The most common problem I’ve come across in social media is what I’ll call ‘fragmentation’. It’s the attempt by marketers to use as many platforms as possible in an effort to reach a potential audience.
What generally occurs is a fragmentation of attention and resources away from what suits the company best – and whatever ‘strategy’ was in place consequently falls flat because it lacks focus.
This post is a five step guide to approaching a multi-platform social media strategy. Hopefully you'll be even more resistant to tech press hype and clearer on how to integrate your social media platforms by the end of it.
Resourcing social media remains a battle in a lot of businesses, and fragmentation is the clearest enemy to investment. With an ill-defined ‘strategy’ that jumps onto the latest platform, often as a consequence of hype, executives are likely to see the whole plan as exactly that: a load of hype that doesn’t meet business goals.
Fragmentation normally occurs for two reasons:
- A new social platform ‘arrives’ and subsequently gets a lot of tech press hype. Eventually the marketing team ‘hear about/give in to’ the hype and start ‘experimenting’. If they particularly like the platform, they’ll focus resource there when it might be better spent on another platform.
- When the platform is adopted, it isn’t integrated properly into the wider social framework. Thus the platform operates in a silo that doesn’t compliment the others.
I’d like to deal with each of these problems in five steps.
1. Reach and demographics
I recently sat on a panel where we were asked, ‘Which social networks should I focus on?’ It’s a difficult question to answer with so little context, but the clearest answer is that the right choice comes through understanding the size and make up of users within a network.
If a network matches the kind of audience you want to reach, then it’s probably worth exploring further.
Social media hype is normally justified in percentage growth rates, and this creates a giddy market mentality where it seems engagement on the network will lead to boundless riches. But a high growth rate doesn’t mean a high audience, and it’s vital to consider the makeup.
For all its critics, Facebook simply has the reach and segmentation to satisfy the needs of most business – avoid it at your peril.
Social Network Audience Reach, Nielsen, August 2012:
Audience reach is measured in thousands. For all its recent hype, Pinterest really is a minnow compared to Facebook and Youtube - indeed, Twitter is some distance off.
2. Key platform function
Sometimes, I would argue, that using social media can have nothing to do with reach. I particularly think this of platforms like Pinterest and Instagram.
Working with Grazia, I spent some time wondering about Pinterest – a network with a good fit to the audience. Since we didn’t sell anything via e-commerce, I couldn’t see exactly what problem it solved for us – the UK traffic it would drive might be highly engaged, but it would be small vs Facebook, and Grazia uses most of its photography under license.
Then when I was trying to produce a number of galleries under a common theme, it became apparent that Pinterest was a perfect tool to organise images into specific themes on a board. Pinning images to a board made the production process easier and had the added benefit of adding reach.
Meanwhile, Instagram follower counts appear to be a fairly meaningless number. Instead of being too concerned about this, you can use its many filters to quickly manipulate imagery to brighten up content. Of course, you can do this with other applications, but the readiness of the app on a camera phone makes it particularly useful for self-styled shoots.
Thus it’s important not to just think of reach and audience fit when choosing platforms – but also to think of the particular function of particular networks.
The table below indicates the key strength for five of the key platforms in relation to a media brand:
|Key Strengths||Live Events||Exclusive Access||Image Creation||Image Curation||Scrap Booking|
I’ve omitted Facebook, not because I don’t like it, but because it is by far the most versatile platform and it has numerous strengths. You can pretty much use it as a website.
However, I suppose the most useful thing I’ve found it for media brands is being a feedback engine – because each post has its own list of comments and option to poll, it’s rather easier to use for questions you want answered than Twitter or other networks.
Just because a network has an audience fit with your digital presence and you can see a key strength, it doesn’t mean you have to use it. If your team is small, or perhaps even non-existent, then scaling back to as few networks as you can justify is a wise idea. Figure one or two out first, rather than spreading yourself too thin.
You’ll notice from the above that I haven’t really suggested any of the networks are useful for sales or saving money. They certainly can be – Twitter can be a cheaper alternative to website ticketed customer service, for instance – but I’m just giving an example for a media brand which creates lots of content.
I haven't thought too much about Google+ or FourSquare yet - I'm too concerned about fragmentation!
Now that you have recognised a good audience fit and a key function of each platform, it’s necessary to consider how they can work together.
The white arrows denote content created on a platform that is 'pushed' elsewhere, the black arrows traffic which is pushed elsewhere.
3. Social Publishing Suite
The first step in frameworking is to simply use a social media updating suite like Hootsuite. Unless you’re updating from mobile, it takes all the mental lifting out of updating via the social apps directly:
- You can view multiple feeds from the same interface.
- You can create moderation queues and assign particular team members feedback.
- It has built in analytics.
- Most importantly, you can update multiple networks from the same place.
- I just can’t really imagine a company’s social doing very well without using some sort of interface!
4. Automating via RSS
Next up is how to make use of RSS to make sure feeds keep ticking over with minimal effort – this is particularly important for Twitter, where the volume of updates won’t become terribly annoying.
So I’d recommend your Twitter account pulling in RSS from YouTube, Instagram and Pinterest, as well as your website content feed. Hootsuite’s RSS tool isn’t particularly great – so I’d say Twitterfeed is a better alternative. It updates every 15 minutes, and you can prepend or append any automated update.
Stick a #tag on the end of particular categories, such as #video for YouTube RSS.
Concerns about Feed Automation
Some people get concerned about automating feeds – some people will even say it’s really bad to do so. However, in my experience of large account media brands and my personal accounts, I can only conclude (for Twitter at least) that saying a lot and feeding as much of your content through there as possible will see your account grow rather than shrink.
If your content syndication is taken care of, then I’d like to think you can spend important time actually talking to people and focusing on the platform’s real benefit.
It’s also possible to make feeds automated to some extent on Tumblr, but I recommend staying completely clear of feed automation on Facebook, and absolutely do not automate Facebook from Twitter.
This is because you usually need user engagement to rank well on the NewsFeed due to Facebook’s EdgeRank algorithm. Four or five posts a day is also usually enough. Craft them well, and more people will see them.
While conventional wisdom says that automating Social Media is bad, I've never seen a drop off in engagement if it's done well. There is a certain knack in making your RSS feeds look more conversational.
Twitterfeed helps you do this by allowing you to edit the content of automated updates.
5. Complimentary Platforms
The final step to solving the social fragmentation jigsaw is to consider how these platforms can complement each other. If we take my earlier point about considering Pinterest as a bookmarking system, then you could use it to curate boards of your best Instagram photos, or screenshots of your most successful tweets.
For YouTube, it’s very useful to have the iMovie iPhone App or Social Cam handy, since they will give you similar benefits to Instagram for video.
The real complimentary platform to all of this is your destination website. It’s not only vital to get the right social buttons and widgets on your site so people can share and connect with you elsewhere, but also important get followers interacting on social platforms to inform your content.
Facebook polls can be a great way to collect feedback data, while you could embed Twitter conversations or Storify on your site. I recently read an excellent post from Luke Lewis about on Seven Ways NME uses social media to ‘harvest ideas’ from its audience. It's really worth a read if you want to learn more around using the power of the crowd for content.
Consider the jigsaw solved
While I don’t think the social jigsaw can ever really be perfected, by applying the steps in this post, you should be some way to saving serious amounts of time, as well as giving your social media strategy considerably more leverage. To recap, the key steps in platform selection and integration are:
- Match audience size and demographics to your own site – if it’s not a good fit, be cautious.
- Consider your selected platform(s) key strength in relation to your business. If you can’t find one, bin it.
- Use a social publishing suite to view multiple feeds, schedule and publish to multiple feeds.
- Automate content syndication in some cases (Twitter especially) via RSS. Then spend time on the key strength found in step two.
- Consider how each platform compliments each other – particularly with regard to your destination website.
Don't let the hype get the better of you, else you'll be wondering where those working hours went.