Now that we've established the growing power of the digital influencer and their ability to engage your audience on a deep and meaningful level, let's dive into why they've become such powerhouses.
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There is a new influencer in town. She's part celebrity, part media, part spokesperson and nothing like you've ever dealt with before.
Okay, maybe I'm overstating it. Some sales are driven through social media channels. I know I've bought books and songs and contributed to Kickstarter campaigns many times because a friend shared a link and I thought, "Hey! That's awesome! I should buy that!" I've even tipped a bigger purchase in favor of a friendly recommendation on a social network. But I can count on one hand the number of times I've bought something pushed to me by a brand I follow on Twitter/Facebook or the like.
But that's not the point.
The point is that social media is a teeny tiny reflection of what happens in day-to-day life. In Jonah Berger's Contagious, he makes the salient point that only 7% of word of mouth happens online (other studies say 5%). I'm not sure if all of that even belongs to social media channels, either. I'd guess a bunch of it happens over email and private chat.
There are hundreds of ways that your customer will find you (or not find you) online and offline. However, when it comes to spreading a message, word of mouth has always been the most effective way of marketing messages spreading. But these messages become ineffective when they aren't authentic. But the most salient point here is:
You cannot force word of mouth.
It doesn't matter the media or the amount you spend on it...some stuff just doesn't spread. And though marketing impressions make a brand awareness difference - whether it's a billboard or a paid tweet - it's never guaranteed to work.
So I'm continually bowled over when I hear people complain about how their social media marketing doesn't work. Usually a few questions helps me realize what's really going on:
What's really going on here is that companies think that paying for marketing is some sort of silver bullet. It's not. It never was and it never will be. Hell, some super bowl ads go unnoticed - and that audience is one of the biggest captive audiences in the universe!
You are probably asking yourself, "Okay then, why would anybody in their right mind pay for marketing?"
Good question. I sometimes wonder myself because not everyone is ready for it...and sometimes they are too late for it.
But why pay for marketing when the results aren't guaranteed? Because, like I said before, there are hundreds of ways your future customers will find you (or not find you) and it's better to be findable than not. And good marketing means that you will be more findable AND have more credibility (if the branding is done right) when people do find you. And all of that helps with what you want: sales.
There are all sorts of wonderful things built into social media marketing that you won't have built into traditional one-way channels. There are:
- analytics - you can't really tell who paid attention to that television ad, but you can tell who watched your YouTube ad all the way through...and who liked it...and who shared it...etc etc. The data available on how people interact with your content is AMAZING.
- feedback - it's right there in the comments. It's also there on Twitter. Oh...and you can find out what people are saying on Reddit and their blogs and in forums and...well...that is invaluable. Read it. Report it back to your team. Improve your product with it. Respond to it with thanks. Hell, you pay hundreds of thousands of dollars to get this feedback from focus groups each year and here it is for you for free. Completely raw.
- relationships - you aren't going to strike up a conversation through the TV or radio. But that two-way conversation is built into social media platforms. It's really awesome. You can find out so much about your customers and start to really build a bond.
What really baffles me is the demands that brands make of social media marketing when they pay a fraction of the price to use it. They'll hire interns and junior staff to run it, they'll lowball agencies and consultants ("I pay you whatfor a couple of FB posts?! I can get my kid to do that!"), they get impatient and want instant results without being willing to invest the thought needed or take risks, they'll tack on a social media strategy (which has no strategy) to a made-for-television and magazine ad campaign thinking that it's yet another direct marketing channel (which is a limited medium, too).
All of this and the brands ask for stellar results. They look past the amazing insights and feedback and potential for relationships that no other traditional marketing medium every had and they say, "Meh. Social media doesn't work for me."
And completely miss the point.
You want to know the ROI of social media?
Number one. It's the ability to listen. It's priceless. Not with some damned tool that measures sentiment or finds influencers, either. Really listen.
Number two. Serendipity. It's opening yourself up to constant and amazing opportunities to participate and by participating, you will find numerous opportunities to lead the conversation and make a great impression. Oreo's dunk in the dark tweet is a great example of this. They are doing a really great job of being a relevant brand again by seizing opportunities like that. Do they do it every single day? Nope. But when they do, they nail it.
Number three. Community instead of merely customers. The difference is incredible. If you have patience and build a community instead of just a customer database, you will have finally tapped into that magical word of mouth network you wanted to buy a few months ago. But this time, it's real and authentic and it spreads.
(and there are dozens more...but you get the point, right?)
So PLEASE FOR THE LOVE OF DOG stop thinking of social media as a direct marketing tool or some sort of silver bullet that will drive sales through the roof. Stop reading those case studies where Facebook...no...Pinterest...no...Polyvore...no Snapchat drove millions of dollars in sales from a viral campaign.
That's not the point.
Oh companies. Relationships are SO much easier than you make them. In fact, there are only a few things that you need to do in order to make your customers significantly happier. Or rather, there are a few things you must stop doing and saying that will change your customers' experiences drastically.
I've compiled a short list for you (though there are more). Here are some things you need to stop doing and saying:
1. "It's our policy."
Now, you may use this and think: "Why is this wrong? It enables a fair way to treat customers across the board."
The problem with trying to treat customers the same across the board is that not every situation is cut and dried. And, frankly, some policies are antiquated and outdated. The moment you have to let a customer down by saying "it's our policy," you are failing that customer.
And yes, I know that you don't want your customer service staff running all amok with bleeding hearts and breaking your bank, but that is why you need to train them properly and empower them to help your customers. A good customer service policy is to:
a. train your agents on multiple scenarios and then;
b. give them a buffer allowance each month and;
c. give them all sorts of ways to help the customer instead of shutting down the conversation.
If they have a certain budget to play with each month where they can make a decision on whether to give a customer a break or take a return marked "no refunds", they can use their training to decipher a reasonable response and then be empowered to make it. Here is an example:
A customer calls their cell phone company and says, "My bill is outrageous! I didn't realize that going over my data would cost me an extra $200! I can't afford this!" The agent then can walk through a customer's bill and figure out if the mistake was made in earnest and then either undo the $200 OR adjust the bill a smaller amount (maybe cut it in half), but talk the customer into a more robust ongoing data plan (which can help the company make the money up in the long run).
Of course, if a customer doesn't know what to expect, this is an issue in itself. Which leads me to #2.
2. "It was in your contract."
Newsflash: nobody actually reads contracts. I'm not sure why anyone uses a big long legalese document to give customers upfront information about a service. It's the worst way to present information in the universe. You may as well write it in Sanskrit on a stone tablet.
I'm not saying your customers have no responsibility to read what they sign, but when you are excitedly signing up for a new service or website or whatever, the last thing you do is to sit and read a long document. And the salesperson moving the sale through doesn't really give you much of a chance either.
Why not present limitations and terms and conditions in a readable, fun manner? A great example of turning boring, mandated information into something people will engage in is Virgin America's awesome in-flight safety video. Everyone knows that when those safety videos come on, our eyes glaze over and we focus on the book or magazine or anything else. But not when you are on a Virgin Flight:
Right? You don't have to go to that level of production, but why not make it readable and enjoyable? This way, you will never have to say, "It's in your contract." Your customers will know. In fact, they may even be able to sing it back to you.
3. "See our answer here [with link]."
Why not just talk to me? Seriously. If I ask something that is too long for a tweet, answer me with a few tweets. That's cool.
@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?
@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. Go check our outage schedule here: [link to website]
Grrrrrrrrrr. A wee bit of effort would help a whole lot here. I have probably already gone to your website to find your really hard to find number to call to be put on hold. I'm trying to use Twitter to get some answers and be more efficient. Don't make me click something else!
This would be better:
@myhandle: Hey cable company! Why am I on hold for over 45 minutes today? WTH?
@cablecompany: @myhandle Sorry for your inconvenience. I see you are calling from Toronto where there are lots of outages. Can I help?
@myhandle: @cablecompany Yeah. Do you happen to know what's wrong? When the cable service is expected to be fixed?
@cablecompany: @myhandle I just checked internally. It's a weather issue. :( It may take more than a few hours. Sorry! Time for a good book? :/
@myhandle: @cablecompany LOL. Okay. Maybe it's the universe telling me to hit the gym. LOL.
@cablecompany: @myhandle Hit the gym for me, too! Oy! ;) Sorry again!
Even if it doesn't go as smoothly as above, it's a MUCH better interaction. I can hang up the phone with a bit more information and reset my expectations. I also feel taken care of even if the representative couldn't give me a definitive answer.
4. [Insert Lame Company Excuse Here]
Just recently, we had a ISP tell us that their service was bad because one of their partners (the people who owned the fibre) were playing dirty.
Really? I couldn't give a damn. Fix our service. I don't need to get involved in your business drama. I've just paid you $300 to get my internet installed. I'm not your mediator. Guess what happened? We canceled, asked for a refund, then went to the partner in question. They seemed to have the upper hand and get things done. We wish we knew that in the beginning.
Your company woes are YOUR company woes...and quite often they are the result of bad decisions/deals you've made (short-term thinking). Your customers don't care, nor should they. They just want to get the stuff they paid for. Don't make excuses. Fix it. If you can't fix it, own up to it and refund your customers. Apologize and hope that they will forgive you and come back when you've fixed your stuff.
The customer experience should be seamless and simple. The mess and duct tape and hoops behind the scenes? Invisible to the customer's eye.
It's late 2013 and 72% of customers expect a response within the hour on Twitter from your brand after they complain. And it doesn't really matter if it's during business hours or not.
I, personally, have a black list of companies I will no longer buy from after getting radio silence to a concern or complaint. I'm sure I'm not alone.
Even the most angry complaints can be handled. People are just upset and need to be heard. One of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was to respond to an angry complaint like this:
A. Identify B. Apologize C. Assist
@myhandle: @restaurant FU! I will never eat at your awful overpriced restaurant again!
@restaurant: @myhandle Oh no! What happened?
@myhandle: @restaurant After waiting for a table FOREVER, your server treated us like crap and the food was cold by the time it was served. Grrrr.
@restaurant: @myhandle Oh man, it sounds like you had the WORST experience. It's not what we aim for. Is there any way we can make it up to you?
@myhandle: @restaurant I don't know. I don't want to feel that way again. But I appreciate your response. Maybe it was just a bad night.
@restaurant: @myhandle I know you don't want to take my word for it, but it sounds like it may have been. Let us know if you want to try again. We'll set you up. :)
@myhandle: @restaurant Okay...well...I'll consider it. Thanks again. I feel kind of bad for being so angry now.
@restaurant: @myhandle I would have probably felt the same. Glad I could help.
Identifying completely diffuses a situation. Trust me on this one. Even if you can't help someone, just identifying and apologizing will help. And that customer will feel a bit bad for blowing up at you online. If they don't come back, they'll certainly tell the story differently. This time, you'll be cool...not a jerk that doesn't listen.
So there you go. Simple ways to respond to customers in a way that will help you build bonds and loyalty and probably a few more sales rather than letting angry customers fall through the cracks (and tell everyone they know about their awful experience). In fact, take some of that billboard and other outbound advertising spend and put it into your inbound/customer service channels so you can totally empower them. It doesn't have to be a lot, but I guarantee you that these interactions will benefit you far more than that extra month on the billboard.
Yet another article has come out yesterday on how Facebook is a waste of time for marketers because posts only show up for 8-16% of their followers. As someone who has been in marketing for over 15 years (online marketing for 14 of those), these posts irk me. To me, they show a low understanding of how human beings engage with media and demonstrate that old perceptions of customer ownership persist, even through the Social Era.
General Facebook Stats
First off, here are some basic statistics on how people use Facebook. The average Facebook user has 229 friends and likes 40 brands. They spend an average of 1.5 hours/week on Facebook, accessing it from 7,000 different devices. 58% of Facebook users return daily. And 65% of people who like brands on Facebook do so for the coupons/savings they can access. (source + Facebook Insights 2012) There are 50 million Facebook pages that post 36 times per month - 2.5 million of those that are promoted through Facebook ads. (source) And 40% of people's time spent on Facebook is on their newsfeed, while only 12% of their time is spent on profile and brand pages. (source)
If you haven't figured it out mathematically, Facebook is NOISY for most users. I'm a super user (outlier), so I'm not the best example, but I have 3,233 friends (I try to weed them out to only people I've met from time to time, but it keeps growing), like 898 pages (don't know when THAT happened, oy), am part of 49 Facebook groups (some are SUPER active) and have a public page where I've grown 64,864 followers (who can comment, like and otherwise engage with my profile unless I limit visibility on a post). Facebook's Edgerank helps me a great deal. Sure, I don't see everything and I'm sure I'm missing all sorts of uber important life events and sales and launches, but it makes my experience on Facebook a little more sane.
My Mom, who defines herself as a luddite, has 174 friends on Facebook, 6 likes and is part of 1 group. She doesn't have a public profile, so doesn't have 'followers'. She still finds the amount of posts and news on Facebook to be overwhelming at times, so she created her favorites so she would always see what's happening with her family as we post items. She has created a filter ON TOP OF the Edgerank that Facebook provides to help her manage the posts from all of her friends.
I can understand that a brand who thinks that every like is an undivided attention endorsement would think that 8-16% of their followers seeing their posts means that Facebook is ripping them off. But anyone who thinks a little bit and understands how this works should get that Edgerank IS FOR THE USERS not for the marketers.
How Edgerank Works
Edgerank isn't some plot against brands who don't pay for advertising on Facebook. All it does is favor posts that are popular and relevant, whether it is a personal profile post or a brand page post. It also understands what users have engaged with previously, so if you spend a lot of time liking and commenting on certain friends' posts, those friends (and brands) will show up more often.
Here is a frequently passed around definition of how Edgerank works:
"EdgeRank is an algorithm used by Facebook to determine where and what posts appear on each individual user’s news feed in order to give users relevant and wanted content.
The three variables that make up this algorithm are:
- Affinity Score - Facebook calculates affinity score by looking at explicit actions that users take, and factoring in, the strength of the action, how close the person who took the action was to you, and how long ago they took the action.
- Edge Weight - Facebook changes the edge weights to reflect which type of stories they think user will find most engaging.
- Time Decay – The determines the time passed, if they’re old they probably don’t appear."
And, yes, a brand page can use advertising to improve their Edgerank. That's how advertising works. You pay for the ability to cheat the system. As the saying goes, "Advertising is the price you pay for having an unremarkable product," but I would also add that advertising is the price you pay for an unfair advantage. It's the way of balancing the universe. You can pay to be at the center of it. ;)
Why Marketers Really Hate Edgerank
There are several reasons why marketers* hate Edgerank:
- There is no instant gratification - even if you are a content maestro, it takes time to build an audience without advertising. For my clients, I use advertising to underscore great content instead of in place of it.
- They think a 'Like' means the Facebook user is endorsing undivided attention - the truth is, there are all sorts of reasons why people like brands on Facebook and, since the average user likes 40 brands and has 229 friends, there is no such thing as undivided attention (or if there is, it's rare...and a bit odd). The reason your posts aren't showing up on their newsfeeds is because they aren't engaging with them.
- Marketing people aren't generally content people and vice versa - I sat down with a journalist friend of mine who has been hired by a big fashion retailer to do their content. She's really brilliant at it, but had very little knowledge as to how to use the tools and how to promote the great content she was producing. They wanted her to do both content AND marketing and didn't understand that those two talents are very different and usually require two roles. People conflate them all too often and though you may find the rare individual that can do both well, it's best that you split the role for maximum oomph.
- Most marketers are still stuck in the old one-way paradigm - helloooo! It's the social era! This means that even old one-way mediums (billboards, television, radio, magazines, etc) need to get more multi-way in order to survive. So stop treating the social tools as bullhorns. Seriously. This is why you are failing at them. Facebook should be 50% listening, 25% responding and 25% talking (more or less).
- Campaigns should be part of content, not the other way around - content done in brief spurts and ebbs and flows just doesn't work (see #1). It takes time to build an audience, engage them enough to keep them coming back and delight them to the point of wanting to share to their own friends (they have their own audiences and goals). I've talked about how content bursts with long silences between hurt your audience on YouTube, but it works the same way in many social mediums and Facebook's Edgerank is one of them.
Marketers have to learn to work with content people (photographers, videographers, writers, journalists, graphic designers, artists, etc) on their strategy. Creativity and strategy are intertwined. In fact, the strategic process should look something like this:
...and you should enter this loop at learning. (note: I usually remove the launching/promoting part until a few cycles of learning, planning, implementing, learning, planning, implementing...)
The beauty of Facebook is that it is inexpensive and content rich and sky is the limit when it comes to creating engaging content AND everybody is there, hanging out, looking for great distractions. In addition, I don't believe there are many brands that do it right, so you have every opportunity in the world to raise the bar. Don't blame the tool, especially when it's implemented features that benefit the users you are trying to reach. Take a closer look at your own content. Are you engaging? Are you creating content your fans would be excited to share? Are you creating value? Improving knowledge? Lives? Are you making your customers' lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better? Or are you just adding to the noise?
Abandoning Facebook would be like cutting off your nose to spite your face. It's a great tool if you understand that it isn't a billboard. And remember, it's much less expensive and gives you all sorts of ways to hear from your audience and understand who you are hearing from (which is very difficult with a billboard).
So stop writing 'woe is me' posts and start respecting the medium and your audience. Trust me, you'll change your tune.
* I really shouldn't lump all of us in the same boat. I love Edgerank and think it's a beautiful and user-centric feature for Facebook. It just makes me work harder to create engaging content and I love a good challenge. I know there are great marketers out there who get this, too.
So now that you've been inspired to try your hand at social content marketing, and you understand your audience and what kind of content may appeal, it's time to plan out your content mix. Understanding the content mix that works for your audience is incredibly important and many companies get this very wrong. I break content down to four very general categories:
Product type content is the stuff that most people understand as self-promotional. These are posts about your product itself: the features, the benefits, the comparisons and the contrasts. It's the who, what, when, where and how of what you are selling. If you are doing content for a cosmetic company, it's the scientific study that shows a 25% reduction in crows feet. If you are doing content for a rockband, it's posting the concert dates and new singles. If you are doing content for a dental office, it's posting the specials on cleaning and whitening. If you are doing content for your consulting business, it's posting where you are featured as an expert in the Washington Post.
Product posts are the "me, me, me" posts. They are the ones that most resemble the traditional marketing one-way message, though many companies are trying to create interaction with these by adding a sharing, liking or commenting incentive (share to enter a contest, like to get a coupon, comment to let us know how you would wear this, etc).
These types of posts are essential for communicating what it is you are selling, where people can buy it, how they enjoy/use your product, when it is available or goes on special, who is behind the product (slightly crosses over to brand, which I'll explain next) and why people should buy your product. However, a content schedule made up of too many of these posts will not be interesting to anyone other than already devoted fans - and even they will be less and less interested as time goes on.
Brand type posts still relate to your product, but focus more on the "why" by empathizing with your audience and connecting with them on a more emotional level. Brand posts answer the question, "Why would YOU give a damn about my product?" but they don't list the features and benefits, they talk more about the customer and how they serve the customer's needs. This is where the content gets social. It listens and learns and evolves with the needs of the audience.
Brand type posts are answering how you are making your customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better. If you are doing content for a fashion retailer, this is where you focus on the outcomes of looking and feeling great wearing the clothes (quite often done visually and in a fantasy setting). If you are doing content for a public figure, this is where you showcase the issues and ideologies that people can connect with in order to support that person. If you are doing content for a sports team, this is where you can connect with the audience's competitive instincts, providing tools to help them show their team colors.
Brand type posts are still product related, but they speak to how the customer connects to the product rather than the awesomeness of the product itself. These posts evolve over time as you interact with the audience and understand what makes their lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and better. They can even help you improve your product. This will give your audience a feeling of personal investment in the product, which will lead to a deeper relationship and long-term loyalty.
Lifestyle type posts don't directly relate to your product, but they do speak to your audience. They are posts that recognize memes, holidays, current events and pop culture. These posts connect to your audience by recognizing what else is going on in their minds and show that your company gets the audience.
When Oreo posted the gay pride cookie, the image went viral because of many factors, but the biggest was that they took a risk. Oreo took a risk with a holiday that divides many (as gay rights is widely contested), leading to a wide number of supporters and detractors discussing and sharing the ad. The image itself was fairly innocuous with the rainbow colored filling between the iconic chocolate wafers and the word 'PRIDE'. It didn't say, "support gay rights" or stand up for anything in particular, but a family focused company giving any recognition to the gay community was enough to set the right wing audience off, which led to setting the left wing audience off to counteract the ire. The next thing you know, a cute, sleeper campaign turned into national news and Oreo cookies were top of mind for people again.
Lifestyle type posts are simple to fall back on. There are severalsitesonline that list all sorts of fun holidays (i.e. Talk Like a Pirate Day on September 19, or Best Friends Day on June 8) that could tie back to your product easily or creatively or speak to your particular audiences. However, don't overdo these as they could start to look like desperate attempts at content ideas and pandering. Memes can be a clever way to connect with your audience, but make sure the memes are known enough and current. A 'yesterdays' meme will make you look out of date (posting a Harlem Shake video today, for example) and a too obscure meme may go over the heads of your audience and may offend. Many brands do well aligning to pop culture, but be careful with the rights to images.
Unless you can be creative about it like Oreo (without looking like a copy cat), it's probably best you keep these posts a small percentage of your content. Occasional Lifestyle type content posts will pack a good amount of punch if you post them sparingly. They tend to get shared quite widely as people can use them to communicate their endorsement of the holiday or meme by simply posting to their own walls.
Community type posts focus on your customers and audience. These content posts highlight customer stories, ideas, feedback and lifestyles.
An example of a community post for a fashion retailer would be street style photographs where their customers talk about what they bought and what they are wearing. When doing the Justin Trudeau leadership campaign, we collected supporter stories on how people came to meet and support Justin. We used these stories in a post, and interviewed and highlighted the really unique ones, posting them to the blog, Facebook and Twitter. These posts weren't the most shared or liked, but they were meaningful and encouraged more people to share their own stories. Many cosmetic brands will hold contests for their audience to do makeup tutorials. Mac did a wonderful 'Face Off' campaign for Halloween in 2012 where they posted some amazing Halloween makeup tutorials and invited budding makeup artists to submit their own. The results were incredible and some of their most popular posts (good example of using lifestyle - Halloween - and combining it with community).
Community type posts are very good at involving your customers in the future of your brand, but don't get too complex. One of my clients was asking for their audience to submit a big design project, which required too much work. When they reduced that ask to a before and after photo, they got many more submissions.
Community type posts most likely won't be your most shared or liked post, but they empower your customers to be involved with your brand, which is important for relationship building.
THE CONTENT MIX
These four classifications aren't black and white. A product post can have lifestyle and brand type elements. Community posts can also be brand. The mix also varies depending on your audience and your own goals. Oreo Cookies, for instance, do almost exclusively lifestyle posts (that have a brand bend) and people love them, but this approach wouldn't work for everyone.
And remember, these four classifications I've outlined are very top level and only to be used as a guideline for your initial content planning. As your content evolves, you will break down types of posts even more finitely. Decotheca, a client of mine who provides design inspiration and guidelines for Canadians who are designing or redesigning their rooms and homes, have focused most of their energy on brand type posts, but have broken these posts down to: DIY projects, Design Style Overviews, Color Inspiration, Design Terminology, Accessories, etc. When assessing content, we look at the type of post and the type of content of each post to determine how to adjust and balance going forward. Currently people love the DIY projects the most, but overdoing these would reduce their effectiveness.
But I recognize that sitting down in front of a blank calendar to create engaging content can be daunting and I've found the four types of content to be a good exercise to get started. From there, you should let your audience and their engagement and feedback determine how it evolves. Your content planning will move from a daunting, laborious task to a fun and learning experience.
The overall purpose of content marketing is to build and connect with your audience, get feedback to improve your product, grow loyalty though involving your customers in your evolution and then help your loyal, loving audience spread the word for you, bringing in a larger audience. Ultimately, this leads to you being top of mind and increasing your sales or supporters.
First off, the title of this post is misleading. There is no formula, everything is social and it's not about the content at all.
But with that out of the way, there IS a different philosophy to creating social content and the key to uncovering it lies with a theory posited by Isaiah Berlin*, a philosopher in an essay called "The Hedgehog and the Fox" where he refers to a poem by the ancient Greek Archilochus, who describes the two characters as follows:
"The fox knows many little things, but the hedgehog knows one big thing."
Foxes are multidisciplinary, adaptable, self-critical, tolerant of complexity, cautious and empirical, while Hedgehogs are specialized, stalwart, stubborn, order-seeking, confident and ideological. While Hedgehogs look for evidence to support their beliefs and are highly susceptible to confirmation bias, Foxes tend to appear to the outside world as uncertain and a bit scattered.
Bear with me here. This matters.
Quite often, people seek out things like formulas and best practices and all sorts of ways to ensure the best outcomes. Books and posts and articles and infographics are gobbled up whole in order to satisfy an eager marketers desire to implement a 'highly impactful' content strategy. These types are Hedgehogs. They will see a popular 700x700 inspirational quote being passed around Facebook like wildfire and think, "A-ha! That's the key! We need to create more square inspirational quotes!" This results in something like this:
Not saying that these sorts of techniques are without merit. Hell, it's been shared 225x and liked 1,274x. I, myself, have deployed a few of these bad boys and achieved great results. But when analyzing any data behind the content I've produced, there just isn't enough evidence to support that a formula alone makes for good, sharable, interesting content. And formulas grow tired and have declining returns.
Hedgehogs use formulas and pump out content that satisfies formulas and when the returns on that content decline, they look around and find new formulas to mimic. This is not only unsustainable, but it's insulting to the people who are following your content. These messages speak to the choir (who will sing on key), but will rarely incite others to join in.
Foxes, on the other hand, approach content very differently. They may pick up ideas from what's hip and happening and learn from other successes, but they spend WAY more time figuring out what it is that their customers really care about and work on delivering THAT. This takes all of the multi-disciplinary, adaptable, self-critical, tolerance for complexity and empirical talent they have. They can't "plan" a calendar months in advance. That would be ludicrous and a waste of time. Their content morphs and bends with too many variables, the biggest of which is the needs of the audience itself.
I wrote about these Foxy creatures at length in my last post on content. It's not hard to find them, either. Just look at the YouTubers that are killing it with subscribers. Two of them stayed at my house last weekend and when Carlos asked them about their 'secret sauce', they looked at him puzzled. In their minds, there was no such thing as a 'secret sauce'. They just run around with a camera and whatever they think is funny, they record and post. When I told them there were some basic principles, they pushed back and said, "If you start using rules, you stop using your instincts."
IF YOU START USING RULES, YOU STOP USING YOUR INSTINCTS.
That is a phrase very much worth repeating. Whether it's Roman and Dennis of SerialPranksters or the incredibly funny Jenna Marbles or my personal fave Hanna Hart, there is no way you can decipher a formula for success. The only things they have in common is that they are naturally funny, have great instincts for what others will find funny and just keep producing. Sometimes they produce huge hits and sometimes they produce misses, but they are consistent and adaptive. (and uniquely themselves)
I've tried to explain to clients over the years that the best gauge of what will be well-received is something that they, themselves, would find entertaining or useful. But Hedgehogs have a very tough time shifting to this perspective.
"I would find my PRODUCT entertaining and useful. It's the BEST!" they answer.
This is where the self-critical aspect comes into play. Most Foxes will say that they are really bad salespeople, but in actuality, they are great salespeople...especially in a cynical world. They don't think of themselves or their product as "the most amazing whatever". They never stop wanting to improve and, as a result, end up growing rabid fan-bases because of their humble approach and customer empathy. Many beloved brands I've studied carry the self-critical gene: Zappos, Threadless (their motto was actually, "We are never good enough"), Etsy, and Southwest Airlines...just to name a few. They are more focused on their customer's happiness than their own any day and it shows with loyalty and sales.
But back to content. There is no secret because 'secrets' and 'formulas' and 'best-practices' belong in the realm of Hedgehogs. But if you are a stubborn Hedgehog, and you admit it, there ARE a few ways to become more Foxy:
- put down the content calendar and just hang out with your customers (AND your competitors' customers) more. Not with a clipboard taking notes or with the desire to convince anyone to try your product. JUST CHILL and absorb.
- stop thinking of your audience as content consumers. They do not live for your 'sharables'. They aren't sitting with index fingers hovering over the like button, eagerly awaiting your next witty post. They have lives and you are a small, teensy part of their daily thoughts. If they don't think of anything else other than you, you have a bigger problem on your hands.
- go to a movie, read a book, subscribe to blogs, skim through magazines -- outside of your industry and outside of your comfort area. Embrace diversity and different points of view. Have conversations with people you would never dream of having conversations with.
- think really hard about what you are truly passionate about. What makes you laugh, cry, sing...what inspires you. What are you drawn to? Think about this honestly outside of the context of your business. Do more of that. Learn how to trust your instincts again and when they lead you astray...
- don't fret. Some things will work and some things won't. But keep going and learning from those mistakes. Take criticism with a grain of salt and start to learn what is constructive and what is not. Being experimental and open doesn't mean you have to bend with every whim either. You'll learn over time and hone that instinct beautifully.
The 'secret' to great social content is about a new approach to thinking. One that is service-oriented and empathetic. A question I always pose to people I work with on content is, "Is this going to make people feel better? Smarter? More in control of their lives? Help them look good to their friends? Help them make more friends? Give them tools to grow? Save them a headache? Time?" If the answer is no, you are really just adding noise. If a tv, paper or magazine constantly put out content that did nothing but serve their own interests, they wouldn't last long. Every brand has to think like a newsroom now (while every newsroom has to think like a brand, really).
So the secret? Think like a fox, stop following advice and tap into those instincts.
* credit where credit is due: I read about Berlin in Nate Silver's awesome book The Signal and the Noise: Why So Many Predictions Fail-but Some Don't - where the theory inspired this entire post. And I can't help but point out that I did not gain inspiration for a post by reading a social media book, but a book about statistics, predicting outcomes, sports and politics.
[slideshare id=15039782&doc=socialretailersinnerssaints2-121105181228-phpapp01] This week I gave a presentation on the sinners and saints of social to a room full of retailers. The sad truth is that it's nearing the end of 2012 and it's still really difficult to find brands that are doing a good job of social. There are definitely more and more that are starting to understand that content isn't just something that magically appears, but they are still falling short on the 'doing stuff that puts the customer at the center' bit. The moral of my presentation is, "It's not about you" but I continue to observe and hear time and time again that brands are more focused on their own needs than they are the needs of the customer.
From asking for 'viral videos' when they really mean they want lots of views without concern for whether people really enjoyed or engaged (and counting paid views as engagement) to sacrificing user experience for brand control, there are too many sinners than there should be when there is endless information on how to create a great video, an amazing website and a great overall customer experience. It makes me wonder if I'm living on a different planet than those who are running the strategy for most brands.
If you don't want to thumb through the 114 slides (most of them are really quick btw...I design my presentations to be readable on multiple platforms - in person and web), just skip it and read this bit...which is my favorite section and the one I live by. If you haven't read any of Joseph Campbell's writings on The Hero's Journey, I highly recommend it. It's an oldie, but goodie and the story arch behind pretty much every successful movie, book, adventure and campaign ever launched. Here is my interpretation of it for a beauty brand:
See what I did there? ;)
I watched Justin Kingsley talk about The Art of Storytelling this morning at a conference (no video or slides yet) and couldn't help but think of how much the examples he used follow the Hero's Journey story arch almost perfectly. I love how some fundamentals never change. Human connection may be enabled through new technology, but WHY we connect remains pretty constant.
Viral videos are still largely a mystery. Why a South Korean music video has been viewed over half a BILLION times in less than 3 months is beyond me. It's a catchy tune, yes. And the parodies have been oodles of fun. But over 500M times? I doubt anyone would have predicted that. Justin Bieber still reigns with his Baby video, which should reach 1 Billion views by the end of this year, but PSY is catching up in record time.
But while viral videos are often a one-hit wonder mystery (Chuck Testa, Double Rainbow Guy, Charlie Bit My Finger, etc) and are largely due to luck (funny/interesting/surprising content + right place + right time + slow news day), there is another realm of YouTube that has more predictable results: content channels.
Content channels are the YouTube producers that provide regular programming with deep, long-term engagement. They have loads of subscribers who tune into their videos on a daily or weekly basis, watching, commenting, liking and sharing videos on a consistent basis. And though some of these channels were jump-started by a single viral video, many of them were built over time by engaging their audience and following some well-publicized best practices on YouTube (highly recommended download).
Though these best practices, tips and tricks are readily available, I've been surprised to find that many brands that are dying to engage in the power of YouTube ignore or avoid this advice altogether, opting instead for big advertising spends and vanity plays. When I say vanity plays, I'm referring to the tendency for brands to invest more in branding than they do in long term engagement. A fully customized YouTube channel page, for instance, has a price: a major advertising investment (in the US, having a vanity page could cost you $200,000 ad spend + the cost of customizing the page). That's a whole lot of money in lieu of engagement.
So, what are some of these best practices? They are pretty simple:
- Create great content that's unique, compelling and engaging (informative or entertaining)
- Use the first 10 seconds of your video to grab attention: if you are posting a how-to video, show the results before you go into the spiel
- Post on a consistent basis: one video won't do it, and uploading a whole whack of videos at once won't do it either.
- Post fresh content on a regular basis: record, post, interact, get feedback, use that feedback to improve your next video. Repeat! The most powerful part of YouTube is the interaction. The best video bloggers listen to their audience and incorporate questions and requests regularly.
- Use great thumbnails (show the end result or the best snap of the video), tag well, title descriptively and use annotations and information to your advantage
For this analysis I'm focusing on beauty because there are MULTIPLE categories for multiple viewers on YouTube and beauty is not only one of my favorites, but the area in which I have spent most of my analysis. Music, comedy, travel and gaming are areas in which brands and independents are mixing quite well at the moment. Fashion and beauty are still laggards. And, for the purpose of analysis, I've chosen one ostensibly independent channel and two of the top brand channels (meaning that they are well-recognized beauty brands). I also rate by subscribers and not views. You can buy views, but subscribers come organically and are a good sign of engagement.
One of my favorite channels on YouTube is LuxyHair:
Though I'm pretty sure their bedrooms aren't really that spotless, they do a lovely production job of mixing casual and professional. Mimi and Leyla are sweet and generous and friendly. The lighting is perfect. The setting (bedroom) is fun and casual, but lovely. The styles they do are timely (they watch the trends and the comments). And because of this, they have amazing engagement: nearly 600,000 subscribers and nearly 100 MILLION views on their videos. They also get oodles of comments and interactions (video replies, likes and messages).
And guess what? LuxyHair is a brand!
They've been posting videos and slowly improving since a few months before they launched their hair extensions line. They did it right. They started building a community and audience and providing value before they started posting any product at all. And even today, they rarely, if ever, talk directly about their hair extensions. Instead, they show us in the audience how to wear them and look amazing in various styles. Subtly, there is always a link in the comments to the extensions they've used in the style...you know...just in case I need to know.
I actually didn't know that LuxyHair was a brand until I'd been subscribed for a few months. I found one of their hair tutorials as a related video and loved it so much, I subscribed to the channel. I kept watching the videos through my YouTube dashboard and one day Mimi mentioned something off hand about the extensions, so I clicked through and checked them out. I was impressed that they spent so much time building community and offering something for the viewers that I'm likely to order some extensions from them in the near future.
Another brand that does a pretty decent job is Mac Cosmetics:
Normally, I wouldn't think much of their YouTube content as it's sort of all over the map and much of it misses the mark on what I need to get from a beauty channel (personally, I could care less about backstage at FashionWeek), but their really short and snappy tips and tricks are pretty awesome. Like this tip for winged out eye makeup or this one on how to clean up the red pout. Their thumbnails, awful bad titles that aren't descriptive and their general inability to focus drive me a bit nuts, but the content is there. It just needs to be cleaned up.
Plus, I can totally forgive them because they run a full-on integrated, love for the makeup artist community show through multiple platforms, including on their own site (but really? No sharable URLs? C'mon!). They obviously care and it shows. They just need some discipline. But whatever, they are artists. ;)
Mac Cosmetics looks to be the most subscribed to major beauty brand on YouTube, but one of my favorite social brands is catching up fast...Sephora:
Of course Sephora has the advantage that many beauty bloggers have: they have multiple lines of cosmetics to work with. However, they started late in the game and through using many of the YouTube best practices (regular, timely uploads; good thumbnails; great use of playlists; effective titling and tagging; etc), they are taking the beauty world on YouTube by storm. Just a snapshot comparison of Sephora, Mac Cosmetics and Luxy Hair shows that they are growing in leaps and bounds:
They are nowhere near LuxyHair, but are poised to overtake Mac in a few months as the reigning Queen of beauty brand YouTube. I should add, however, that some of the early growth was due to paid advertising, but they've used it pretty sparingly along the way and the majority of their channel growth is organic and due to their use of best practices, attention to details and community interaction. Like Mac, they also have a fully integrated social strategy and use Facebook, their own BeautyTalk community, Twitter, Pinterest, Tumblr, Instagram and mobile platforms. They interact regularly and produce helpful and fun content on all of their platforms. They also have a robust VIB (Very Important Beauty) program that rewards loyalty, a killer email marketing program, make their stores super DIY and have a really great website and ecommerce platform that makes it easy to search for products by brand, skin issue, categories, trends, specials and expert advice. It's hard to compete with their focus on customer experience...but you should try.
I originally had analyzed a few misses, but I've decided to make this a more general post because, well, it encompasses pretty much every beauty brand on YouTube. Sorry. By now, if you are reading this and you work for a beauty brand, you probably know who you are. Instead, let me point out what you are generally doing wrong.
You are making one or many or all of the following MISTAKES:
1. In a desperate attempt to 'go viral', you are paying for advertising to boost content that is best suited for a one-way medium (ie. an advertisement that has no story, emotion or interactiveness).
2. You are getting a bunch of tutorial videos professionally shot all at once so you can have plenty of content kicking around to upload over time.
3. You are spending a whole bunch of time and money getting your channel landing page branded beautifully (for those rare people that actually land on a channel homepage - less than 1% btw).
4. You are running short-term campaigns on YouTube with no long term planning or thought of how much a community would benefit your brand over the long run
5. You aren't paying any attention to how people really discover your videos...through search, blogs, social networks and other sources where your thumbnails, descriptions and titles really really matter for discoverability.
All-in-all, you are sending the signal that you would rather spend a big sum of money than spend the time building real relationships and community around your brand. Spending money is fine, but it should support, not be in lieu of community building. I've watched many too many brands with short-term visions and I know that part of it is the way that advertising budgets are set out. But if you want to really benefit from social, you need to BE social. You need to look at it through a long-term lens and budget accordingly. Online doesn't work like print worked. It doesn't work like television or outdoor or radio or any of the previous one-way media worked for brands. Social is two-way....no multi-way conversation between you and your customers, your customers and your customers and your customers and your future customers. Hell it's even a conversation between you and your competitors because even the most loyal customers use multiple brands and working WITH that fact will help you a great deal.
You need to think from a customers point of view. It's not about you and how pretty or authoritative or polished your brand is. It's about how you help make her feel. What does she need? What does she desire? I've said it before, and here I go again:
Social is about making your customers’ lives simpler, less confusing, less alienating, more efficient, more meaningful and just plain better.
It costs less money and more time. Instead of spending $200,000 on ads and $50,000 on a fancy brand channel page, spend that money on hiring great people who understand your customers and your brand (maybe even one of your biggest fans!) to build your community. It will cost you less in the short term and have way more benefits in the long term. Use YouTube best practices...learnt from those who have built strong, adoring, amazing communities of devoted viewers.
Everything is social now and your customers expect more from you now. You need to change your thinking if you want to succeed today. And believe me, you will look back and realize how wrong your approach was when you are spending little money on advertising and lots of time really interacting with your customers.