Zero Dollar Social Media

Hello children,
I’ve been working in Social Media for many many years. I got my first taste designing MySpace pages for bands and events. MySpace is gone, and I’m not just doing the design anymore. I work for Hello Social as a community and content manager. But not everyone can afford to pay for a professional service, and this is for those who want to get there social media right until they can.

In today’s lesson we’re going to learn a little bit about social media marketing. There’s a far more complex side when you get to paying for your marketing, but for this one I want to tell you how to get great content. This is a time consuming process when you do it wrong, so this should offer some time savers, and better results.
There’s a bit to take in. Some of it will be old news, some of it should change your thinking on what you thought was going on with social media, and some will hopefully be entirely new.
You might have been on the receiving end of social media for years, but having had a "MySpace page back in the day", or a Facebook and Instagram account now, does not an expert make.
This post may look long, but don’t worry if the more in depth parts do not affect you. If anything is too strange, come back to it, or Google it later.
And this stuff is fun. So don’t get overwhelmed. And if anything seems wrong, take some initiative, test it out, and see what works.
Before you even open Facebook;
Why are you on Facebook? What are you going on there to say? And who cares?
Facebook for most of us is a way to keep up with friends, chat, find events, or be entertained. Nobody clicks on for the ads, and Facebook knows that.
Facebook has some really particular rules so that you keep enjoying your experience. It’s up to businesses, marketers, advertisers, and now you, to work with this system.

Rule one;
when you jump on Facebook, it needs to be to engage. It should entertain ideally.
Obviously though, the goal is actually to advertise and do some marketing. But consider the idea of influence for a moment. Think about how often you have asked friends for a restaurant recommendation, or gone somewhere you’ve seen friends have just been, or even bought clothes somewhere you have seen other people shop.
We all have influence over our social circles and that’s the spot advertising on social media needs to fit in.
For every platform you post on, you have a voice. That’s the clients voice in some cases, your own voice, or your own organisations. Think of it as the difference between how you talk to friends, how you speak on behalf of work, or how you talk to your mum. You’re still the one talking but the tone and audience have changed. If I’m going to consider the audience I’m creating to for an arts organisation, I know they are potentially interested in art, but they might also just live locally and feel like be keen to get out for a night. Or they might be looking for things to do in Sydney from out of town. So it’s an art space, but the people coming through might be much broader than just art lovers.

When you get around to writing;
the tone for a post then should not be that of an ad. When you’re having a party you invite people, you don’t send an ad. So invite them to the party, keep it informative so nothing is missed, but make your message read as if you are a welcoming host.
That’s where tone really comes in. When you aren’t just being you, embody somebody else. This doesn’t mean just being a member of the audience and writing like them. Be a more excited version when it’s fun, be a smarter version when it’s serious, and be the person they want to come see.

Do you have an idea of who you are personifying when you write now?
That voice, that tone, and that character are your brand. It’s as essential as a logo to get this tone right. It needs to then be as consistently used as your logo.
But we all do change when we need to, and voice will change every time you talk.  Apply your voice to different circumstances, but remain true to you the brand at all times.

Recently there was so much great content put out by brands all at once that was more entertaining and engaging than at any time of the year. What brought this on? April Fools Day. Yes, a simple imaginary day with little meaning. The complaint we should all have with this day, is that most brands aren't as interesting the other days of the year!

Brand involves a lot more than I will say here, but lets talk about the basics.
The logo we have set. When I post on Facebook it’s already right there in my profile picture usually (which you made at 360x360 to avoid compression), and the name is there as well. You can keep pushing the name when you write, but people know.
If you own content you don't want to be stolen or reused, you can watermark. This may mean a light white logo on part of the image, or the whole logo, but it could also be a bit of text, a shape your brand always uses, or your brand colours consistently placed.

What needs to be consistent from then on is imagery.
The imagery for most of us is something as it happened, right off our phone’s camera. But you can do a bit better. Is your brand refined, is it niche, or is it accessible? Are you focusing on products, on faces, on groups of people? When you put up a post, it should be recognisable without a logo and without a name. Being flat and standard says little, so say something more.
Desaturated colours and sepia filters for example did the rounds as hipsters took on Instagram. This season is brighter colours, higher saturation, and typically joyful. But what is your brand, and what does the imagery say about it?

It is the job of branding to make you stand out of the crowd. With a style guide, logo and tone set, it’s then your job to be consistent. Differentiation is the job of your brand as a whole, not with each post.

If you aren’t familiar with style guides and brand guidelines, here’s a couple from the pros.

Look at competitors as precedents;
and it will give you an idea of so many things if you get lost. You're not just mimicking though, see where they've messed up, see what you could do better. Think about how you are different from them. If all the brands look near identical in your field, how can you stand out?
Then take your standard from the best. Why do you follow what you follow? What are the pros doing?

As an exercise, show yourself you know your brand.

  • Can you say your business function in one line?
  • Can you tell me your business vision in one line?
  • Could you convince a stranger to engage with your brand in a single image?

Now that you have your brand identity solidly in mind;
what is the purpose of your next post? Do you want people to come into the store, buy online, remember your brand, take a survey? ...
Advertising for the most part is about that immediate sale. It's one of many, many goals though. Social media is not however simply about ads and sales. Amazon is, eBay is, and social media can do it too. But really, what you want for the most part is to lead somebody, or influence them with your content. This may mean that they recall your brand, and later when it's relevant, they choose to purchase from you over somebody else.
You cannot always measure information then based on a direct sale, and nor should you try. Consider that I only buy shoes every six months. What's important is that I remember the brand (Nike and Ben Sherman atm) or the store when I make that decision. I also don't go to lush new restaurants all the time, but when I do, I will think of a recommendation or something exciting that I've heard about (I keep sending friends to Koi for instance).
The copy and tone set up the brand and the idea. So what's next is your call-to-action, your CTA. In typical marketing it will literally say what you should do. That may mean buy now, click through, visit a store, learn more at the web address ... Facebook can do that, but it doesn't have to. We inherently know we can click through, and there's a like button already. The call to action in those instances is inbuilt. You didn't think the like button was really just to show your friends you think they're clever did you? It's so you get more content from relevant sources.
Consider what you want each post to do, and if the CTA is outside the scope of like or click through, then it's worth mentioning.

There is a simple rule called jab, jab, jab, right hook;
which is memorable. In this case it means you're posting primarily entertaining content before asking for something. For example you tell people about exciting new food, show off event photos, and only then will people be okay if you ask them to spend money somewhere. Even when asking for money though, it can be seen as an opportunity to try an exciting new restaurant, product, or attend an event. The less it looks like an ad the more chance the ad works. I think of social media as a platform for long term relationships, brand awareness, and not a short term sales. The sales are a natural payoff when you build this relationship.
The more complex version of this rule, is that it takes a person 6-20 (depending on who you ask) touch-points before somebody will buy something. They must have seen an ad, heard about it from a friend, liked the page ... People need to be engaged with a brand enough to justify a purchase.

Does this mean I need posting more on Facebook will get me a sale sooner? No, no, and definitely no.

There is no one rule for post rates.
The rate changes for everything, on every platform. But a place to start is 1-2 posts on Facebook a week if you have enough content. This means each post is entirely different over the course of a month, each post is beautiful to look at and well written, and simply that each post is engaging as possible. Where I would suggest trying 5-6  posts in a week is in the lead up to an event or something significant, but that should be a rarity. So by that I mean an event that will draw over 3,000 people that you have invested a lot of time in, or the launch of a whole new product.

But when nothing's happening, how much do I post?
A simple question with a simple answer. Don't post. Go outside and do something worth talking about, then post. Find something coming up or that was awesome six months ago and post. If you can entertain yourself, you might just entertain others.

Do I need to emphasise quality over quantity? There was a social agency not so long ago who started printing what would be posted onto a Facebook wall. "If you wouldn't want it on your wall at home", they said, "it shouldn't get posted.” Think beautiful, think interesting.

Meshuggah, Alien Workshop and some other brands have taken this rare posting tactic to a whole other level;
A bit like that friend we all have who never speaks - when they finally say something the room goes quiet and everybody is listening.
Meshuggah didn't announce working on a new album recently, and they never use there platforms. One day, they posted a a picture of a microphone pointed at a snare drum, and every blog around picked up the story. There were no hashtags or words needed. A simple image can say it all.
Alien Workshop was a brand that disappeared for years. The website changed one day to a page with weird, unintelligible footage. Nobody checks the site really, but 3 days later everyone was buzzing about how Alien Workshop was coming back, and the rumours started circulating.
This is a very different approach. But you won't lose as many followers as you might anticipate. You may not gain any new followers either, but when something happens your whole audience will be there with you.

Simply, on Facebook, you don't repeat yourself unless it's crucial.
And make it as different as you can. So you can talk about there being an event in a month, then a week, then tomorrow, and talk about what happened at the event. But don't try to get people to engage every day with the same post. That's why Facebook has ads, but it's not what your posts are for.
If the same people keep seeing the same posts you're only going to irritate them. The unlike and unfollow buttons are easy enough to find and you don't want people to consider clicking to get rid of you!

Let me break down what your posting calendar will roughly look like.
So Jane Doe works for a business with a diverse portfolio. They sell TV's here, DVD's there, and electronics there. They also have a big event at the end of the month.
First there's evergreen content. It's not dependant on time. It can move, and live online well after it was posted. A post about TV's will show off something cool that makes your life easier, and you can post a couple of different advantages at different times even with the same product. There are enough DVD's to chose from, so you post the latest release or a sale as it comes up. The electronics have nothing new in and no sales coming up, but you can talk about a best seller to bring even more attention to it. Post things over the course of the month to keep it interesting so not just DVD's at once. Break it up and keep it interesting. I wouldn't suggest posting the same type of content one after the other at all, because you end up competing for attention with yourself.
Then there's content influenced by time. With the event for example, you build up over the month to the event. The start of the month, a week before, just before, and after. A well made plan.
But suddenly (!) there's a media release and you want to get it online. Just do it. Cancel that evergreen post and do it later. If it's crucial enough, post it even if something else has just been posted. This is also why you only plan 4 posts a week instead of 6, because how often does it really all go according to plan?

Community engagement is your next best tool for engagement.
Rather than posting again on the same topic, engage your audience who have responded. Talk to them. It gets better engagement than posting more. How cool to have your favourite musician, an artist, or a massive brand reach out and talk to you directly! It's more memorable than what's on your wall everyday.
Your audience are not just people with money are they? They've given you there time, so respect it, and engage with them.

The share feature is how ideas are spread.
People grab it, comment, and send it out on there own. A brand can do this as well.
The idea of copying and pasting is a mistake though for two reasons.
Firstly the idea of influence from a social media presence comes from a persons own voice and tone, and genuine interest. People have whole careers, or side-careers based on this practice, and they're known as influencers. It doesn't involve a sponsor dictating what they say, rather a sponsor impressing them, and the person expressing that excitement to their audience. It effects the impact of a post when it is written by somebody else, particularly in somebody else's tone of voice.
Secondly you may be messing with copyright. Retweeting, liking and sharing are great tools. If you’re wanting to use other people’s images, copy, or anything else you always need permission. Reaching out to them may also be the start of a great relationship. Sharing says a lot about you if done right. It's not always the go to option. Use it when it's interesting, as you would with linking to something outside your organisation, and will help your audience in some way.
A band may post other bands gigs to show they're part of the community, a brand might share industry news or promote a supplier, or an larger organisaton might share a post by a sub-brand or somebody they have a partnership with.

Has anyone ever bought you a drink at a bar?
Great, but it doesn't mean you're going home together. Organic reach is when you actually communicate with people, you interest them, and they choose to like you. Zombies on the other hand are dead weight. A zombie often means a fake profile that has been set-up to like and follow. But lets be me more general, and think of it as those people who follow you but don't even see what you post.
I could tag somebody famous, and right away get a few new followers. But those followers aren't going to care what I do, or what I post, and they certainly won't be there when I put on an event or open a store.
Aiming for a number of likes and followers is valueless trash if they're all zombies. I would rather have ten people who come into my store and like my page, than 1000 followers I've never seen. Adding hashtags or buying followers may impress the uneducated, but now you know better.

The application of a brand visually involves a whole range of things that go into the style guide or brand guidelines.
On Facebook we can simplify a bit because we have Facebook's rules thrown on top of that.
First up there's a template. For Facebook posts that's a 1200x900 file for posts.
That might mean you logo appears in the same place on every image you post. It might mean you use the same font every time. Leave room to play with the image, and keep the rest consistent.
The image needs to be consistent as well. Keep the same brightness, the same saturation. If you were on Instagram you would always be using the same phone and same filter. On Facebook you may have to do it in Photoshop or Illustrator, but it's the same principal.
You can set up the file once and it will work for months. Set-up a logo on top of everything in one place. Put text in one place and just change the text each time. Then put an image in and make it look perfectly on brand with your colouring, and your saturation. Then, the next time you drop in an image to the file, it should be tweaking the file not overhauling it.
When you're setting up such a file, you need to know about Facebook's 20% rule.
I would call it the bane of my existence, but honestly it kind of makes sense. Facebook wants to entertain, keep people coming back, so your ad cannot look like an ad. To stop this, on 20% of your image can contain text. Anything more and Facebook will show it to less people. Just make sure you use the maximum amount of text you will ever use when creating this template so you don't have to make things inconsistent later.

On Instagram I wouldn't watermark an image like you do on Facebook.
The platform works by dividing text from the image for the most part. And remember, the name and profile picture are right next to the image anyway. Making something visually appealing will get more people to read, but keep copy succinct. Make sure the first words (not even sentence) get to the point.
Hashtags are useful, but can boost the appearance of your audience without having any impact on how many people are coming to the area. More zombies. Tagging something like #art or #food will get likes, but meaningless ones. Be more specific to actually engage the right audience to gain more accurate results.
#Hashtagging is important, but don't overdo it. Think of it as being on a tier of specificity, and layer 5 at most usually. From broad to specific that may be #art #artaustralia #artsydney, but get more specific by using tags other places are using like a suburb.
Something that changes all the time that needs to be tested is whether to hashtag within copy or outside of it. Hashtags inside copy are a twitter essential, but can be aesthetically clunky on other platforms.
While on Instagram, it’s all in the image. I will not read a word you say if the image doesn’t grab my attention. And a call to action aside from “like” or “follow” on Instagram is pointless because I will not click off Instagram. If I’m keen I might look up a brand later, but I never use links. Instagram images I make at 1080x1080. It helps avoid the compression that will be applied and keep images sharp, though it isn't always possible with the wrong assets. No need to watermark here, because people won't engage. If you wouldn't put it on your wall at home, don't put it on Instagram.

Twitter doesn't work for many Australian businesses;
and I wouldn’t invest extra time in it for the majority of brands. If you wanted to sync up the Facebook account's to Twitter accounts, or automatically post from your blog, it's not much extra effort, but doesn't serve much purpose unless it gets a bigger international following.
Twitter here is a link to some business internationally, particularly on the nerdier end of the spectrum. Think Silicon Valley, think IT, think data. These are people attached to their phones. Where it gains that next level of international traction is that you can experience drama at a concert, event, product launch, or a conference, and you don't need to be there. You can also get caught up in conversations and debates.
Twitter in that way is about interaction entirely. A tweet without an answer is about as sad as talking to yourself. Therefore it may not be about starting the conversation, rather, it's about engaging with other peoples thoughts and contributing something new to the conversation.
In this way Twitter isn’t isolated from the world, it’s another layer. It’s a conversation about Master Chef, it’s yelling a bad referee, or enjoying a product launch with other geeks.

LinkedIn is loved and hated.
It is a good way to talk about business. Content should in no way look like advertising. It's all about being informative, and a bit entertaining. This could be somewhere to post media articles, blogs and long content. It's the audience that's built in that's very specific. It is more likely to be used by architects, business managers and entrepreneurs than it is by tradies, retail staff and the unemployed. You just need to be aware of what somebody logging in to LinkedIn is looking for when they end up there.
Reaching out to people over LinkedIn is accepted, but remember that people at certain companies are inundated with job offers, people looking for jobs, sponsorship requests ... My LinkedIn is a relatively quiet place, so I will always see LinkedIn messages for example. Somebody at Google, Apple, or Nike will merely glance to make sure they haven't missed anything of immediate importance.
All posts and messages should come from an up to date, reputable profile. All messages should get to the point. Name drop known connections if you don't already know somebody. If you have met once, remind them where. Keep messages to less than a paragraph while requesting a follow up, rather than putting long form content up.
Also - if you begin to template content to send to people it will very quickly end up in their spam folder. In this sense, it's not about advertising, but professional engagement entirely. It's not a replacement for a phone call, but if you wouldn't ever call them about business, you probably shouldn't message them on LinkedIn either.

What’s your backend look like?
A massive collection of folders and files like mine can quickly become a mess, so I keep track of everything one way. It doesn’t matter what your system is, but make a plan and don’t change.
File naming for images for instance looks like; dateofcreation-brand-platform-postname-fileproportions-versionnumber. I use the same system for any documents as well. And don’t use the word Final in your file names. How many uni students already know about the dramas of having files called Final, FinalFinal, FinalFinalAmended …
For file organisation, documents need to be arranged so they can be found by anyone. It runs along a similar path to my file naming. All Brands Folder > Brand Name > Platform > Month. In each brand you might also have a different file for assets like logos and images, and another for documents you don’t want to lose.

Currently reporting from Facebook is straight forward using Insights.
You can very quickly which posts have been most successful, new likes, etc. Learning from those things and checking that out regularly is a great way to learn what works on each platform. Your Instagram posts you may simply need to gauge by looking over your history.
And don’t just report for reporting’s sake. Try learning from it. Where was your drop off in engagement? What can you try again? What can you do better? What’s your specific goal this month?
And benchmark from that individual brand, not from others. Like any self-help will tell you, be your best, not somebody else’s. Your past is your benchmark.

Key points to take away

  • Engage and entertain your audience, don’t advertise
  • Stay on brand with your tone and imagery
  • Learn from the best
  • When there’s nothing to post, don’t post. Quality over quantity
  • Set up a calendar ahead of time
  • Converse with your community
  • Start organising your files properly
  • Your benchmark is last month, not anyone else