Once upon a time, social media was free. It was a place where brands connected with consumers organically, with give and take and conversations at no cost.
It became a powerful tool for public relations practitioners and brand marketers to spread their messages. Brands were jumping onto Twitter and Facebook right and left; business leaders and owners took to LinkedIn to share their expertise. Everyone started blogging. For many years, social networks were considered the perfect platform for reaching desired audiences with a low-or-no cost threshold.
Fast-forward ten years and it’s no secret that organic reach on most social networks is down. Platforms started offering advertising and newsfeeds have become congested content highways. It is a myth that you can achieve social media success by relying on your viral content alone because you are competing with SO MUCH OTHER CONTENT. This is a major reason why social media must now be part of every brand’s marketing budget.
Paid social is no longer a luxury but a necessity. Having a strong (authentic) organic social media program in place is as important as it ever was—but brands that aren’t opening their wallets are missing huge opportunities to target and engage their perfect audience.
Here are my best practices to keep in mind when launching or refining a paid social media program.
Listen to your audience first
Your consumer is your boss in this space and you are using social media to reach them. Therefore, before you launch your foray (and spend money) into the social space, you need to spend a significant amount of time listening to your audience to determine what they want to see/hear/read—and where—and compare that to any existing customer research you already have. Tools like Radian6, NUVI and sproutsocial will save you significant time with this and can help you find your sweet spot faster. This is not something that can happen in a silo; your market research, product, PR and other teams should be involved in this process.
Listening first will also help drive your budget decisions later, from the tools you will need to support the program to the social networks you use and the ads you will want to create to boost your performance.
Create engaging, high-quality content
Once you know where your consumers are playing, pick the social channels you want to play on and NAIL them. The key thing you have to remember is that you don’t need to be on every social network. Pick a few and do them WELL. This means creating a social sweet spot filled with native content that encourages consumers to engage in every channel it appears on—content that is strongly branded, relevant to specific channels, and highly shareable.
Take General Electric, for example. GE’s brand image says “imagines things others don’t, builds things others can’t and delivers outcomes that make the world work better.” Its social media channels need to reflect that; GE creates unique content for all channels, having invested a significant amount of money and time on photo shoots, videos and design work to create this content. What’s more, GE’s hundreds of thousands of followers will rarely find something auto-posted across channels. This is not to say you need millions of dollars for photography and design; you can still create great content that is tailored to each site. It just needs to be a priority!
Invest in advertising…intelligently
Once you are using social media, how do you ensure that you are reaching your target audience? Take Facebook, for example. Between people’s friends and the brands they follow, there could be over 1,500 content options that Facebook could show in someone’s news feed each time they log on. However, the Facebook algorithm has changed that, serving its users content from brands and people they typically interact with. How do you beat the algorithm? Unfortunately, ads are the only answer.
Your social media advertising budget on any social network should be ample enough to reach your target audience (both existing and potential fans/followers) en masse, at the proper frequency on each social channel you’re on. You should also build in a reserve budget in case a crisis arises that requires management or someone has an idea for amazing online content they want to launch.
You also need to invest in tools that help you tie your social media ads into your overall marketing program. The cheap option is letting your social team pull data for other teams through the native platforms’ analytics reports, but this is a time investment. With tools like Kenshoo and Marin your search, social and marketing teams can be on the same page day in and day out much more efficiently.
The days of free socializing for brands and their audiences are not over, but they’ve been largely curtailed by the paid models rolled out by popular social networks. Just as brands must include social media in their marketing plans, their marketing budgets must include ad support on social networks to drive meaningful conversations that are seen and heard by their target consumers.