The other week I attended a FailChat in San Francisco with panelists discussing the changing landscape of social media. FailChats are events based on the renowned FailCon: the first conference on startup failures and how to prepare for and recover from them.

In this particular chat, Vanessa Camones, CEO of theMix agency and Tamara Mendelsohn, VP of Marketing at Eventbrite talked with Josh Constine, Senior Writer at TechCrunch about the ways brands can avoid failure in social media. It’s important to realize that social media is an ever-changing field, and here at CloudPeeps we’re obsessed with learning more about how Peeps can help brands can achieve their highest reach and engagement.

Here are the key takeaways from the event I found most valuable for anyone looking to grow their brand’s presence and community engagement with an effective social media strategy.

1) How to create a strong brand identity on social media

Panelists approached the topic of branding with an interesting question: “How can you reframe your brand in a way that actually works as content?” Your brand should be seen as the value provided to your audience just as much as the actual content being shared.

Before creating and curating content, first identify your value proposition and what it is you want your brand to be seen as an expert on — beyond just the thing or service you sell.

When determining how you want your brand to be perceived on social media, you must first ask yourself and your team:

  • Who are you?
  • What is your story?
  • What do you believe in?
  • What problem are you solving or need are you fulfilling?

Turn these answers into a mission and values statement. Have a place that lays out your company’s mission, goals, values, and story. Make this visible to all team members at all times, and revisit it each time you develop or change any communications, especially your social media editorial calendar.

2) Understand who and where your audience is

After you nail down your story, you need to better understand your audience. Create three to four customer personas that identify who your audience is, more specifically:

  • What industries do they work in, and in what roles?
  • What’s their communication style (laid back and casual, more formal, facts only)?
  • What do they read, what websites do they visit?
  • Where are they going for information relevant to your brand and offering?
  • What social media channels are they active on, and for what purposes?

There are several ways to collect this information, some of the best ones being:

  • A thorough onboarding process. Use this opportunity to capture as much information about your audience, in the most simple way as possible. Consider asking them for links to their social accounts or use a program such as FullContact — this way you can get a direct picture of what they’re interested in on social media.
  • Audience surveys. Have a question about your audience? Ask them. Make it clear that you’re asking for the information in order to improve their experience.
  • Start a group or forum. There’s no better way to learn more about your audience than to see how they interact with each other. Start a Facebook or LinkedIn group to see what type of questions they have and what information they share with each other.
  • Analytics. Social analytics such as Twitter analytics and SocialBro provide useful stats on your audience, including what topics they’re posting about.
  • Ask them to coffee or send personalized emails. When all else fails, sometimes your best bet is to invest the time in having one-on-one conversations to get to know your audience and what interests them better.

At CloudPeeps, we’re all about doing things that don’t scale, much like what Paul Graham has famously advised many startups on. We’ve taken the time to send each Peep and customer tailored communications that allow us to get to know them and their needs better. If and when an issue arises between a Peep and customer, it’s often due to a minor miscommunication. By understanding this, we’re able to put guidelines and processes in place to help improve communications and prevent miscommunications going forward.

3) How to engage your audience

So you know who your audience is and where they hang out, great! Now, how do you get them to engage you on those platforms? According to the FailChat panelists, it’s a matter of marrying the concept of your brand with your audience by connecting them with meaningful content that will springboard a two-way dialogue on social media.

Engagement can mean a number of different things to different people. It can mean likes, retweets, comments, shares. At CloudPeeps, our bread and butter is where conversations happen. How can you create a two-way dialogue with your audience? What content is going to make them want to share their opinion or ask a question about it?

The panelists defined meaningful content as content that isn’t a bold faced advertisement for your brand.You shouldn’t need to show your logo for people to know that you’re behind a piece of content. Your brand identity (as defined above) should shine through everything you share.

The best advice we can give for determining what content is meaningful to your audience is two-fold:

  1. Go with your gut. Let your intuition and brand vision guide what type of content is going to resonate. Throw spaghetti on the wall.
  2. Measure. See which pieces of spaghetti stick the best. Look at your social and web analytics to determine common themes among the content that drive the most conversations and engagement. Maybe it’s a certain topic, or by posting a question, or a quote. Make note of such themes and continue to test and refine your strategy.

4) How to grow your reach

Make your content easy to share

Shareability is the easiest way to broaden your reach. Create the lowest possible “sharing” barrier. People don’t want to dig through to figure out the best part of your content to share; you should take the lead on doing this for them. We’ve done this by adding Click to Tweets within our posts and adding share buttons at the bottom. Medium.com is probably the best example of making content beautiful and shareable.

An example from Medium.com
An example from Medium.com

Create symbiotic memes

My favorite takeaway from the chat is to create symbiotic memes: A meme with a easily substitutable portion of the template that will enable people to mimic and share it for you.

A perfect example of this is the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. You’re watching the same templated event over and over, but each instance is unique for each individual and you want to see each new person’s response.

Another is the Harlem Shake “movement” — you instantly know what to expect in the overall experience, but can’t wait to watch nonetheless.

5) Be cautious when jumping on trends

Newsjacking 101

“Newsjacking” is a popular method of hijacking a current event to create brand awareness among the masses or group tuned into that movement. This approach can be effective, but can also enter dangerous territory. Some of the biggest fails happen when brands try to hijack a moment, as it can take away the genuine nature.

Of course, there are exceptions, such as Oreo’s dunking in the dark during the Super Bowl blackout, which was a home run.

Word to the wise: Think about the broader context of the moment you’re trying to hijack. If you can’t do it successfully, don’t try to do it at all, or else you’ll look fake and desperate.

Contests are more hype than anything else

People see through contests; they recognize that it’s about exposure for your brand. If you say something along the lines of “Use the hashtag XYZ to win ABC!,” people know it’s a ruse to get your brand trending. You need to be prepared to be to risk your brand reputation for attempting to elicit conversation around your brand using giveaways.

People might be allured by the giveaway (but only if it’s a really good one), sign up for what you’re offering, then immediately churn after the contest is over. This impacts your important business metrics, and can potentially make your brand look cheap.

Of course there are exceptions. If you need to drive engagement or learn more about an existing community, using a giveaway as an incentive to participate can be appropriate.

So what’s working on social media today?

The FailChat panelists identified these points as what social media managers should be focused on today:

  • Figuring out video. It will become much more pervasive and is becoming the go-to form of consumption. Just look at SnapChat’s Discover, Meerkat, and Twitter’s Periscope. Some even say that social video is changing the way we consume news, and therefore the landscape for journalists significantly.
  • Content is evolving. Brands are evolving to understand content’s role. See Eventbrite’s Rally: The best things to do in your city.
  • Don’t try to infiltrate a new platform you don’t understand. If you want to make waves on Vine, don’t start from scratch, invest your efforts in aligning yourself with a popular Vine star. Have a budget? Don’t spend it on 20 Vines, spend it on one Vine-er and get them to create one piece of amazing content for you.

What are you focused on in social media today? Share your tips and trends in the comments below.

Looking for someone to help you with your social media efforts? Check out our marketplace of social media and community managers ready to help you move the needle forward today!