Thought Leadership
  • Content marketing

Anyone can do social media, right?

Stephen Hobbs
16th February 2016

Too many brands feel they should be on social media because their rivals are, with no consideration to what social networking actually means.

They’re the unwanted salesman who’s gatecrashed a party only to bark multiple platitudes at anyone who ventures near.

It’s not that social media isn’t transactional – it’s just that it runs on a different type of currency. Brands, just like regular people, have to offer something of social value: a joke, an insight, a new story or a unique point of view. In short, you need to offer content that’s genuinely valuable to the consumer. In the social age, you can’t expect people to buy from you before they’ve bought into you.

What’s more, successful brands don’t just rely on the value of their naturally shareable content but adopt quirky personalities by engaging in one-to-one interaction with their followers.

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to content, and the focus should always be on quality over quantity. People will inevitably notice if identical content is shared across all social channels and frankly, it looks naff. Not to mention the fact that different social networks also have different audience expectations. If there aren’t the resources available to make different content for each platform, then a narrower focus on one or two is a much more effective approach. But which to choose? We look at five of the most popular platforms and which brands are using them well.

1) Facebook

Most brands will turn to Facebook first because of the popular assumption that everyone uses it. But whether or not Facebook is right for a brand depends on the demographic they want to target. For many people aged 18-25, Facebook is starting to feel like an awkward family get together, and Facebook’s audience has been sliding towards an older demographic for a while now

Organic reach is relatively low and just because someone has liked your page that doesn’t mean that they’ll see your posts – at least not all of them, Facebook’s algorithm only shows content to a very small percentage (circa 6% but it can be much lower) of a brand’s following. Sponsored posts, however, still have the potential to reach large numbers of people for relatively small change… provided the target audience isn’t too specific

GlobalWebIndex found that 40% of Facebook users are passive – they visit the site to seek out content, but don’t actively share details about their life. Despite this general decrease in active Facebook use, people will often still make a point to share major life events on here, examples being engagement, marriage or a new baby.

Family-focused or cross-generational brands and organisations, especially those looking to pull heartstrings, can achieve excellent cut-through in this context. This doesn’t have to be as obvious as it sounds, for example amateur, community-based sports teams get the highest organic reach on Facebook, possibly because people feel affectionately towards their local sports teams and/or are associated with them on a personal basis.

Charitable organisations can make use of Facebook for direct action appeals thanks to Facebook’s ‘Donate Now’ button. The Fairtrade Foundation made excellent use of Facebook’s capabilities with a series of memes using quotes from people that they work within developing countries. The memes are visually appealing and highly shareable. They also took advantage of Facebook’s massive word count (60k+ characters) to add a detailed description of the context of the image, attracting an educated and socially-conscious audience.

Good for: Numbers, older demographic, family-focused, charities

Bad for: Millennials, promoting a ‘cool’ or ‘edgy’ image


2) Instagram

Boasting more users than Twitter and growing every day, mobile-centric Instagram is the social network most popular with millennials, partly because it still retains a sense of exclusivity (your mum doesn’t use it - yet).

Instagram are hesitant to open up their app to marketers and clickable links aren’t currently available in posts, but they did recently introduce sponsored posts that include a ‘learn more’ or ‘buy’ button. Another option for marketers to get themselves in front of as many eyeballs as possible is to find Instagram influencers to spread their message.

Instagram is all about capturing moments. People don’t visit a brand on Instagram to find a contact phone number or how to use a product, they go there to engage with visually arresting content. Shelling out on sponsored posts and influencers is a waste of money if a brand doesn’t have it’s own follow-worthy Instagram homepage full of original content to draw people to.

Online shopping website ASOS have created a group of ‘in-house’ brand ambassadors, most of whom are junior editors, junior stylists and magazine assistants working full-time at the website. The brand ambassadors all use ‘asos_’ before their name and have aesthetically interesting profiles with lots of product placement. By using their own employees, ASOS has created its own team of loyal ambassadors from its own pool of young, talented creative people rather than buying loyalty thorough independent bloggers (bought loyalty can often go pear shaped - as many brands found out in the Essena O’Neill incident).

ASOS also has separate ASOS Maternity and ASOS Curve ambassadors representing different collections on the website. They also uses the hashtag #asseenonme to encourage people to share images of their own ASOS products, creating ‘free’ content that is re-posted on the ASOS Instagram homepage

The lesson: If you have customers that are eager to share, they can be a great source of content for all of your channels.

Good for: Younger demographic, visual content

Bad for: No links to buy


3) Twitter

Not being on Twitter at all can be disastrous for reputation and it’s important that Twitter activity is monitored to smooth things over if necessary.

However, simply posting regularly and referring people to a customer service rep if they have issues is not using Twitter optimally. Twitter users are 3 times more likely to follow and engage with a brand on Twitter than on Facebook, so there is huge potential for brands to create a real relationship with followers.

Unlike Facebook, Twitter is a very fast-paced stream of information that’s shown chronologically (Facebook’s heavy use of promotion and the way it handles interaction on older posts mean that this is rarely the case on FB). Twitter has always been an important tool for breaking news and brands should not underestimate the fast-paced and reactionary nature of Twitter. Innocent drinks post 10+ times a day and are quick to respond to trending topics, how ever random and seemingly irrelevant they may be. They have created a funny personality through their community management and as a result see high engagement levels, with people often tweeting them to try to elicit funny responses.

Good for: Customer service, urban population

Bad for: Needs a lot of monitoring, hard to plan for


4) Tumblr

The micro-blogging platform that was popular amongst creatives and niche subcultures long before Instagram (3+ years is a long time in the social media world), as a marketing platform Tumblr provides plenty of room to be creative. Brands on Tumblr have the freedom to create and curate a collection of different forms of content, including still images, GIFs, audio and text, in one place and in a highly visual way.

However, the visual nature of Tumblr doesn’t mean that brands can’t use community management to make their page fun for customers. For example, as well as creating a page full of visual humour U.S diner chain Denny’s use the ‘ask me anything’ function to communicate with their fans and answer questions in a humorous way.

The Tumblr community is an ecosystem with some unique quirks. Tumblr itself also has some great resources to help brands to learn to ‘speak tumblr’.

Good for: Mixed content types, visual content

Bad for: Smaller user base


5) Snapchat

New kid on the block Snapchat is the antithesis to highly-stylised and curated platforms like Instagram and Tumblr. Users tend to share snaps from within a smaller group of close friends, once viewed the snaps disappear so there’s no risk of them hanging around and marking any permanent record (although there are plenty of stories of people circumventing that). Snapchat is heavily focused on humour and humour works well, with users sharing informal and funny (or fun) moments of their life as they happen.

When a user sends an image or video on Snapchat, they have the option to also publish to their ‘Snapchat story’, which is viewable by anyone on their friends list and accessible to be viewed an unlimited amount of times for 24 hours.

At the moment there’s no way to ‘force’ people to look at sponsored content but any brand can create a personal profile. Some brands have done this to great success. Notably, Taco Bell jumped on the Snapchat train early. Back in 2013 the American TexMex restaurant hired two 20 something year olds (no doubt fluent in emoji) to work on its in-house dedicated Snapchat team. They used their other social channels to get people to add them on Snapchat and proceeded to entertain followers with totally informal, un-stylised and tongue in cheek content, “we created a [Snapchat] story that modelled that experience of hanging out with a friend” said Nick Tran, the social media lead for Taco Bell.

To reach a wide audience, brands can cough up and cash in on Snapchat's sponsored geofilter feature.

Snapchat’s Discover feature was introduced last year to much excitement. Discover channels appear to all users of the app, but as yet hosting is only open to a fairly exclusive list of 19 publishers, including National Geographic, Cosmopolitan and Sky Sports. Marketers and advertisers alike wait with bated breath to see how the feature is opened up in the future.

Good for: ’Behind the scenes’ look into a brands world, millennials, informality

Bad for: Analytics


Instagram can’t replace Facebook, Facebook can’t replace Snapchat, Snapchat can’t replace… you get the picture. There’s no one network which is better than the other and each can be used to compliment your brand in different ways. Ultimately social media is an opportunity to share your world, ignite your brand’s story and engage with consumers.

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