4 steps to wrangling the social media monster in 2014

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By Laura Haight
Originally published as The Digital Maven in the Upstate Business Journal, Jan 10, 2014

Social media networking is a giant snowball rolling down the mountain, gaining steam, throwing off some detritus as it moves but picking up a lot more than it loses. Once a small outlier,  it is a force to be reckoned with now.

For a lot of us the question keeping us up is how? How do we get our arms around it? How do we know where to start? How will we staff up for it? How will we determine if it was worth it.

Here are four trends to consider in your planning.

1. Ban Spam. Online services are cracking down on spam and unwanted commercial marketing. In 2013, Google+ started actively suspending accounts for users who did not appear to be using their real name. Reddit, Stumble Upon and Twitter started a process of “ghost banning” this year — blocking updates and activity from suspect accounts while it investigated. You might not even know you were banned because they don’t tell you, they just don’t publish your content. How does this happen? A lot of people start blocking you, on Twitter you send a lot of tweets with links only - no personal content, you post the same content over and over. Find the big players’ rules: http://goo.gl/MRZ6D.   

2. Build Content. In place of spammy sales and marketing pitches, the social networking environment values content and information. No matter what your business does, you have interesting information to share. Many businesses cling to an old-school metric that warns about “giving away” information for free. Those days are over; your competitors are gaining likers, friends, connections and potential business by being seen as experts and thought leaders. A blog is a great way to do this and has the advantage of giving you something more to talk about on social media.

3. Find Niches. We are always talking about the mega platforms - Facebook reportedly has at least 1.1 billion users, Twitter 645 million and LinkedIn 259 million. With numbers like that, seems like that’s where you should be, right. Well maybe. But it depends what audience you are trying to reach. The average Facebook page post reaches 16.3 percent of your “likers”. Of that 16.3 percent, a much smaller number will become engaged with it in some way - like it, share it, or comment on it.

The social media evolution is not exclusively the province of 10-15 uber-services. Quietly, hundreds of smaller niche sites have been started and gathering momentum among their particular constituencies. (Here’s one list: http://goo.gl/mbftLf). Direct your content at the needs of a particular audience. If you have multiple audience targets, don’t try to wrap everything up with one blog or social media post - create content specifically for the audience you are trying to reach. You won’t find young moms and 50+ women in the same place.

A quick aside on the topic of age: the Internet is not wasted on the young. The Pew Research American Life Project reports that 72 percent of all adults who use the Internet are on social networks. Forty-eight percent of those are over the age of 50. (Some fascinating stats here: http://goo.gl/4WeM3O)

4. Get Visual. If you are on social networks at all, you have certainly noticed that what really hits home are visuals. A staggering 250 million visuals (photos or videos) are posted daily on Facebook. Posts with photos, galleries, inspirational posters, product images are the items that get liked and shared, repinned and retweeted. It’s that engagement that grows your audience. Does this contradict the earlier point about blog posts? No. But add visual components like virtual events, webinars, hangouts and certainly photo galleries and pin-ables to your arsenal. Create stories that utilize all of the above to illustrate and educate.

You may have sensed that these suggestions all share one key component: they are going to take more time and more thought. To be an authentic contributor on social media networks, your communication efforts in this space need to reach beyond a daily checklist to make sure we post something. Getting serious and potentially getting some additional hands for strategic planning or operations may be the key steps to kicking it up a notch this year.