Using Social Media for Businesses: Content and Strategy

26/02/2016

Alice Wilkinson, Content Executive

Using Social Media for Businesses:  Content and Strategy

No longer is social media purely social.

Now, it is used to live-stream news or to engage with experts - for example, Quora or Reddit’s Ask Me Anything. We use social media to find missing persons or, as with the #Match4Lara campaign, stem cell donors.

Crucially, social media may also be used by businesses for marketing purposes and/or to build brand awareness.

In total, there are 38 million active social media accounts in UK – equating to 59% of the UK population. In 2015, the average person in the UK had five social media accounts and spent around 1 hour and 40 minutes browsing these networks every day, accounting for 28% of the total time spent on the internet. And as of January 2016, Facebook had 1.55 billion monthly active users, whilst Twitter had 320 million.

Social media users are therefore an obvious target for businesses.

However, businesses should be aware that social media campaigning is distinct from traditional marketing techniques. In part, this is because consumers have learnt to disregard the aggressive (e.g. Cillit Bang or Go Compare) or blatant advertising (furniture businesses are particularly guilty of this) employed by traditional offline advertisers.

Unlike offline advertising, which is typically one-sided, social media marketing is based on its faculty for two-way dialogue and so must be authentic - few would be willing to have a conversation with Cillit Bang’s clamorous and artificial Barry Scott.

Why should businesses use social media?

Social media can have multiple functions for businesses, for example:

  • Research, i.e. to discover what users, audiences or customers are saying about your industry, business, product or service
  • Marketing or building brand awareness
  • Sales – satisfied customers posting on social media are the best (and cheapest) form of advertising
  • Development – by engaging with audiences or customers online and asking for performance or product reviews, businesses can develop and improve

For any business, a social media campaign can be beneficial. However, there is no “one size fits all” approach and it is important that businesses devise a tailored strategy.

Devising a strategy

First ask:

1.       What are you hoping to achieve?

Be specific: there is a difference between boosting traffic to your website and boosting sales. One does not necessarily imply the other.

2.       Where do you currently stand?

For example, does your business have a company Twitter account and, if so, how active is it?

3.       What are your strengths and weaknesses online?

You will need a team that is capable in a digital arena. You will also need digital resources such as a website - preferably mobile compatible - and content, video, written or otherwise.

4.       Who are your competitors?

Your competitors may already have a digital strategy in place. You will need to know what they’re doing and how successful they are. Social media platforms are also an excellent tool for assessing audience sentiment towards you, your industry and your competitors.

5.       Finally, and perhaps most importantly, who are your audience?

Your defined target audience will hugely influence the content of your social media campaign.

Consider the demographic of your audience, their preferred type of content and social media platform. The target audience of a fashion company or bakery would probably prefer images or videos and be found on Instagram. The target audience of a financial services company would likely gravitate towards an authoritative blog post.

 

The answers to the above questions will help you formulate your strategy. The goal is to develop a strategy that is specific, measurable, realistic and within a predetermined timeframe.

Knowing your Audience

Before embarking on your campaign, it is vital that you get to know your audience:

  • Who are they?
  • Where are they from, and what language do they speak?
  • How old are they?
  • What are their hobbies and interests?

You will also need to decipher how your target audience behaves online and how they consume online content. Are they spectators or creators, inactives or critics?

This is the Social Technographics Ladder, which classifies consumers into seven overlapping levels of online participation:

 Social Technographics Ladder

The kind of content you create will depend on where your audience stands on this ladder. If you have not already categorised your audience, start by assuming all classifications are relevant and subsequently narrow down the selection.

Online content

There are multiple forms your social media content can take. The appropriate choice will be dependent on your industry, goals and audience. Options include:

  • Blogs – blog posts are ideal for businesses aiming to establish themselves as industry experts and are most relevant for the financial services industry et al.  As they are online and are accepted as being less formal than printed publications, blogs are the ideal platform from which to assert, not only expertise, but brand identity and personality
  • Microblogs, i.e. tweets
  • Images – images are very important, almost regardless of your industry or audience. Researchers found that coloured visuals increase people's willingness to read a piece of content by 80%
  • Video – this is an extremely popular form of content. Between April 2015 and November 2015, the amount of average daily video views on Facebook doubled from 4 billion video views per day to 8 billion. But creating professional and appropriate videos is difficult and time consuming for many industries, such as financial services; in these cases, an image will suffice

Getting your message across

Having settled on the nature of your content and categorised you audience, it is necessary to define your message and establish how you will attract engagement with the message.

User engagement is vital to successful social media campaigning and can be achieved through a variety of means, including:

  1. Sharing expertise in the form of blogs
  2. Offering live Q&A sessions relevant to your industry
  3. Ask your audience/customers questions about their experiences with your business or product
  4. Customer testimonials
  5. Online surveys e.g. a Twitter poll

Content needs to be imaginative and enticing to engage audiences, no matter what form it takes or what your message is. Whatever the message or industry, there will be a clever, creative way to get that message across. Social media platforms are as replete with inventive marketing campaigns as they are ineffective (and occasionally damaging) ones. And, though they can be tricky to perfect, the potential benefits are almost limitless.


In the next instalment of this two-part blog, we will examine how to manage multiple social media accounts.