Today’s marketing community readily recognizes social media as a necessary component of a successful marketing strategy. Yet too many brands are unable to realize the exalted benefits of social media. Their inability arises from an attempt to apply traditional branding rules to the new era of social marketing, ultimately denying businesses the ROI of their social investments.
According to a study conducted by Forrester Research, the top marketing tactics used for lead generation this year were Twitter posts (82%), online communities (79%), blogs (76%), LinkedIn discussion groups (76%), LinkedIn pages (76%), and Twitter offers (74%). To be effective, these social media channels demand authenticity and a new approach toward customers and prospects—and the most valuable currency in this new market is content.
To tame the beast that is social content, and to consistently drive awareness and leads and retain clients, brands should incorporate the “4E” mantra into their social content strategy: entertain, educate, enrich, and engage.
It holds true in every industry that lackluster content will never generate revenue. Just as in normal day-to-day conversation, entertainment is a key factor in connecting with people via social. Customers are innately drawn to entertaining posts, and fun content humanizes a brand such that readers feel that they are engaging with a personality, and not an automated computer. A great example of this is KRAFT Macaroni & Cheese, which last year celebrated 75 years in the market. To honor its milestone birthday, KRAFT let two loyal mac & cheese eaters in their 80s take over its social media accounts, documenting their journey of navigating the social world. Not only did this stunt give KRAFT followers a reason to engage, but it also brought new people to the brand’s Web pages.
While a funny campaign done appropriately may do the trick, even something as simple as posting approved photos from a company event or sharing light-hearted articles to put a face to a brand can be effective. To go one further, combine social communication with other digital communications by implementing a prospecting model. This takes potential customers from channel to channel, providing more compelling content at each touchpoint in order to keep engagement high.
Social networks are increasingly competing with traditional news networks as a source of timely, topical content. For the everyday news consumer, social media has the benefit of being curated by a network of trusted individuals, and is innately filtered to address issues of interest. For brands, social offers the opportunity to be included in that trusted network as an industry expert. To achieve this position, a brand should share articles, tips, and news from the market that consumers can easily digest while also prompting them to learn something new. As a bonus, people typically share articles they found interesting with their own network, thereby expanding a brand’s reach to an additional network of users, which not only increases the brand’s visibility among potential customers, but helps to build positive social ROI.
Ultimately fans, followers, potential customers, and current customers desire content that adds value to the social experience. The key to success for a business is to think in terms of customer conversations, not marketing messages. Tactically, this involves improving the social experience by connecting a brand’s target audience to other conversations, resources, and activities to supplement their interests. It also requires that brands remain aware of self-centered chatter and embrace conversations that may venture into tangential topics.
According to an extensive Facebook study from Salesforce.com, posts that asked questions of fans generated a 92% higher comment rate than non-question posts. Furthermore, posts that include a question at the end—or another call to action—have a 15% higher overall interaction rate and a 2x higher comment rate than those asked in the middle of a post. Questions, polls, and creative surveys help set a brand apart by pulling the consumer into the conversation. A helpful tip is to adopt an 80/20 mix of content that is professional and personal to best engage a target audience while humanizing the brand.
The 4E approach lets a brand reach consumers and potential customers in a richer, more meaningful manner than with traditional channels. Social media opens up many avenues for sales and brand awareness—and marketers need to be aware that content continues to rule when connecting with customers. At the end of the day, that connection will be what separates one brand from another, truly making for a successful social practice.
Victor Gaxiola is a social media expert at Actiance, Inc.