Guess who’s in charge of social media? Your customers

I know you have probably heard all sorts of advice and the internet is full of social media gurus trying to tell you what you should do next. The ones who are really worth your time all have something in common: they will put customers at the center of your social media strategy.

Guys, seriously… If there is a single thing which can easily indicate either the success or the complete failure of how a brand performs on social media networks, it’s the engagement. You have to believe it’s all about engagement, otherwise you may end up producing content based only on your personal taste, rather than listening to your customers and trying to figure out their needs.

Unless you come up with a brilliant idea of something your audience wasn’t expecting and they still loved it, gimmicks tend to be bad for your business. Therefore, knowing your customer base is the key to achieve great results and, consequently, increase engagement rate.

That is why Facebook page likes or Instagram followers are sometimes overrated. Without a proper analysis, they can mislead you and give the team a false impression of effectiveness while the inconvenient truth is swept under the rug.

Let me give an example of how it works.

At the beginning of this year, I was working as a social media subeditor at Diario de Pernambuco, a famous newspaper based in Recife — a city in the Northeast of Brazil. I was born there, by the way.

Our major competitor was another newspaper whose Facebook page had half the likes of ours. Despite this, it was still a great number and, of course, they did a good job marketing to their customers. The stakes were set at 1.2 million versus 600,000.

What they obviously did not mention was their engagement rate, which was dramatically smaller than Diario de Pernambuco. Please, don’t get me wrong. They were smart. But it would take nothing more than five minutes scrolling through both pages to notice the difference between the numbers.

As you probably know, a large portion of journalistic content is becoming a commodity, which means scoops or original stuff are really rare. Although there are exceptions, if you take some time to check social media timelines of newspapers, you will realize they are almost the same or, at least, their variety of news stories tends to converge.

And this is where we found ourselves. However, aside from the common agenda, we would get ten times the amount of shares on a Facebook post covering the same topic. A plane has crashed? If they reach a hundred shares, our post will reach up to a million. Brazil has won a soccer match? Almost as a rule of thumb, 30 comments to them; but 300 to ours.

Do you see the problem?

The fact that we had double the page likes doesn’t imply we are only performing two times better. Actually, we crushed it! Most importantly, the bottom line here is picking up KPIs (Key Performance Indicators) that represent your customer’s behavior. In other words, how are they reacting to your content? I think engagement rate is a good choice to measure it by. Another option could be a percentage showing how much of a website traffic actually comes from social networks.

It is up to you to choose which KPIs best suit your necessity. Just remember the decision has to take into account the goals you are aiming to conquer with a social media strategy. Track your results and keep an eye on your ROI (Return of Investment).

There are several benefits of developing a community among your followers. First, let them spread your message, so you won’t have to pay for ads as often because your organic reach is enough to keep your social networks alive. Second, always extract information from engagement. Dealing with people giving feedback all the time is something that not everyone is cut out for. On the flip side, if you give the readers some credit, you will learn what kind of content works in each platform and get good insights. I like the idea of thinking about this task as some kind of BI (Business Intelligence) mindset since it involves data mining, analytical skills and identifying opportunities. Scup, Hootsuite and Buzzmonitor are tools that could come in handy. The third perk comes back to journalism: you may cultivate sources when people trust and respect you. Sources are a great asset especially when they share something the other competitors don’t have access to.

The list of advantages is endless but I am stopping with these three examples.

Finally, I won’t give the game away, but here are some quick tips that help to boost engagement on social networks. The last two are intended for journalists in charge of social media management.

1. You need some level of standardization

After all the effort you have put into developing a strategy, you don’t want your digital channels looking like a messy teenage bedroom, right? Define if and how you will use hashtags, filters, emoticons, images and links. It’s a matter of planning, but try not to become a control freak. Think about image and text sizes, usage of logos and adjust the tone.

2. Delivering a good package

I hope your content is not more style than substance. Appearance has a crucial role in promoting posts, though. Choosing the right photo, coming up with a title that sums up the article and highlighting the main points are all vital. From my experience, titles work better on social networks when they are more straightforward, but you should try different formats until finding the one that improves your engagement. Avoid the temptation of clickbaits.

3. Sometimes, less is more

Set a frequency and filter on what kind of content is being delivered. Reducing the amount of posts or tweets rather than bombarding the audience with loads of news stories is wise. Remember that social media is not about quantity, but engagement. Relevance is one of the strongest aspects that drives customers to engage with content. Adopting bigger intervals and being selective also helps to focus on making posts more appealing and clickable.

4. Don’t overtrust the Facebook algorithm

Not everyone is a huge fan of Star Wars. Not everyone is passionate about Coldplay’s new album. When you are Wired or Gizmodo you have a very specific audience which makes the decision of gathering content way easier than newspapers such as The New York Times or The Guardian. Let me tell you one of the more important things I have learned regarding audience: the wider, the harder. The silver lining is that Facebook allows media producers — and pages, in general — to segment organic reach. As a positive effect, you don’t need to discard a post whose theme is aimed at a niche. Directing content reduces potential reach, but boosts engagement.

5. Be the first to give correct, precise and relevant information

Naturally, social networks are digital environments that demand agility. Just don’t forget that haste makes waste. Journalism is still journalism, even when you are delivering news stories on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram or Snapchat. You always have to check the information carefully, because the basic premise remains the same. However, if you are fully aware of a really critical fact, don’t wait for details. Just publish it and update later. If the president had suddenly passed away, would you have waited to know every detail of how it had happened? Hopefully, not.

Did you find my LinkedIn article helpful? Please, give it a like if you enjoyed reading it and don’t forget to comment with your own thoughts and experience.

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