Growing and maintaining an effective social media presence is important for most of our businesses. I’ve got some terrific input for you in today’s Virtual Visit, from three Triangle-area social media pros.

The beauty of community is that we all have so much to share; in Virtual Visit posts we’ll share content we believe you should hear, from events you may have missed. (Contact info for the featured speaker will be at the end of each post.)

I attended January’s AMA panel interview with the Directors of Social Media from three NC universities: Drew Sykes from NCSU, Philip Jones from UNC Chapel Hill and Sonja Likness from Duke. Below distills the key takeaways that you, my innovative small business tribe, can apply to your social media thinking, planning and executing (for ease of reference, I’ll use their initials when tying points to specific panelists).

The discussion was wide-ranging, so I’ve grouped my notes and observations into action-buckets that I think may be more actionable:

PLANNING & ROI
Maintaining your social media presence overall, and executing specific social media campaigns, is easier if you keep in mind these essentials:

Set your overall business and communications strategy

What are the underlying message takeaways that you want to have come across consistently?  

SL noted how much easier content strategy and execution are when clear communications direction exists.  (Tiny plug from Wendy: if this is something you’re fuzzy on, I can help; click to get on my calendar for a 30-min free consult… now ends commercial.)

Know the audience(s) you want to reach

Panelists repeatedly emphasized the importance of prioritizing relevance to your audience.  So get clear on:

  • Defining: Who are the people you’re communicating with? What matters to them? What platforms are they using?
  • Intentions: Create an intention for how you and your audience(s) connect on each one.
  • Testing: DS noted that regardless of your personal views about a platform, if your audience is there and communicating with them there seems to fit your brand’s communication and organization’s goals, study who’s there and what’s working, then test it for yourself.

Incorporate relevant trends

  • Being on trend, whether its trending topics, platforms or execution style, can be very useful in helping you connect with your audience.
  • Being on trend just for the sake of it, when it’s not relevant or in line with your strategy and audience as outlined above, is a bad idea. A trend that’s off-brand is likely to harm efforts to be relevant to your audience, so proceed with caution! (e.g., Tic Toc is still under review by all panelists…)
  • Wendy’s note: be a consumer of the content yourself so you know what’s trending among your audience(s); this takes time, so it’s another factor to weigh when considering how many platforms to include in your plan.

Measure Success

If you’re not tracking — or only looking at one metric — you’re probably not getting a comprehensive enough picture. Determine what you want to accomplish through your social media presence, get some ideas from the recommendations below, then measure those things. Use it as a living lab and adjust your efforts based on performance:

  • Trackable within a platform: Impressions/reach; click-thru-rate (CTR); engagement; shares; video time watched, and watched with sound.
  • Trackable off-platform: Look at click thru rates to your website; bounce rate; time on web page.
  • Negative metrics: when do people “hide” or unfollow? If those people are in your target audience, how you incorporate that learning will of course be different than if they are not.
  • Audience Insights: SL noted that they developed a template for “incident reporting”—a standardized way to track what their audience is talking about when a newsworthy happening hits the social scene. 
    • Wendy’s note: Very valuable idea; and mining social media for audience insights is a valuable activity for more than PR reasons. What hashtags could you search for to understand your audience’s needs, wants and problems? Competitive solutions to spark your own innovations
  • Tip: Use each platforms’ own analytics, for free; outside services are pulling from what each platform makes available
    Remember: Growing an audience takes time—use your metrics to guide your efforts.

ROI of your time

Developing an effective social media presence, like any other marketing activity, takes time to do well.

  • Be sure to track the amount of time you or whoever is assisting with social media is investing in each platform and type of content.
  • Track what you’ve been able to repurpose and how effective that was.

As a small business, whether you’re the owner or marketing manager, you’re wearing many hats, so it’s even more critical that you don’t waste time on platforms that aren’t delivering!

EXECUTION

All content is not created equal; yet all of it involves a time commitment. Here are some tips on making the most of your content investments:

Remember it’s a two-way street: Social media provides a place for what you want to share; as an engagement platform, however, you MUST give equal (or more) weight to what others want to receive. Consider what makes sense to your business and audience from both angles. Track what balance works with your audience(s).

Tailor your personality: Using your knowledge of your audience’s expectations of each platform, create a plan for how you’ll show up in each one. While you never want to stray from your brand essence and messaging strategy, you can tweak your brand’s personality an still be true to who you are. After all, think about how you present yourself at the office, vs taking your kids to a ball game, vs when representing your company at a fundraiser gala.  You, just you with one aspect of your personality amped up a little.

Test the algorithms: Know that sometimes what you want to share may not be as “engaging” as other content; an hint SL suggested for working around the platforms’ distribution algorithm is to test different intervals of sharing content you know will be highly engaging vs that which is likely to get fewer interactions.

Think in Snacks vs Meals: Content developed for your website—typically a “long form” interaction, at least by comparison to social media—will need to be reworked for the most effective social media presence. Think “Snack-size vs meal-size”, per PJ.

Use hooks and/or themes to help you attract followers, streamline content-creation calendars and efforts overall, as well as make it easier to repurpose previously posted content. As both Drew Styles and Sonja Likness noted: look for “silly social media holidays,” events, fun themes, seasonal happenings in your business or among your audience(s), or—increasingly!—short- and longer-format videos or articles you can release as a series.

  • Leverage videos more effectively
    Create vertical content, meaning images and video that is designed to look best without rotating your phone to its horizontal orientation, is on the rise.  Aim to keep this in mind when creating your posts.
  • Add subtitles to the video. PJ also noted that this one change led to increased length of time videos were watched with sound, as people caught more to attract their interest and clicked through.
  • Are you using YouTube? It’s the 2nd largest search engine today, so if you are, give some extra thought to titles. If you are looking to be found by new people, PJ reminds us people are searching by keywords, so you’ll want to incorporate them appropriately in your titles.

Consider user/audience-generated content:

  • The universities are often able to repurpose or student content; you may be able to incorporate media events, news etc into your posts.
  • Wendy’s note: Is there any way to harness content your employees or even customers do or could generate? 
    • You might come up with a unique account from which “YourBusinessTeam” can share.
    • Or create a unique hashtag and do random drawings of prizes (even non-cash items like badges or awards can be effective in some segments) for posts shared with that hashtag.

PLATFORM SELECTION

Once you’ve identified which are relevant to your audience, start narrow—even with just one—so you can build connections on that platform really well.  Then expand. Being everywhere in a watered down way will water down your impact. 

Regarding which platforms were most effective for the panelists, all reported similar experiences, and will probably hold no major surprises:

  • Facebook was ideal for reaching parents, older alums. It achieved top or nearly top levels of interaction (and they note that the younger audiences are often there too, watching what their parents are saying and what’s being said about them, just not interacting with one another). FB stories and video is likely to be on the rise, so if FB is a good platform for you and you want to be forward thinking, start playing with your content strategies here.
  • Instagram—stories—was the other chart-topping platform for viewership and engagement, trending younger.
  • LinkedIn ideal for reaching older alums, donors, partners and related constituencies.
  • Twitter is, for all the panelists, a good catchall to reach all audiences, but delivers fewer clicks and referrals overall. Again, use your metrics to decide on how and when to invest in this platform as a business.

If you want to follow any or all of these three knowledgeable social media pros, you can do so on Twitter:

  • Drew Sykes, NCSU: @drewsykes
  • Philip Jones, UNC Chapel Hill: @philgoodstory
  • Sonja Likness, Duke: @sonjalikness

If you’re the owner or marketing manager for a small business thinking “where do I start? How the heck do I move forward with all the hats I’m already wearing?” Just reach out to Wendy. Together we’ll take a look at where you are now, and find the most effective way for you to move forward with clarity, according to your time and resources. Let’s go make a difference today!