Writing For Social Media: It’s Not About You

Google “writing, for social media,” and you’ll get about 5.5 million results. But read a dozen or so, and you’ll soon realize that the advice they offer is often vastly different.

Some say it’s more important to get content out there regularly than it is to make it perfect. Others claim just the opposite—that it’s even more important to be accurate, professional, and polished on social media—because there are “trolls” out there, just waiting for a chance to make you look bad.

Even advice that doesn’t seem to conflict on the surface can be challenging. For example: “copy has to be short.” While that doesn’t necessarily conflict with “write like people talk” (another thing “they” say), it can be hard to do both. Conversational writing is often longer—because most of us don’t speak in efficient, finely edited prose.

(The “short copy” folks surely would have stricken “efficient, finely” from the previous sentence—but I think it adds something. So block me.)

But I digress.

There seems to be one piece of social media writing wisdom that almost all can agree on: don’t spend your whole character count writing about yourself.

You may have a great product or service. You’re proud of it. You’re positive that it’s the solution to your audience’s problems, and there are dozens of features and benefits you want to brag about.

Don’t do it.

Consider today’s social media landscape, where people create cozy cocoons for themselves. They follow people and things that make them happy. They block whatever they don’t agree with, or upsets them. Feeds are flush with entertaining, funny, and fascinating content that keeps them engrossed—and in some cases, addicted. Right in the middle of it all, they see your post about how great thou art.

Face it: you’re competing with funny memes, cute animal videos, and scathing political takedowns. “Leverage our advanced solutions with proprietary technology” ain’t gonna cut it.

So how do you avoid getting swiped? Make it about them: let them know you understand their challenges. How they feel. What would make their lives a little easier. (The assumption here is that you’ve done your research, and actually know these things.)

And, by the way, you have something that can help them. Mention ONE really cool thing about your product or service that will make a difference in their lives. If they want more information about all those features and benefits that make you feel like a proud parent, offer them a way to do so—but don’t put them all in your post.

Take a cue from the memes, kitten videos, and political pundits. How do they get thousands of followers, shares, and retweets? By making people laugh. Giving them a warm and positive feeling. Or saying something that challenges them to think. The more your post sounds like an ad, the less likely they’ll engage.

Marketers used to enjoy captive audiences. Now, consumers are in control. To break through, you have to show them what makes you different.

Ironically, one way to do that is NOT make it all about you.

Facebook’s Changing AD Platform

In 2016, ProPublica reported that Facebook’s targeting tool was being used to discriminate against minority groups by allowing advertisers to conceal housing ads from users based on an “ethnic affinity” category.   

ProPublica

In response, Facebook took little initial action, but pledged to no longer allow advertisers to target by the “ethnic affinities” category when posting ads for housing, credit or employment.

A larger consequence was a nearly two-year-long probe by Washington State into Facebook’s micro-targeting tools, which were being used by some advertisers to conceal housing ads from users in minority groups and to limit job postings seen by users in certain age brackets.  In 2018, the state’s case settled with Facebook legally pledging to not allow advertisers to exclude people on the basis of race, national origin, religion, sexual orientation, and other protected categories.

The most recent settlement reached this March, which concluded cases brought by various fair housing groups, promises to bring about extensive changes to Facebook’s advertising platform.

What’s changing?

  • Limited targeting—housing, employment, and credit ads can no longer be targeted by age, gender, or zip code.
  • New ad platform—Facebook will create a new advertising portal that housing, employment, and credit companies must use by the end of 2019. Targeting categories will be severely limited, as will the categories available for building Facebook Lookalike Audiences.
  • New housing tool—Facebook will build out a tool that will allow users to view housing ads anywhere in the U.S., regardless of targeting.
  • All of the above will also apply to Instagram.

Does it apply to me?

This applies to anyone posting ads for housing, employment, or credit/loans. Advertisers posting ads for any of these categories will face stricter restrictions and will find themselves on an entirely new platform by the end of 2019. Targeting users by age, gender, zip code, or other categories covered by anti-discrimination laws will no longer be allowed.

Facebook

How can I prepare?

  • Prioritize compliance checks to ensure ads are not violating civil rights laws.
  • Create paid content that focuses on thought leadership and advice, as opposed to promotions, which can appear predatory.
  • Shift efforts away from demographic targeting and toward interests and behavior targeting, avoiding “multicultural affinity” audiences.
  • Consider retargeting campaigns to grow your assets outside of Facebook.
  • Reevaluate your campaigns to ensure you’re adequately diversified across multiple channels.

We have roughly nine months before any of these changes go into effect, so there is no reason to rush into developing a new social strategy. Take time to reset your goals for paid social and decide how these changes to micro-targeting may impact your ability to raise awareness to your target audiences.

Resources:

https://www.propublica.org/article/facebook-lets-advertisers-exclude-users-by-race

https://www.reuters.com/article/us-facebook-advertisers/facebook-signs-agreement-with-washington-state-to-end-discriminatory-ad-targeting-idUSKBN1KE2RX

https://www.washingtonpost.com/business/economy/facebook-agrees-to-dismantle-targeted-advertising-system-for-job-housing-and-loan-ads-after-discrimination-complaints/2019/03/19/7dc9b5fa-4983-11e9-b79a-961983b7e0cd_story.html?noredirect=on&utm_term=.22e05700b614

https://www.wired.com/story/facebook-advertising-discrimination-settlement/

https://www.theatlantic.com/technology/archive/2019/03/facebook-inc-does-have-to-respect-civil-rights-legislation-after-all/585286/

https://www.cmswire.com/digital-experience/will-mark-zuckerbergs-facebook-privacy-vision-affect-marketers/

Part Two – How to Be Successful in Social Media: Remember Your Goals

 Like we mentioned in Part 1, Social media marketing will require you to leave your comfort zone and become more transparent and malleable with your content.  You must do this while being strategic and setting marketing goals.

This challenge, to be both proactive as well as reactive, and to set goals while being responsive to the constant changing landscape of social media, is why success in social media is a challenge.

 Social media can reach someone at any point during the buyer’s journey. So, have a goal. Don’t post on social media for the sake of being there. There should be a good mix of content for nurturing, engaging, and informing your audience.

Create unique content for each goal. Nurturing content should be very different from engaging content, etc. And consistency is incredibly important. You should be posting on a regular, predictable basis.

Your content will be affected by current events and breaking stories.  To maintain relevance and stand out amongst your competitors, you must have the flexibility to create new instant content in addition to anything preplanned and scheduled.

Use different tactics & goals for paid social vs. daily content.  Paid ads should drive traffic to your brand and raise awareness. Daily content will nurture and grow your relationship with your existing audience and convert them into brand advocates.

And of course, regardless of your goal or the type of content you’re sharing, your messaging should be on brand. It is important to create a social media brand guide that will determine everything from image sizes, ad design, tone, and guidelines for community issues and negative comments.  If you are targeting distinct audiences on different platforms (moms on Pinterest, millennials on Instagram, etc.) you should create a unique brand guide for each platform.

Other Tips

  • When it comes to the most popular content, video is still king. Messaging should be engaging and short no matter what format you use to present it.
  • Don’t have much money to spend? Consistency & content will grow an organic audience without costing you a cent. Keep to a posting schedule and always be on the lookout for fresh video, photo, and blog ideas. If you are completely new to social, you can use any existing contact list your company already has, such as an email list, to begin building your audience. These lists can be uploaded directly into Facebook, LinkedIn, and other popular platforms.
  • Follow your competitors and take note, but don’t copy them. Brainstorm new unique content ideas instead. It is your content and not your budget that will help your social media campaigns stand out from the rest.
  • Be patient. New social media channels take a few months to build momentum and show results. Launch your social campaigns early and monitor for 60 days or so to build your audience before optimizing or targeting specific audiences.

Resources:

https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesleadershipcollective/2018/07/16/six-lasting-principles-that-drive-social-media-success/#78a3ca2f1409

https://sproutsocial.com/insights/social-media-marketing-strategy/

https://www.matthewbarby.com/social-media-strategy/

https://www.codeinwp.com/blog/social-media-marketing-strategy/

https://www.wired.com/story/stop-calling-snapchat-a-social network/

Part One – How to Succeed in Social Media

If your client or brand wants to be successful in social media, forget everything you know about traditional media. Social media marketing will require you to leave your comfort zone and become more transparent and malleable with your content.

When you approach social media as a relationship builder and focus on creating connections with brand advocates, a little hard work and a deep dive into audience data will result in a social media campaign that sells itself.

Know where your audience hangs out

This may come as a surprise–but not everyone is on Facebook. However, just because someone is not on Facebook does not mean they don’t use Instagram, Pinterest, LinkedIn, or Twitter. As social media gets older (if Myspace was still around in its original form it would be taking AP calculus right now) and more social networking platforms are born, the usership of these platforms is becoming more segmented.

The age demographic for Facebook is skewing older every year, while new generations of consumers are finding their happy places on video and messenger apps like Snapchat–a company that never intended to be a social network (Pardes, 2018)– and Marco Polo.

Luckily, there is an endless amount of data out there that will help you pinpoint exactly where your target audience is hanging out. It is not a good strategy to be on every social media platform out there. Find the two or three platforms your demographics frequent and put all your content creation effort and marketing dollars into those platforms.

As with all relationships, it’s not all about you

Social media is a relationship builder. It is where you will find brand advocates: Individuals who will talk about your product with their family and friends, write reviews about your product, post pictures of your product, etc. When you are trying to be successful in social media, the most important promoter you can hire is your own customer.

Remember the Pareto Principle: 20% of your output will yield 80% of your results. That means media platforms should be up to 20% promotional; the remaining 80% should be related to your customers. So, when you are creating content for social media, stop talking about yourself. Talk about them, the people you are trying to reach (Forbes, 2018).

Social media – whether you’re posting or advertising on Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, or Snapchat—is where people go to read about the things they love and speak with the people they care about. You want your product to be one of the things they love, you want your brand to be the someone they care about. They don’t have time or the patience to hear about your brand’s long history. They want to hear about what you can do for them, right this instant, to make their lives better.

Show your human side

 Social media is about transparency. When it does come time to talk about yourself, get personal. Tell your behind-the-scenes brand story. Showcase a real day in the office. Get on Instagram and film a quick story about a recent failure. Working on a new project? Film and post snippets from your meetings. Show people what it takes to put together the products and services they’re using, and they will love you for it.

The Official Blog of Martino Flynn