5 Lessons to Dominate Social Media

In light of the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge becoming a worldwide phenomenon, I bet a lot of Content Marketers are thinking the exact same thing, “How come my social efforts never pay off like this?” Many of us will spend our entire careers attempting to capture the ALS-type lightning in our own marketing bottle.

Sadly, most of us will fail in our attempts to replicate this massive level of viral success. There are, however, a number of practices that we can all adopt based on the successes and failures of our comrades in arms. Contently recently published a report on a BuzzSumo- and FRACTL-conducted study of the 1 million most-shared articles from the first six months of 2014. It’s certainly worth a read and some thought, as these 1 million articles accounted for 2.6 billion shares. To put that in perspective, that is 74 shares for every man, woman and child living in Canada.

So here they are: the five lessons that you can take away from this year’s most popular social content (so that we can all get a little closer to that dream of Ice Bucket reach).

Lesson 1: Facebook is Still King2014-08-21_08-55-05

Despite all of the algorithm changes, the decrease in page “like” influence, and the various psychological experiments that Zuckerberg has performed on us, Facebook remains the undisputed king of social media. It may no longer be the coolest, or the most hip — and yes, my grandmother is active on the platform — however, of the 2.6 billion shares that FRACTL and BuzzSumo were able to track, 81.9% were on Facebook.

Facebook’s absolute dominance in the realm of sharing makes it an essential cornerstone to any social media marketing initiative. Don’t be tempted to avoid the platform. It’s not conducive to your hip and edgy brand identity. As I stated to a bartender of a password access bar I once visited, “Pretentiousness is never a great business model.”

There are particular types of content that perform better than others, and aside from the basic factors of visual elements and clear calls to action, share numbers had distinct relations to the emotion attached. That brings us to our second lesson.

Lesson 2: Read the Room

2014-08-21_09-25-03Anyone who has ever performed in front of an audience can tell you that on a particularly good or bad night, they knew that the room or audience was or was not going to love them. If you’re a comedian performing in front of the local league of conservative seniors, it’s probably best not to channel the “Late, Great” Robin Williams Live on Broadway performance. Your social media efforts are no different, with the exception that a failed piece of content does carry with it the devastation of getting boo’ed off stage.

Test out what your desired audience responds to. The emotional tone (part of what Facebook was searching for earlier this year) will have an influence about whether your audience is willing to share or engage with your content. Though you will be best served A/B testing this for yourself, here is the breakdown of emotional sentiment of shared articles on Facebook.

As the chart displays, of the roughly 2.1 billion shares on the platform, 64% of them fell on the neutral to negative side of the emotional spectrum. Of course, your target audience could be in the 36% (or 756,000,000) that find positive posts worth sharing.

A proper test cycle and measurement process can help you identify exactly the emotional tone that best speaks to your target audience. Once you have identified the mood of the room, giving them what they want becomes a lot easier.

Lesson 3: Learn from the Gods

When deciding which social brand to start worshipping and emulating, it’s important to choose one that matches your own personality and objectives. Similar to the Greek gods, the social publishing gods have many different strengths and different powers. I would choose Dionysus because of our shared love of wine.

Buzzfeed (the current Zeus) is strongest on Facebook and Pinterest. Their visual lists, quizzes and posts lend themselves perfectly to the two platforms. Mashable dominates both Twitter and LinkedIn, due to its ability to distribute informative and interesting content pieces with engaging titles that can appeal in the concise and limited space that LinkedIn and Twitter provide. MSN (The Smith god Hephaestus I.M.O) does particularly well on Google+.

It’s important to remember that in social media, imitation of style is not frowned upon, nor is it the end of your progression. Find a publisher that does well with your target audience and start adopting pieces of their process until you find what works with both your audience and your brand. Social media is amorphous, and the preferences of 2014 will almost certainly be different in 2019. Think back to 2009…were you aware of Buzzfeed?

Lesson 4: Be Realistic About What Social Media Success Is

This is likely the most important lesson I can impart: social media success does not in any way guarantee the success of a company, product or initiative.

This brings us back to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge. It’s not the first viral campaign of its kind. Remember when we all got into Kony 2012? Although Kony 2012 did bring our attention to the issue, did our shares on Facebook or Twitter really amount to Joseph Kony being stopped, or make the situation for child soldiers any better? With the Ice Bucket, there has been a lot of debate that the campaign is just another fad. However, this is an instance where, along with the challenge and nominations, there is also a prominent call to action to donate to the ALS Society and although some forget to do so, the ALS Society is receiving millions of dollars in related donations.

Make sure you know what your goals are. Awareness and brand recognition are great things and can help drive sales, but you need to be aware that these efforts will generally lead to a very low conversion rate. Share percentage of the best publishers is only in the low teens, and if your end game is having your audience spend money on a product, you need to be prepared for a much lower percentage than that.

If you have a reasonable goal in mind when you start out (i.e. awareness, combating trolls, support or extending reach), then your social media initiative has a very real chance of succeeding. If you think you’re going to rescue a struggling business or sell more cars through an awesome Pinterest page, you can likely look forward to some hefty disappointment.

Lesson 5: Be a Social Scientist

The reason everyone is on social media is because it’s free to the user. Yes, you can spend some money to buy some sponsored posts or tweets, but you would be better served by making some initial effort in building an audience and testing posts organically. Try different tones and emotional themes. Try multiple platforms and find out which one works best for you!

Treat your social efforts like a scientific experiment:

  • Research
  • Hypothesize
  • Test
  • Analyze
  • Repeat

Good luck on your quest for a piece of those 2.6 billion shares. If you’ve made it this far, I formally nominate you for the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.

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