Social Media Content Strategy: How to Respond to a Changing Marketplace

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Do you have a content strategy for your social media marketing? Wondering how content and social media strategies can fit together?

To explore how to use content strategically for 2020 and beyond, I interview Jay Baer on the Social Media Marketing Podcast.

Jay is a marketing and customer experience strategist. He’s the founder of Convince & Convert and co-author of the book, Talk Triggers. He’s also the host of the Social Pros podcast and Standing Ovation, a brand-new podcast focused on speaking and events.

Jay reveals some of the big trends he sees in social media marketing today and discusses the important role of content in your social media strategy.

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Increased Prevalence of Dark Social and Messaging

Social media is starting to move away from broadcasting—speaking to as large an audience as possible—and more toward narrow-casting or trying to have more productive conversations with maybe 75 people rather than 500,000.

Facebook Groups is certainly a big part of that, as are dark social channels such as Facebook Messenger, WhatsApp, Instagram, and DMs.

Dark Social

“Dark social” typically means all of the different social interactions; mentions of links, products, services; and other commentary that you can’t find using some sort of social listening software or tool. It’s “dark” because it’s opaque to analysis. A conversation on Skype, a message on WhatsApp, or an interaction on Facebook Messenger are all dark social.

These are all places where social listening software can’t track how many times a hashtag was used or see if anybody mentioned a brand. That puts brands at a bit of a disadvantage; they want to be part of those conversations but they can take part in the conversations they can find. Add things like chatbots and web chat to dark social and you get what’s sometimes referred to as “conversational marketing.”

icons for WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Skype

This opens up a question. Is it marketing if you’re just interacting with one person? Marketing is traditionally defined as a one-to-many exchange.

If a customer goes to a website and has an interaction with a robot, and that robot helps them select a particular item, is that marketing? It’s entirely different from what we’ve come to believe digital marketing is for, which is to disseminate information to a lot of people at once. That’s not what conversational marketing or dark social is about. But that doesn’t mean it’s necessarily any less effective. We just have to change the way we think about the strategy.

Direct selling, customer support, and those types of things are all fusing with marketing these days. Twitter is maybe the seventh-biggest social network in the U.S. by usage. It’s not at the top of the list by any stretch of the imagination. But from a customer service and customer care standpoint, Twitter is debatably first or second. Sometimes use cases tend to fit the platforms and evolve over time.

The Future of Messaging for Marketing

Personal interactions such as Messenger bots, web bots, and live chat are scalable with technology.

Facebook has announced that they’re going to merge the backend of all of their messaging properties: WhatsApp, Facebook Messenger, and Instagram DMs. Right now, Jay is advising his clients to get familiar with Facebook Messenger bots and chatbots, but not to make any really significant moves until we see what that “ultimate messaging app” looks like. Facebook has such a stranglehold on messaging, and on what we now call dark social, that whatever they decide to do is going to lead the industry.

Years ago, brands hired community managers to interact with humans on a one-on-one basis in many cases. The pendulum has gone back to one-on-one but in a more public way because it’s all out there on Twitter and Facebook. We’re going back to interacting with humans on whatever medium they choose. Answering tweets and sending customers WhatsApp messages now is much the same job as a community manager’s. One’s private, one’s public, but it’s a similar effect.

example of customer service exchange on Twitter

Trading scale for authenticity, broadcasting for narrow-casting, and media for social may make the job of strategists and consultants a little harder because these conversations aren’t as trackable. But on a human level, it’s making social more personal, smaller, and more neighborly again, like it used to be.

If you watch how kids are using social media, it’ll show you the future of how everybody’s going to use it. Jay has two kids who are college students. They use Instagram all the time but they post to their Instagram walls very rarely. They use Instagram’s messaging to communicate with the 30 people in the world they actually care about. It’s their version of email, which is a really interesting use case for social.

Shorter Video Content on Social Channels

Content has been getting shorter for years and the trend shows no signs of slowing. Data shows that the shorter a video is, the better it performs on social media, almost universally. The average business video is now less than 2 minutes. The rise of TikTok has put even more pressure on content to be tighter.

Jay predicts that eventually, the only long-form content will be video streaming and podcasts. Everything else is going to be 45 seconds or less, which is a very interesting way to have to communicate a brand’s story.

There are a few different reasons for this. First, there’s more content overall so if someone doesn’t like something, they’re able to move on to the next thing very quickly. The same thing happened years ago when Google searches first started taking off on mobile devices.

When smartphones first rolled out, there was a reduction in the average length of visit to websites from people coming from Google organic search. People were looking something up, clicking on the first result, and then quickly clicking away if it wasn’t what they were looking for because it was so easy to move on to the next result. An average website session duration from Google visitors was about 5 seconds, going back and forth until they found the right link.

The same thing is now happening with social. Whatever content you might dip your toe into, if you’re not instantly hooked, you know that other possibly better content is just a scroll away.

Another potential reason is that such a high percentage of social media content is being consumed on mobile devices, where you have the slot machine effect with thumb-scrolling. The window shade going past your eyes, doing a bunch of things quickly, in, out, in, out, just becomes the ritual.

example of TikTok post from brand

The third explanation is that quite simply, short content works. Many successful social media content creators are doing great things with short-form. It just puts a lot of pressure on everybody else to be that concise and that clear on message and call to action. If everybody else has a 1-minute video and your video is 7 minutes, it had better be incredible. Otherwise, viewers will wonder why they should spend 6 additional minutes to watch yours when it’s no better than the others that are a minute long.

Why Is Most Social Video Getting Shorter?

For the most part, people don’t go to Facebook or LinkedIn to watch video. It’s not part of their intention when they launch the apps. Instead, they’re going there to see what’s going on, kill some time, or catch up with their friends, and they’re scrolling through a lot of content.

Same thing with Instagram. They’re not going there to watch video, and if they’re on their mobile phone, they’re often in a public place and can’t even really watch video unless it’s muted. That creates difficulties for them to actually consume longer content, so they don’t unless it’s incredibly good.

The other challenge with Facebook in particular is that video doesn’t take over the whole screen so there are disruptions. Facebook has all sorts of pop-up notifications of people who are commenting on other things while you’re trying to watch a video. It’s almost as if they don’t want you to watch it.

Exceptions to the Trend

YouTube

YouTube is a place where people will watch slightly longer videos for a few reasons. One, YouTube has behavioral dynamics that are much more like television. Viewers settle in and watch videos on YouTube because that’s what they’re there to do.

YouTube is also much more like Google in its behavioral dynamics. A large percentage of people search YouTube for information. At that point, they’re going to watch however long that video is, generally speaking. So there’s a cause and effect with YouTube that just isn’t present elsewhere. On other social networks, people scroll, come across a 45-second video, and decide to watch. It’s not the same as going to YouTube and asking, “How do I integrate sales and marketing?” One is push and one is pull.

Stories

The one exception to this is Stories. People get stuck in story loops and they stay stuck for a while. Stories are perfectly curated and designed to get people into that slot machine effect. Everything’s really quick. When a story is completed, the next story loads immediately. There’s no option to bail out; there has to be a decision to leave.

five Instagram Stories posts from brands

To illustrate, once an episode is completed on Netflix, the “play next episode” invitation is up there for just a moment, and then the next episode of that show just starts. Stories work the same way. Once you’re in there, you have to purposely get out. There really is no natural pause. It’s very much set up to keep you in that neighborhood. And obviously, that benefits the platform’s advertisers as well.

Shorter Video With Long Text

Unlike video, text isn’t necessarily getting shorter. Often what works best on social is a short video with longer text. Look at Instagram, where a photo is a photo. What really tends to perform well are the super-long, heartfelt, 500-word captions that are practically blog posts.

example of long Instagram caption from brand

On LinkedIn, Jay has told his team not to even try to make somebody click. They need to just pay off the solution right there in the post. Here’s the question, here’s the answer. Facebook works the same way.

The platforms want users to stay on the platforms. The olden days of linking out to blog posts are gone. People still do it but with limited reach because the algorithms restrict those posts. Long captions are a way to provide value to an audience without sending them away from the platform.

Algorithmically, the platforms actually look at how long thumbs stop. How long does the user pause that slot machine of attention to interact with that particular piece of content? If the text is longer, it takes longer to read it. The pause is longer, therefore the platforms show that content to more people. It gets more algorithmic love, and it succeeds, and the rich get richer.

For this reason, it’s important to write something compelling before the “more…” link to open up the post to see the rest of the text. If you can write something longer, if people care about it, it should work better.

Content Strategy vs. Social Media Strategy

Jay does content marketing strategy and social media strategy for big brands all over the world but largely it’s a difference without a distinction. A few years ago, YouTube was really about content strategy but now it could arguably be a social media strategy because there’s more interaction. Are Instagram Stories and IGTV a social media play or a content play?

People are doing Facebook Live, LinkedIn Live, Facebook Watch shows, and long LinkedIn blog posts. Are those content plays or social plays? The differences—insofar as there were ever differences—between a content marketing strategy and a social media strategy are largely fading away.

When somebody comes to Jay and specifically asks for one or the other, he argues that they really want both because they’re sort of the same thing. The way Jay typically differentiates the two in strategy documents is that content strategy is the umbrella and social strategy is a way to perpetuate, disseminate, and amplify that content strategy. But the distinction between what was content and what was social used to be a lot clearer. Today it’s all content, and social just happens to be one of the ways to do it.

Content for Social Media Is Similar to Programming for a TV Network

Jay thinks of social content like a television network. You need to build as much episodic content as you can so that this show is on Mondays, this show is on Tuesdays, and so forth. That show can exist on YouTube, IGTV, LinkedIn, or TikTok; it doesn’t really matter.

It’s about doing similar things at the same time with the same cast of characters and the same target audience in the same call to action on a regular basis. This not only gives the algorithm some cues but also allows the audience to tune in and have some sense of what to expect from the organization.

three Instagram Stories posts from San Jose Shark's The Chomp segment

A “show” is a repeatable type of content or social execution. One of Jay’s clients is a university and every Tuesday they let an alumnus take over their Instagram stories and tell about their background, what they’re doing now in their career, and their relationship with the institution. That happens every Tuesday. That’s a show. People can look forward to it, they can set their watch by it.

This university does the same thing every Tuesday, always on Instagram Stories. That’s how they execute it. What Jay advises getting away from is random acts of content and random acts of social.

Every once in a while, you can post something to Facebook that’s pure engagement and conversational feedback. But too many brands and individuals are just randomly doing something every once in a while, and there’s no chance of success there. Jay recommends doing five things and repeating those five things every week.

Jay has identified three specific types of shows:

Binge-Worthy Shows

Binge-worthy shows have enough production value, enough pay-off for the audience, or are interesting and dynamic enough that a viewer would want to—and be able to—watch multiple “episodes” of that show at one time.

A podcast is binge-worthy content. Most YouTube productions are binge-worthy content. Many Facebook live videos would fit into that category. Sometimes things on Instagram can even fill that bill. Binge-worthy content is the tent-pole show for your organization. It needs to be something that you can execute at least a couple of times a month so that you can really build up some episodes.

Jay advises clients to put this type of show into their editorial calendars first because it usually requires the most production time, consistent effort, and consistent promotional heft to make it work.

If it’s binge-worthy, it can probably be a little longer but there are lots of things that are pretty tight, yet still bingeable. Convince & Convert runs a show for Oracle called “On The Fly,” which consists of small bites of marketing advice delivered by influencers who are traveling. The influencers record the content for this show on their smartphones—nothing fancy, no big production—but it has to be shorter than 3 minutes and delivered while they’re actively in transit. It’s intended to be pretty raw.

Oracle Marketing Cloud YouTube series On the Fly

That show launches once a week and each episode is 3 minutes. It’s relatively short and absolutely bingeable. That show lives in three places: the Oracle YouTube channel, Oracle Marketing Cloud’s LinkedIn, and the Oracle Marketing Cloud blog.

One of the nice things about YouTube is that it has a “next episode” cadence that some of the other social platforms aren’t yet matching mechanically. The big advantage of publishing on a platform like Facebook, especially if you have a really large following, is the share component. The problem with Facebook is that people don’t tend to watch very much of a video unless they really have the desire and intent to watch it.

One-Time Shows or Special Events

Special event shows could be a big forum or event live-streamed on a B2B site, a market research execution, or a big webinar. These shows can happen as often as every 60 or 90 days and involve directing a lot of attention to one piece of content. This is a bigger commitment, which is why it isn’t done every week or every other week, but rather every quarter or so. It’s not something that’s typically going to be done throughout episodes over a year.

These shows happen a little bit more in B2B than in B2C but they can work well for B2C also. One of the best examples is the now-defunct Victoria’s Secret fashion show. This isn’t a social media example but it’s the same idea: They’re pulling out all the stops every once in a while for this thing that demands attention because of what it is and how they’re going to direct attention to it.

News and Update Shows

The news and updates type of show happens by far the most often in everybody’s editorial calendar.

It’s the regular-cadence flotsam and jetsam that you put on social to engage with your audience. All you’re really trying to do is just put out that engagement olive branch. You’re not necessarily trying to drive messaging, you’re not trying to tell a story, you’re not trying to create a call to action; you’re just saying hello.

Planning Your Social Media Content (Programming)

What typically happens is that somebody decides they want to do something on Instagram, and then they come up with a show. A better way to do it is to look at the business strategy and what role content in social plays in that. Who are the audiences? Because of the nature of those audiences, what social channels or content repositories are they likely to spend more time on? And then, only at the very end, decide where that show should exist.

The best way to think about it is business goals, then content and social goals, then audiences, then calls to action and desired behaviors, then channels, then the show. The last thing to figure out is where the show goes because the most important thing is the story of the show and why anybody should care. Then figure out how to tailor it for whatever social network makes sense.

After you’ve made these determinations, map your content to your editorial calendar. Place binge-worthy shows first because you’re going to do them consistently. Special events are second because they take a fair amount of time and effort but you’re not going to do them that often. The news events you’ll want to do all the time but you don’t want to plot them out too early because you’ve got to have room for spontaneity.

Get a good handle on your editorial calendar a couple of months out for the binge-worthy and special event content but for the news and updates, keep it relatively loose.

There are two ways Social Media Examiner does this. We have a weekly news show every Friday where we bring on experts just to talk about the news. That show also works its way into a podcast called the Social Media Marketing Talk Show. We never know what the agenda is going to be too far in advance because it’s news. We figure it out a few days before the show.

Because our news show is so consistent, classically it would be considered binge-worthy. The only reason it’s not binge-worthy is that it’s driven by the news of the week, which reduces the chance of somebody watching old ones. Most of the time, when somebody’s going to do a weekly show, it’s not necessarily based on the news of the week and so it’s more binge-worthy. We’re a little bit of a hybrid in that the mechanics and the production of these shows are more binge-worthy but the topic makes them more news- and updates-style.

When Mark Zuckerberg announced his big “Facebook Apocalypse” changes back in 2018, I went live on my Facebook page and just said, “This is what I think this means.” The video went viral; it was seen over 600,000 times. I was all over BBC news and all of this crazy stuff happened.

Facebook End of Days post from Social Media Examiner

So if you happen to be at the right place at the right time and you have an opinion, sometimes you can tap into a news cycle. That’s why you put news and updates content on your editorial calendar last. You want to be able to newsjack if you have the opportunity.

Another thing we do to promote Social Media Marketing World is to bring on some of our speakers in the 60–90 days leading up to the conference to talk about a topic they’ll be speaking about at the event. It’s all part of a strategic plan to introduce some of our speakers to our audience with the hope that some of them will decide to come to the conference. We only do it about eight times and that’s it. So that’s our special event content.

Where Should You Distribute Your Content?

There’s an argument to be made that there’s no harm in cross-posting your content. If you’ve got a nice video and you put it on Facebook and LinkedIn and YouTube and Twitter—no harm, no foul. Jay admittedly does some of that himself but he also says he’d be hard-pressed to name an example of truly magnificent, staggeringly effective and successful content that’s been cross-posted. Almost every truly amazing example is native to the platform and stays there.

If you’re going to put your content in more than one place, make sure that you understand that each social network has its own rhythms and success factors. What works on one social network versus another social network is actually getting more differentiated as opposed to more similar. If you’re going to cross-post content, don’t do it just because it’s convenient; do it because it actually makes sense.

Social Media Examiner made the decision well over a year ago to let video content live natively on YouTube and design it specifically for YouTube, knowing full well that what YouTube wants is for people to stay on the platform. That meant designing calls to action at the end of the video with me pointing down and saying, “Watch the next video, literally right here.”

When we strategically decided that there were some videos that I wanted to brand myself for, we decided to experiment with different endings of those videos. To visualize this, the videos where I’m sharing ‘how to succeed by stopping’ have a different call to action on Facebook and LinkedIn than on YouTube.

On Facebook and LinkedIn, we encourage people to tag a friend and/or share it, and we cut the part of the video out where I tell them to watch the next video. It’s more work and the jury is still out on whether it’s working. The strategy was to get me in front of our audience because a lot of our audience doesn’t live on YouTube yet.

Every platform is totally different. If you’re going to try to create something with really high production value, you want to make sure it plays. So you must put a little extra effort into it.

Jay and his team are considering not even using the phrase “social media strategy” anymore. He feels that it implies a broad social strategy that will work everywhere, and there isn’t one. A better way to say it might be, “We’re going to have a content marketing strategy, and underneath that includes a strategy for Instagram, a strategy for YouTube, a strategy for LinkedIn, et cetera.”

This is exactly why Social Media Examiner hasn’t gone all-in on IGTV yet. Even though IGTV does take 6×9 video, it’s not built for that. It works but it doesn’t look good. You can tell right away when somebody shot it somewhere else and just uploaded it to IGTV. We’ve got a full production crew doing video but it’s a lot of extra work for us to edit it for IGTV, and at this juncture, we’re just not there yet.

How to Get Started With Content for Social Media

It’s important to consider content and social strategies in the appropriate sequence. The fact that you exist, the fact that your business is in business, isn’t a sufficiently relevant story to tell. The best way to start is just to take everything you know and give it away, one bite at a time, on social.

It doesn’t matter what business you’re in, it doesn’t matter if you’re in the flowers business or the plumbing business or the real estate business; you know things that somebody doesn’t know. Just take what you know, break it down into very small pieces, and give that away episodically. If you’re a plumber, do a once-a-week video on Instagram or Facebook that just says, “Here’s some way to do some household plumbing stuff.” It doesn’t have to be any more complicated than that.

YouTube video series about crafting

It’s really important to understand that the platforms are going to restrict links off-site. You know you need to be in front of an audience and you know that those audiences are there. However, Facebook, LinkedIn, and all of the other platforms aren’t showing your content to that audience because you’re not creating for the platform.

When you create for the platform, you’ll be in front of that audience, and when you’re in front of that audience, they’ll be thinking about you. They’ll be evangelizing for you and recommending others to you. And isn’t that what we really want in the end?

The call to action on a lot of social content probably should be, “Find us on Google,” because when you put the actual link to your website, it typically carries with it an algorithmic penalty. The social networks don’t want you to drop links in your content very often and the reality is that people can probably find your website.

Back in the old days, radio commercials said, “Find us in the Yellow Pages.” If your business’s name isn’t impossible to remember, just say, “Find our website on Google” in your social content. Don’t put your URL in there; they’ll be able to figure it out. People aren’t stupid. Or maybe just say, “Hey, there’s more content where this came from. Check us out here.” Or if it’s episodic, “I’ll be back next Wednesday with another episode.”

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What you think? What is the role of content in your social media strategy? Share your thoughts in the comments below.



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