What if brands could no longer post on social media?

That’s when you can really make an impact on social media

Imagine this: brands would no longer be able to post on social media. What would you do to still achieve your social reach? You will need to make sure that your brand is brought up in conversations between people. People talking to people, isn’t that what social media is truly about? People want to talk to people, not brands. By imagining the scenario of ‘never post again’, you will be able to develop a real social strategy. This article is a transcript of my talk at The Social Conference, March 22nd in Amsterdam.

The idea that you would never be able to post again, isn’t very strange. The organic reach of brands on Facebook is moving slowly towards zero. And this is not because Facebook wants to earn money from brands. The reach of brands goes down, because Facebook is continuously improving the relevance of the newsfeed. If the timeline on Facebook would be chronological, you would have to scroll through 1,700 updates every time you log in. Fortunately, Facebook has an algorithm, so you won’t miss a single swimming certificate and birth.

People want to talk to people, not brands
The algorithm of Facebook focuses primarily on interactions and gives updates by people a higher reach than posts by brands. People want to talk with people, not brands. Except when they have a complaint. Without an algorithm Facebook would lose its relevance to its users. Of course, it is a welcome bonus to them that brands need to advertise to remain visible.

Following suit, Twitter and Instagram are moving towards algorithms to be able to show their users the most important updates first. These algorithms are also based on interactions, which means they will provide more visibility to updates from people and less reach to brands.

Because brands are slowly reaching zero organic reach, it would be wise to use this scenario as a starting point. If you could no longer post, you have to make sure that people talk to others about your brand. And isn’t that truly social? People talking to people.

User share is NPS
When consumers shares something about a brand freely and spontaneously, I call that a user share. A user share has a lot of impact. The consumer literally says: “I recommend this to you.” This is very very close to NPS, an important KPI for brands. Compare this user share with a like on a Facebook post, or even with a like resulted from advertising.

On top of that, user shares achieve a reach well beyond posts placed by brands. When I was social media manager at De Telegraaf, I focused primarily on user shares: visitors who read an article on telegraaf.nl and shared it with their friends. I did a lot of analysis and guess what: while the reach of a Facebook post is usually less than the number of fans of the page, the reach of a user share is often more than the number of friends the person sharing has. Again, Facebook looks at the number of interactions, which will always be in favor of people.

With a focus on user shares I aimed to make De Telegraaf less dependent on the Facebook algorithm. It is unlikely Facebook will decrease the reach of user shares, as this is the reason that the network exists.

The reach of a Facebook posts vs. the reach of a user share

When your social strategy is focussed on user shares, you do not have to follow all social platforms. If your strategy focuses on social media channels and Facebook suddenly disappears, that fan base you worked so hard on will be worthless. If, however, you focus on user shares from your own, and truly owned content and utilities, all you really have to do is just add a new share button. Peach, for example.

Be a part of everyday conversations
A user share is a recommendation and therefore allows for more reach. But how do you make sure that consumers start talking about you on their own? When I asked the people the “never post again’ question I often heard: “A viral!”. A viral can definitely provide a huge spike in the share of voice. However, this story is about a constant pattern of social reach. It’s about: structural organic reach on social media by adding value to everyday conversations in a relevant manner. I apologize for the high #jargonnie level of this sentence (friends on Twitter sometimes call me #jargonnie because I tend to use lots of social lingo). Its meaningwill hopefully be a lot more concrete in the following paragraphs.

Find your conversation domain
To ensure consumers start to talk about the brand spontaneously, the first step is to listen very carefully to the conversations of your target audience. What they are talking about on birthday parties, at conferences or the coffee machine? Invite a group of customers for a focus group and offer them a natural setting to talk to each other.

The more frequently people are talking about a subject, the greater the conversation volume and thus the social potential for your brand. Not every brand will be able to tap into a big everyday conversation. But because people want to share things that are highly relevant, there is a clear shift from sharing on social media to conversations through instant messaging. Niche brands can claim their place in conversations that take place one-on-one between close friends or within a group of people with the same hobby or interest.

Next you need to look for overlapping similarities, to define the role the brand can play. Think about The Why: why do we do what we do? How are we improving the lives of our customers? Choose the conversation that fits the brand values ​​best and in which you can play a natural role. This is your conversation domain and is the basis of your social strategy.

The conversation domain: the conversation in which the brand can play a natural role

Finally, think about how you can facilitate these conversations, how you can ensure that consumers will talk to friends. This can be done in two ways: with content, but even better, through functionality. Gain inspiration by listening carefully how people talk about the theme. The more details you have, the better and more specific the angle of the content. And when people complain about something, you are equipped with important insights to a problem and which you could solve with a brand utility.

Facilitating conversations with content and utilities
Let’s take a very casual conversation: “What shall we eat today?” This is a conversation taking place every day in many households. A supermarket brand, in this case the Dutch brand Albert Heijn, can play a logical role in this conversation. Because Albert Heijn aims to provide inspiration and wants people to eat responsibly, “healthy recipes” is a logical conversation domain. The supermarket’s magazine Allerhande, the website and app have been offering these suggestions for years. This is content marketing: the conversation about dinner is facilitated with content.

After picking out a recipe, it’s time to go shopping. This is the conversation: “What kind of groceries do we need?” Albert Heijn could create content on how to easily create a shopping list. But wouldn’t it be even better to develop such a tool? This is possible with the app: aside from the recipe the consumer can also add the ingredients to a shopping list. He adds some additional necessities and invites his partner to also add groceries.

Albert Heijn now enables the conversation with a utility, but also adds further value to the conversation by facilitating an easier method of grocery list assembly. Several people can work on one list at the same time and can even put the groceries in a logical walking order according to the route of the supermarket you will be visiting.

Having lunch at the office: a Slack share button
The last step is to make sure that the content and functionality actually ends up in a conversation. You can use a very simple, powerful and highly underestimated tool: the share button. Again, you need to think about the dialogue and consider how this conversation would transpire in everyday life.

If consumers are going to eat at home with their partner, social messaging apps like Whatsapp, WeChat or LINE would be a common channel for sharing the grocery shopping list. If groceries are required for lunch in the office, adding a Slack share button is a good idea. And if you expect that someone might share a very and tasty recipe at a birthday party, you will also need a Facebook button.

Share buttons to match the location of the conversation

When Facebook Messenger opens up its service to brands in the future, you could even imagine that users could make a shopping list right there, where the conversation is taking place.

The grocery list app within Facebook Messenger
The model for a social strategy based on user shares

The conversation domain is the core of your social strategy
Only when determining the appropriate share buttons, the last step, social networks come into play. This is illustrated by the model: social networks are not the core of your social strategy. The core of the social strategy is the conversation domain, the unique role the brand can play in the consumer conversations. By improving consumers’ lives with content and utilities, which will encourage them to talk to friends about the brand. Basically this is all you have to do to really have an impact on social media. Without ever having to post again.

This article is a transcript of the presentation I gave at The Social Conference 2016, March 22nd in Amsterdam. The full presentation is available on SlideShare (in Dutch).

Credits images: Josse Postma