When people think of marketing, one of their first questions is how to incorporate social media. With social media, anyone has the potential to quickly gain traction and go viral – and at a low cost. However, most of these trends fade out. Some people manage to capitalize on their success, but most B2B or B2C marketing is not about broadcasting your message to the masses, it is about directing your message to people who could genuinely benefit from learning what you have to say.
Social media is incredibly powerful. It enables us to express ourselves and our opinions to reach people we have never even met. With a few clicks, we can rapidly share information — about deadly wildfires, mysterious illnesses, heartrending murders, etc. We can learn stories that we would never have known otherwise. We can help raise money for people half a world away. We can even hold people accountable and inspire change.
To successfully accomplish any of these objectives, we must be conscious of what we post as companies. As someone who grew up during the rise of social media and spent an inordinate amount of time on it these past weeks, here are five aspects small and medium-sized businesses need to consider before posting:
1. Authenticity. If the subject of your post matters to you, it shows and hopefully will resonate with your audience as well. Make sure that what you say brings value to other people: maybe it teaches them something new or challenges them to think differently. Even if it concerns the same subject as other people’s posts, add your own unique insights or illustrations so that it reflects your beliefs and brand. And above all, do it for the right reasons. Companies and people whose public statements do not align with their actions can (and frankly should) get called out for being “performative.” People can sense when they are placated, and vague, generic statements that contradict past actions, such as those put forth by the NFL, Amazon and L’Oreal to name a few, will only alienate audiences, so say only what you mean and mean everything that you say.
2. Purpose. Your online presence is a reflection of your company, your brand and your values. It is a chance to express what matters to you and show how your company operates behind the scenes. Research has shown that consumers support trustworthy, socially responsible companies whose values align with theirs (Forbes). They often research products and services before buying them, using reviews and any information companies put on their professional platforms to make judgments – good or bad — about the business. Regardless of how meticulously you build your reputation, a hasty post can quickly tarnish it. Anything you post as a professional can be traced back to your company, so it should be an accurate representation. A relatively foolproof test is if you would not want your parents seeing it, reconsider posting.
3. Hashtags. Many adults love tacking on copious amounts of #hashtags to their posts. This is not necessarily wrong, but hashtags should be part of a larger strategy that considers your brand, audience, platform and goals. Different brands employ different hashtag strategies. For instance, as a general rule, teenagers rarely use hashtags, unless they are for comedic effect, a trend like #tbt, or a holiday like #nationalsiblingsday. Many other people use hashtags in order to expand their audience, so random people looking for #marketingtips can easily find their post (and company). There are many different hashtag tracking tools (Talkwalker, Hashtagify, RiteTag) that can help you decide which hashtags to use in your posts. Once you employ them, remember to track their performance and analyze which ones work best.
Certain branded hashtags like #JustDoIt, #LikeAGirl or #ShareACoke have gone viral, thus increasing audience engagement and brand awareness. Some hashtags can even help increase awareness for social movements such as #metoo and #blacklivesmatter. Before using these weightier hashtags, however, it is imperative that you educate yourself. #blackouttuesday was launched by two black music executives as a way to amplify the voices of black creatives and encourage people to reflect, but it ended up being rows of black tiles on Instagram (Vox). While well-intentioned, these unfortunately made it harder for people to find information about the actual movement. Lastly, hashtag usage depends on the platform. People tend to use more hashtags on Instagram or Twitter, but with Facebook and LinkedIn, limit yourself to three to maximize engagement.
4. Awareness. We each need to educate ourselves to the best of our abilities before posting because a careless, public mistake can seriously damage a company’s reputation. Social media evolves constantly, as do its rules, which differ by platform and can admittedly be very confusing. None of us are expected to be perfect, but when it comes to professional social media use, it is important to acknowledge the responsibility we have to our audience and the potential repercussions of a callous remark.
5. Anxiety. This might seem contradictory to what I just wrote, but we should not be anxious about posting. In a speech to a graduating class of seniors, Meghan Markle perfectly summed it up (Washington Post):
“I wasn’t sure what I could say to you. I wanted to say the right thing. And I was really nervous that I wouldn’t, or that it would get picked apart, and I realized—the only wrong thing to say is to say nothing because George Floyd’s life mattered and Breonna Taylor’s life mattered and Philando Castile’s life mattered and Tamir Rice’s life mattered… and so did so many other people whose names we know and whose names we do not know.”
It is no secret that there are links between social media and anxiety, but we should not overly concern ourselves with the responses of internet trolls. There is no one “right thing” to say or to post. We are all doing our best and trying to help however we can. You cannot please everyone, but if you have a message that you think would benefit others to hear and is not hateful, please share it! Asking yourself these two questions could help you focus on what matters:
1. What is the goal of your post?
2. What are you trying to convey?
We do not always know if what we are doing is the “right thing.” There may be people who disagree with certain aspects of this very blog, but I know that I have done my best. I have also proofread this several times to ensure that there are no errant spelling, grammar or punctuation mistakes that would detract from my message.
Social media and other platforms enable us to share our truths and connect with other people; one of your posts could just be the encouragement or validation that someone needed to hear. It is truly remarkable that we always have an opportunity to lift others up. So, even if your post only reaches one other person, that will have made a difference. Social media is not about flash but about creating something that will resonate with someone else out there and hopefully make an impact.