Interviews, insight & analysis on digital media & marketing

Katy Howell: shortcuts that screw-up social

Katy Howell, CEO of social media agency  Immediate Future, is one of the most experienced leaders in the social media industry and NDA’s monthly columnist.

Snapchat announced its introducing brand profiles at last. Closing the beta, businesses can now own a unique home for content on the channel – and keep it there permanently.

But, before advertisers rush to secure a profile and the potential to reach 220 million Snapchatters, take a deep breath. Stop.

The biggest failing of social marketing is joining a platform without a plan. Even more so now, when attention and growth are both a challenge given that over half the world is now on social media – that’s 3.96 billion folk chatting away, day and night. Will our audiences even notice if we are there, if we just show up?

Add to this the speed at which platforms change and flex everything from their look to algorithms and formats, and it becomes clear that creating a new estate on a platform is a big commitment.

It obvious that getting the most out of your social  presence lies in adopting the platforms where your audience plays. But, just being there is a waste of time. It takes a lot of effort to be heard. You’ll need to plan and graft, then plan and graft again.

There’s no silver bullet. No formula. No quick fix. Only budget-crushing ways to spend a lot of time doing diddly-squat.

And shortcuts that seem to offer answers, can really bugger it up for your results, your reputation and your career.

The myth that you can create once and share

For all the declarations of digital detox, it’s a rare person who’s got just one social media profile. The latest from GlobalWebIndex shows that the typical social media user is now a member of 9 different platforms.

So, it seems sensible to create copy and visuals that you can cut and paste across the platforms. It saves time and money and can be scheduled with simple re-sizing.

Well hell no!

It looks lazy and careless to the very customer you want to attract. Chances are they’ll see the same thing everywhere they go on social. You won’t be able to cap frequency and they’ll be bored by you. Adapting for each platform means more than changing copy length or visual size. It means a deep understanding of behaviours and the mindset of people on each platform.

Think about it. Bar the odd cross-pollinated post from Insta to Twitter, consumers behave differently on each platform. And more importantly, different audiences, behave differently on the platforms themselves. Like Matryoshka dolls you need to look inside again and again as you focus deep into each platform to understand your audience.

Of course, the basic principles will remain the same. Brand personality and key messages will need to be consistent. Build audience profiles and personas by all means, but then adapt that messaging to meet typical behaviours and interests that fit to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat etc.

You might be informal, spontaneous and personal on Snapchat, news jacking and witty on Twitter, or family wholesome on Facebook. But you need to adapt each piece of content to fit the audience mindset.

We love a posting plan, or do we?

To organise all this differing content, a posting plan is needed. We use them. But they are also dangerous. They lull you into rhythmic and unconscious habits that waste precious time and drive audiences away. Imagine your community manager sees a day when have nothing to going out. The urge to fill it is pressing.

Drawn to the predicable operating rhythm of a content plan, the day’s requirement is filled with a repeat post, something fast and stock image, or worst still a hashtag around a day, where the connection nebulous at best!

Leading the strategy means challenging the status quo. Don’t let crappy content fly out the door  on your watch. Focus on being relatable in the moment. Be spontaneous with creativity to bring something of value to the buzz of social. And if you can’t do that leave the day alone and don’t post. Hashtags and stock blurb are no shortcuts to building a relationship with your audience.

Glittering attention from the new

I think those of us in digital marketing love the new of it all. And let’s face it social changes so fast there is always a way to innovate. Stakeholders love them. Audiences see something fresh. It always seems like many of the new formats and functions are a quick way to garner attention.

I’m obsessed with AR at the moment, and if I could crowbar every client into trialling it I would. But I don’t. Mostly because I have a sensible team around me, but also because it isn’t right for every client. The same goes for TikTok or shoppable ads or audio tweets.

Like the launch of Snapchat brand profiles, new formats need thought. Not just in understanding the tech, it’s use and the creative that will fit with it, but in knowing your audiences well enough to predict behaviours.

It’s the speed of change that can be the curse of social media marketing. So slow it down. Agility doesn’t mean less strategic thinking. Shifting your approach is never a quick fix and you need to do your research, think on ideas and test a bit to check it is a good fit.

Then there are algorithm changes. Watch out for the advice on how you can game the system with each change. Inevitably the results don’t last long, if they work at all. More likely you will get penalised or the channel will roll back the change if it sees too many holes.

Don’t ignore changes though. They are necessary to understand for the performance of your content. Every channel treats branded content differently and you need to test, explore and take time to adapt thoughtfully to the changes. And watch how and if audiences change. Are they using new reaction buttons, playing with an instant experience or are the demanding the look and feel is rolled back a bit (as happened to Snapchat in 2018).

The reality is that social is now so sophisticated that shortcuts, hacks and any other daft advice generally never cuts the mustard. Social requires an evolving strategy that adapts and changes. It needs thinking time, experience and a level head that has one eye on the audience and another on delivering value to the business.

So breathe before you post the same content everywhere and think before you create yet another brand profile.    

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