Rules for online marketing, social media and PR

The world wide web is a scary place to enter as an individual, and even scarier as a brand. Add to that the daunting surge of social media and you may wonder how you should tackle the task of online marketing and PR.

Where do you start? What should you change? And what can you do better to ensure optimal brand representation and customer engagement in the online world?

I’ve highlighted a few pointers below which could help you get from good to great.

The fallacy of the one-sided hook

I post quite a lot on Facebook in my personal capacity—mostly because I am always online and naturally curious about everything. But when it comes to content for brands, I tend to advise that less is more.

You may ask why. Well, it’s quite simple—because although I post very frequently under my personal brand, I have the capacity and knowledge to engage with my users on each comment, question or contradiction thrown my way. It’s a dialogue, not a monologue.

The problem with content management for brands is that it tends to either be outsourced, managed by content specialists without the proper product knowledge to assist queries, or relies on inexperienced social media managers who post external content which may contradict, repeat or disregard the content which you have already generated.

And as the frequency of communication is increased without any tangible conversations, customers are prone to content fatigue.

The rise of content-fatigue and how to fight this gnarly beast

In his essay, 11 Ways to Avoid Content Fatigue, Paul Cawley gives his insights on why our users are fatigued by the content tossed at them. Point 10 reiterates what I stated above—that content should be great and not more.

But there is another facet of content fatigue which we rarely touch on—the insincerity factor. For in addition to the masses of content users have to process, there is the underlying sense that brands are insincere. Of course, to a certain extent this will always be true. A brand cannot connect with its end-users in the same way as individuals. It cannot ‘change its mind’ when prompted. But people are tired of the inherent disconnect of brand interaction. People want sincerity. And, in fact, you can quite easily turn a bad customer experience into a pro for your company by simply being honest.

Authentic interactions add retention value which is hard to sever.

Which brings me to my next point…

Stop being so darn-arsed careful!

Content creators should be granted a level of freedom if you want to improve your customer experience.

One of the greatest learning curves for content managers and social media practitioners occurs when you let go of that leash and give them the chance to be themselves and offer your brand a personal edge. People will respond to that voice and grow to rely on the level and type of interaction granted to them. Don’t impose strict policy rules or codes of conduct on your staff. Don’t manage their accounts, unless they require a guiding hand or are dealing with sensitive customer information. Rather allow them to bring their own personalities and following to the party—you can leverage their strengths.

Trust that your team can provide the information your readers seek, and also trust them to correct errors and omissions as they arise. Stifled posters can often cause more harm than good, emitting an air of hesitance and aloofness which rubs customers the wrong way. Remember that trust is a two-way street—your employees are more likely to defend and honour their brand if the brand has bestowed trust in them.

Of course there should be clear perimeters within which they operate though. They should know where the brand is headed and what their measurable goals are. They need to understand the brand voice.

What is your brand voice and why is it so small?

Who are you? No, really. I’ve seen brand so obsessed with competitor analysis that they lose grip of their own identities. I’ve worked with brands so concerned with political correctness that they fall into that enormous brand melting pot where nothing is discernible. I’ve had experience with managers so afraid to entrust their brands to their teams that they inevitably become dictators heading a sweatshop, losing their brand in the process.

You cannot afford to enter the online sphere without a clear and unique brand voice. But don’t ascribe to the generic hogwash copied and pasted from brand manuals everywhere. Be fresh, relevant and engaging. Be bold and daring. Be honest and assertive. But whatever you do, stop hiding from your people.

Encourage your staff to play along, to engage with your brand and build some hype. Make it theirs. Trust, trust, trust your people—for your brand will grow through unique, personal and personable experiences among individuals. If your brand has a voice, let it be heard.

The branding power of individual voices

A key takeout from the Social Media Examiner highlights the fact that people want to connect with individuals, not brands. They want to know there is a real person behind the post and who that person is. They need to be able to make an objective decision on whether or not they like the poster and can connect with them.

Social media loathes generic content. IT craves authentic experiences and interactions. The public wants to ‘google’ not only your services, but your people. They want to see your staff’s human reactions to situations and posts. And when the time is right, they will respond to content and connections which speak to them as and through individuals.

And these individuals—your staff—will interact correctly because, of course, they know exactly what is expected of them and where their brand is headed. And they cannot stuff up being themselves.

How transparency will save your brand

Having worked in numerous corporate and agency environments, I can attest to the hampering chokehold of hierarchies.

Managers and executives tend to think that folks at the bottom of the brand-chain should be excluded from the greater strategy. The lesser folks’ opinions aren’t important, and neither, it seems, is their awareness. The iron fist of need-to-know guarantees respect, right? Well, quite the opposite, it seems.

Forbes reports that the number one contributor to employee happiness and engagement is transparency. This means that your staff values openness and honesty more than they do their salaries or benefits.

To this day, I find it rather counterintuitive that those employees on the front line of brand interaction are kept in the dark. More often than not, managers will cite some snippet from their need-to-know handbook to justify the secrecy. But, to be honest, this seems to be more of a habitual thing than a practical policy—an archaic practice left over from the remnants of a grossly divisive and patriarchal society where affairs and disputes were settled with war and bloodshed.

It simply makes sense that people who know where they’re going will get there faster. They will know shortcuts, learn to work together and understand their journey and the choices they need to make along the way They may even start to enjoy that journey. Talk to any branding specialist and they will tell you that the strength of the brand lies in the people. You need buy-in from within before you will get buy-in from without. Don’t skimp on measures to get your people excited and involved, especially not honesty.

Social media posting—frequency and automation

Many social media specialists will advise to post as frequently as possible and to auto-schedule posts. This is good advice for the rookie social media manager, but not the greatest advice for your brand.

Remember that the more you post, the greater the chance that your important content could get lost in all the noise. Automation, on the other hand, is necessary for certain posts—such as a daily alert or when you’re out of office, but it should be reserved for such content. If you over-automate your posting you are back to creating an insincere brand persona and it may devalue your brand. Reserve your automated responses to web or email contact forms and create some ‘white space’ around your brand so your content can stand out.  Don’t get lost in the noise.

Don’t get lost in the noise

Though it’s crucial to share external content with your following, guard from inadvertently becoming a brand ambassador for other blogs or sites. Unless you have an affiliation with a particular brand, you may be driving more traffic to this brand and getting less feet through your own door. See Hootsuite’s rule of thirds to ensure that the content you share is balanced and generates the right type of interaction.

Also ensure that content not related to your own brand is read thoroughly before sharing. Content could either be outdated or may subject your clients to clickbait. Many blogs use sensational headlines or content which may seem relevant to your clientele at first, but may prove to be regurgutated, overly generic, simplistic or fallacious.

Of course, your research and analysis shouldn’t end there. One of the greatest tools in your arsenal is capitalising on social media algorithms.

Understanding and utilising search engine and social media algorithms

Search algorithms are sets of rules and mathematical equations for finding and displaying items with specific properties among a collection of other items. In this case, the internet. Search engines and social media platforms use different algorithms for searching, locating and displaying content for the end-user.

Make sure to research, understand and use these algorithms to your advantage—this will ensure that your content is targeted and relevant to your prospective and existing clients. Remember, however, that this research needs to be a persistent process. Algorithms change frequently—they are updated to become more intuitive and relevant to users, and as these algorithms become smarter, they will offer you even greater ability to reach the right clients with the right content.

Algorithm changes will also allow you to post more ‘natural’ content.

Content that inspires and moves

In my previous blog I ranted about the hampering nature of SEO and how it stifles natural writing. Unfortunately, for the time being, you will still need to follow the rules of SEO—which means your web content needs to include key words and phrases and ascribe to the optimal minimum and maximum character and pixel counts.

That said, you should always ensure that your content is unique and inspiring. Irrespective of your service, product or topic there are always ways to sweeten the message. Use neuromarketing insights to better design and position your content online. Be quirky, original and slightly unpredictable with your post visuals which engage your user. Also include other interactive tools like polls, testimonials, viral content, vines, memes, colloquialisms and so forth.

 

Now go on, get social!

I hope the pointers above will lead you and your brand on the right path in the vast world of the interwebs.

Check in again soon for more tips and news.