Digital media strategy explained via a chocolate cake recipe

social media strategyBy Paula Wethington / @WethingtonPaula

Digital / social media strategy is like a recipe for a chocolate birthday cake. If you do everything right, you create awesomeness that wins blue ribbons and bragging rights.

(Been there, done that!!)

But if you miss a step or key ingredient, the friends you are serving the cake to might realize it’s a bit off or they’ve had better. The challege is they might not understand what is wrong; and if they do, they might not tell you. If it’s a really bad result, they’ll politely ask for apple pie the next time.

And unless you have been paying close attention while assembling and mixing the ingredients, you might not figure it out either.

Here’s how the creation of an awesome chocolate birthday cake is like the creation of awesome digital media strategy:

The cake (website) ingredients

Here’s the list of ingredients I’ll assemble:

  • Eggs = The basics: who, what, when, why, where and how and specific keywords. People use search engines to find answers to questions. This is why content, headline, subheads, description box, photo captions, and photo alt tags must be filled out with words and phrases that present the message.
  • Butter = Accurate and reliable content is like choosing the very best ingredients in your cake. Don’t trade butter out for cheap margarine, and don’t take shortcuts on this step. This helps build trust factor among the audience.
  • Sugar = Sweeten it up. Look for interesting topics, or an interesting angle on an otherwise routine topic. When you localize or explain national statistics with a reference to  your community, for example, it becomes more appealing to the target audience. They’ll be more likely to read the content, understand the overall message etc.
  • Vanilla = You’ll notice if vanilla is missing from the cake recipe. And you’ll notice the same error when failing to include an image or photo on a website story. Yes, technically, it will work. You can post an article on the website without a photo. The reality is it will not work as well. Photos grab attention on an email newsletter and on social media; there also are content highlight spots on many websites that need photos. Branded or one-off graphics are easy to make if you don’t have live photos or file art that works. Bottom line: Don’t forget the vanilla!
  • Flour = A cake will not become cake without the flour. This is reliability and consistency. You apply this idea to website programming by having timely content available when people are looking for it it. Stay a step ahead and plan for topics that are recurring or seasonal; and act fast during breaking or trending news in your niche, to build the reputation of reliability.
  • Baking soda = This ingredient makes the cake batter rise. But it’s a little box and a usually a teaspoon, so it’s easy to forget. On a similar note: don’t forget the alt tag descriptions on your images. You’ll understand why that’s important the next time you hit “image search” when doing a Google search.
  • Salt = This is meant to help enhance the flavors of the cake when the batter recipe calls for it. Does your content call for the context of an author’s note to explain that this is something special or different? If so, add that.
  • Cocoa = This is what makes the cake chocolate flavored and not vanilla. If you want your content to be “not vanilla” in comparison to what can be found elsewhere on social media on the Internet, then explain the content just a bit better, go a little more in depth or take a little extra effort in the visual presentation. This is what multimedia embeds such as quizzes, Google Maps and Storify can do. People linger a little longer on pages that have such content.

Now it’s time for mixing the cake batter. But while you do that, double check your list of ingredients to make sure you did not skip anything.

Selecting the shape and size of the cake pan you will pour the batter into is like selecting what category keywords you want that content to be found under. The 8-inch circle pan size is the most common presentation; and maybe that’s exactly what you want. But a heart-shaped pan is a little more special. And the sheet cake pan bakes the treat in potluck party-friendly format.

Putting the filled cake pan in the oven is like posting it on the website. It’s in the “baking process,” so to speak when you hit “post” or “send.”

The icing (social media) ingredients

You can eat an unfrosted cake after it is taken out of the oven.

But you probably want icing to top it off.

Think about this: If you offer the spatula covered with icing leftovers and one covered with cake batter leftovers to a friend who is working with you in the kitchen, it’s likely the icing spatula will be cleaned up first!

This is what social media does to website content: social media attracts and interests a larger audience. Do some research on how much traffic comes to your website via social channels than search engines!

With a popular modern buttercream chocolate icing recipe as the theoretical example (I personally use a 1940s-era cooked chocolate icing recipe!), here are the ingredients to creating the social icing:

  • Butter = Just as with cake, butter in the icing mixture represents quality. Get your “quality” message across with coherent writing and appropriate visuals. Include a “call to action” if appropriate of what you want people to do after reading the message.
  • Powdered sugar = Just like with website content, social media content needs to be interesting. That’s what sugar can do. But powdered sugar is not the same formulation as granulated sugar. Do some research on preferred writing and visual presentations for the social networks you are working in; it really is not the same as writing for SEO purposes. Paying attention to those little details makes a huge difference on how much of a response you’ll get with your social media efforts.
  • Cocoa powder = Again, cocoa powder is what makes the icing chocolate flavored and not buttery vanilla. Brainstorm and settle into your unique perspective and brand personality so that you stand out from others who are posting on that same topic.

Blend all that together and frost your cake!

The decorating (social media extras) steps

Now did you decide to put birthday candles or candies on that cake so it is extra special? Of course! It’s a birthday cake.

You can also give your social media efforts an extra touch by adding in Facebook advertising on occasion to boost a page’s reach or awareness; sending out Facebook page invitations to people who have previously liked your content and creating a branded look to your social media.

And now I think it’s time to make a cup of coffee to accompany my theoretical piece of chocolate cake!

I work as a reporter and social media team member at The Monroe News in Monroe, Mich. Years ago, I really did win a county fair blue ribbon for a chocolate cake.

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How to pick branded colors for your social media images

What is color branding on social media?By Paula Wethington / @WethingtonPaula

If you hire a consultant to help with personal or business branding, or purchase a premade branding package, the services will likely include a style sheet or branding board that showcases a selection of colors.

That being said: maybe you are in a do-it-yourself situation for your “look,” and the design concept has become overwhelming.

Don’t skip the color palette decisions.

You’ll love the results when you can pick up a carefully selected crayon box, so to speak, and start using it on a project.

Here’s how I ended up with my choices of dusty rose, off black and complementary colors. As you’ll see, it’s not the first range of colors I had in mind.

1. Set up an idea board on Pinterest

When I decided to give color branding a try, I created a board on my Pinterest account called “color theory,” where I pinned a huge collection of articles and infographics about the use of color in design.

Along the way, I pinned color palettes that struck me as interesting.

If you hire a designer, he or she may suggest as part of the process that you build an idea board on Pinterest so they can understand the direction that represents “you.”

Did anything strike me as “that’s it!” right away? No.

As a result, I went in another direction for research:

2. Use Canva’s color palette generator

You may have heard of Canva, or already use it to create social media graphics. But this particular tool is a terrific feature on its own merits:

Go to Canva color palette generator and upload your logo or a photo that represents the look you want. See how the color range settles out. Do you like it?

I had a lot of fun playing around with this site.

When you seem to be going in the right direction, get a screenshot and / or write down the hexcode numbers on the color bubbles. You’ll use those hexcodes as a reference point at the next step.

3. Make some sample images

Now adapt an idea from the designers and create a simple infographic in your favorite graphic design program to be your “branding board.” This image displays the colors and fonts for your branding look, accompanied by any patterns or inspiration images.

Although you can save preferred colors in some programs once you get going, how do you find and replicate that exact shade to begin with?

The color hexcode from your designer or the generator tool is the key.

5. How do your colors work in real life?

Because I felt overwhelmed with choices I saved on Pinterest, I started my personal brand color efforts spinning off my recent business photos!

I thought my teal blue blazer could be a great signature color and the Canva palette generator came back with this range:

Canva color palette generator example

But after using it for about 20 to 30 images, I decided I really didn’t like this combination at all. It wasn’t “me,” despite the fact I look terrific in that blue blazer.

6. Keep experimenting.

I finally decided I wanted a dark red, dusty pink, and dusty purple as my core colors; with off white and off black as the neutrals. They are feminine and creative, but not too trendy. My teal blue business jacket looks fine with that color range; as do other fashions I tend to wear.

After I made a couple dozen graphics with this palette for my social media accounts, I realized this was right combination. But I needed a few more colors. I don’t like a  “monochromatic” look.

I took another look at my Pinterest board, to see what choices I had saved as “likes” that might blend in. With that review, and some cross referencing on the palette generator, I picked shades of navy blue, purple and tan to include in my collection.

The result: version 2 of my branding board.

paula branding board v 2

You can see the results by looking over my Instagram and Pinterest accounts, as using branded colors on social media images is a huge trend on both networks.

 

 

 

Checklist: How to be a Twitter rock star

By Paula Wethington / @WethingtonPaula

twitter rock starAre you ready to give up on Twitter as a communications and marketing opportunity because followers and conversations don’t seem to happen?

Don’t! It’s easier than you might think to build a sizeable and targeted audience on Twitter. After you have an established community on that network, you have a starting point to move those contacts to an email list or your other social networks.

The challenge is you can’t grow an account too fast or Twitter will take note. Twitter’s rules include this statement: “We do monitor how aggressively users follow other users.”

And yes, those policies are enforced. I remember hitting the initial follow ceiling when it was set at 2,000 (it’s now 5,000) and needing to drop who I followed in response until I was eligible for a bump. I also saw a friend’s account get a warning from Twitter one day because the bots took notice of a spurt in follows. The following activity was legit, it was just too fast for Twitter.

The point is: with a slow, steady and consistent effort to build your Twitter account, you can pick up up enough followers to send traffic to your site, run a poll, promote newsletter subscriptions, get a response to your photos, host a chat, etc.

Follow these slow but steady steps for best results:

1. Fill out your Twitter profile.

Do not follow anyone on Twitter before you have account setups done. It’s like introducing yourself at a party when you’re not dressed for the occasion.

Even spambots are programmed to appear at first glance to be a real person before they launch following sprees and spew nonsense into the stream.

You’re far more real than a spambot. Act like it.

In social media jargon, tweaking your profile setups is called “optimization” or “branding.” It means making sure that at one glance, someone can understand who you are or what you represent – and what you are most likely to post about.

Here’s what to do on Twitter:

  • Pick a user name and handle that represent you, your company or your project.
  • Fill out the profile line.
  • Add a location that makes sense to people who might find you or search for you.
  • Add a profile photo. Choose a person’s face or a business / brand logo.
  • Add a cover photo. Use this space to feature a mood, scenic or group photo; portray a campaign or project; even promote an event. Pro tip: Use the free tools in Canva to create a Twitter cover that can include text while being sized correctly.

2. Decide who you would like to follow you.

The followers you want might include friends, family members, current and potential customers, active / chatty people who are likely to retweet your content, colleagues and competitors; perhaps news media who report on your community or favorite topics.

Now that you have your profile set up, make a list of Twitter accounts you know about and go follow them. A trick for finding official accounts: go to your favorite websites to see if there are links to their social media.

Follow 10 to 50 accounts and call it a day. Continue this effort gradually during the next few days if there are more accounts you want to follow.

Remember: Twitter will not like it if you follow too many people too fast.

3. Plan what you will tweet about.

One advantage to Twitter is that promotional messages are seen by your audience in real time just as if they were other topics of the day. There is not a complicated formula skewing potential views as is done by Facebook.

But to attract followers and keep them, you must focus on high-interest content that isn’t consistently “sales” oriented. You will run into trial and error as to what conversations, trending topics, news events, retweets, links and topics get the best response.

You might also find demographics of your followers on Twitter affects the timing or content choices. That’s fine. As your account grows and there is content to review, you can study the analytics and adjust your plan.

Even when you wish to focus on a theme or concept, Twitter allows a range of creative opportunities. For example, trending topics often include puns from brands and celebrities who noticed a conversation and decided to jump in. A news outlet can run a sports fan poll in addition to the headlines of the day. “Real-time” tweeting of historical events is a tactic that National Weather Service accounts have used for special projects.

The more significant problem is posting no content at all. An account that is inactive for 30 days or more is at high risk of being unfollowed. Third-party apps can help people identify too-quiet accounts and unfollow them. This is why an inactive account eventually WILL be dropped by people who actively manage their Twitter accounts.

4. Create Twitter lists.

In my opinion, the best – and most overlooked – feature on Twitter is Twitter lists. This helps you organize accounts as you follow their conversations. Lists also provide clues to people that your account is actively managed and what topics you are interested in.

Here’s how to set the Twitter lists up.

You can designate a list as public or private. Accounts you add to a public list will be notified just as they get a notification when they are followed. You also don’t need to follow someone to add them to a list.

The advantages and applications:

  • Add an account to an appropriate Twitter list after adding them to make sure they know you noticed them.
  • Create awesome names for your Twitter lists so these notifications stand out.
  • Create a list to showcase project team members or co-workers.
  • Create a widget for your blog or website with on a Twitter list.
  • Create lists of accounts you want to watch for content ideas or retweets.
  • Monitor a competitor via private list without giving them a public follow.

5. Look up other Twitter lists.

Now that you understand how Twitter lists work, look at accounts you follow or are followed by to see what lists they created or have been placed on. See if there are accounts on those lists you also would like to follow – either for their content or in hopes of getting follow backs.

Caution! Finding a highly curated list of active accounts on a favorite topic will feel like hitting a gold mine on Twitter. You cannot follow new accounts too fast or Twitter will think you are a spambot. Pick 10 to 50 to start with, then wait another day or two before you follow more. Pro tip: “Subscribe” to a gold mine list until you have pulled the potential contacts into your public follows or created your own list.

By following these tips, you’ll pick up relevant follows and follow backs and have a Twitter fan base worth bragging about.

If you’re interested in this topic, take a look at my Twitter Tips board on Pinterest!

This post was written in February 2017 and updated May 2017.

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The one question to ask before picking a social media manager

One question to ask before you pick a social media managerBy Paula Wethington

Let’s say you are appointing or hiring someone to post content to your social media accounts.

The question you need to avoid asking is “Do you know how to use Facebook?”

This is too broad a query to result in the response you really want.

To explain: Research shows over 70 percent of American adults who use the Internet also use Facebook. But as you’ve probably noticed, not everyone has the same proficiency in understanding how the news feed works; how to use the Page functions (which differ quite a bit from Profile functions); or whether they found a reliable source or official page before hitting “share” or “check in.”

This is why scams, rumors, old content, unclaimed “community” pages and “fake news” so frequently and easily populate the network.

The one question you SHOULD ask instead starts with picking a piece of content, link or message.

Your question becomes that example and:

“What would you do with this on social media?”

A caution: Based on my conversations with freelancer and social media marketing agency owners, one of their frustrations is that contacts ask for a “conversation” or interview to get advice without hiring anyone to do the work.

You can reassure them that you are not doing that by picking a piece of content that won’t be, for whatever reason, an upcoming project for your brand or company. Instead, pick one of your competitor’s topics, or a campaign or project that has concluded.

Then listen for marketing, content writing, illustration and community response strategies relevant to that selection. These discussion points are among those that someone who has the experience and / or training to handle social media for a company or client might respond with:

  • A discussion of which target audience is potentially interested in that content.
  • What social networks this content would most likely be a good fit for.
  • Which trending or seasonal topics one could tie in this content with.
  • When is the best (or worst) time of day or week to post that content on specific networks.
  • Why a specific strategy such as hashtags, post targeting, a series of tweets, or cross-promotion could work for this example.
  • Whether it is advisable to consider promoted posts for that content.
  • How to write the tweet, title or description so that search engines or news feeds understand the content.
  • A description of a photograph or illustration that could help get that content noticed on a particular social media network.
  • How you could turn that content into an opt-in resource so to collect email addresses.
  • The reactions one can expect for that content, including follow-up questions the social media manager should be prepared to answer.

If you hear these details or other specifics beyond “I’ll post it on Facebook,” then you are talking to someone who knows more than just how to make a post on Facebook. Proceed accordingly.

If you want suggestions for candidate questions, whether in house or outsourced, here are some great posts on this topic:

If you are interested in social media and digital media, I have a huge collection of resources on my Pinterest account.

This post was written in January 2017, updated in May 2017.

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5 free resources to kickstart your social media plan

Womens Money Week blog post graphicBy Paula Wethington

One of the projects I participated in several times as a personal finance blogger was the National Women’s Money Week project.

Through that campaign, writers discuss the  money topic of the day from their perspective or expertise. The goal of the community discussions are to “help women move from financial fragility to financial resiliency.”

The Women’s Money Week 2017 project is from Jan. 1-7.

I’m no longer writing about personal finance. (Monroe on a Budget wrapped up in 2015, you can find a history of the project here). But my current favorite topic of social media is definitely applicable to the Women’s Money Week Jan. 3, 2017, theme of Entrepreneurship / Earning Your Worth / Making Money.

Social media for news reporting, special projects and personal branding is a skill I picked up on by experience and watching what worked for other people. At one point, I had Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest and Instagram pages all branded to Monroe on a Budget. Facebook was a huge referral source to the site for a long time.

But my actual “day job” is newspaper reporter. Even before the personal finance blog wrapped up, I was applying what I learned to our newsroom’s social media accounts. And I was seeing good results.

I also think digital media is fun.

Following up on this experience, I looked for free and low-cost resources about social media and related topics. While you can now find master’s degree programs in digital or social media studies, that’s a bigger investment than I can make. Even the paid training I’ve taken has been carefully chosen and spread out so not to take a huge hit all at once. If you are an entrepreneur, or making a move into a new career, your goal of low budget training or subscription services certainly coincides with mine.

Therefore, this article focuses on free resources.

If you later decide to seek out paid training or hire a social media management agency to help out, now you’ll have some understanding of the topic.

1. Your public library

One of the first places I looked for information about digital and social media was my local library. About once a month, I’d find a book, or two or three, and settle in for an afternoon of studying in a cozy reading chair with a cup of mocha coffee nearby.

Yes, it is true that best practices change so fast that very specific strategies become outdated within a few months to a year. But it is also true that general topics such as copywriting, design and photography easily cross over from one genre to the next. Don’t overlook marketing and communications fundamentals. They can help you understand why certain social media tactics work – or don’t.

To explain: one of the first library books I read focused on Search Engine Optimization. That discussion explained why unsolicited pitches were arriving in my email, offering guest posts for my blog “with just a link;” or in the alternative, requesting link embeds from my posts to their sites. Something had always seemed odd to me about those emails. Now I had enough  knowledge about SEO strategy to see through the spammy, scammy, sleazy link requests.

Go find your local library and pick out a few books.

2. Hubspot Academy.

Are you interested in a course that explains digital marketing concepts as they are typically applied today? Take the Free Inbound Marketing Course offered by Hubspot Academy. You will learn how blogging, SEO and website setups such as landing pages can encourage potential customers to be interested in your products and services, and hopefully lead to sales.

The current version is a 12-class program with an exam. It took longer for me to work through the course than the hours listed, but you can stop and start as needed. I also picked up on the concepts faster when I took it the second time.

If you want to understand how and why specific content and formatting strategies get results for your business or a competitor, the Inbound course is worth your time.

3. Facebook Blueprint.

Another resource accessible from your desktop is from Facebook itself: Facebook Blueprint.

Earning a Facebook Blueprint Certification badge costs money. The annual, renewable exam and certification is meant for digital advertising professionals. But there are over 50 free webinars and modules in the resource collection for certification students — and you can access those modules for free! The topics include Audience Insights, Boost Your Posts and Direct Response Best Practices.

As explained by Facebook: “Blueprint eLearning is a series of free, self-paced online courses and learning paths teaching the best practices of Facebook marketing — perfect for small businesses, agencies, advertisers, graduates, MBA holders, or anyone wanting to market more effectively on Facebook.”

Poke around the collection and complete a tutorial or two.

4. Canva Design School.

Canva is a popular site for creating social media graphics fast and easy. It’s free if you use your own images or pick from their basic collections. The paid graphic elements are very affordable. You can create your designs via desktop or an iPad.

After you start using Canva, you’ll notice which of your favorite Facebook and Twitter pages use this tool. Some of the preset templates are quite popular!

What if you have no idea how to work in graphic design?

Canva has a collection of free tutorials in its Design School library with topics such as Building a Brand Kit, Marrying Text and Images, and Creative Color Palettes.

If you create just one image that looks good, I think you’ll be hooked.

5. Pinterest.

Did you think Pinterest’s practical usefulness was limited to cookie recipes and wedding theme ideas? Not so fast! The do-it-yourself culture on Pinterest also has extended to entrepreneurship skills and marketing concepts!

Create a board where you can collect pins on this topic – I started with Digital World, but also have some spinoff topics such as Public Relations.

After you create a board, search for keywords such as marketing, social media, or business goals. After Pinterest learns what you are looking for, it will suggest more to you via the news feed. After you pin an image from the web, you’ll see a splash page of another board that image was pinned to and perhaps you want to follow that as well.

Tip: You can create a new topic as a “secret board” while you brainstorm this and flip it to a public board later.

Bonus: Now for a little bit of money.

If you are willing to spend (some) money on a subscription or an online short course, look over the possibilities from these resources:

  • Hootsuite Academy – Hootsuite is a social media management dashboard service; and the related products include a collection of webinars. Whether you can stick with the free services or need to spend money depends on how many accounts you want to connect, the features you want and the courses you want to take.
  • Udemy – Webinars and minicourses in topics ranging from mobile phone photography to marketing fundamentals. There often are specials – sometimes as low as $10 a class. Put the webinars you want on a “wish list” and cue them up as you have the funds.
  • LinkedIn Learning – LinkedIn members who have Job Seeker, Business Plus, and Executive LinkedIn subscriptions can access a collection of webinars and short courses as part of their paid service. Pay close attention to the expiration date of your trial or membership, as you may be locked out of a course before completion.

A tip of the hat to past and present participants and the organizers of Women’s Money Week. Look for hashtag #WMWeek17 on your favorite social media networks. I’ll be tweeting my favorite links of the campaign at @WethingtonPaula

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6 steps to build your social media audience

By Paula Wethington

Six steps to build your social media audience

The first (and sometimes only) task  people think of when it comes to running social media accounts is posting content.

But that’s just one piece. The real work happens in making sure that content is seen by the people you want to reach! And for that, you need to build an audience.

The bottom line is: Social media requires a comprehensive strategy for best results.

Here are six steps I recommend for building an audience, listed in a sequence in which they will work most effectively.

And here is the discussion of those steps:

Define your audience

Who are you writing for?

In the marketing world, this question and the answer is called building a persona or avatar. You can research this in a number of ways that include collecting U.S. Census data on a particular city, hosting focus groups and pulling up audience demographics  via the Facebook ad manager dashboard.

Don’t ignore it, or you won’t have a direction to aim toward.

Here is a case study: When I was a personal finance blogger (I have a page on this site about the Monroe on a Budget project), I didn’t tackle every possible money topic.  Instead, I wrote for families who lived in southeast Michigan who were middle to low income; and as a result, living paycheck to paycheck more frequently than they would like. I thought their concerns and questions were overlooked by most national personal finance articles.

The recession hit shortly after I started that project. The demographic I had chosen as a niche audience was affected seriously. Any helpful content in an accessible format was of high interest. That specific combination of time / place / circumstances gave me plenty of angles to consider, research and discuss.

My question before writing anything for that project was always “Does this apply to my audience?”

As a result, it was a hugely successful site in terms of page views.

Create and curate content for that audience

You have messages you’d like to get out on specific dates or times. But you’ll need to find more content to choose from than just what you want to say.

Here’s a case study: One of the organizations I belong to is my high school music alumni foundation.

We host a hall of fame awards banquet on an every other year schedule. That event gives us the following discussion points: how to nominate someone, who will be honored, how to get dinner tickets, photos from the event, who made donations and where the money goes. The annual marching band alumni night that we help promote for the high school also provides these discussion points: announcing the date, photos and videos from rehearsal, photos and videos from the event.

We clearly needed something to talk about off season. We wanted our page to bubble up in the news feed from time to time, so that our school’s alumni will be more likely to see and remember announcements of our events.

The consensus was to look for content from other pages and sites to include on our Facebook page. Curation is the social media phrase that applies to this concept. To give a direction of where to look and what to post, our alumni board decided that the theme would be “music in our schools.”

An obvious choice was photos, videos and announcements about our school district’s music department. For example, a “share” that did very well was a video clip of the marching band at an away football game that a newspaper photographer posted on her journalist page. We’ve also decided to post concert announcements from nearby schools and the local college; and also share funny memes about music that we found on other Facebook fan pages.

Are our Facebook page fan counts going up? No, but the engagement and reach to actual people is noticeably higher with the use of curation. And that’s a huge boost to our visibility as compared to two years ago. It’s working.

Research the best timing for that network

I scoffed at digital content timing when I was a personal finance blogger. Reason: I didn’t want to fret about deadlines as I must do on print media assignments. Digital media to me meant 24/7, freeflow posting whenever content was ready.

But I have since learned some content CAN and should be scheduled. Facebook in particular is very sensitive to timing. I have noticed even a half an hour’s difference on timing can be noticed in the reach count on our newspaper’s account.

How do you determine the best timing when you are growing a page, or have inherited an existing page where you don’t yet have a feel for the audience? Here are some suggestions:

  • Review three or four charts that can be found via Internet search (I have some  pinned on Pinterest) that show best timing / worst timing on social networks.
  • Look over the Facebook page insights section of your pages to find the chart that shows what times your audience is online. Don’t schedule new content when you know the audience isn’t as likely to see it. It’s just not going to work.
  • Run your pages through the free Likealyzer tool to get more specific analytics on Facebook timing.

Another resource is using a social media management tool such as Hootsuite that can suggest posting times. Just be sure to review the results in case you want to override the automation – a particular topic might be seen as too late for the slot Hootsuite picked.

Now that you understand the news cycle so to speak on your social accounts, designate which time slots are your “prime time slots” for each day of the week on your active pages. Schedule content that is most likely to get likes, comments or shares for those times.

Bonus timing trick: Do you manage more than one social media account where the audience and content choices overlap? Time the posts with similar keywords fairly close together. To explain: I’ve noticed my reporter page on Facebook gets higher reach when I post a story on it about 15 minutes after that same story goes live on the newsroom’s main Facebook page.

Participate in the social community

Content curation is the perfect prelude to participating in the social community. Here’s why: it forces you to accept the fact that you are not the only voice that deserves to be heard.

The detail that makes social media unique among communication genres is that it is  a conversation (two way) rather than broadcasting (one way). Your friends, fans, competitors and yes, even trolls, will give feedback through likes, reactions, shares and comments.

How and when you reply to the community members indicates that the social media account is run by a real person or a team of real people. This interaction between the business, organization or brand and their fans is called “community engagement” or “community management.”

This does not mean every consumer or business complaint needs to be handled publicly on Facebook. Encourage people to use private channels to relay specific concerns or issues to you.

But as you watch the conversations and trends, community management can help you fine-tune the content and timing choices you made at an earlier step.

Apply free / organic growth strategies

One of the most common tactics when launching a new Facebook page is to send invites to your friends.

This is a start, but will get you only so far. I’ve seen numerous pages launched by friends, family and co-workers that have stalled out at 250 fans or less. Two pages that I can think of from that list never hit 25!

Why is that? One reason is you won’t have a large enough pool of people to work with among your friends. The Pew Research Center has reported that half of all Facebook members have less than 200 fans. Then consider the fact your Facebook friends may have very different interests. Some might live in in another state; even another country.

Twitter has a similar challenge in that the average number of followers per account, according to a blogger whose topics includes collecting Twitter statistics, is only 208.

How do you get complete strangers interested in what you have to say, enough to the point that they also will “like” or follow your social media account and push your fan counts past 200?

This is why social media strategy needs to be understood in a building block format. Go back to the first step in which you defined your audience. Provide content those people would be interested in. Post it at the times when they are most likely to see it. Let them see there’s a real person running the account.

Now we are going to grow a social media audience beyond your initial reach with the following tactics:

  • Be consistent in screen name and profile photo choices along with choosing similar cover art for each social network you participate in. This approach, which is one of the first steps in branding a social media presence, will help people recognize you across the Internet.
  • Follow new people every week on Twitter. I’ve seen recommendations of anywhere of following 10 to 50 new accounts a day. You want slow and steady progress. Don’t try to add too many all too fast, or Twitter might temporarily lock the account. And yes, I saw that happen once on a friend’s account! This was handled quickly with a password reset, but oops!
  • To find new people, look over the active accounts you are following. Which accounts are they following, or are followed by, that are active and on your topic or interests?
  • Remember that your Twitter follow is more likely to be noticed when someone has only 500 follows or less as compared to someone who has 5,000 or more follows.
  • Unfollow inactive accounts after 30 days. This makes room in your Twitter limits for new accounts. As your list evolves, you are also teaching Twitter who and what you are interested in.
  • Learn how to find an account’s “Twitter lists,” which is a substream of Twitter accounts. Some are automatically created from hashtags and therefore full of spam or inactive accounts; but others will be a gold mine as you find people you could also follow.
  • Build your own Twitter lists. People who are placed on public lists will get a notification – it’s a great way to let them know you exist. The private lists are for your viewing only – it’s a great way to keep a closer watch on the competition.
  • Have your Facebook page follow other pages that are related by niche or community. Page follows are not as valuable to some social media managers as profile follows, but there is a valid reason. Pages don’t often interact with each other. Those inactive likes might skew analytics and the community engagement rate. If you seek out pages that post content you can like, share, tag and comment on as a friendly page, that’s helping to build community in both directions. Those page owners might follow you back, and some of their fans will too.
  • Review the analytics on posts you made on Facebook. Did you notice that there are people who have liked that post but have not yet liked that page? Send them a page invite. Here’s a how-to on that very successful and FREE strategy.
  • Page invites and follows are like saying “hello” to new people at a cocktail party. So while you are doing that, consider whether there is a photo, link, post or event that you can “pin” to the top of your Facebook and Twitter profiles to provide more information about who you are or a project you are working on. That pinned content is like giving someone your business card at a cocktail party after saying hello.
  • Finding your target audience on Instagram can be a challenge with so many people setting their accounts to private. On those accounts, you can’t see who they are following or are followed by. But I’ve found an Instagram audience grows organically with a clever and liberal use of hashtags. I brainstorm or look for three to five relevant hashtags on each Instagram post; other people add twice that number to their images.

Consider paid ads on the social network

There’s nothing wrong with using sponsored posts across social media. After all, this advertising support helps create and build the networks you are relying on  for marketing strategies.

But don’t waste your money! Study up on the best practices for paid content on that particular network.

Then go back to the first step of defining your audience. Decide who you can target  among that group, and what information or offer would get their interest. And consider when THAT group of people be MOST interested in seeing THAT promotion?

Your promoted content doesn’t have to be selling a huge purchase; and that  might come across as too pushy anyway. A perfectly valid use of paid social is a free download in exchange for an email address you can send information to later. Another practical use is to promote an event you are hosting in real life.

Or consider this example that would be of interest to a news organization: You just put a lot of time and resources into a special report. On your website, you have embedded referral links to background articles, photo galleries, video clips, a call to action, etc. so that you can easily pick up maybe five or ten page views and maybe even a paid customer on a typical read.

You just need to pull in that first view.

Answer: you can push that special project to a bigger audience via paid social.

If you’d like to see other social media strategies and tips that I’ve collected, check out my Twitter feed at @WethingtonPaula and a whole bunch of topics I’ve curated on Pinterest.

This post was updated May 18, 2017

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