THE ART & SCIENCE OF SOCIAL MEDIA PROMO
How to make social media promotion work better for you and your clients. And it’s not just about ‘beating’ ever-changing algorithms
You used to pick up 30 followers and 250 likes with every post. Now, it’s more like 20 likes and two followers. You’ve tried everything: slideshows; sponsored posts; switching to a business account. Hashtags that once worked just don’t any more – engagement has fallen off a cliff.
Sound familiar? Even without the ever-changing algorithms, social media can feel like a full-time job – and indeed it is at the Googles and Red Bulls of this world. So what about when it’s just you? Are there best-practice rules to help boost engagement that anyone can follow, whether you’re a freelancer, small studio or full-blown creative agency? How can you make social media work more effectively for you and your clients?
ENGAGE WITH THE RIGHT PEOPLE
Before we get into the science of social media promotion, it’s important to understand the aim of the algorithms that work behind the scenes to determine posts’ engagement.
You can invest serious time into learning the technical nuances of what does and doesn’t work with each one, but once that algorithm changes, you’re right back at the start – and if you’ve tried to cheat, you run the risk of earlier content being penalised. A far better approach is to understand the overarching goal behind each algorithm change, and then craft your strategy around that.
“Every social media platform aims to boost engagement by showing the most relevant content to individuals,” says David Kutcher, co-founder of boutique design firm Confluent Forms. “If you’re not posting relevant content, or the connections between you and your followers are weak, then even if you have thousands of followers, they won’t see your content unless you choose to pay to boost it.
“Think about it this way,” he explains. “You publish your content. The people who are most apt to engage with it among your audience will be shown that content first, as a limited sample. Based on that initial set, the level of engagement that your post receives will then decide how and whether the platform ‘opens it up’ to a greater set of your audience. The engagement rate from that set will determine the next larger set, and so forth.”
He continues: “While this isn’t exactly how the platforms work, as a model you can see how it explains both usage and how to improve results. If you can grow your engagement at every level in that pyramid, you can continually improve the results of your own posts.”
So how is that done? Well, as with any design job, a fundamental part of creating a watertight social media strategy – whether for you or clients – is to start by making sure you’re targeting your core audience: who are they? Where are they? And what do they want?
CHOOSE NETWORKS WISELY
Once you know who you’re targeting, the best way to locate your audience is to research the demographics of each social network. With over two billion monthly active users, Facebook is statistically too large to ignore. It’s the best place to reach millennials and Generation X, but it’s becoming increasingly difficult to stand out from the crowd.
Instagram, meanwhile, is twice the size of Twitter, with 700 million monthly users: 90 per cent are under 35 years old and 68 per cent are female. Pinterest, with 70 million monthly users – 81 per cent female – is fairly evenly distributed
between 18-64-year-olds, and one of the biggest search engines out there.
For working professionals, however, LinkedIn takes the crown, with 106 million active monthly users. This platform is a good place to be if you’re in the market for a new job, and it’s perfect for B2B content; 80 per cent of B2B leads come from LinkedIn, according to market data and intelligence partner ReadyContacts. LinkedIn also has the highest average income of any network, which is good news if you sell luxury design products, for example.
“It all comes down to two key considerations: the design of the platform, and your target audience,” says Singapore-based designer Joanna Shi. “Consider each platform’s interface design. Instagram’s interface is one of the most visual, which is a boon for an artist or if the product you’re selling is very visually appealing. At the same time, though, its demographic tends to skew younger, which may not work for you if, for instance, you’re selling consulting services or a B2B product.
“LinkedIn, meanwhile, lends itself naturally to B2B promotion but is also much more text-heavy, and not very visually friendly.”
MAKE YOURSELF VISIBLE
Next, you need to build connections – and you do that by getting involved. For Kutcher, social media promotion is a two-pronged strategy: “Yes, you have to build your profile by posting content to your own stream, feed or profile in any platform, using relevant hashtags, and so on. But the other piece is that you must go out and find relevant conversations to join. This can be in the form of participating in Twitter chats, joining Facebook groups, engaging in LinkedIn communities, building community through InstaMeets.
“Every algorithm works differently but the solution is the same: don’t just put out content expecting others to engage with it. Engage with your audience so they engage with your content as well.”
As Kutcher says, the best way to develop connections with people isn’t by promoting yourself directly, but by participating, and lending your own perspective and unique experiences to the conversation in a constructive way. “You aim to become recognisable before the person has even gone to visit your profile – at which point they’ll most likely follow you and begin engaging with your content,” he explains.
Also, make an effort to build better bridges with those who have already engaged with you. Rather than blindly chasing Likes and follows, go to the profiles of your followers and interact meaningfully with their posts. Why? Increased engagement leads to increased visibility, which will extend organic reach. “This engagement will affect your quality score, which determines the effectiveness of your paid reach too,” points out Kutcher.
EXPERIMENT WITH POST FREQUENCY
When you’re building your social profile, it can sometimes feel like you’re posting into the abyss. However, the longevity of a post is determined by each platform’s algorithm. David Glenwright, head of training services at JC Social Media, was recently flown to Facebook’s Dublin office to be trained on how businesses can best use the platform.
“The Facebook algorithm takes into consideration literally thousands of factors, ranging from who you’ve spoken to recently, to the time of day, to the things you talked about in your own recent updates,” he says. “That’s why content that’s two or three days old will from time to time appear at the top of your news feed. Therefore, there isn’t a pressing need to be posting multiple times a day, and in fact if you do post too frequently, the algorithm will start punishing you for it and limiting the number of people it shows content to. The algorithm treats everyone differently, so try different posting frequencies and see what works best.”
Exact statistics vary as to the lifespan of posts on different platforms – and therefore how often and when you should post – but roughly speaking a Facebook post will last around five hours; Instagram, 21 hours; Pinterest, four months; LinkedIn, 24 hours; and 20 days on YouTube. Twitter has the shortest post duration: just 18 minutes. Of course, these numbers can and do change over time as a platform’s algorithms are tweaked.
However, the best way to work out optimum frequency and timing is to discover when your specific audience is paying the most attention. Post at different times and use analytics – Facebook Insights, Twitter Analytics, Google Analytics and the various platform dashboards – to determine exactly when the people you’re targeting are online, as well as how they’re responding to each of your posts. “Make your targeting as precise as possible,” confirms London-based designer Ben Mottershead. “Use your page insight tools, such as the graph search, to correctly target your key demographics.”