it's worth monitoring social channels to know, for sure, what's being discussed in your industry or niche. Maybe there's not much related to your brand, maybe you only need to check it every now and then, but social media monitoring will only become more relevant as more people grow to expect brands to be listening in.
...but be wary of any automated sentiment analysis. You may be aware of the NSA's recent call-out for developers to build them a system that can detect sarcasm in tweets. This was a jokey story, splashed round the web, but the real implications for big data are massive. The main stumbling point for sentiment analysis is that it's unable to determine sarcasm - a tweet like: 'This is an excellent example of a great brand slip-up' would confuse any automated detection system because it's weighing up two positive words ('excellent' and 'great') with a possible negative ('slip-up). In this case, it'd likely go with the positive and you'd see that added to your graph which shows positive mentions are up on last month - and you'd be none the wiser. Another example: 'My internet provider does a great job when it comes to stealing money from me'. Automated sentiment analysis cannot provide accurate results at this stage - and with the major security agencies still some way off perfecting sarcasm detection technology for their own use, it'll probably be a while before we can automate sentiment reports and know, for sure, what those results actually mean.
Building a social media presence is fast becoming a necessity for all brands. And that's if it's not already. It's not just that more people are relying on social media interactions, it's that the next generation have grown up on social. Facebook turned 10 recently, that means the next generation,, those about to start their lives in the workforce, have had social media accounts pretty much as long as they can remember. It's part of who they are, part of the fabric of their day-to-day existence. Remember what life was like without the internet? Hard to recall isn't it? That's how the next generation feels about social. These will soon be your target consumers. If you want to reach them, you need to go where they're at - they don't watch TV or read magazines at the same rate as the previous generations. They are the commanders of their own media centres, they see what they want, when they want - and they block out everything else. You need to go to them. You'll need to find where they're at to reach them.
...but starting up a Facebook page and opening a Twitter account is not enough. Social media is evolving, everyday. The landscape changes, audiences gravitate to new platforms and find new things that interest them. If you want them to find you, you need to be where they are. You need to get your content in front of them, create messages that they'll respond to. It takes work. It takes consistent effort to build a trusted social media presence - there's no magic pill, no get rich quick scheme. You need to know and understand your audience and know what they want from your brand. If you can analyse the data, find where your offerings fit into people's lives, and create great content that speaks to their needs, you'll build a solid social media brand. Establishing authority takes time, you have to commit to the task and go through your process, but the opportunities are there, and they'll only expand in future.
If you build it, they probably won't come. But if you take the time to understand and learn your online audience, you'll gather powerful insights that will help propel your brand to higher levels of ongoing success.
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