Over the past couple years, social media has become seriously involved in the way brands engage with customers and users. Last year (2012) there was a huge shift in the general attitude towards social media: big brands began using social media much more than just as a tool to promote their products, independent business owners started using social media to engage their users, banks and product-selling companies broke the ice to use social media as a customer support system besides figuring out how to use it to collect reviews and surveys too.
Social media is a grand part of our lives. Billions of people use Facebook and Twitter (combined). The networks are so important today that even Google tries to capture social signals in ranking your webpages. As a webmaster, as an SEO expert, if there’s one thing that you can’t miss in your cocktail, it’s social media.
But does that mean you just post links and share interesting things on your social media channels? Unfortunately, many websites assume just this and go about posting and sharing links to things they find interesting. Yet, there’s no “engagement,” no “likes,” no “retweets,” no “click-throughs” and basically not much of anything else either. Why?
Social Media Is About Three Things
You’ve probably heard this a million times before, but social media is about three things, predominantly.
What you share – interesting or not, in the generic sense – is not exactly the reason why people don’t click, don’t share, don’t retweet; or in short, don’t engage. I’ve seen pages with followers in the mere hundreds engage voraciously and pages with thousands of followers remain relatively obscure. And they both share content that’s generally interesting. The reason?
The rules of content on social media are pretty much similar to the ones in a marketing copy.
- Use photos whenever possible. Posts with images (on Facebook) generate more clicks than the ones without any. But remember, images should be interesting and high quality. Shoddy ones are only going to tarnish your brand.
- Keep Twitter statuses simple and short (it’s 140 characters already!) but deliver a sense of urgency whenever possible.
- Don’t forget to include call-to-action. A prominent “Click Here” generates more clicks than a post without anything of that sort.
Bit.ly (the URL shortening service that runs prominently on several social channels) posted about the best times to share content on social media. It’s one of the most important lessons you can apply to maximize your social media efforts.
Time is relative so the sane way of interpreting this is to take into account the time zones of your followers and figure out the most common time zone. And the following doesn’t apply to “breaking news” kinds, obviously.
- Best times to share are between 1:00pm and 4:00pm on weekdays.
- Wednesdays at 3:00pm are generally considered the best.
- Don’t post after a Friday afternoon. People tend to switch to party mode.
- Avoid posting on weekends.
- Similar to Facebook. Best times are 1-4pm.
- Clicks peak on Mondays.
But it doesn’t end there. This is just a base template for you to start working on. Remember that the trends of social media are rapidly evolving. With mobile devices in tow, people spend more time on Twitter and Facebook in the dead-zones too (after 4pm, after 8pm etc.)
The best way is to test each social network’s performance individually.
Run a test on Twitter for a week. Share links every 3 hours. Figure out the results from social media analytics. Then, you’ll have an idea of what generates highest clicks and when.
But of course, the hardest part of social media is engagement.
Most social profiles of websites and brands that I see do very little to engage with their audiences, followers and other social media leaders in their niche. This is exactly the opposite of how you should use social media.
Engagement is (broken down to the most basic ‘actionable’ steps you can take right away):
- following popular/prominent people/brands on Twitter that belong to your area of interest / market
- ‘@’ replying to posts by others, usually positive replies and if possible, critical ones too that spark a healthy discussion
- asking questions frequently to your followers
- sharing interesting content and mentioning the authors’ handle in the tweet
- commenting on statuses put up by brands/people/websites on Facebook
- strike up conversations with other potential Facebook pages (build relationships)
- make sure your brand is protected by addressing negative feedback ASAP
Strategy + Analytics = Great Results
Like everything you do, social media isn’t really worthwhile if you’re not tracking the progress. Is your strategy generating enough engagement? More followers? More fans? More shares/retweets? What time is your audience engaging the most? How’s your traffic from your own social channels?
There’s a ton of things you can and should test when it comes to social media. After all, you’re putting a lot of time into it (or should be!).
The best way to go forward is to analyze where you are and figure out where you want to go from here. Take up one goal at a time on one specific channel (Facebook/Twitter/Pinterest etc.). And then run the tests. Find out what works best and repeat the process with refinements till you’ve perfected one particular mode which maximizes your efforts.
Focus on Content + Engagement
When it comes to social media, your focus should be on the content that you share, as well as the engagement. If it’s performed in a high quality manner and done naturally and genuinely, you’ll see quicker results. Don’t spam. Don’t overdo. Do optimize every step by measuring its reach, and select the ones that are best suited.