Over the years I’ve spent working as a social media marketing consultant and, later, as a marketing manager, I’ve come across various barriers that made it challenging for my team and clients to consistently excel at social media. Time constraints, too many responsibilities, differing opinions amongst colleagues, budget and more get in the way.
If, like most marketers at young tech companies, social media is just one of the many areas of marketing you oversee, creating a truly outstanding social presence that generates concrete results for your business is even more challenging.
Through trial and error I’ve figured out how to overcome five of the biggest barriers to social media success, and I want to share these solutions with you so that you don’t lose time muddling through them like I did.
Barrier #1: You Don’t Have Enough Time
One of the most common reasons for a mediocre social media presence is a lack of time. With everything else on your plate––from managing PPC campaigns to updating the SEO for your site and generating monthly marketing reports––at the end of the day you just don’t have enough time to put more effort into social.
Here are two solutions to the time problem:
1. Hire someone — Maybe you can’t afford to hire a full-time Community Manager, but outsourcing social media to a part-time freelancer is a great alternative. There are plenty of websites that will connect you with highly-skilled freelancers, such as oDesk, Elance and Task Rabbit.
Make sure to hire someone who will be available for the long-term (ideally at least a year); you definitely don’t want to train a new employee every few months.
2. Dedicate one solid hour to social media a day (no more!) — If you’re not in a position to hire someone, then dedicate a manageable block of time to social media on a daily basis. Start with one hour, and schedule it for the same time each day. Don’t let anything eat into that hour! If after an hour you aren’t able to respond to all your social media mentions and comments as well as create content for the day, then it really is time to hire at least a part-time Community Manager.
Additionally, here are four time-saving tactics you can implement to streamline your social media management:
1. Only have a presence in the social media channels that truly make sense for your business — When you see other companies with a social presence on seemingly every social media site that exists, it’s hard not to be tempted to do the same. But the truth is those companies typically have an army of social media experts manning each channel. Don’t fall into the trap of thinking your company needs to be everywhere online; pick the one to three social media channels that are most relevant to your business (i.e. where your customers hang out), and focus on those.
When it comes to social media, prioritize quality over quantity. Even if you can justify being on more than three channels, be diligent about keeping things small until you have a larger team to help you out.
2. Use tools that help you work smarter – If you’re strapped for time, it’s important to identify tools that will help you work smarter.
Buffer is my hands-down favorite social media tool. The social media publishing app makes it super easy to pre-program posts in Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and Google Plus. But the best part about Buffer is its seamless integration with other apps.
For example, if you’re reading a great article click the Buffer icon in your browser’s toolbar and quickly program a post linking to the article. Buffer also integrates with several reader applications, making it a great tool for content curation. And it’s new Suggestions feature offers you pre-composed tweets related to the type of content you normally post.
3. Front-load the work — Earlier I suggested dedicating one hour a day to social media. Another way to organize your time is by front-loading the majority of your social media content creation for the week and consolidating it into one day, ideally Monday or Friday. Set aside a couple of hours to create content for the week ahead, and then program the posts using one of the tools mentioned in the articles linked to above.
This doesn’t mean you can forget about social media for the rest of the week, though. You’ll still need to spend 15 to 30 minutes a day interacting with your online communities, and you’ll need to be ready to create timely publications that respond to relevant events, news or content in the moment.
4. Outline your strategy – It’s easy to become overwhelmed by social media if you don’t have a clear plan in place. Create a deck that outlines your overall social media objectives, in which social media channels you’ll have a presence, the focus of your strategy in each channel and three to five types of content you’ll post in each channel (ex: trivia in Twitter on Tuesdays, inspirational quotes in Facebook on Mondays and Sundays, etc.).
This way you can always come back to your plan to help you get focused, and you’ll have a thorough training resource on-hand once you decide to hire a Community Manager.
Barrier #2: You Don’t Know What Kind of Content to Post
Another common deterrent to standing out on social media is not knowing what kind of content to post. This typically happens for two reasons:
1. You don’t maintain a blog or publish whitepapers or ebooks, so you think you don’t have anything to share on social media — Many think that if their company doesn’t create its own content, whether it be on a blog or in the format of ebooks and whitepapers, then they won’t have much to say on social media. This isn’t true!
There are many ways to have a great social media presence without a content marketing machine behind you. Your brand can become a content curator by linking to industry-relevant content. You can also comment on industry-relevant events or news in real-time, or you can (actually, you definitely should) create micro-content, which, as Gary Vaynerchuck explains in his book Jab, Jab, Jab, Right Hook: How to Tell Your Story in a Noisy Social World, is content native to each social media platform that respond to today’s culture, conversations and current events.
2. You think your business is not sexy enough for social media — Some companies feel stumped by what to publish on social media because their industry/product line is what one would typically consider dull, such as construction, concrete production, plumbing, life insurance, and so on. But with a little imagination and out-of-the-box thinking it’s possible to create captivating content for pretty much any industry.
Here are some examples of “unsexy” brands that have great social media strategies: Maersk, the shipping company; General Electric; and New York Life Insurance Company. Check out this piece on brands that have used boring topics to create exciting pieces of content.See, all you need is a little inspiration!
Barrier #3: You Don’t Understand What My Customers Want To See From Me On Social Media
Related to barrier #2, not knowing what your customers actually want you to talk about can keep your brand from shining on social media. Afterall, if your content consistently misses the mark and fails to generate interaction, you’ll likely get frustrated and feel like you’re treading water.
Here are several ways to figure out what type of content your customers want:
1. Ask them — Yup, it’s that simple. You can just ask them what they would like you to talk about. Create a Facebook poll (and promote the post with $5 or $10 so you get a bigger response), tweet a few questions about potential topics to your followers or use progressive profiling on your forms to ask recurring site visitors what topics they want to know more about.
2. Identify what your competitors are talking about, and, most importantly, what they’re forgetting to talk about – Do an audit of your competition’s presence in social media. Identify what kind of content they post, and make a list of industry-related topics that they are not talking about. Then fill in the gaps for your target audience by creating content about things your competition has neglected to address.
3. Test and measure – Use every piece of content you publish on social media as an opportunity to test how your audience responds to topics. For example, find the best time to post on each social channel and a/b test how images affect the performance of your tweets.
Barrier #4: You Haven’t Defined How Social Media Fits Into Your Overall Marketing Strategy
Your social media strategy might feel unfocused and random because you haven’t taken the time to concretely explain to yourself and your colleagues how social media fits into your overall marketing strategy, and how it is going to help the company reach its business goals.
If this is holding you back from social media greatness, start by getting a copy of your company’s strategic goals for the year. Identify which of these goals social media can contribute to, and how. Then review your overall marketing goals (which should be tied to your company’s strategic goals), and identify exactly how social fits in.
Let’s look at some imaginary goals and numbers in order to understand how all this ties together: one of your business goals for the year is to increase sales by 20%. Marketing aims to help the company reach that goal by increasing leads coming in via the website 5% month-over-month. You decide that at least 300 of these leads should come from social media in the first quarter of the year, and you define which tactics will help you do this, such as Facebook contests or Twitter lead generation cards.
Barrier #5: Your Boss Doesn’t Think Social Media Is Important
It’s likely that not everyone you work with is as excited about social media as your are. If your boss is not convinced that social media is worth spending time on, excelling in the space is going to be a challenge.
But if you’ve successfully applied the solution to barrier #4 by clearly defining how social media fits into your overall marketing and business strategy, then showing your skeptical boss and colleagues the value of social should be easy.
Make sure that you are tracking meaningful metrics that you can point to when anyone challenges the validity of spending time on social media. This means not only looking at data about what happens within your social communities, like stats about engagement and amplification, but also metrics that show the impact of social in other key areas like site traffic, blog traffic, new leads and sales. You can track pretty much all of this with Google Analytics.
Being great at social media is hard. It takes time, creativity, imagination, a thumb constantly on the pulse of contemporary culture, quick wit and great communication skills. Anyone who tells you otherwise is a fool. These five solutions will demolish the most typical barriers to social media greatness so that you can focus on developing the skills that really count.
About the Author: Chloe Mason Gray specializes in digital marketing strategies for startups. She currently leads the marketing team at the Big Data company Ondore. Be sure to say hi to her on Twitter. You also can follow her on Google+.