Social media as we know it has come a long way in 20 years. When Facebook started taking college campuses by storm school by school in 2004, there was no way to predict its earliest, most basic incarnation would explode into a cultural phenomenon and billion-dollar company at the forefront of a marketing revolution.
Even before the dot-com bubble burst, Facebook emerged as the clear frontrunner in a gaggle of since-forgotten sites relegated to the past; these days, Instagram, TikTok, Twitter, YouTube, Pinterest and LinkedIn are the reigning social-media mainstays, albeit serving different demographics and delivering a specific message tailored to a particular platform’s strengths.
But social media was initially intended to facilitate connections and exchange information among individuals, which means it can be an imperfect marketing tool. As the original framework was not built with its potential as a sales mechanism in mind, being retrofit so organizations could capitalize on social media’s personal engagement does make for some inevitable frustrations for those people behind a professional account.
So how is an organization supposed to stay on top of an always-evolving model to ensure they approach their social-media marketing with the most current practices and applications in mind?
“In my opinion, you can’t,” says Lisa Alderfer, the Camden County Library System’s head of information technology. “None of the [social media] outlets send you a monthly update saying, ‘Hey, we’re changing this procedure.’ … You just find out when things you’ve been doing suddenly start failing. So you have to learn how to pivot quickly.”
Of course, larger corporations have the resources to build a strategically developed team wholly focused on getting the most bang for that buck and staying on top of viral trends, demographics and usage parameters; similar to the products at hand, nonprofits and small businesses are more likely to identify a team member with comparable skills to designate as a catch-all, retroactive social-media manager, or have a small social-media team juggling a number of media.
And it’s definitely a challenge for a small team to keep up on constant changes while also managing the social media channels their business utilizes—which also means interacting with followers and commenters—so any shortcuts or elimination of guesswork saves time, money and headaches. Fortunately, even though the specifics of getting the most from your social-media presence never remain the same for long, some constants have emerged.
DON’T copy-and-paste the same content from platform to platform.
Instead: Strategically tailor your messaging to suit the strength of each medium.
While Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn are more text-friendly social media, their algorithms do prioritize posts with photos or videos, provided the latter is hosted on your account and not linked externally. With YouTube and TiKtok being video-reliant and Instagram gravitating away from still images, it would make sense that someone scrolling through Facebook would be more inclined to read a text-heavy post than they would be if they were looking at TikTok. Those expectations are important to keep in mind, especially when your company is—and audience are—utilizing multiple channels.
“You might say the same thing on all your platforms, but you don’t want to say it the exact same way,” Alderfer explains. “If I put something up on Facebook, it doesn’t look the same as it does on Instagram or Twitter because If I follow you across all of those, I don’t want to see the same picture three different times. It’s about making sure that you’re interacting and engaging differently on each one.”
The upside, as Performance Marketing’s owners Glenn Davilla points out, is the opportunity for intimate, multimedia storytelling.
“For smaller companies, social media can emulate million-dollar ad campaigns on a much smaller scale,” he says. “It gives you direct contact with a client so you can tell a story across multiple posts and platforms."
DON’T regard the company accounts as an extension of your personal profiles.
Instead: Approach sensitive topics with tact and diplomacy, if you must post about them.
Friends are friends and business is business, and separating the two worlds on social media is a similarly smart approach. The only thing worse than accidentally posting something meant for your personal account to your professional one is intentionally crossing that line, which can alienate your audience and potential customers alike. If it’s a challenge to juggle multiple social media accounts as a marketing tool, it is infinitely more time- and energy-consuming to stave off offended followers and an irate mob who aren’t just posting to your accounts but trashing your name all over the internet.
Alderfer adds that having a strategy for when not to post can be just as important as developing a consistent content calendar or tailoring a timely item to your company’s sphere of influence. She notes that while libraries have the unique advantage of couching every trending topic as a reason to utilize their resources to learn more, they also have an obligation to stay neutral.
“Sometimes, if it’s too sensitive, we just don’t post about that topic,” she notes. “As a librarian, I have to accept my political views might not agree with the person in front of me asking a question, but I still have to respect that and get them the information they’re asking for. And we apply that same mindset to social media.”
Knowing when to exhibit caution in social-media sharing can save you from the embarrassment of having to walk back an erroneous claim, whether it’s your own opinion based on faulty information or a deliberately skewed news story that’s less concrete fact and more convenient fiction.
“You do have things like Twitter fact-checking tweets now—that’s important, because you have to remember that just because you see it online, doesn’t mean it’s real,” she says.
DON’T put all your marketing eggs in social media’s basket.
Instead: Diversify your options so you’re not losing part your audience.
One of the most attractive aspects of social-medial marketing is the immediacy and detail of feedback right at your fingertips, including illustrating how successful it was in concrete numbers. While Alderfer notes that it’s not always the best avenue for time-sensitive posts since some of your followers or second-degree links might not see the post until well after the fact, Davilla adds that you can get more actionable, insightful metrics based on audience engagement and behaviors.
“What social media offers us more than anything is flexibility, reporting and direct connectivity to a target all in one mix,” he says. “If you really want to get technical, you can say ‘I only want to reach people in their 50s.’ You can further refine your audience based on the social media outlet.”
But, he adds, even though 58% of the world’s population is on social media and spending two hours and 27 minutes a day on it, not everyone maintains a social media presence. Neglecting to advertise your services or products to those potential buyers because you’ve written off more traditional advertising is still a huge missed opportunity and part of the “danger of being too digital.”
DON’T make it all about you and sales pitches for your company.
Instead: Offer some give-and-take to draw in—and, more importantly, engage—your audience.
Of course you’re proud of your team, company and all the things that set you apart from the competition, and want to cast them all in the most positive light. There’s nothing wrong with showing off the awards and accolades your business earns, highlighting something new or sharing an especially glowing review—as long as those aren’t the only things populating your social media channels.
Social media can humanize your business by “introducing” your audience to behind-the-scenes team members—provided you get their consent first—and present a lighter side that helps your fans and followers connect with your brand on a personal level.
“It’s a great way to share your and your staff’s personality in a way that I don’t think a traditional website offers an organization,” says Alderfer. “But for that, you do need to get staff participation, which can be hard.”
DON’T set out to go viral.
Instead: Embrace authenticity.
How people use social media has changed drastically across two decades, and their understanding of the multifaceted tool has developed along with every iteration. With those shifts comes a savvier audience that’s grown increasingly adept at recognizing a false note and insincere messaging, and companies hoping to grow their market share with the help of social media need to be aware of how sophisticated consumers really are.
For all the elements constantly in motion in the social-media sphere, one constant does remain: Authenticity is king, and it’s what both present and future clients demand in exchange for being part of your marketing audience.
“What social can offer smaller businesses is that it’s a much better way to be authentic, provided you know that something you post on LinkedIn will come off as insincere on Facebook,” Davila says. “It’s hard to be authentic if you’re Coke because boiling a brand that big down into one thing is really hard to do. But for a mom-and-pop shop, this is your place to create genuine connections because social media is scalable.”