With ever-growing numbers of consumers taking to social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, droves of companies have followed close behind to get the word out about their products. With so many brands vying for space, it can be difficult to differentiate between what works and what just adds to so much online noise.
A study conducted by the professional networking site LinkedIn ranked the globe’s “Most Influential Brands” to determine what worked and what didn’t. By tracking page views, discussions, shared posts and other interactions, the study established who was winning the race for consumers’ attention.
In Canada, the Queen’s School of Business took one of the top spots due in large part to QSB Insight, an online platform dedicated to sharing knowledge generated at Queen’s with the greater business community. Since April 2013, QSB Insight has been regularly updating, attracting droves of readers. Neil Bearse, QSB’s Associate Director of Marketing who has taught a number of executive education classes shared some of the principles that led to their success.
“When a consumer needs to opt into your message by following you on Twitter, they need to be getting something out of it beyond a flat sales pitch,” he says. “That may have worked in a time when the audience had no choice but to listen to your appeal, but nowadays it’s different.”
During the age of television and radio’s dominance, advertisers were concerned with reach: getting the sales message to as many people as possible.
“At QSB, instead of gearing ourselves towards reach, we solved the equation for value,” Bearse says. “We certainly have those purely informative posts about the fact our MBA programs exist, but they only comprise about 10 per cent of our content. The rest is about showcasing the interesting work that’s happening in our building and our classrooms. We do that by sharing webinars, white papers or exciting conversations.”
Bolstering one’s success on social media can be done by keeping in mind a few principles.
Listen: “When people ask questions, you have to respond,” Bearse says. “Marketing used to be a one-way conversation, but now it’s a dialogue. You need to care about and react to what your followers say, even if they don’t have nice things to say.”
Adjust your expectations: “Companies get onto social media expecting it to be both magical and free. Creating good content requires work and time. Tacking responsibilities to someone’s portfolio without training them or giving them the resources to do it well will leave everyone disappointed.”
Limit choice: “Having too many options is overwhelming, so guide your reader into knowing what their next move should be. If you want them to share a post, design it accordingly, but don’t expect them to share, respond and follow a link,” he says.
Be interactive: “Social media algorithms are designed to quickly spread the posts that are being engaged with, so instead of ending a post with a period that says the conversation is over, end with a question mark that prompts feedback. Of course, be more imaginative than a last-minute, ‘what do you think?’ “
Tone: “I don’t want my bank making jokes,” says Bearse. “Remember to align your message with your brand values and to speak to people in the register you would if they called you on the phone. Every brand needs to ask themselves: Do we use smiley faces? There’s nothing wrong with doing so — just have the conversations in advance to ensure alignment with the image you’re trying to cultivate.
A friendship, not a campaign: “If the first time someone met you they were asked for a big favour, they likely wouldn’t be interested in developing a relationship. If instead, over a period of time you relate to them, engage with them and genuinely want them to be happy, eventually they’ll be happy to help,” he says. “If you’re not getting responses to your posts, ask what you’ve contributed to the relationship that deserves a response.”