Effective Social Media Flows from Strong Brand & Content Sources
I speak on social media marketing at a lot of major conferences. Most of my audience and the people I meet at these gatherings are responsible for running the social media for their companies, large or small. As they talk with me, I hear a consistent and common theme:
They aren’t sure that their social media marketing has much effect (or fear that it doesn’t).
The hard truth is this: In most cases they’re probably right. Their social media isn’t really bringing their brand much value.
There are any number of reasons to blame for that. But I believe the most fundamental is this:
The brand’s social media tributaries are disconnected from its headwaters.
What are these headwaters I speak of? My research and experience tell me that effective social media marketing flows from these essential sources:
- Clear brand identity and values.
- Identified target markets and buyer personas.
- Targeted, superior content that flows from #1 and addresses the specific needs of #2
It is my conviction that without at least those three things already in place, your social media is doomed to failure before it begins.
Social media marketing does not thrive in a stagnant pool. It is most effective when it is fed out of a rich stream flowing from the above three sources.
Why? Because then, and only then, can it connect in meaningful ways with prospects and customers, connections that lead prospects to become customers, and customers to stay customers.
Let’s take a look at each of the three sources that lead to what I call effective social content flow.
1. Brand Identity
Before I get into what brand identity is and why it is an essential source of effective social media, allow me to deal with a debate I see from time to time in the online marketing world.
When it comes to setting a good foundation for your content and social media marketing, you’ll find some experts saying the most important piece is to know your brand, it’s value and main messaging, while others insist that it’s more important to know your customers and prospects and craft your messages accordingly.
Forgive me for dating myself, but it reminds me of the Miller Lite ad campaign from the ’70s.
Of course, the punch line of the commercials was that Miller Lite both tastes great and is less filling. When it comes to an effective content-social strategy, I’d argue that it’s not brand vs. customer identity, but in fact you must have a good understanding of both.
A successful connection between a brand and a customer is quite literally a relationship. So we can make an analogy to “real” human relationships. Essential to any healthy relationship is successful communication. And effective communication is always a two-way street. You have to have both a clear understanding of what you think and what you want to express and the ability to listen deeply to what the other person is expressing.
So it is between a brand and a customer/prospect. The brand must know what it is and what it has to offer, and at the same time be listening carefully to and evaluating what customer/prospects want and need.
With that in mind, let’s talk about the importance of understanding your brand identity.
Your brand values are a clear understanding of why your brand matters. Why do you exist? Why was the world not quite complete until your products or services, and your unique way of doing business, came along?
In short, why should anyone do business with you instead of your competitors?
I’ll have more to say below about why these values should not be developed in a vacuum (spoiler alert: they must be formed in a conversation with what real customers actually want and need), but for now let’s just make the point that you will never have anything worth saying in your content and social media unless you come from a foundation of knowing who you are and why you exist.
For example, here are our defined brand values at Stone Temple Consulting, as posted on the wall at our headquarters:
All our employees know those eight values and what they mean. We evaluate all our work and customer interactions based on those values. And they are at the foundation of all of our marketing messages. In the case of marketing content, that doesn’t mean we shout these values explicitly (“Hey look at us! We’re thought leaders!”), but rather that all of our content and communications should support and exhibit those values.
Your UVP is your Unique Value Proposition. Once you’ve identified your brand values, you should formulate them into a succinct statement that can be digested and understood by anyone responsible for your marketing communications, and is transparently visible to any customers or prospects.
I agree with Peep Laja that the UVP is more than just a tagline. So Miller Light’s “Less Filling | Tastes Great” is a great slogan, but it is not a UVP.
A real UVP, while brief, needs to be fleshed out a bit more. At the least, it should contain a one-to-three sentence summary of what your brand brings to the table, and several bullet points of specific solutions you provide.
Your UVP should be easily accessible on your website, but should also be known by heart by all your employees, and especially those involved with your marketing.
Here’s a good example of an effective UVP page, from Mr. Laja’s article linked above:
Finally, it’s a good idea to map out your brand’s story. While less essential than the other two elements above, doing this will make you a more effective communicator of your brand’s value.
Your brand story is both a telling of the history of your brand and an account of how your brand’s products or services come alongside the customer in her journey of wants, needs and desires.
In The Hero With a Thousand Faces, Joseph Campbell identified common elements present in most great human stories, from The Epic of Gilgamesh to Star Wars and beyond. These stories tend to have a hero (protagonist) who ventures out into the world on a quest of some sort. Along the way, the hero meets a wise one, typically an older man or woman, who provides the hero with some essential knowledge, skills, or gifts that help the hero in the successful completion of the quest.
You can think of your prospects and customers as the heroes of their own stories. Whether consciously or not, they are out on a quest to gain something or solve some need or problem. Your brand can be the wise one who comes alongside and provides exactly what the prospect needs to fulfill her or his “quest.”
So it’s helpful to know your brand’s story, your brand’s own “journey” that brought it to a place of being able to provide the “wisdom” (consulting expertise, tool, service, etc.) that the prospect comes to understand as helpful to fulfilling their “quest” (to find the product or service that will satisfy their want, need, or desire).
Your brand story does not need to be expressed explicitly in public, although as Joel Bascoigne of Buffer demonstrated, doing so can be moving and effective. But at the least, all involved in your marketing should be familiar with and able to express your brand story. More importantly, they should know how to implement that story into opportunities to come alongside potential customers in their individual quests.
2. Buyer Personas and Target Markets
As I stated previously, brands and customers are in a developing relationship, and any healthy relationship thrives on mutual understanding.
So just as you must obey the Oracle at Delphi and “Know Thyself,” so you must also know your customers (both established and potential) and the markets in which they exist.
Understanding buyer personas is important because there are potentially as many types of content and social media messages as there are buyer types. That is, different messages will speak to different types of prospects, and at different times and in various situations.
However, I want to emphasize the word “potentially” in the paragraph above. Tony Zambito, one of the best experts on and proponents of buyer personas, has actually cautioned that brands may be overdoing trying to customize content to every part of buyers’ journeys, and in the process actually lowering their content effectiveness.
As I stated in the previous section, it is important to have some understanding of your buyer’s journeys, the “path” as it were that they typically take that ends up with them at your door buying your products or services. Such a background understanding is helpful in making your marketing more empathetic, moving it from broadcasting to true communication.
However, Tony shows evidence in his post linked above that it is possible to overdo segmentation by parts of the customer journey to a point where you’ve destroyed your content effectiveness. Read his article for more.
3. Targeted Content
In the context of my Social Media Content Flow strategy, “targeted content” means content that links your brand values and story to specific target buyer types.
This is the opposite of “shot in the dark” content; content that’s created for content’s sake. And here’s where the real value emerges of my argument that your content needs to flow from both your brand story and your knowledge of your customers.
If you only speak from brand identity you begin to broadcast, to advertise, to self-promote, to speak at and down to people instead of engaging them in a meaningful conversation.
If you only speak from customer knowledge you may miss adding any real value, of helping those customers or prospects to see how your brand value intersects perfectly with their wants or needs. This is why “just answer your frequently asked questions” is an incomplete (though not terrible) content strategy.
Having both aspects in mind as you plan and create your content is a holistic strategy that is more likely to produce content that creates real connections with people. It gets you beyond a “that was interesting” response to a “wow, that really helped me response.” The latter is what makes your brand memorable.
NOW Get Social!
You may have been wondering why an article that has “social media” as the main noun in its title has hardly mentioned social media until over 1700 words in.
Here’s the reason: In working with hundreds of clients over the years, I’ve observed that the number one reason their social media marketing failed (if it was failing, which too often it was!) was the brand had their social media cart in front of their marketing horses.
In too many cases, brands hire a social media manager, or even create a whole social media department, with the mandate to “go do social media! Engage! Reshare! Hashtag all the things!”
But unless a brand’s social media campaigns are based out of well-crafted content that brings brand values and customer needs into conversation, it is just spitting into the wind.
On the other hand, if you have already created that brand value > customer needs > targeted content flow as your marketing headwaters, then there is abundant fresh water to flow into your social media tributaries.
Of course, your social media channels will do a lot more than just disseminate your well-targeted content. Social media can be very useful for customer service, listening to learn about your brand’s perception and your marketplace, competitive intelligence, relationship building, content curation, influencer partnering, and many other functions.
But social media is at its best as a marketing channel when it is used to connect the exact right content with the right people where they are most likely to run across it.