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10 Ways to Win on Social

Advertising on social media is getting more expensive by the day. Here's how to drive growth without breaking the bank.
A yellow Jacquemus “Chiquito” bag taped to a wall, a parody of the viral banana artwork by Maurizio Catellan presented at Art Basel | Source: @jacquemus
  • Michael Edelmann

LONDON, United Kingdom — With the golden age of Instagram marketing over, businesses are growing increasingly frustrated by the rising costs and diminishing returns of social media advertising across platforms. Contrary to popular belief, however, big advertising budgets are not a requirement to grow your audience or drive engagement online, whether you measure it by likes or actual sales.

Networks such as TikTok as well as the rise of other Chinese platforms including Douyin, for example, are allowing brands to extend their reach and tap different customer segments. That said, marketeers leveraging multiple new platforms can easily spread themselves too thin in a quest to engage users across different feeds.

To navigate this challenging landscape, here are 10 tactics that can help brands succeed on social media in 2020, big corporations and fledgling start-ups alike.

1. Adapt to Each Platform

With new networks arising and existing platforms extending the available tools for promotion of content, brands need to carefully evaluate how they can effectively reach their target audience, both in terms of geography and demographics. User characteristics may vary largely from one channel to another and so does the type of content and messaging that will resonate. Adapting content to suit each segment can easily become a costly exercise.

The good news is that you don't have to maintain an active presence on all platforms, especially if your brand identity doesn't necessarily align with the type of content required. Take TikTok, a platform that thrives on bite-sized, often fun and cheeky videos. If you find yourself wanting to tap into the network's Gen-Z audience pool, you'd be best advised to test the waters by leveraging user-generated content. Influencers that have already established themselves on the platform could, for example, help promote your brand in a much more authentic way.

In June 2019, Uniqlo launched a hashtag campaign on TikTok, inviting users to create content for the network. Within two weeks, the campaign amassed 330 million views with 185,000 submissions from over 95,000 participants. By January 2020, Uniqlo’s TikTok presence was still considerably small with about 7,100 followers and eight posts. The reach of each participant’s contribution helped the brand raise awareness widely without necessarily requiring a dedicated team in the long-term to maintain a presence.

2. Consider Your Brand Identity

Every business should be extremely clear on how they want consumers to perceive their brand. This goes beyond visual cues and your brand’s tone of voice. Character — almost human-like traits — is equally important, especially on social media. While these elements can certainly evolve over time, consistency can create long-term benefits when it comes to recognition and recall. Plus, there is a risk of alienating existing customers when introducing significant change.

Currently, a host of brands are adapting their communications to better fit youth culture, with the goal of driving engagement among Gen-Z. Memes appear to be a particularly popular tactic. While they certainly reflect the cultural zeitgeist, memes also carry an entertainment factor or may easily spark an emotional response. Companies should consider if that interferes with their desired brand perception.

Nars, on the other hand, has long relied on cheeky taglines and product names such as its “Orgasm” range, which was introduced all the way back in 1999. As a result, the French cosmetics and skincare company can be more playful in its communications, a winning combination in the current social media climate. A video clip with an ambiguous holding image posted to the brand’s Instagram account accompanied by the caption “when the nudes keep you up all night” garnered more than 1.1 million views and almost 90,000 engagements (a measurement of interactions on a post including likes, comments, shares and saves). Meanwhile, the average engagement per post on the brand’s account in the same month was just below 20,000, according to data obtained by Launchmetrics.

3. Foster the Power of Community

For many of its users, social media provides a form of instant gratification with likes or comments representing a form of validation. Brands can leverage this behaviour to their advantage, as long as they do so in an ethical way. Telfar, the brand behind the popular "Bushwick Birkin," is frequently engaging with its community by resharing their Instagram posts to the company's official account. The quest for potential exposure on the brand's profile has users constantly tagging and promoting the company for free on their personal handles. Rather than relying on expensive campaign imagery, the constant stream of real-world content provides the brand with a means to promote their products in an authentic way that also fosters a feeling of community.

4. Create Shareable Moments

Jennifer Lopez' Versace runway appearance in September 2019 might have delighted the audience in the Milan show venue, but the Capri-owned brand's video content and imagery travelled much farther and reached the masses via social media, clocking $42 million in media impact value (a quantitative measure of owned, earned and paid mentions) in just a day, according to Launchmetrics. The Italian brand smartly extended the buzz of this moment when they also featured the singer in the accompanying collection campaign imagery, which was released in January 2020, causing another spike in media impact value.

However, not every brand may have the means to replicate a similar strategy. Beyond fashion shows and celebrities, brands should be thinking about the type of content that users will post organically on their own channels to drive exposure. Glossier made a name for itself by building Instagram-worthy store environments. Its pink bubble wrap bags are another source of inspiration for user posts. Online retailer Mr Porter banks on seemingly handwritten notes that accompany each purchase. Shoppers often post these paper tags, customised with their name, to social media.Should you now be tempted to redesign your packaging, beware the environmental impact – and potential backlash.

5. Explore Platforms’ Creative Tools

Creativity and originality are the most important drivers for organic engagement. Whether the content is particularly inspiring, educational or entertaining, success happens when brand posts get re-shared on personal accounts. Platforms provide a myriad of tools, like augmented reality filters, to enrich your content and will often incentivise usage. Many tools can also be customised and made available to other users, opening up the possibilities for brand exposure.

To support the release of a new range of sunglasses, Dior introduced a filter for use on Instagram Stories in February 2019, enabling users to try on a pair with the help of augmented reality. To date, the lens has clocked in more than 50 million impressions. Meanwhile, other brands have simply submitted custom GIFs of their logo to the platform so users can add them to their Instagram Stories easily.

Dior Instagram Stories filter | Source: Courtesy

6. Collaborate Beyond Merch

These days, celebrity-designed capsule collections and streetwear link-ups with luxury brands are nothing new. Many companies, however, seem to be missing the opportunity not only on products, but content. Gucci has partnered over the past few years with a variety of different artists. The creative output of these collaborations varied from social media-ready content to fashion show invites and even 'Instagramable' murals, enriching Gucci's feed with glossy campaign imagery and product shots.

As with any type of collaboration, the terms of the partnership should be clearly defined and artists should be appropriately rewarded for their contributions.

7. Stay Current With the News

Many platforms offer tools to monitor trending hashtags and posts that quickly gain popularity. Before you decide to engage, carefully consider whether the topic is relevant to your brand, or whether your audience will denounce it as clickbait. You should also seek to participate in such conversations early on as users quickly grow tired of similar posts clogging up their feeds.

In December 2019, a banana that was duct-taped to a wall — an artwork by Maurizio Cattelan presented during Art Basel — caused outrage on the internet when it sold for $120,000. As a result, many users posted other trivial objects taped to walls on their feeds, including Jacquemus. Three Instagram posts of a yellow "Chiquito" bag glued to a wall garnered 168,000 engagements in total, compared to an average of 47,000 engagements per post in the same month, data by Launchmetrics revealed. Beyond engagement, the posts played into the brand's cheeky and fun identity, while reinforcing its social currency.

8. Show Personality

When it comes to imagery, social media posts that feature humans will often outperform simple product imagery. It is therefore not surprising that some brands allow their founders or creative directors to feature prominently across social media. Tactics range from simply cross-promoting content from personal accounts to a brand profile, or offering an influencer or celebrity the opportunity to “take over” a brand’s account. While this may be a fairly simple way to drive engagement, it comes at a risk. Recent history is full of brands suffering retaliation from the actions of single individuals on social media. Therefore, all content — whether from founders or other ambassadors — should be vetted by a trained social media expert.

9. Engage Your Employees

A whopping 86 percent of companies use influencer marketing, according to a 2020 BoF and McKinsey study. Yet, many marketers seem to neglect their most loyal brand ambassadors: employees. With heightened trust among their friends and peers, employees can become powerful micro-influencers for your company. To encourage them to post about a brand in a meaningful way, some companies have gone as far as providing free meals, gift cards or even extra time off. The principle is similar to other workplace referral schemes, in which employees earn rewards for positive actions. Success is usually determined by number of posts, hashtags used, engagements achieved or — if possible — traceable conversions.

In order to facilitate these interactions, companies should develop a clear social media policy, which covers, for instance, image and caption guidelines. Awareness of the brand’s social media mission may also further employees’ understanding of how their individual actions on social media contribute to larger company goals. The key is to encourage positive behaviour, not to force it. Such guidelines and social media codes of conduct are also a good investment, given that employers are increasingly held accountable for actions of employees on their personal social media.

Early in January, French underwear start-up Le Slip Français came under fire after video footage of employees wearing blackface at a private party emerged. "If the company is not legally responsible for the actions of its employees beyond the professional context, we consider that we have a moral responsibility against these racist and discriminatory behaviours that are at odds with our values," a statement by the company read. Two employees were sanctioned, but the damage to the brand's image may be harder to recover from.

10. Prepare for Mistakes

Many of the previously mentioned tactics feature cautionary tales and potential risks. To avoid as many of these as possible, the proper security mechanisms should be in place. Social media should be a team effort — and a variety of people should sit at the table when guidelines and protocols are developed. In turn, this will empower single individuals to execute strategies and tactics with confidence on a day-to-day basis. Should something still go wrong, taking accountability is usually the most important action. Don't overreact but seek to provide a timely response. For more on how to handle a social media PR crisis in the age of call-out culture, read our exclusive feature.

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