Social media for brands: nobody really knows what they’re doing. But here’s where we think you should start.

Find a sustainable process. One which you actually enjoy and can imagine doing for the foreseeable future.

There’s no shortage of free advice on how to run an organic social media marketing operation. Given how uncertain the value of social media marketing really is, it’s a little surprising that so many people position themselves as experts at it. Organic social media marketing has more soft than hard benefits. A recent survey identified that 80% of Chief Marketing Officers couldn’t quantify the value of their social media marketing efforts.

Nevertheless, the majority of the advice handed out by industry gurus often takes the form of quick-win strategies — tips, tricks, and hacks to make posts go viral and to get people clicking. If you’re just starting out, advice like this can be more harmful than helpful. When the terms are set by those who endorse cutting corners and focusing on quick wins, it’s easy to lose sight of the long game. There are no short cuts to building a high-quality audience, a distinct voice or a sustainable process.

The truth is that most people — even the internet personalities and social media professionals who appear to be doing everything right — don’t really know what they’re doing. Those who have figured out how to make social media work for them have often done so without having to articulate it at a high level. For them, it’s a personal as well as intuitive process. They know what works, and they know what doesn’t, but they can’t necessarily tell you why.

So, what can you do?

Social media marketing requires a heck of a lot of time and upkeep. Organic reach (the unit we use to measure the unpaid circulation of content) on all platforms has plummeted. If you’re running a Facebook page, the likelihood that someone who has liked your page will see something that you have posted is ≈6%. Twitter and Instagram have followed suit by getting rid of chronological timelines. It’s not unlikely that in the near future, not only will you be required to post a relentless stream of content to stay present, you’ll also need to pay for the pleasure to do so.

This type of environment requires a level of stamina that most individuals and organizations simply do not have. And because it is about stamina, it’s less important to have the latest viral hack or clickbait title in your back pocket as it is about figuring out how to make the process of posting sustainable for you.

Make posting something that you actually want to do.

What do I mean by sustainable? A sustainable process is one that you can maintain over a long period of time without having to force yourself to do it. It’s a process that gives back more than it takes away. In order to find a sustainable process, you’ll need to figure out how to enjoy yourself while you’re in conversation with your audience. If it’s solely about your needs, nobody will care to read your posts. But if you don’t enjoy what you’re doing, you’re not going to get very far. A sense of play is required.

Having a sense of play means that you’re open to experimenting, to being creative and to enjoying yourself. It means allowing yourself (or someone on your team) to be a little vulnerable and to make mistakes — to be transparent in your values enough to express some personality. It’s true that “you can discover more about a person in an hour of play than in a year of conversation,” and so some courage is required.

Find the courage to experiment.

Finding license to experiment within an existing organization can be difficult. Small organizations often don’t know who they are yet (or who their audience is), and larger organizations typically have competing visions of who they are. There’s also the pressure to be polite, to fit in, to not rock the boat, etc. As organization’s scale, this fear of misrepresentation grows. Buy-in has to run deep in an organization in order for it to feel free to experiment.

One of my favourite social media success stories is a small t-shirt company that I interviewed for Extra early access. They’ve managed to grow their following from nothing (and no connections) to 40K+ followers in a few years. They’ve asked me not to reference them by name, so you’ll have to take my word for it: their posts have levity, a sense of humour and a distinct voice. They’ll playfully troll other companies (sometimes their competitors), and respond with snark when somebody says something negative about one of their customers. They frequently tweet unique content: some of it fan-generated, and the rest thrown together by one of their in-house creatives.

A commitment to creativity, experimentation and authenticity exists at the highest levels of the company. The founder responsible for marketing — despite employing a full-time social media manager — still receives Twitter notifications from the company account on his phone. He enjoys it that much. In fact, I’m told that everybody at the organization enjoys it, and frequently contributes whatever they can. As a result, they never struggle to post (and their schedule is relentless: they post almost a dozen times a day).

This is what you should aim for: an approach that makes you, and your team, want to keep notifications on. If you can figure out how to enjoy posting, and you can do so in a way that is engaging for your audience, you may just be able to make social media marketing work for you.

Getting started

Based on all of this, here are a few things that you can do right now in order to force yourself to run a better branded social media account.

Drop the generic social-media voice.

Stop writing tweets like you’re terrified someone is going to misinterpret you. Relax. Try to enjoy yourself. Login to your branded Twitter account on your phone and express yourself on subjects which are relevant to your audience.

Stop posting passively.

Stop sharing articles unless you have something to say about them. If your brand’s main Twitter account is essentially an RSS feed, it isn’t doing anyone any good. There may be a place for this type of account, but in the same way that you wouldn’t make your company’s homepage a feed of other articles, your main Twitter account shouldn’t be one either.

Humanize your account’s imagery

If you’re the one running the account, you’re the one that should be featured in its profile photograph. You’re building a relationship with your followers and faces — which are important design feature in their own right — will create that impression. Take a look at ours. 😉

If you don’t feel comfortable being the face of your brand, that’s fine, but make sure that the imagery you’re using feels personal and real. Avoid contrived stock photography (I’d recommend Stocksy) and imagery that is too slick or too clean. Avoid screenshots of interface even if that interface is a thing of beauty. Illustrations are good, so long as that illustration has some character to it and doesn’t accidentally look like clip art from the 1990s (although if you do this deliberately I’ll probably follow you).

Open up your Slack channels.

Start mining your company’s Slack channels for articles, videos, podcasts, photographs etc. and start posting these to your social media accounts. Let everyone on your team know that you’re trying to make the company’s culture a little bit more transparent and build an internal economy of content. Remember that what a person has shared is as important as why they’ve shared it — post that too.

Celebrate things that you enjoy

One’s taste is an indicator of one’s values. Share what makes you laugh, what motivates you and what inspires you, and tell us why. Celebrate the work of others in your network and amplify their voices. Enthusiasm is infectious when it’s honest.

That’s it for now. If you’re looking for more actionable tips, head over to our article, “The Very Best Branded Twitter Accounts.”

👋 Thanks for reading. We’re working on a new social media automation tool. It’s called Extra, and initial research shows that it can double your impressions without annoying anyone. Sign up for Extra early access here, or follow us on Twitter.