Why Many Social Media ‘Best Practices’ are Misleading & What You Should Do Instead

Why Many Social Media ‘Best Practices’ are Misleading & What You Should Do Instead

The other day I was watching Shark Tank when I cringed at a contestant’s answers to questions about their main sales channels.

The answers started out as you’d expect with the contestant saying that around 65% of their sales are coming from online and the rest from local small businesses. Makes sense. Then he added that the company is also killing it on social. “We have 20,000 Facebook page likes, 17,000 followers on Twitter, 25,000 on Instagram.”

Right.

That answer is an excellent example of what not to concentrate on when doing social marketing. You may have 20,000 or even 200,000-page likes but when your average post engagement looks like this:

You have already lost.

Many think getting more followers is the name of the game. It’s not. On its own, the number of followers is of little meaning. Ultimately social, like other forms of marketing, is about getting more sales. So the quality and engagement of your fans matter a lot more than the quantity.

The social media marketing world churns out tons of bad recommendations and rules to follow that will supposedly guarantee success.

Most of the time it doesn’t work.

So let’s take a closer look at some those tactics and see what they’re about and why they work or don’t.

Misleading Tip #1: Be Active on All Platforms

You’ve just published a killer piece of content on your blog, and now it’s time to get the word out. So naturally you:

  • Post to Facebook
  • Post to Twitter
  • Post to Pinterest
  • Post to Instagram
  • Post to LinkedIn
  • Post to [insert platform here]

You do this because it's what everyone says you should be doing. The more platforms on which you’re active, the better as you’re maximizing your chances of being noticed.

Right?

Well, yes. That’s certainly true when you think about social only as a distribution channel for your content – using the same messaging on every platform. That’s one strategy you can follow. But what happens when you run out of platforms?

A better approach starts with understanding that there is no such thing as an overarching social media strategy that works on each and every platform. Each social network has its mix of demographics, which greatly influences the overall culture, like different cities scattered all around the nation, in various states, each with its own vibe and “rules” of what is acceptable and what’s not.

For instance, just look at the difference in the most recent demographics between Facebook and Instagram as provided by Pew Research

While Facebook is the most popular, with 71% of adult internet users being present and a relatively even spread of people between 18-64, Instagram does not.

Instagram only has 26% of the adult internet population, and it very clearly skews towards younger adults, which means most users aren't worried about their mom seeing their posts, and therefore changes the entire culture of the platform. 

Start investing time into actually understanding the different demographics (age distribution, gender, races, income levels) in addition to the "local language' that works on each platform.

For example, say you have a new wine that just arrived, and you want to start promoting it on different social accounts.

For Facebook the post might look like this:

Image via Inc

On Instagram, this:

Image via Inc

And on Pinterest:

Image via Inc

The basics are the same. It’s a bottle of wine that you want people to buy. The way you communicate the “why” differs depending on the platform.

On Pinterest, it’s about giving more background info through infographic style graphics. Instagram is about conveying the message in more arts and crafty type pictures while Facebook is more about appealing to a mainstream audience.

This understanding of what is appropriate on any given platform and who their user base is all by design of course. By making the platform look a certain way, by allowing in only certain type of content (picture/video/GIF etc.) and giving the tools and filters, you’re pretty much guaranteeing the kind of content that will appear and the kind of people this will appeal to.

Even if you’ve mastered all the different communication styles of different platforms, you can never truly rest on your laurels and stop learning. New features are continually being introduced as the demographics keep changing.

Facebook started out as a way to connect with your on-campus college friends, and it has since grown to over 1.6 billion users using it every month. Today people who joined Facebook as college freshman are in their early thirties (and 30-49-year-old users are the second largest group using the platform!)

As I mentioned earlier, it's not just age, but features of the network that gain the attention of a demographic. Not too long ago, pictures shared on Facebook over-indexed by a wide margin. Today, (live) video gets more engagement – a feature that launched less than a year ago. Facebook understand it’s user base and the need because Facebook wants more brands to engage with the product.

How serious is Facebook about the future of live video? They’re now paying media companies to produce exclusive, quality content just for their platform. Paying them!

Customizing content for each and every platform is obviously a lot more work than simply scheduling the same piece of content for every platform. Even if you have the resources, there are no guarantees that the people who you reach through social are the right target segments for your brand.

To combat this problem, you have to answer one question:

Who Is Your Customer?

The main reason for having a presence on a social platform is to engage with your current customers and acquire new ones. The goal is to stay within your target market’s peripheral vision at all times – on the platforms they use – to encourage them to buy from you and keep on buying!.

Social media marketing is about reaching out to your target market and gaining their trust. So, it doesn’t matter that you use X, Y, and Z social platform. It matters if your market does.

Misleading Tip #2: Post at Least Three Times a Day

Image via HubSpot

Moving on from where and what to post, the next obvious question is around the frequency and timing of your posts. You may be thinking: “There’s got to be a sweet spot whereby I can maximize exposure, right?”

Sure, there’s data from reputable companies like Buffer and HubSpot out there that demonstrates that “organizations with more Facebook followers tend to get more interaction with each of their posts. Pages with over 10,000 followers were the only ones for whom posting more often increased the number of clicks per post.”

Or that you should post to Pinterest 5 times a day for optimal engagement.

I’m not saying that Buffer and HubSpot are wrong. For the companies that they based their research on, those numbers are accurate. At the very least, they are correct in aggregate.

Now, the question is – how similar is your audience to the ones cited in the study? As there is no way to know what the audiences looked like in the original studies, it’s impossible to tell if the same strategies will work for you.

Posting at 10 AM on Tuesdays when your core audience is business people aged 45+ might be the best tactical advice you’ve ever received. Likewise, it could be the worst when you’re going after college freshman.

Nobody can tell you what is the “correct” time or frequency for your audience. But, there are tools to give you insights into when your audience is online. For Twitter, tools like Followerwonk and Tweriod work great.

On Facebook, go to “Insights”, then under the “Posts” tab you have “When Your Fans Are Online”:

Those tools and other similar are great for getting an overall sense of what days and times are “best” on average.

Depending on the size of your audience, it can also be beneficial to dig a little deeper and experiment with posting outside those “best times” with content that are directed at different subsections of your audience. A piece for early birds posted at 6 PM will make very little impact while the same content posted at 6 AM can have a bigger one.

When it comes to actually timing out your posts there are tools like Buffer, Sprout Social, HubSpot, Hootsuite and a number of smaller players like KUKU or Social Pilot for your social media management. All of them have built-in capabilities to test posts at different times of the day and analyzing results.

Select the one that works for best your business needs (they all have different price points) and start testing now.

Misleading Tip#3: Social Ads Are the Best!

Image via Moz

Ads on social, especially on Facebook, are a great way to gain more visibility and customers. Compared with other forms of advertising, this channel is also relatively cheap when done right and there’s an abundance of success stories to inspire you.

The problem is that most companies are not using these ad platforms to their full potential.

AdEspresso analyzed over 37,000 Facebook ads and found that, among other things, most companies are only using one ad. Not an ad set. A singular ad.

This, I have trouble understanding. You have access to all this data about your customers from past purchases, why not use it to target people like them to get more customers? It’s not like you have a crystal ball that tells you exactly which ads will convert the best.

Having the capabilities to serve different type and variations of the same ad creatives (text, videos, images) to the same segment takes the guesswork out and leaves you with highly customized tools to find out exactly what works and what doesn’t on any given segment.

Also, don’t forget about the timing of your ads. From the last point you already have data on when your followers are online, when you’re trying to get more customers like the ones you already have it’s safe to assume that they’ll be online generally around the same times. Use that data!

Another thing to note is tracking. Sure, ads on social come with basic tracking but you really want figure out what’s happening with the people that click through on your ads, use UTM codes. They are those little snippets of text added to the end of your URL to help you track the success of your content on the web. For a good overview on how to use them, check here.

The AdEspresso study from above found , among other things, that the companies that are successful with Facebook ads are running 100s of different ads at the same time to increase their chances of success. Granted, going from 1 to 100 ads all at once is too much. But could you manage 10? I think you could.

If you need help getting started, Moz has put together a great guide that goes over everything from different bid models, segmenting creative to targeting, usage of third party data and more. Highly recommended.

Changing Face of Social Media

While social ads are all the rage right now (for a good reason, they work), they are not the most efficient way to get people to buy from you anymore.

As good as social ads are, you’re still relying on a potential customer seeing your ad, then clicking on it, then a new window pops open. Now they have to navigate around your site, find suitable products, add them to cart and finally, check out.

All of these extra steps create friction and present opportunities for would-be customers to get lost on your site, or simply lose interest during the time it takes to finally checkout. An alternative solution is to complete the buying experience on the social platform, instead of leaving to go to another website. In commerce lingo, this is known as “native commerce” and it’s changing the way business is done on

An alternative solution is to complete the buying experience on the social platform, instead of leaving to go to another website. In commerce lingo, this is known as “native commerce” and it’s changing the way business is done on social channel. Effectively it’s turning social into a direct sales channel.

Let’s say I’m on Pinterest looking at dining tables and see a beautiful reclaimed wood dining table that I’d really love to get.

Since Pinterest supports native buying, this process is as simple as clicking the “Buy It” button. A checkout window opens on the same tab. Next, I input my info (most of which is pre-filled already) and bam! I’m done.

There’s no need to browse around on your site, add things to a shopping cart, log in to an account, etc. Customers can finish their buying experience right inside the social platform itself – streamlining the whole experience.

Social “Buy” buttons are currently available for Facebook, Twitter and Pinterest (and are available for every Shopify Plus customer). Additionally, Instagram has implemented ads with a “SHOP NOW” button.

As for the effectiveness of native buying, brands that are already using it (like MVMT Watches) are seeing similar conversion rates to mobile. And as more and more people get familiar with this new sales channel, conversion rates are expected to rise accordingly.

Final Thoughts

Social media marketing is a field that can be incredibly useful to stay in touch with, retain and gain new followers. It’s a field that's constantly in motion and changing, what worked yesterday is not guaranteed to work today as platforms evolve and new ones appear.

Social media is not just a marketing channel anymore.

As more platforms come out with native buying experiences, it’s evolving into a direct sales channel. And as with any new thing, the ones that get on the train early will reap the biggest benefits.