Most of us have learned by now that content is the currency of the modern Web. It’s used to earn trust, attention, engagement, and actions from users all around the world by brands and businesses of all sizes. And it often primes your visitors to respond positively to your the conversion optimization tactics you’ve employed on the landing page.
Since we Crazy Eggers are in the business of optimizing every tactic for maximum conversions, it’s important that we take time to design a content strategy that does, in fact, have conversion-oriented goals and drives action.
What a lot of us tend to forget is that there is no default definition or form for ‘content.’ The term encompasses anything and everything from a single social update to original television series and everything in between.
One extension of the content marketing universe that has been growing quickly and quietly is social content. In this post I’ll provide answers and direction to questions like:
What makes social content different from the other content we’re creating?
How can I develop a social content strategy?
What tools do I need to be successful?
How should my strategy evolve over time?
Content in general can be repurposed for a variety of media channels so defining ‘social content’ has less to do with the format and more to do with the purpose.
In my opinion, the primary motivator and focus point should be enhancing the fan/customer relationship and experience with the brand on social media. Other content you create will be focused on growing your audience size, raising awareness, and driving conversions for your business. This content needs to be different.
It’s a fact that all social networks are becoming more and more cluttered with updates from brands and users alike. (If you’re not convinced, just look at the amount of photos taken on Instagram.)
To cut through that clutter, you need something more than cute kitten pictures and memes. You need content that appeals to your specific audience by resonating key elements that factor into their relationship with your brand like common interests, shared pain points, or valuable solutions.
This brings us to our first step.
Study Your Audience
You’ve probably heard the term ‘customer persona’ before, and hopefully you’ve even put some thought into developing your own.
For the purpose of your social content strategy we’re less interested in establishing product or brand relevance and more interested in triggering emotional appeal, so the information you want is going to require some digging and a little elbow grease.
Start by mapping out relevant interests. This is going to be a lot easier to nail down for niche products and services and a little bit harder for bigger and more general audience groups but it’s important that it gets done, even if you have to do some guess and checking.
One great place to pull data from is your social media accounts, so let’s start there.
Using Data to Identify Key Interests
While the creation element of your original social content is going to rely more on right-side thinking like creative copywriting, design, and creative context, the strategic element should be backed by data. There are a ton of useful social analytics platforms out there, but I’m going to focus on two of my favorites: Buffer and Facebook Insights.
Let’s Start With Buffer
If you have a Buffer account and you’re logged in, you should land on the main dashboard when navigating to Bufferapp.com. It usually loads the last account and page you were on by default, so your landing page might look a little different than mine, but it should be generally the same.
From here, you have a few different options to control what you see.
You have the account bar on the left that lets you choose which account you’re posting from or analyzing.
You have the main navigation at the top that lets you choose between ‘Content,’ ‘Analytics,’ ‘Schedule,’ and ‘Settings.’
If you’re following along, go ahead and choose the account you’re working on and then click on the ‘Analytics’ button in the main navigation bar. A sub-navigation bar should pop up. Go ahead and click on ‘analysis.’ You’re screen should look like this.
The main graph at the top is meant to show you performance and activity trends at a glance, but when you scroll down you should see a table your most recent posts and the performance metrics that accompany them.
A great feature that a lot of users overlook is the ability to sort this table by specific actions. If we were focused on driving more traffic, I might want to see the tweets that received the most clicks but, for optimization purposes, we’re focused on engagement actions.
For example, in Twitter we’d be interested in the tweets that received the most favorites, retweets or @ mentions / replies because these posts got users to pay attention to us within the channel itself.
You’ll want to look at each set of engagement actions to look for unique insights, but for the sake of this article, we’ll focus on my tweets that received the most retweets because there are two benefits: the engagement action itself and the amplified reach or exposure that comes with it.
Go ahead and click on the ‘Retweets’ column (or whichever metric you want to focus on first). This should reorganize the table from top to bottom by the amount of retweets each post received.
Quick Note: You’ll see in the image above that the top tweets may actually be retweets from other accounts, so you’ll want to omit those from your observations because they weren’t original and because the engagement didn’t really come from your followers.
This next step is going to require some serious focus. I recommend starting when you’ve got some time and motivation.
Scroll down the table until you get to a section that includes mostly original posts coming from your account (not retweets as noted above). You’re going to start comparing these top-performing tweets to identify commonalities in the content. There are literally thousands of variables to consider and questions to ask, but here are a few I always pay attention to.
- What was the post about? Content category is a broad variable but it’s a great first step to narrowing down your strategy. Look for general things like ‘productivity’ or ‘marketing.’
- What value did the post add to the viewer? Value can be anything from a smile to actual direction that makes the viewer better or more productive and everything in between. This variable tells you what kind of value your audience cares about. Not all users are looking for cute cats and not all users are looking for lengthy how-to articles.
- Where was the emotional trigger? Once you know where the value came from, you can look at why it caught their attention in the first place. Was there an image in the post? If so, what element of the image stands out most? If there wasn’t an image the trigger was probably in the copy. Did you write it from a first person or third person voice? What descriptors did you use? What was your CTA?
These questions will help you identify different categories you can use to group your tweets. As you analyze more and more posts, you should start seeing shared traits among them. I usually keep a literal tally while I’m digging through for the sake of keeping things simple.
As you start seeing the commonalities materialize, you’ll be able to tie interests to them. For example, if 10% of your most engaging tweets had to do with productivity, you can make a case for including that as an interest in your original social content strategy.
We’ll talk about how to ideate that content later, but for now you’ll just want to keep track of that list.
I recommended repeating this process for each type of engagement action in each of your primary social channels to help categorize behavior-specific interests or channel-specific interests.
For example, tweets about comics and general geek stuff tend to get more retweets for me, but marketing tweets tend to get more favorites and clicks.
You can be as general or as granular as you want, but keep in mind that it’s going to take some time and testing to find the right balance.
Being too specific might alienate some of your fans or followers. I have a lot of followers who like geeky things like Star Wars and Batman, but if I only talked about Batman, I’d become irrelevant to a larger portion of them. While at the same time, being too general keeps you from establishing the real connection we’re going for.
Choosing Content Formats
Social media content was traditionally broken down into links, photos, or videos, but things have changed.
There are countless tools out there to help you create the content that makes sense for your fans in the medium they prefer, so there’s no reason to limit yourself or your brand.
It’s likely that you’ve already figured out which social channels your customers and fans are most active and engaged on. If you haven’t, take a look at the numbers.
Within these channels you should be able to look at your posts historically to see what types of content have performed best. Just follow the process we walked through above. The only difference here is that, instead of looking at the content theme, you’ll be looking at the content format. Here’s where to look in Buffer.
Quick Note: A lot of people/brands haven’t actively tested different types of content, so if 90% of your posts have historically been links, you may need to try out a few different types of posts for a month or two (if not longer) to gather some more accurate data. Make sure you’re sharing those posts at different times and with different copy to give them a fair chance.
Something to be conscious of is that a link post may not just be a link to an article or Web page. The post might have a link that opens up a visual preview in the feed like a Vine video in Twitter or an Instagram post in Facebook, which would give you a lot more direction for your strategy.
Looking at the data is definitely a great way to get your bearings, but you’ll also need to consider the resources you have available before committing to specific formats.
For example, you may notice your audience has responded well to some of the YouTube videos you’ve shared. You may also notice that these videos have a very high production value and may have required a lot of time and even travel to make.
You’re going to have to keep that type of content in mind as an end goal and focus on what’s more realistic in the short term. If you’re handy with design, you can probably do a lot with images. If you have someone on your team who is great on camera, you can try doing reviews, interviews, or video podcasts.
You’ll also want to make sure you’re not putting all of your eggs into one basket. Any audience will get sick of the same type of content day after day, so choose a few different formats and themes to help ensure that you never get stale and always be ready to try something new. This also helps you from hitting a brick wall during the ideation process.
I actually ran into this problem with a side project of mine called Creatures of Content. We had some initial success with stop motion animations but then ran into a wall when we started working with products that don’t lend themselves to that format.
We ended up adapting towards more creative photography and occasionally combining that with a typographical or design element like this. When that wouldn’t do it, we started moving towards longer video content to add new context and a more personal touch to our content.
Including Your Brand
We’ve already answered a couple key questions:
- What should we talk about?
- How should we talk about it?
Now it’s time to move on to one of the most difficult questions you need to answer,
- How does our brand fit in?
While one of the main goals of creating original social content is to engage your fans and customers, the primary goal is to develop a stronger relationship between those people and your brand.
The secret to achieving this goal is to use this content to establish a more consistent context for your brand. Your product/service is probably most useful in very specific situations or for specific purposes. This means that customers don’t have a reason to think about you unless they need you. Not a good basis for a quality relationship.
This content should personify your brand to the point where your audience thinks about you when they see something similar to what you might post or share.
Establishing proper context requires more than tossing your logo on everything you create. There are an unlimited number of ways to include your brand in the content, but there are two very important things you need focus on every time: being intentional and being consistent.
Being intentional means that you thought about the context of your brand within each individual piece of content. Maybe the background of the photo is your office building or maybe the post text that goes with your content mentions how much your team enjoyed putting it together.
Here are a few rules of thumb I put together to help make this decision easier.
- Start With A Goal – Are you trying to make your fans smile? Maybe you want to save them some time and stress? Figure this out first so you can figure out the appropriate place for your brand.
- Don’t Force It – Including your brand shouldn’t take away from the quality of the content or the experience the user has with it.
- Always Ask “Would I Share It?” – If you saw this exact piece of content come from a brand that you followed would you share it? Why or why not? If your brand is every the reason why you wouldn’t share it, start over.
- No Purchase Necessary – The goal is to engage, not to sell. You don’t have to prove anything about your value to the customer, just that you understand them.
- Don’t Create When You Can Share – Never go for the obvious product photo or how-to video. Chances are other users or fans have already created that content and you’ll benefit more from finding and sharing their content than you will from recreating it. The context in this case is that you took the time to find and appreciate it.
Being consistent means that once you find the place for your brand within your content, you maintain it instead of trying to expand it.
We’re not playing Monopoly or investing in real estate, so your brand doesn’t need to gain more and more attention with every post. Enough said.
Putting It All Together
We’ve already walked through three major steps in the strategy development process that help you identify what to talk about, where to talk, and how to talk about it. Now it’s time you put all of those things together and move on to execution.
While I do think it’s almost impossible to determine exactly what makes an idea good or bad, I do know for certain that there’s an obvious difference between the two. Some people tend to be better at telling the difference than others but everyone has the ability to come up with great ideas.
And one sure way to make good ideas happen more often is to put together your own creative process.
Before you create anything, make sure you have some kind of system set up to keep track of everything you create, what you did to distribute it, and how it performed. This is to force you to actively track and analyze your performance instead of just trusting your gut.
When it comes to creating content, it’s easier to get emotionally attached and a lot harder to admit defeat when one of your ideas or projects doesn’t work out.
Once you have the tracking put in place, you’ll need to set some production goals based on the type of content you decided to create and the resources you have available.
I recommend estimating conservatively so you don’t feel rushed. Remember, at this point it should be quality over quantity. As you get your processes solidified, your production time should go down and you’ll be able to increase your output.
Now that you have realistic goals set up and a system to track your efforts, you can move on to ideation. Start with the category or categories you feel like working on first. This gives you some focus without forcing the idea into a corner.
The next step is to develop a story or message. The type of story you want to tell will help you determine the format and the appropriate context for your brand, so nail this down before moving on to making any other decisions.
A Couple of Tips for Your Story:
- Relate to the audience – include experiences that they’re likely to encounter regularly
- Pinpoint The Emotional Purpose – Are you trying to make them laugh or feel all lovey inside?
- Start With The Conflict – Great stories are about some sort of conflict and that’s the element that will pull your fans in
- Check Out Pixar’s 22 Rules of Storytelling
Once you have your story put together, it should be pretty obvious what format you need to use and what context your brand can or should have within it. Now it’s just a matter of creating your content and getting it out there.
I know that production can seem like one of the most overwhelming elements of this entire process, so I put together a list of resources for you.
Top Social Content Resources
- Im – A collection of photos you can use however you’d like.
- Canva – A user-friendly Web app for designing images and more.
- The Noun Project – Tons of icons for the minimalist designer.
- iMotion and iMotion Remote – Great iOS apps for stop motion animation or time lapse videos.
- Instagram – Taking, editing, and sharing photos.
- Vine – Great for short videos and basic stop motion.
- Adobe Creative Cloud – You can use Illustrator for more cartoony or illustrated content and Photoshop for editing photos or adding new elements.
- iMovie – Pretty easy video editor capable of adding text, titles, music, or putting together multiple videos.
- Over – An app to help you add type to the photos you take on your phone.
There are countless tools out there, so if you have a specific need or idea in mind, let me know in the comments and I’ll give you a recommendation if I have one.
Read other Crazy Egg articles by Mike Bal.
- How to Design a Social Content Strategy Like a CRO - December 26, 2014
- Content Marketing 2.0 – The Future of Content - March 10, 2014