The 5-Step Process to Sparking Social Buzz

“Jim is a talented, intelligent, hard-working guy who always comes through. You’d be smart to hire him.”

“I am a talented, intelligent, hard-working guy who always comes through. You’d be smart to hire me.”

The two lines above are virtually identical. Yet there’s no question which one is more compelling. When someone speaks on your behalf, it feels more credible and trustworthy than when you brag about yourself.

Testimonials are truth. They’ve been in the top-drawer of the marketer’s tool box since Umbricius Scaurus was hawking fish sauce. But in the last decade — with the wildfire growth of social media, and the proliferation of user-generated testimonial platforms like Yelp! and Google+ — the power of non-branded chatter has assumed new dimensions.

earned social media

In fact, a study recently released by Simply Measured found that “earned social media” — i.e., content that users post about a product or brand — drives 3.8 times more traffic than content created by brands themselves. This isn’t surprising. If a friend tells you something about a product, you’ll likely receive it with an open mind; but if a brand talks about itself, your gut will react with skepticism.

Yet, most brands focus on the latter most of the time.

Social media marketing has seen quite an evolution of late — from more-precise attribution models, to proper integration with content strategies — but driving user-generated social media chatter is still one area that’s largely neglected. The people who run brand marketing, on both the client and agency sides, tend to be more concerned about what they want to say, than about what their audiences want to hear.

Simply Measured's software measures which which posts, campaigns, and channels are driving more than just engagement.

Simply Measured's software measures which which posts, campaigns, and channels are driving more than just engagement.

earned social media

Truly great brands, however, know how to get their audiences talking. And they make it look easy: producing audience-centric content that seems to naturally and organically trigger easy chatter. But, if you look closely, you’ll find certain patterns and formulas inherent in this work. 

Under the microscope, you’ll see that great social brands follow a 5-step process to spark audience buzz:

 

1. Identify which historic content earned the greatest engagement.

You’re probably thinking, “Yeah, no kidding.” But measuring social engagement is a job that’s usually only half-done. It’s about more than tapping your “marketing technology stack,” pulling the numbers, and circling the highest ones. Ask yourself: Are you getting the results you need from that stack? Trying to measure activity both offline and online, from one channel to another, can be daunting. Start with the technology ... but then, tap the clear-eyed vision of experts who can look into the cascades of data — and unearth which content is earning the highest engagement, by whom, at what times, and across what channels.

 

2. Draw educated guesses on why that content is earning high engagement.

So, let’s say you’ve determined which posts over the last six months earned the highest engagement numbers. Now what? This is another example of how technology alone can come up short. (This is also where linear-minded marketers can draw incorrect conclusions too hastily.*) Go broader. Dig deeper. Bring together a diverse group of your best thinkers, and start hypothesizing, as a group, the best possible explanations for what your audience was thinking — and why they shared what they did.  

 

3. Develop new content, while remaining cognizant of sharing contexts.

earned social media

Once your hypotheses are drawn, it’s time to pick your best one and test it. Start creating new social media content based on that assumption, and fueled by the goal of getting your audience talking. BUT … remember that your audience often won’t use the same channels your brand does. A large percentage of user-generated content is “dark” (i.e., sent over text, email, or other channels that can’t be seen nor tracked); so, make sure the content you create is indigenous — or, at least, adaptable — to those contexts.

 

4. Test your new content …

5. Then, test again.

Remember that your best hypothesis is only a hypothesis. Test it knowing that you could be wrong. If you are, no sweat: go to your next-best hypothesis, create new content around it, and test again. Eventually, positive results will start coming back. BUT … don’t stop there. One successful test does not make a hypothesis a law. Test again, and again … and, eventually, you’ll have a flash of well-vetted lightning in a bottle.

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One of the biggest problems for marketers is knowing WHY audiences think the way they think, and act the way they do. You can’t survey everyone; and may not have the time or resources to run focus groups galore. But, if you have accurate digital data, good audience research, and great thinkers who can ask the right questions, you can push to understand your customers and prospects at an unprecedented level.

And once you have that understanding, you’ll know what will motivate them to evangelize your brand.

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*The results of a single A/B split test should rarely dictate strategy. So, Image X beat Image Y and the results were statistically significant … but why did that happen? As a marketer, it’s your job to know. Maybe the winning image was more seasonally relevant during the test period; maybe it touched an unknown geographic or cultural nerve with your audience; maybe it was something else altogether. But if you take the result of that one test and decide, “Image X is our winner, so we’re using it from now on,” you’re putting too much trust in something you don’t truly understand — which puts you, and your brand, at risk.