In the last few years alone, companies’ stances on issues of ESG (environmental, social and governance) are increasingly important. Businesses have had to jump in and become part of the online conversation out of necessity as well as responsibility and in doing so, their entire social media strategies are being publicly scrutinized.
Not every online conversation will be on a heavy topic, but having a strategic online presence is now an essential medium of messaging in today’s “always-on” environment. People want authentic brands. If there’s a relevant, passionate social event or movement and brands do not get involved, that can lead to major social media backlash. Likewise, getting involved on issues where you have previously been silent can equally backfire. It’s a delicate dance.
The way people get information is changing. Facebook is the new phone book, and most millennials and Gen Z-ers are searching for the information they need or want on the internet: where to eat, where to shop, what to do on the weekend, how to learn more about their schools, classmates, and the trends affecting their lifestyle.
If a brand spends quality time on its social media accounts with a clear, asserted identity and regularly updated and engaging posts that do more than sell, those brands will reach more people and become go-to sources of information. And, be better prepared to jump in and out of broader conversations as appropriate.
People have the power of information in their pockets, and if you are not taking advantage of that, you’re missing a huge opportunity.
So, what are some of the best practices to engage your audience and establish a credible online presence?
If you’re starting from scratch with your social media, make sure you use the same handles and titles on all your platforms so people can find you more easily. And even if you’re not starting from scratch, consider updating them to match (if you can). Your handles need to be consistent, especially if your acronyms or titles are similar to other companies with their own social media presence. You don’t want people getting confused.
You also need to be posting at least once or twice a week at minimum. You do not want to be seen as an inactive or out-of-touch brand. Monitor what your audience is talking about regularly so you know what content your audience wants to see and when you should or should not engage. However, there is such a thing as posting too often. You want your posts to share meaningful content to your audience, and that can be vetted with more scrutiny once you gain a following.
If you’re taking your social media seriously, you should have a social media team capable of conducting research with the social media tools available to you. For example, research has shown that early- to mid-afternoon is when most people are online, and you’ll want to be in front of the most eyes possible. Look into insights gathered from your organization’s account. What’s your biggest demographic? Which stories and posts are getting the most engagement and why?
But remember, social media is a full-time job. You’ve probably noticed how many companies and schools have social media managers. Doing an audit, coming up with a plan, and scheduling your editorial calendar for an entire year takes a lot of resources. It’s a big commitment, but it’s important.
if you are struggling to get your engagement up, don’t be afraid to throw some dollars behind paid social media ads or boosted posts. That will help you establish a following and is always worth the investment.
Which posts get the most attention? Right now, it’s content with video. Roughly 90% of information transmitted to the brain is visual, and human recall improves significantly with visual cues.
Keep in mind that a best practice for a social media video is to keep it short. If you’re telling your company or school’s history, that might be a ten-minute video. But social media videos should ideally be 30 seconds or less. Audiences (especially Gen Z students), for the most part, are not going to watch long videos; their attention span falls off too quickly.
Gen Z is all over TikTok, and it’s a huge platform of opportunity right now. The app is a continuous feed of very brief videos, and it has skyrocketed in engagement since 2020. Be. On. This. Platform. Some colleges and universities have a simple account created, and even without producing content, they’ve already amassed hundreds of followers. That means students want to hear from you, and not having your voice at the table could hurt you, especially if other brands are beating you to the punch. In fact, other institutions already have students producing content for their organization’s accounts and are doing incredibly well while having fun. It’s a fantastic visual form of engagement that makes you more relatable to your audience.
Look for Cobranding Opportunities
Speaking of collaborations, anytime you can tag other organizations or people in your posts, do it. That will automatically improve your reach and visibility. And content with testimonials and employee stories showcasing what’s going on behind the scenes is important since people like to feel like they’re included. So are success stories, which are some of the most engaging, feel-good content that people like to see.
Cross-promoting others in your community also sends a supportive message. Some people may not know you exist on social media but will follow you or like your post if it includes an account they’re already following. This also applies to hashtags. People who follow certain hashtags will find your content and can follow for more. Based on our research, two to three hashtags per post is standard.
If you have editorial calendars set up for Facebook/Twitter/Instagram, check them every week, but leave space for trends. Know what content is being published. If a major event is happening, you may have to pivot quickly and move content around. The information you planned to release may be irrelevant or meant for another week given a new situation and new context.
Be proactive and not reactive. This is a delicate balance that requires discussion with your leadership team and a plan for crisis management. Work with your team or PR experts ASAP to get a content plan in place. You don’t want to wait and see what people are posting about when it could be too late, so get ahead of it. If it’s a crisis, be prepared. If it’s something fun, be a part of the trend.
Don’t be tone-deaf or too late to the game when it comes major news. Ukraine is a notable example right now for many institutions. Maybe your university is holding town hall conversations on the back quad, calling in experts, or letting professionals do a social media takeover for a day. Give insight and expertise on events that matter to your audiences but be sure to know which ones warrant joining the conversation and which do not. For example, during the Black Lives Matter movement in the summer of 2020, there were several brands that failed to open up about the issue, which resulted in considerable backlash and PR failures.
Be authentic and transparent
The image that you put out conveys your brand reputation. If you’re putting out high-quality imagery, video, and copy, that says a lot about how you take care of your brand and how you take care of your students, business partners, or customers. That’s not to say that you should never use iPhone video; authentic content may benefit from informal messages from behind a smartphone. You just want to make sure your content is consistent and clean. Also, be sure to keep traffic moving. We’ve seen too many brands post an image with tons of information but no supporting copy, and that’s not good. You’ll always want to direct audiences to places they can find more information, like your website.
We do see a lot of brands posting images without filters these days, and that’s a good thing. Be real. At the same time, get the diversity in – that’s most important. What does your world – and the people in it – look like? The world is diverse, and people want to see themselves represented at your institution or organization, showing who you are, what you stand for, and your values. Being transparent, inclusive, and honest with your followers will earn you more respect in the long run.
If you’re interested in learning more about exploring social channels through audiences’ viewpoints, check out our Social Media Centers of Excellence blog series.