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As social media evolves out of frenetic innovation and into a mainstream medium, more and more marketers are including it as a fully-fledged channel in their campaigns. But social media has a distinct set of unwritten rules and norms that make it both more difficult, and also potentially more rewarding than traditional mass mediums.
Given the scale of the audiences on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and the fact that messages are essentially free, many marketers give into the temptation to post every single offer or promotion, assuming that someone in those vast crowds will bite.
But this wallpaper approach will do your brand far more harm than good in the longer run.
People can’t “opt out” of advertising on other mass mediums. Even people with PVR will still see your TV ad, even if it’s in fast forward. With social media you are one click away from being excommunicated.
Besides, unlike TV or print, your effectiveness is not tied to how often your message is seen, nor even how many people see it, but how many people engage with it.
So how do we get people to engage with our messages? It’s all down to a balance between signal (messages perceived as useful, amusing or interesting) and noise (anything unwanted or perceived as dishonest or invasive). Here are a few rules of thumb to keep in mind when you’re planning your next campaign.
1. The platform matters
All social mediums are not created equal. Twitter is essentially a public forum whose posts are limited to just 140 characters. This makes it relatively noise tolerant because its users don’t see it as an inbox (which must be actively managed) so much as a global stream of consciousness.
More private channels, like Facebook, are relatively noise intolerant. People use them to organise their private lives (things like birthday parties) and keep track of their friends. They may like your brand, but they won’t like their whole news feed to be full of your messages.
RULE OF THUMB: On public channels like Twitter eight or ten messages a day should be ok. On private ones like Facebook, more than four is pushing your luck.
2. Age is important
Users younger than 25 years old are generally more noise tolerant, regardless of platform. This is partly generational – they have grown up in a digital age and frequently send and receive hundreds of SMSes per day – and partly due to their excess of free time.
The opposite is true of people over 45. Not only are they time-poor due to careers and child rearing, they also aren’t used to the ultra high frequency of the digital age. They may have only a couple of dozen friends on a site like Facebook. If you post them ten messages a day, you may be the only thing in their news feed. Not good.
RULE OF THUMB: If your audience is between 30 and 45, tone your frequency down by about 25%. If they are older than 45, reduce it by 50%. Conversely if they are under 16, experiment with pumping it up by 25%.
3. Brand attachment counts
If you have an older, more established brand, then you’ve built up some emotional capital with your audience. They are more likely to be receptive to your messages and less likely to see them as invasive or annoying. This has its limits though – no one likes a spammer – so remember to add value with every post.
If your brand is new or relatively unknown, then you’re going to have to work a lot harder to win people’s trust. This means carefully weighing every post, nurturing each new follower or fan, and adapting your campaigns as you go along.
RULE OF THUMB: New brands need to post less often and with more impact. Concentrate on pleasing a smaller audience first. Older brands need to keep things cuddly – don’t think you can spam them just because they already like you.
4. The value of the message is vital
Would you go up to someone at a cocktail party and try to hard sell them on your brand’s latest three-for-two deal? If so, then you shouldn’t be in charge of the social media campaign. Value in social media is far more about intrinsics like humour and understanding, and far less about clearance sales or special offers.
Social media excels at relationship marketing. You need to make your audience feel part of something – an exclusive club of cool people. So you’re really more of a host than a sales clerk. In this context a message that makes them laugh or a beautiful picture that they can share, is worth so much more than a coupon.
RULE OF THUMB: Before posting any message on a social channel, ask yourself: would I find this useful, amusing or interesting? If the answer is “no” to all three, then rethink the post. And no, R5 off is not necessarily useful.
5. Less is not always more
Ok, so if four times a day is good, then maybe once a day is even better, right? Wrong. All social channels have some degree of noise, and so your messages need to be frequent enough not to fall below this threshold.
Let’s return to the example of the 40-something with 27 friends. On average their account is hit by around 200 updates per week. If only four or five of those are yours, then your chances of being seen are simply too low. You’d need to be around the 15 mark, to rise above the static.
RULE OF THUMB: Two messages per day is a minimum unless you want your messages to get lost in the background.
6. It’s a conversation, silly
The most valuable kind of interaction – bar none – is a conversation with a customer (or potential customer). The beauty (and sometimes terror) of social media is that it’s a two-way channel. That means you can not only learn directly from customers, but also be seen to be doing so in public.
In order for this to work, though, you’ve got to be present both physically and mentally. If you completely automate your social channels, then your audience will quickly tire and leave. No one wants to have a chat with Robbie the Robot.
RULE OF THUMB: Responses don’t count towards your quota, and you should aim to respond to every comment or query within 24 hours.