Changes in Facebook Signal a Need for Social Marketing Change

Just when you thought you were getting the hang of capturing your audience’s awareness, consideration, loyalty, and advocacy via social marketing, the social world pivots. The new twist will require a change in your social strategy.

facebook changes

First, lets define the change. For the past couple of weeks there have been leaks that Facebook intends to drop the organic reach of brands to 1-2%. This means that if you have 200K fans on Facebook, roughly only 3K fans will see any given post. Is this what you worked so hard to build up your Facebook fan base for? Of course you can pay Facebook to amplify your posts. That is really not a bad idea as costs are reasonable (today), but it certainly is not something you are going to do for every post.

Many brands have witnessed a continuous decline of organic reach on Facebook. (Have you checked your numbers recently?) Facebook should no longer be viewed as simply a content-driven and engagement platform to win over the target audience. Content plus engagement and now paid amplification for content are required to get postings on newsfeeds of “brand-likers.” Facebook should now be viewed as a promotional platform. Daily posts no longer make sense.

So what do you about this now? Consider doing a Facebook “dark post” to a targeted audience that is not necessarily your fans. Do these promotions only when you truly have something news-worthy (new product release, special event) and not every day content. Think about having your own content repository for daily posts and then using a plethora of social channels to proliferate that content and drive traffic to your site (where your content repository resides).

What really drives me crazy is that Facebook states that the shrinking of organic reach is not to force brands to pay for Facebook use. Facebook suggests that there is a strong increase in content production from brands that has created a flood of spam marketing on Facebook. If revenue is not the reason for this sudden drastic change, why not allow users to “opt-in” the brands they want to see in their newsfeed. Why not just give the complete control to the users. That will eliminate spam. If users have the power to manage their own newsfeed, their actions translate to simply say, “make it worth my while and I will let you get into my newsfeed.”

Anyway, I am not holding my breath that this is going to happen. In fact I would say Facebook actions will set a precedent for other social platforms. Once a given social platform has built up a large enough user base, they will then turn to brands and say “pay to play.”

All this said, social marketing is still imperative to business. I’ll leave you today with two goals you should set that will yield very strong measurable results.

First, you do want your brand content and stories (not advertisements) to be consumed by your target audience. You want to win them over emotionally by delivering content that is valuable to them. You should no longer have a “social content strategy”, but rather a “brand content strategy.” Your brand content strategy should focus on the production of articles, photos, videos, and vines that have strong appeal to your audience. You should house these content pieces in a content repository that sits on your own site. Drive traffic to YOUR site, not someone else’s platform. Use social media channels to proliferate the content and engage with users where they are social.

The second piece of information (and maybe the most important) is to remember that there is nothing more powerful for marketing of a brand than advocacy. Having an objective person tell their friends, family, and colleagues that a brand is worthy of looking into is the greatest result a marketer can drive. Consider how you will motivate users to talk about your brand to other users on social channels. Do not worry about your brand being the “poster” of your brand story. There is much greater power putting these stories in the hands of advocates to disseminate. Your marketing strategy MUST address a plan for capturing and unleashing brand advocates on their social profiles and channels.

So social marketing is as important as ever. As always, you just need to stay on top of changing dynamics of social platforms and user behaviors. And then folks you are ready to …

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Delivering the Content Your Audience Wants

When it comes to social marketing, there is only one response to the question, “what is the content your brand delivers to its audience?” The answer must be “the content they want.” Social marketing is not about delivering a marketing communication to push content on your audience.

And the second mistake most make in social marketing is thinking that their job is done when they acquire a high number of likes, followers, or fans. I like the way Nate Elliot puts it in his June, 2012 report “The ROI of Social Marketing” – “Fans have little innate value; it is what brands do with their followers – not merely that they have them – that creates value.” And this means delivering consistent value to those fans on their terms.

Lets talk about this through a case study of a leading consumer brand I recently looked at as an off-shot of some work I was doing. (Let’s just call them Brand-X)

Brand content reach and engagement

From the figure above, you are likely to think that the brand is performing well using Facebook to deliver content and capture strong reach and engagement. But when we look into real execution, things are not as pretty as they seem. First off, look at the peaks. While 500K people talking about this seems impressive it is less than 2% of the 27 million likes. It is also worth noting that the new product and service spikes came with paid sponsored posts. The content the audience reacted to most were celebrity video posts and a contest, and still, these posts reach less than 2% of the fans captured (which were likely via paid Facebook as well).

Once again, Nate Elliot expressed some interesting information. This month, the Ogilvy agency released data showing that the brand pages they manage reach just 6% of fans. For pages with more than 500,000 fans, Ogilvy says reach stands at just 2%.
Some have realized this for a bit, but were apprehensive to come out and say anything against the social media behemoth. Brands and agencies are now openly talking about their discontent. More and more brands are disillusioned with Facebook and are now placing their bets on other social sites — but few of them want to go on the record. In addition to poor Facebook measured results some see the biggest problem with Facebook is their constant rule changes.
But do not think for one second this does not mean that there is not a great value to brand social marketing. And I am not totally knocking Facebook either. But here are some points.

1) Facebook is extremely powerful when users (as opposed to brands) share the value of a product or service. Marketers may not need to focus on content distribution to Facebook, but certainly look to motivate their audience to share in all social channels.
2) Content marketing is extremely valuable. Brands need to get their marketing departments to evolve from traditional marketing communications to storytelling communication.
3) Compelling pictures and videos win audiences.
4) Think about numerous channels where content can be delivered to your users. (For example, I just did some research on a particular target audience for a brand and found out the targets were most active on Google+ and LinkedIn.)

When push comes to shove, pushing and shoving does not work in social media. Deliver compelling content YOUR AUDIENCE wants in the places that are likely to turn the best results. Think about having your own media repository and using social channels to distribute that content. Have others share it on social channels and be the place for conversations and engagement.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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The Content Development Plan Every Marketer Should Use

As I work with a number of brands, the most difficult challenge I see them having is grasping how to build a content calendar. So many seem overwhelmed by the idea of building out a plan for 90-day’s worth of content, yet alone an entire year.

I like to encourage building an entire year’s plan because that allows a budget and plan to be set for not only article production, but photos and videos as well. Now don’t get me wrong. Brands still need to work in the moment of current events and have their content reflect that, but certainly themed topics can be planned for one year going forward.

Before I give you an execution methodology for building a brand content calendar, I want to first share with you a couple of reinforcing facts with regards to why content marketing is so important … It is not hype. I read an article (complete with a great infographic) this week titled, “Why Our Brains Crave Storytelling in Marketing,” and there were two facts that solidify why content is such a vital part of brand marketing. First, 92% of consumers want brands to make ads that feel like stories. Why not just give the audience stories that reinforce the intersection of brand and audience value. The second was that the brain processes images 60 times faster than words. Need any additional motivation for the need to produce pictures and videos?

So let’s get to the helpful part now … How to plan your content calendar. As always, all marketing strategy should start with a complete understanding of your target audience…. What are their wants, needs, interests? What are their digital behaviors. If you do not have access to specific research to gain this information, start Googling and you will find the definitions required. From this information, you want to determine content themes your audience is looking to be covered and social channels where they are active with brands. Consider about 6-10 themes and about 4-8 social channels.

You need to be customer-centric and the first step is always about understanding content that will resonate with them. But in the next step, you need to consider your brand, what you sell, what the value proposition is for customers, and your overall position. Use this information to sharpen your content themes, but make sure you are still planning to deliver content your audience is looking for, not corporate communication.

The last step in refining your content themes is to do some due diligence on your competition. Look at their site, blog, and social channels. Understand what content resonates strongest with their audience. Look at posts and determine what types yielded the most audience engagement.

Once you have your content themes narrowed down, determine the cadence for each topic. How many articles will you produce, photos taken, and videos to be made. When considering content cadence, remember visuals work best. Think about your audience’s attention span. You can likely keep them interested with a number of photos per week, a video a week, and an article or two. Think about which theme topics lend themselves best to article, picture and/or video. Consider ways to generate UGC (user generated content) for some of your content.

I like to take the information I described and create two spreadsheets to determine a brand content calendar. The first spreadsheet lists each theme, the cadence for production, and channels where the content will be seen, as shown in the diagram below.

Content Calendar 1

Use all channels as appropriate for each content piece. Notice that in some cases, the actual content will not be posted on a channel, but rather the social channel is used to reference the content piece and provide a reference link. This is often done with blog articles and referencing them on Facebook, Google+, and Twitter.

Once you have built out the Theme/Cadence/Channel Content Chart, add spreadsheet tabs for each channel determined to use. On each channel tab, build a one-year calendar. Next, go back to the Theme/Cadence/Channel Content Chart and copy a theme, look at the cadence specified, and paste that theme on the social channel chart per cadence specified. Do this for all themes and all social channels as shown below.

Content Calendar 2

Now you have a plan in place for content production. Not that you need to explicitly follow this calendar, but it gives plan activities for each week, each month. It allows you to pre-work content production. When executing, consider ad hoc changes driven by cultural changes, news, and brand industry specific events.

Don’t just wing your content production and posts. Your content production should be run much closer to the mentality of a media production company. When done this way, you will see a much greater audience following and engagement. Tell your audience great stories.

Make it Happen,
Social Steve

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Does Experimentation Belong in Social Media Marketing?

It is really not a question of if experimentation belongs in social media marketing, but rather a question of where experimentation belongs in social media marketing.

social experiment

As I have stated many times, social channels are a very busy place for brands to be heard and rise above the noise. Just about every brand now has a social presence. So the question becomes, if everyone is doing it, how do you make sure your brand is seen, heard, and stands out. “Me-too-ers” will never be successful due to the abundance of brands vying for audience attention on social channels. Thus, innovative experimentation is required. But do not just throw things out there in a wild adventure of experimentation. There are some steps you should take to create some boundaries for experimentation. Let’s review the fundamental steps to deliver successful social implementations.

Social success really comes down to the intersection of two factors. First and foremost, you need a complete understanding of the target audience you want to reach. This understanding is a combination of a) a set definition of the target audience demographics, b) deep insights to the audiences’ behaviors and usage patterns in digital, and c) constant listening to the targets to gain a timely perspective of what is relevant in their daily lives. Social success starts with a customer centric mentality.

The next step in developing a successful social implementation is capturing the brand position, value proposition, and communication tone. Re-look at the marketing definitions of your brand.

Once you have the target audience and brand persona formally documented, look at the intersection of what the audience is looking for, and what your brand wants to communicate. This defines content memes for your social brand. Make sure you stay customer-centric. Too many brands push their agenda. If you want to be successful capturing awareness and building advocates in social media, you must be sensitive to your audience motivations as opposed to pushing corporate agenda.

Now that you have the basis for your social strategy, plan, and implementation, you should experiment with clear differentiated content and engagement approaches in social media. Doing the pre-work prescribed above provides calculated boundaries for experimentation.

I started this article by asking if experimentation belongs in social media marketing. Let me say that the answer is a resounding yes. You will never stand out in a crowed space unless you are seen as innovative and different. I have worked with many brands (big and small). When a client asks me for a business case supporting a recommended strategy and plan, categorically I know the client will never accomplish success in social. This request identifies a me-too-er that is implementing social because everyone else is doing it as opposed to truly focusing on winning over an audience. The most successful social implementations were not driven by previous business cases. They were innovative by first understanding their audience, and then doing something not previously done. Case in points – Old Spice, Dove, Red Bull, and Skittles. All of these brands experiment and buck the norm to produce compelling approaches that captivate large audiences and receive positive responses.

So the bottom line is that you must experiment in social media marketing. Have an umbrella methodology as described in this article to take calculated risk. Be innovative and do something not done before. Stand out. Measure results and tweak implementations based upon audience results. Experiment. Be different. Stand out.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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Understanding the Place for Always On Social Media and Promotional Social Media

Does your company have a set, defined social marketing strategy? One that addresses growth or promotional times AND also includes a plan for keeping users engaged over the long haul. You see, driving significant likes and followers is completely meaningless unless those people you have gotten to like and follow you have actually stayed engaged with your social property and get your brand’s posts. If you keep up on Facebook’s newsfeed algorithm you will know that is it getting more and more difficult to get your brand post to show up on users’ newsfeed. That is unless you are willing to pay for a promoted tweet. And is it really appropriate to pay for a social engagement? As a brand sometimes yes, but definitely not as the norm.

Social Marketing Success

With this in mind, let’s breakdown social marketing to two sub categories – always on social and promotional social.

Your social strategy should start with a definition of continuous always on listening and monitoring, content production, distribution of content, and engagement. Who is your target audience? What do you want to convey to them and discuss with them that is most compelling to keep them engaged? How will you make sure that you get information to them on a daily bases (or most of the time)? What is your messaging and content strategy? It is important to have a plan of keeping your audience connected after they have opted in to your social channel.

Let’s review some terminology. For Facebook, they are moving away from the “People Talking About This” parameter and moving to “People Engaged.” People Engaged (found in the People tab for Facebook page administrators), is the number of unique people who’ve clicked, liked, commented on, or shared your posts in the past 28 days. “Other Page Activity” (in the Visits tab), includes Page mentions, check-ins and posts by other people on your Page. “Engagement Rate” is the percentage of people who saw a post that liked, shared, clicked or commented on it.

These are the numbers that really matter. Not the number of likes for a brand page. Yes, you need a decent amount of likes for the important evaluation parameters to shine. But “likes” is just a starting point. If you have a strategy for keeping your audience compelled and interested, you will see strong engagement numbers. You will also see nice continuous incremental growth of followers.

Thus, social promotion is the start of execution for social marketing. Not the start of social strategy. Your execution has to be well planned and executed after you do a social promotion.

So promotional social does come with some cost. Usually, a sweepstakes, giveaway, significant discount, or donation to a worthy cause (as perceived by your audience) is used as a promotion to have a high impact lift a brand’s social following. Paid media is also required to help promote the program. Social promotion is best used when the brand determines a significant event is about to happen. For example, a product launch, new packaging, seasonal drive period, etc. Social promotion should be used as an extension of an overall marketing promotion.

Social promotion is likely to drive some sort of spike in your followers. This will definitely make executives happy. But you should not be content with these results. Your success should be significant fan growth followed by continuous high levels of people engaged and engagement rate. You should be looking for quantifiable success of “always on social” following social promotion. Not just success from promotional social. In the words of a very successful media tycoon, “win big or go home.”

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

Footnote – I know many of you reading this article, a) get it, and b) are frustrated that others in your company do not. It has been hard for you to get your point across and find the right words to explain. Suggestion … please share this article … maybe it will help to get your concerns across from an objective source.

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Digital Technologies and User Behavior Change What it Means to Be a Brand

If you look on Wikipedia for the definition of a brand, you find that it is the “name, term, design, symbol, or any other feature that identifies one seller’s product distinct from those of other sellers.” But as a marketer, I think it is much more important to think of what it means to be a brand in terms of your target audience.

Thus, I define a brand as a promise made from a company to its target audience with regards to the product(s) it sells. A brand is defined by characteristics such as quality, features, availability, and overall user experience. When done right, every single aspect of the brand definition is lived by and delivered by every employee of the company.

brand and digital

But a funny thing happened along the way. Knowledgeable marketers started using poetic justice of communication and claims of the product/service sold by the company and stretched the truth. All this in an effort to increase sales. In some cases, this resulted in members of the target audience reacting and purchasing the brand. If shoppers were unhappy, they would stop buying the product, and maybe even tell a friend. The user did not believe “the promise” and reacted. As this plight has continued throughout marketing and advertising of brands, it has spawned an overall skeptical outlook by people with regards to company claims and advertisement belief. This cynical perception did not happen overnight. It took a good 50 years or so of “Mad Men” to drive this behavior.

Fast forward to today’s world. How do people react when they feel they have been misled by product claims? How do they react when they have a bad user experience? More and more users are sharing their product experiences. Whether it is sharing with their entire network on a platform like Facebook or broadcasting it to the world on a platform like Twitter.

The promise is still part of being a brand, but it is exponentially more important today.

So now that you understand the change, let me describe for you the gigantic immense problem this creates. The stretching of the truth that companies get caught in is a big problem, but it really is not the biggest problem. The key problem today is that companies have lost their ability to build brand AND engage appropriately in the digital world, simultaneously. Too many companies treat branding as one activity and digital/social marketing as a separate implementation. Company executives need to take responsibility of this detrimental scenario.

How many companies have a responsible leader in place with experience, business knowledge, and creativity to build and retain a brand COUPLED WITH experience, business knowledge, and creativity to drive successful digital marketing? The answer to this question is very few. And even worse, the fact that brand marketing and digital marketing are siloed exacerbates the problem.

The debacle up from this problem shows its ugly face daily. There are numerous companies that do not reinforce brand positioning through their digital implementations. The people running the digital channels are most often blind to what it means to carry out a brand voice and imaginary through social engagement. Many companies do not have a digital engagement strategy that centers on upholding the brand persona.

And adding to the challenge is the fact that brand position is equally in the hands of the audience as well as the company’s hands. The audience has a voice that is stronger and moves faster than ever before. You need to have a strategy and a plan that addresses how to leverage this audience rather than ignoring their voice and power that is carried in the digital world.

I think it is imperative to understand how the world of a brand has changed due to the technology changes and more importantly, human behavior. Every company needs a leader that has the skill set to address the change. Through my experience, I have worked with companies that do not want to address the change head on. Working the corporate environment and being a positive change agent has become a slippery slope. I would not go so far as to call the two a dichotomy, but together they are definitely challenging.

It takes bold, strong, experienced leaders to navigate a company due to the real and significant changes that technology and user behavior have created. The outcome of these changes cannot continue to be ignored or swept away. Whether it is fear, lack of skill set, or don’t rock the boat corporate mentality, it is no longer acceptable to keep brand marketing and digital marketing siloed. The future of your business depends upon it.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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4 Investment Musts for Social Media Success

As I talk to many new and potential clients I am constantly reminded that most companies do not know what it takes to be successful using social media. I think we are finally at the point where most believe they need to incorporate social into their business, but it feels likes the early 90s once again. In the 90s, most companies (and investors) knew that they needed to get on the Internet bandwagon but had little idea how to make it work for their business. Jump forward to 2014. Most companies know that they need to leverage digital and mobile technologies to increase their social capabilities with their target audience, but few know exactly how to invest.

Do we still think social media is free?

Social Media Investments

As I thought about the content for this article this week, I came across a headline “Marketers Lack Social Budgets, But Investments Growing In 2014.”

According to a Forrester study, “Some 28% of marketers surveyed by Forrester admit not allocating a budget to social in 2013, and an additional 55% allocated a mere 1% to 10% of their total budget, followed by 28% who invest zero, and 11% who allocate between 11% to 20%.” Empirical data supporting my experiences.

Before I get to the 4 musts, let me just say leaving any of them out destroys the possibility for success. Look at each of them as a single base hit in baseball. If you do three of them (or have three singles) and not the produce the fourth, you leave three runners on base and do not score. All four investments produce a winning run – don’t fall short.

1) People – Probably the most important aspect of a successful social effort at a company is having the right social leader and supporting cast. With regards to a social leader, companies must invest in an experienced hybrid digital and traditional marketer. Far too many organizations put leadership in the hands of a young digital millennial that has no experience driving business objectives, or in an experienced marketer that has not kept up with emerging new media. As I wrote a while back, “When Looking for Your Company’s Social Media Marketing Leader, Consider …” a dual skill set and experience is a must. Once the leader is in place, you then determine other support staff required to meet needs and synergy.

2) Content – Brands must invest in the production of great content. Content should include articles, photos, and videos. If you want your brand to stand out and be shared, stellar content is your must valuable asset. Brands need to think like publishers and producers. Great content pulls your audience to your brand’s digital assets. As I have stated before, “Content Marketing – Social Marketing – You Can’t Have One Without the Other.”

3) Tools – One of the biggest challenges is scaling social. Social requires human intervention. While we look for human interaction, it is presumptuous to think that companies can engage with every member of their target audience. Marketing automation should not be used for social engagement, but I am bullish on using technology to assist in social execution. There are an abundance of great social tools to help companies with their social programs. I suggest staying on top of new technologies, as the social tool space is making great advances. But for starters, you need to invest in three types of social tools – a) social publishing which helps you plan content calendars, manages content distribution on your social channels, and provides analytics with regards to post click through, reach, engagement, and shares; b) social monitoring and listening tool that allow you to monitor brand and category mentions; and c) influencer tool that allows you to determine top influencers in your brand space to prioritize for engagement.

4) Integration – Social cannot be in a silo. Every marketing effort and every business initiative needs to have a social component. As you develop business initiatives, the social leader needs to be involved to determine how each element can be socialized to promote brand value and motivate sharing and advocacy. Social needs to go across all business strategies.

I have outlined the four investment musts for social media success. Now the question for you … are you ready to invest in all needed social elements to drive winning results or are you just dabbling in social because you feel everyone else is? Success demands commitment and investment.

Make It Happen,
Social Steve

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