The Four Noble Truths of Social Media Marketing

The Four Noble Truths* express the basic orientation of Buddhism. They provide a useful conceptual framework for making sense of Buddhist thought. I’ve found them helpful to me as I seek to understand this way of thinking.

Image: Shutterstock

There’s another four-part simplifying framework that I find myself citing allot lately as I talk to friends. I’m often asked to simplify social media marketing for non-practitioners (“…it just seems so complicated; help me understand!”) I return over and over to a four-part conceptual framework that we used at SAP to organize our work. So I share a brief introduction to our framework, hoping it can help others. It’s simple:

  1. Audience
  2. Content
  3. Channels
  4. Performance
Image: Studio SAP

1. Audience: Understand your target audience(s). Get intelligence on them by social listening (with Radian6 or like tool); persona research; online surveys and qualitative or quantitative research. You’ve must start with a clear understanding of the perceptions, pain points and personas of the people you want to reach. For a deeper dive on audiences, read a blog I co-authored How To Use Social Listening to Improve Brand Health and breeze through this helpful preso on The Ultimate Guide to Persona Marketing.

2. Content: What market themes, needs-based messages or product functionality can you write about that make your product relevant given your target’s needs? What formats deliver content in a way your audiences prefer to consume information? Do they like to read technical white papers, thought leadership blogs, podcasts, vines or Instagram posts? What’s the right mix of these? (Hint: it varies by stage in the buyer’s journey.) Make sure all your content is SEO-friendly; containing keywords that maximize the likelihood they’ll be found via search, the #1 method of discovery for darn near everything. For the mother lode of all things content marketing — related, visit the Content Marketing Institute site.

3. Channels: Have you noticed that we haven’t mentioned social media channels till now? There’s a reason — it’s the wrong place to begin! It puts the emphasis on the bright shiny object (Facebook, Twitter, etc.) rather than on the fundamentals, which is producing engaging audience-centric content.

Develop a plan for paid, owned and earned media to distribute your content.

o Post content on your owned channels, those you “control” — everything from your website, community and company branded accounts such as Twitter and Linked In.

o Hopefully you have a budget for some paid media promotion with Twitter, Facebook and/or Linked In. Effectiveness of unpaid social media posts has declined considerably as the social platforms are forced to become revenue-generating public companies. Paid content amplification, search engine marketing (SEM) and pay-per-click ads also fall into this bucket. Work with a qualified digital media agency to create a fully optimized plan and get performance data to make sure you spend wisely.

o Earned media is important, and comes with the highest degree of difficulty. You only earn mentions IF your content reaches audiences who are so inspired that they share your content with their networks, activating the force multiplier effect that is the heart of social’s magic wand. To ensure this, make sure you know your influencers using a formal influencer tool, or make sure your community managers know their community well enough to know who to engage with.

Here’s a blog defining paid, owned and earned media from Michael Brito, a well-known digital expert.

4. Performance: Social media is a high-intensity sport that requires constant calibration using performance data on what content and channels are delivering, so you can optimize (do more of what works and less of what isn’t) real time. With proper set-up for digital data capture, measurement tools and reporting dashboards, deriving insights from performance is enabled. Analysis, insights and corrective actions are essential to ensuring your digital programs are successful. For extra credit reading on performance measurement, start with Measuring the Impact of Social Media on Your Business and Inform Your Business with Deep Social Analytics from Hootsuite (tip: visualization of data to make it consumable is nirvana…)

Image: Shutterstock

So there you have the four truths of social media marketing, according to me. I’m certain if you apply this simple plan of attack to your work, you’ll at least ask all the right questions — and at best will have a wildly successful program. I hope you appreciate the parallel I drew with the four noble truths. I’m drawn to the simplicity of Buddhist thought, and try to apply the clarity it brings to many aspects of my life. Good luck in your journey with social media. I’d love to entertain any questions you have.

*The Four Noble Truths express the basic orientation of Buddhism: this worldly existence is fundamentally unsatisfactory, but there is a path to liberation from repeated worldly existence. They provide a useful conceptual framework for making sense of Buddhist thought, which has to be personally understood or “experienced.”