(Originally posted in Medium, written by Christina Rosalie)
How do I build an audience, or engage with customers online?
As a strategic storyteller and digital consultant, I get asked this question in some form on nearly a weekly basis.
Usually, the brand or product already exists in some form (anywhere on the spectrum between an established brand that needs to be reenergized, to a product on the verge of launch) and the business owner or entrepreneur wants answers. Urgently. Just as often, and just as urgently, they tack “using social media” onto their query.
For example, I just received this email from a new business owner:
“I’m interested in how social media marketing can be leveraged with other types of online and more traditional marketing. No need to tell me just to use LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter. For those and others like them, I’d like specifics about how to use them, which groups to join, etc.”
I’ve worked with many types of clients from solopreneurs to marketing leaders for multi-national corporations who are just as adamantly convinced they need to “do social media” without ever stopping to question why.
I get it.
Social media is ubiquitous. We’ve all seen its impact on politics, love, and yes, branding. And I understand the allure of tactics: They’re tangible. They give you something to do—and doing something tends to feel like progress, at least at first.
It would be easy (and it’s sometimes quite tempting) to respond to such inquiries with a list of possible tactics and social media best practices that might generally be applied.
But the truth is, without strategic brand direction, diving into social media with a bunch of tactical executions will result in a few lucky hits at best, and a lot of expended effort and signal noise at worst.
Because social media isn’t the point.
If you’re not accustomed to thinking of your brand as an experience that is communicated through storytelling, you might think social media as an end, instead of a means. But social media is only that: A means for telling your story.
It’s storytelling that’s important.
As a culture we’re hardwired to participate in storytelling. Since the beginning of recorded time, we’ve told stories to convey the importance of events and ideas. Every culture has used stories as a means to connect, to entertain and inform, and in turn there’s plenty of research demonstrating how stories powerfully activate our brains .
For a brand, storytelling is the most authentic and relevant way to communicate who you are and what you offer.
When I use the term “storytelling” I mean the real-time narrative of your brand as it unfolds over many moments and platforms. Told well, this story will connect and emotionally engage people with your brand, and will continue to be responsive to their changing awareness, interests, and needs over time.
Take Buffer. When the company’s co-founder Leo Widrich started marketing his product through stories instead of bullet points, he found sign-ups skyrocketed:
A key realization that changed a lot of things for us [was when] we realized writing content, at the core, is telling a story.
As Buffer has taken hold and seen incredible success, they’ve continued to tell a unique brand story that appeals to their core users: One of radical transparency, life-hacking, productivity, and incredibly useful content (making their blog one of my daily reads.)
Or look at Hello Flo, the not yet year-old mail-order company with a huge niche audience (um, every woman who gets her period), that was founded around the story its key audience lives every month.
Hello Flo continues to tell that story in a way that is equal parts hilarious and personal, (their viral Camp Gyno video), and serious and global (most of the content they share on their blog, “Period Hacks” ties them into the larger cultural story of what it means to be a woman).
What these, and many other great brands have in common is a commitment to strategic storytelling that’s embedded within their business culture.
Storytelling doesn’t exist within a specific business function. It happens cross-functionally; driven by clear strategic objectives that are aligned with the company’s core values.
Storytelling is a collaborative act.
The other thing that makes these companies great is that they entirely understand who they’re telling the story with.
Brand storytelling isn’t about a singular point of view, or a one-way broadcast. It’s about a dialog, a call-and-response, a narrative with the audience as co-author.
It’s true that storytelling has become a bit of a marketing buzz word of late. But there is no better way to describe the real-time responsiveness and participation that’s vitally important to the process of building and engaging an audience in the contemporary mediascape.
Old-school brand stories are familiar: gorgeous full-page ads and :30 spots. But technology presents a perpetually evolving palette that demands creativity, strategic intention, and agility to tell stories that matter — to the right people at the right moment in time.
Many times this is where social media comes in, but not always. Depending on your audience and objectives, social media might not be as relevant as in-depth informational content, or animated gifs (a stretch, to be sure), or podcasts, or videos, or brick-and-mortar events.
So how do you begin?
As with any good story, you can start anywhere. George Saunders has shown us that. But to do so (as Saunders so masterfully demonstrates), you must know beyond a shred of doubt exactly what the story is about, and who it is for.
Instead of starting with the tactical whens and wheres of social media or any other medium, or even with the broader logistical questions of how, start by asking why and what.
Here are a 8 things you can (and should) do to become an effective storyteller for your brand—before ever working with an agency or consultant. Instead of starting with the intent to engage on social media, begin with these questions and let the process of finding and validating your answers drive your objectives.
Developing the ability to think and act like a storyteller for your brand will take you farther towards building an authentic audience than any list of tactical recommendations ever will.
1. Begin with inquiry
Why are you in business? Whose real, but unexpressed and unmet needs are you in service of? Who are you engaging in the process of storytelling? Why?
Knowing your audience is half the story
It’s tempting to cast too broad a net when it comes to your core audience. It feels risky to stake a claim on a smaller, more discrete segment. But there’s incredible value to be had here—and your story will be better for it. Consider what segment of your audience will produce the most value for your brand over time. The more your brand is positioned around this key segment, the more effective your storytelling (and ROI) will be.
2. State your goals
This seems like it’s a no-brainer, but I’m always surprised by the number of times I’ve encountered companies that are actively putting resources towards producing content for social media, the web, or traditional media outlets, without clearly defined objectives, or metrics to measure their success.
What are the most important actions you want your audience to take as a result of engaging with your brand? How will you measure these, a what metrics will you use? (e.g.: consumption, completion, velocity, or sharing.)
3. Follow with empathy
Once you’ve clearly defined your key audience (and aligned your brand’s positioning and objectives with their needs,) you can begin to explore how you might engage with them through storytelling.
Think back to the last time someone told you a story.
Likely there were hand gestures and laughter. The person telling probably embellished or modified what they were telling you based on your responses along the way. And I bet they also added supporting information or contextual details based on what they know about you too—to make their telling more interesting, relevant or entertaining.
That is exactly what’s involved in brand storytelling too. To tell your brand story, you’ve got to be just as responsive and dialed in to your audience, as you are in a face-to-face exchange. You need to know what matters to your audience.
What’s exiting to them? Who do they trust? What do they already know? What are they bored with? What do they love?
4. Discover the context
You can begin finding this information by listening across platforms (Twitter search is a fun place to start; Google Trends is another) and participating in relevant conversations (leave comments, share content, follow influencers, etc.)
In doing this you’ll begin to gauge how your audience feels about information and content relating to the story you hope to tell, and you’ll begin to understand the bigger cultural context to.
What trends are at play here? What cultural movements is your story a part of? Who is influencing the conversation?
It’s also useful to explore analytics for any existing web properties you own, and for everything that you share online to uncover how people find and engage on your site, and respond to the content you share (Google Analyticsis excellent if you’re familiar with it; Clicky is a great and simple real-time analytics tool I use; and Buffer is the best I’ve found to track and share content across the web.)
A good market research firm can provide in-depth quantitative data to support or disprove the information you’ve gathered through your own qualitative analysis, analytics and participation. But listening and participating before strategically engaging your audience is a necessary step that, in my opinion, cannot be skipped. It will help you to cultivate both empathy for your audience, and a necessary appreciation for context.
5. Know the medium
By participating in conversations that are already happening, you will also begin to get a feel for the unique value of each medium, and begin to understand the expectations for interaction, the content shared, and the devices used on each.
The most important thing I can tell you is that every medium (and every platform) has unique voice—and a given set of expectations and restrictions that dictate not only when and where we engage, but why and how.
Authentic brand storytelling is about sharing content that is native to the environment it is encountered in (Sharing the same content across every social media platform is a bit like telling the same story over and over again to everyone you meet. Lots of people will hear it, but it wont matter to most of them.)
6. Map the experience
With a feel for your key audience, including the stories they’re sharing, the mindsets they have, the media they preference and devices they use, you can map your audience’s experience as they encounter your brand’s story across touch points.
This work often surfaces opportunities or white space within a touch point, and reveals where you might focus your storytelling activities to best meet your strategic goals.
Where will your audience hear about you for the first time? What are the touch points they’ll encounter along the way from non-awareness to full engagement? How will you empower loyal fans so that they can contribute to your story?
Then consider what actions you want your audience to take.
7. Tell your story
The real-time part of storytelling is all about tactics. The when of Twitter or LinkedIn or infographics or long-form content, the where of Pinterest or animated gifs or podcasts or mobile apps.
The tactics you choose will depend on the audience you have, the opportunities that exist, and the objectives you’ve defined. There are thousands of resources available for developing both the tactics and the mindset to navigate the constantly changing mediascape. My recent favorite is Jab Jab Right Hook (and just about anything else by Gary Vaynerchuck).
Storytelling is the most meaningful way to create an all-encompassing and valuable brand experience for your audience. At the end of the day, if your story is timely, truly dialed to the needs of your key audience, and aligned with your strategic objectives, your audience will grow. People engage with stories that matter to them.
But as with traditional storytelling, nothing is a constant. The tactics that delight or entertain today, won’t be relevant next week or in a year from now; and the content that’s meaningful in this moment, won’t matter when the context shifts—and it will.
8. Listen, interpret, and respond
Telling the story of your brand is an ongoing activity—across multiple media and platforms in real time. Adaptability, responsiveness and creativity are vital to your success in connecting story elements together to create your brand’s overarching narrative. This requires both resources and time not only to produce content — but to actively monitor engagement, to analyze your audience’s interactions, and interpret what their feedback means.
Only with insight into how your audience perceives and is responding to the story you’re telling, can you make critical and timely adjustments—so that the story you are sharing continues to be one that matters, even as your audience’s interests, needs, and media habits change over time.
(Originally posted in SteamFeed)
As the recent Pace salsa debacle proved, a brand’s Twitter followers have the ability to truly influence its reputation — with some followers playing a bigger part in shaping that reputation than you would think. The truth of the Twitterverse is that all followers are not created equal, so it’s important that brands ensure their tweets are reaching — and positively resonating with — the right people. Read this article for a few unconventional ways to become your followers’ Twitter soulmate.
Big brands spend millions on digital marketing. Sometimes, however, a reputation can come down to just a few characters — 140, to be exact.
In the digital landscape, a smart, effective presence on Twitter has far more significance than its bite-size format might lead you to believe. And right now, your brand has two kinds of Twitter followers: those who read your tweets and scroll past, and those who do more. On Twitter, that means they’re “engaging”: sharing, retweeting, or replying to friends, celebrities, or your brand. But what makes them so different than your other followers, and what can you do to create a following that’s even more lively and involved?
Win the Twitter Advantage
To truly use your Twitter following to your brand’s advantage, you need to build a meaningful connection with your followers. And to do that, you need a complete picture of who’s following you and why. What do they get from your brand right now? And, more importantly, what don’t they get?
The best way to find the answer is a bit unconventional: You need to look beyond your own Twitter account to other people’s feeds. (Yes, even your competitors’!) Once you find out who users are engaging with and what they’re sharing, you can use these insights to create a detailed picture of exactly who your followers are and how you’re going to connect with them in a way that’s interesting, meaningful, and relevant to their lives.
Defining Your Audience
The first step to a more active Twitter following? Ignore a large portion of your followers. This might sound strange, but the best way to extend your reach on social media is to exclusively target followers who have engaged with you in the past. You need to build a connection with these people and prove that your brand is a valuable part of their social lives.
Why focus all your efforts on targeting engagers specifically? These are real people with active accounts, and they’re also more likely to make the leap from small engagement to big engagement. You can foster this behavior, but first, you have to find out a few things:
- Figure out what other brands they’re engaging with and why. Try to create a holistic picture of their online behavior. Do they retweet content from BuzzFeed, NPR, or both? Which brand tweets are they reacting to and why?
- See which hashtags and links your engagers are already sharing. These are solid, hard-and-fast numbers that can show where to concentrate your marketing efforts and media dollars.
- Track which celebrities and sports stars they interact with. This is another good touchstone to use when creating a vision of your target’s online behavior. (And, down the road, it could be helpful for evaluating sponsorship opportunities.)
Refining Your Strategy
After you’ve created a detailed “persona” that you’re seeking to engage, the next step is to figure out the right way to speak to this audience. Here are four unconventional ideas that can help you stand out:
1. Use other brands’ successes and failures.
Don’t just depend on your own metrics. Here’s a hypothetical: Let’s say ESPN is researching whether a segment on the dangers of concussion in youth football would appeal to its audience. Which publishers have run a similar story? How often was it shared and, most importantly, by whom? After running these numbers, ESPN has a clear, numbers-driven view of just how successful their segment is bound to be — all thanks to their competitors’ numbers.
2. Piggyback on what’s trending.
Hashtag popularity waxes and wanes on Twitter constantly. Now, brands are using them to their advantage by taking generic hashtags (#YOLO, for example) and tagging them in their own promoted tweets. Of course, as with all things pop culture, there’s a huge risk if you get it wrong. Remember: You can’t use “hunch-based” marketing if you have a lot to lose, but when it’s a good fit, it’s golden.
3. Hack hashtags.
Here’s another sly move in the Twittersphere: hijacking another brand’s hashtag campaign to get your word out. Consider the notorious “#askMcD” campaign, which garnered all kinds of hate for McDonald’s. But who would want to hack it? Agencies specializing in branding, for example — whether it’s to dissect McDonald’s failed campaign or contribute witty commentary.
4. Partner with celebrities.
Sometimes, a celebrity tweet is all it takes. Take a look at what CMT has done with Shaquille O’Neal: One tweet from @Shaq scored the network a whole new kind of reach. But here’s what’s interesting: CMT could actually have saved a lot of cash by partnering with a celebrity with fewer followers (such as Olympic gymnast Gabby Douglas, who has far more followers in common with CMT than Shaq does). The lesson is clear: “Bigger” isn’t always better, but “more relevant” is. (And it can save you media dollars, too.)
Applying It in Real Life
Unconventional ideas work because they’re unusual. (That means they can seem a little risky.) Social media is an ever-changing playing field still in its infancy. There aren’t really any rules; any creative idea could become the next go-to tactic to create an engaged, active following.
Remember, the same tried-and-true tactics will get you the same results. There’s only one concrete way to create change: Try something new, and see where it takes you and your following.
(Originally posted in IdeaCafe)
Have you ever tweeted something to hundreds or thousands of followers, only to hear nothing but crickets? It’s not just you — brands across the country are finding that the biggest source of engagement and interaction comes from a surprising source: non-followers.
On a recent product campaign, we reviewed 40,000 engagements for one of our clients and found that only 11 percent of interactions came from the brand’s followers. That means that non-followers represented eight times the engagement of followers. Yes, you read that correctly: You can get significantly more engagement from people who don’t even follow you — calling into question the true value of a follow.
How did this happen? Not with spammy promotional messages, that’s for sure. The brand did it by using relevant hashtags in its messages — a user engagement strategy that is quickly becoming the best way to reach the broadest audience of targeted users.
The Secret to Real Engagement Is Staying on Topic
Social media users love hashtags because they’re a way to cut through the noise on their Twitter feed and home in on their specific interests. Hashtags are a simple, effective way to tap into a community of active users. Advertisers can make use of this trend by applying those contextual hashtags to their current campaigns.
Here’s a great example: If you’re working for @Fab and want to show off the new line of Momofuku’s baked goods, you can tweet beautiful images with clever captions and obvious calls to action to your followers. But if you add one little hashtag (like #ValentinesDay), consider how many more people will see it.
And here’s the best part: Each person who sees your tweet is interested in the topic. It has context, which immediately lends itself to familiarity and genuine interest.
5 Best Practices for Engaging With Hashtags
The beauty of hashtags is that they are seen by anyone who searches for them, regardless of whether or not they follow you.
There are unlimited ways you can use hashtags to reach your target audience. You can use location-based hashtags, like #ATX for Austin or #SF for San Francisco. Or you can zero in on your industry to mine contextual hashtags. If your client is a web design consultancy, you can get inspired by looking through the #design tweets and accompanying hashtags. Local car dealer? Put away the chicken suit (please) and participate in some #F1 or #Daytona500 hashtags (or piggyback on big brands’ hashtags, such as #BuiltFordTough).
The brands with the best Twitter campaigns provide a mix of different kinds of hashtags to maximize non-follower engagement. Here are a few best practices to keep in mind to maximize your efforts:
1. Use a hashtag on every tweet.
When pushing updates on Twitter, include a hashtag on every update — even when you’re retweeting someone else’s comment. Use a brand-centric hashtag (#Coke for @Coke), or a campaign-specific hashtag (#AmericaIsBeautiful). If it’s a retweet or a reply to a customer, find a hashtag that compliments them, such as #CustomerLove.
2. Determine your target persona’s favorite bandwagon or trending hashtags.
If you don’t have automated tools that tell you which hashtags are being deployed by which users, you can scan the ones they’re using manually. Just be careful to use these hashtags intentionally and with appropriate relevance.
3. Limit the number of hashtags on your tweets.
There’s a reason you rarely see more than two hashtags on a successful tweet: More than that makes the tweet harder to read and comprehend. Stick to one or two hashtags per tweet to prevent your message from becoming indecipherable and spammy.
4. Keep it short and sweet.
As with any tweet, keep it short and on point, and use a clear call to action. You’ll also need to provide a shortened link so you can maximize your 140 characters.
5. Pay attention to readability.
If you create your own hashtag, make sure there are no spaces between the words. Budweiser floundered with its #Taste Is campaign, which would have been much better as #Taste_Is. You should also capitalize the first letter of each word in the hashtag for readability or use an underscore.
Tweeting and promoting only to your followers is a surefire way to miss out on the true engagement your brand is capable of. Instead, target useful, relevant, and trending hashtags for an incredible boost in engagement from the most unlikely source: your non-followers.
(Originally posted in Medium)
So you’re a company that sells razors in a culture that’s embracing facial growth? Sounds like a hairy situation (pun intended).
And a problem that razor company Gillette now claims to be facing.
All this talk about a new shave-free culture seems to be accurate, at least here in the States. In Austin, TX, handlebar mustaches and full-on beards are popping up all over the city. Even our usually bare-faced CEO has opted to join the no shave club.
Encouraging this trend, as mentioned by Aaron Perlut on Social Media Today, are the facts that shaving is expensive, charities like Movember promote no shaving, and millennials now have the luxury of working in laid back offices (or home offices) where stubble on the face is completely acceptable.
So what’s a brand like Gillette to do?
Dive into the Consumer Data
Interestingly, AdAge reported some statistics about shaving following Gillette’s recent earnings report. Specifically, that long-term decline in shaving frequency is the real issue at hand (particularly for the 18-24 age group). Despite the trend, though, that still left 34 million razor-cartridge users in the US, not counting people using disposables or electric razors.
So Gillette, let’s start with a simple fact. Surely not all of those 34 million users are interested in “the best a man can get”. It’s your job to find out what they ARE interested in, and how to speak to them in a way they can relate to so they feel a real need to buy your product.
And- SURPRISE! Some of those 34 million users might be women! In my social circle, it’s a common occurrence for us ladies to steal our boyfriend’s fancy razors. And if we’re single, you better believe there’s still a men’s razor hanging in the shower. In fact, over the holidays, I inherited my sister’s brand new, shiny Gillette men’s razor because she left it in the guest bathroom. Score! I for one will never go back to using a women’s razor, and I’m sure several ladies feel the same way.
Surprise! Even women use and often prefer men’s razors.
Segmentation Leads to Consumer Discovery
Segmentation and analysis of Gillette’s consumer audience is key to their product uptake. They could very well discover brand and product interest from completely new segments. Sounds simple- but this is a step often overlooked in Marketing due to time restraints, high cost and other factors.
Regarding the declining segment of 18-24 year old men- if they are in fact losing interest in shaving, then find out which age groups aren’t losing interest and focus Marketing and Advertising efforts there.
Or take a look at the 18-24 year-old audience that does still engage with your brand and figure out ways to keep their attention based on their personality styles, unique interests and media preferences. Continue to build brand loyalty with them by understanding who they are- and speak to them like a friend who really ‘gets’ them. Because not every man who uses a razor relates to the same sports celebrity or swimsuit model (well, that could be a stretch).
Pick a Tool and Take the Plunge
There are lots of segmentation tools out there today that make this type of analysis fairly easy and affordable (compared to traditional segmentation methods), it just takes commitment from the brand’s Marketing team to dive in head first. And let’s (bare) face it, with all of the consumer data available today via social and more, it should be easier than ever for Gillette, and any other brands going through similar product pains, to get ahead of the Marketing game.
(Originally posted in Social Media Today)
With its recent interface upgrade, Twitter is making a strong play to encourage its social “lurkers” to get involved — that is, the 40 percent of users who have active accounts but fail to tweet.
Unfortunately, it’s not that easy. While lurkers are a powerful source of untapped potential for brands (and Twitter), engaging them takes hard work and time, and it’s only specific content marketing tactics that will help you do it.
But it’s worth it. If just half of Twitter’s 40 percent became active, that would result in over 100 million newly active users looking for brands to engage with. That’s a lot of potential.
The Different Types of Users Lurking in the Dark
Social media is such a part of people’s daily lives that you can’t help but try it out. With this optimistic hypothesis in mind, we see simple divisions within all brands’ audiences:
- Brand Fans: Those unwavering advocates who engage the most and are the most easily pleased (think Apple brand fans).
- Under-Engagers: Also known as former lurkers, under-engagers do interact with your brand — just not as much as they could.
- Fake Accounts: Those followers that celebrities and public figures have purchased to falsely inflate their number of followers.
Brand fans will share no matter what you do, and fake accounts won’t share no matter what you do. There are no real lurkers anymore! As social is woven into our daily lives more and more, we’re simply seeing different levels of under-engagers. The real challenge presented here is to get those under-engagers — those potential converts to your brand — to share your content with their social networks.
Take, for example, my 80-year-old father. He’s on Facebook, for crying out loud! But he doesn’t post or comment much. It takes a truly extraordinary story for him to take the time to share or retweet it. He’s in some brands’ sweet spot right now, but they just don’t know it.
The challenge becomes identifying your secondary target market, finding out where they spend their time, and focusing your content efforts on that spot. It’s every marketer’s job to feed people like my father extraordinary stories that he’ll want to share.
Turn the Tide in Your Favor by Engaging Your Brand Lurkers
Like everything worth doing, the more time and resources you put into it, the better your yield of new brand fans will be. Here are three steps marketers can take to engage lurkers and turn an in-the-dark observer into a staunch supporter.
1. Find the right segment sample with your brand’s engagement history.
Segmenting your fans is an absolutely critical step that’s rarely performed. Simple analytics like Facebook Insights tell you what you already know, like gender, age, and regional demographics. What you’re looking for, however, are the under-engagers: the second most-engaged segment of the sample of fans.
Think like JetBlue, a company that knew breaking into top-tier markets would be pricey and more competitive. Instead of setting up for a long fight, it went after the underserved, second-tier markets and found a whole new audience for its service. You can be JetBlue-smart, too, by championing the lurker market within your industry.
We’ve found the perfect number for big businesses to go after: a sample size of 500 users who have engaged with your brand. Look at the interaction with your brand’s evergreen and campaign hashtags — in particular, people who engage with these campaigns but don’t necessarily follow your account. This is your primary fan sample to research.
2. Identify the unique influencers and media outlets.
When it comes to identifying the right thought leaders for your marketing efforts, you’re looking for the top celebrities and publishers that your under-engagers like and interact with — even those who are different from your brand fans’ favorites.
Picture it: If your under-engagers love Eminem while your brand fans love Adele, you’re not going to upset your brand fans if Eminem shares a product launch post of yours. If the brand fans happen to see it, they’ll just think you’re wasting your money. But the under-engagers? You’ve just converted a huge chunk of them that your client didn’t know existed!
3. Develop and distribute content specifically for the under-engagers.
Partnering with large, obvious brands can often be an excuse for not taking risks in your marketing campaigns, leaving you with the same ho-hum PR chatter.
Instead, look to alternative (but still significant) content outlets that aren’t quite as safe, such as popular blogs with the traffic and community to bring real results — and that are sure to hit the sweet spot for your segmented market.
Where Did Twitter Go Wrong?
While Twitter’s newest renovation isn’t a deal breaker for most users, it could have been a lot more effective in encouraging under-engagers to get involved with just a few simple tweaks.
Instead of promoting random tweets or public figures, Twitter could have captured under-engagers and brand fans alike by featuring the account’s top three tweets. Whether promoting a celebrity or a trending topic, real content from like-minded users would entice lurkers to interact by retweeting or favoriting, provoking engagement from the under-engaged.
As brands become more sophisticated in the age of digital marketing, the bar is being raised for agencies to show them something new and fruitful. Here’s your chance! Engage these lurkers, and unlock a prospective market that will bring your business to the next level.