Rare is the company that isn’t already fully ensconced in social media. In the last five years a sea of random status updates and interactions has turned into a crucial marketing tool. The savviest companies are using their social media audiences to their potential, engaging them at every opportunity.
Finding an ideal social media strategy takes time and involves myriad failures. No one gets it right the first time. Yet some companies find themselves failing continually, learning few lessons along the way. One reason for this: they don’t fully take advantage of each social media platform.
What works on Twitter won’t necessarily work on Facebook, and vice versa. What works on either likely won’t work on YouTube. Google Plus is a difficult sea to navigate. They all require different approaches if you want to use them to their maximum potential.
The world’s largest social network also seems like the world’s toughest nut to crack. For years marketers and brands have hustled to make Facebook work for them. In so many instances, they have fallen flat. The obstacle: people aren’t on Facebook because they want to interact with your brand. They’re on Facebook so they can share pictures with friends and family, so they can keep up with ongoings, and in some cases so they can scratch the itch of vanity.
There is a healthy debate over the effectiveness of Twitter ads. They clearly aren’t as effective as Google’s pay-per-click ads, but that’s obvious enough. Google has the advantage of gauging intent. Gauging intent on a social network can prove difficult. GM made headlines last year when it pulled $10 million worth of Twitter ads. Going organic is an alternative strategy, but Facebook has made that increasingly difficult.
The key to any Facebook marketing tactic is to create something shareable. Facebook was built on the idea of sharing. What shares best? Images. The more remarkable the image, the greater chance it has of sharing. Don’t think you can just snap some Instagram pics with your smartphone and expect people will share it, though. Get some professional equipment — Samsung digital cameras provide a cost-effective option. Snap your photos, edit them with quality software, and share them with the world. It won’t guarantee Facebook success, but it will help you stand out and get shared.
Compared to Facebook, Twitter is a relatively easy place for marketers and brands to set up shop. Anyone can create an account and start tweeting immediately. Unlike Facebook, which only shows a percentage of a brand’s updates organically, Twitter shows everything to everyone willing to follow. That provides brands with many opportunities.
In terms of what to share, Twitter is a mixed medium. Clearly it makes more sense for small text updates, since more people will see them on Twitter than on Facebook. Yet brands have succeeded sharing images, videos, and articles thanks to the way Twitter embeds them into individual tweets. Volume is another concern with Twitter. Its rapid-fire nature means many updates get buried and remain unread. You don’t want to flood your followers’ timelines, but you don’t want to lose them to inactivity.
On the whole, Twitter is a loose, fun environment. Few users actually take it seriously. Brands that take it too seriously do at their own peril. After all, people loved the Burger King hack, leading thousands to follow the account who had not previously. Followers aren’t everything. Nor are retweets and favorites. But they don’t hurt. The looser your brand plays it on Twitter, the more potential you have to engage customers in a novel manner.
It might seem odd to see YouTube listed as a social network. It seems like more of a service that you use on other social networks, right? As Nathaniel Mott of Pando Daily recently noted, not only is YouTube a social network, but it succeeds where others fail. It has an enormous level of engagement, thanks in large part to its shareability on other social platforms.
The key to YouTube success is not somehow creating the next viral video. What goes viral does not do so by some grand formula. There are certain universal elements in viral videos, but even following known trends won’t necessarily translate to success. Even if it does, the jury remains out on the actual impact of viral videos. If people watch, laugh, and don’t take any further action, it’s worth nothing to you and your company.
One surefire path to success on YouTube: instructional videos. Teach people how to use something, and they’ll appreciate you. Moreover, they might actually use a product or service they otherwise wouldn’t have. It’s easy to see how that can work for your business.
While the previous three networks are mostly known quantities, Google Plus is the newcomer — the wild card of social networks. In many ways it looks like a direct Facebook competitor. Timelines are similar, as is the focus on graphics and other shareable media. Google has put a lot of effort into pushing users to G+, even killing some of its most beloved products (RIP Google Reader). Yet as a marketing tool its potential is still unknown.
Experimentation is key with Google+. It can prove difficult to find a critical mass on that platform, which means it’s probably not worth spending significant time there. But it also means you can experiment with different approaches that you might not have tried on the known quantities that are Facebook and Twitter. And who knows: maybe that leads to a discovery that works across all social platforms.
There is no universal key to success when marketing on social media platforms. If we keep in mind two overarching ideas, though, we can best position ourselves and our brands for success. First, social networks are marketing platforms, at least from a brand perspective. They’re a bit different than traditional marketing channels, but not too much. Many of the same rules apply. Second, different social platforms have different strengths and weaknesses. Play to them, and success will come much easier.
Joe Pawlikowski writes, edits, and consults for several blogs. He writes mostly about technology. On his personal blog, A New Level, he covers business, marketing, and work-at-home topics.