Your Social Media Playbook

The number of social networks today — and rules for each — can be dizzying. Here's your manual for mastering Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook, and everything in-between.



For today’s business owner, social media is — in a word — indispensable.

Social networks are where businesses uncover new customers, communicate with existing ones and recruit employees. They’re part help desk, part classified section, and part megaphone, neatly rolled into a slick app or website.

“Social media is mainstream media now,” says Bob Knight, executive vice president and COO at Harrison Edwards, an Armonk-based PR agency. “[It] touches everything from media relations to community relations.”

But indispensable doesn’t mean simple. Successfully leveraging networks like Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Snapchat, and LinkedIn — or simply avoiding embarrassing gaffes — takes considerable savvy. Social media mastery requires a diverse skill set, from editorial prowess to a grasp of big data and analytics.

Fortunately, Westchester is home to a roster of experts happy to share the do’s (and don’ts) of the social media landscape. We tapped local publicists, digital marketers and even a Facebook-savvy dentist, to give us a play-by-play of their best advice for Facebook, Instagram, and everything in-between.

 

The number of social networks is dizzying: There are sites for the image-obsessed (Instagram, Pinterest), for the office-and-cubicle crowd (LinkedIn), for the laconic (Twitter), and for the long-winded (Medium). Best to launch an account on each to reach a maximum audience, right?

Not so, say the experts.

“The number-one mistake business owners make: They want to be all things to everyone, on every social media platform,” says Kris Ruby, president of Ruby Media Group, a White Plains-based PR and social media agency.

Ruby says many companies cast a wide net, but to little effect. “[Businesses] fail to realize where their target demo is,” she explains, noting that different demographics map to different social networks.

If a business wants to reach baby boomers, they’re best operating on Facebook — and skipping Snapchat. A plumber needn’t be on Twitter, where chatter is largely political in nature. And a bakery is out of place on LinkedIn, where white-collar professionals swap résumés, not recipes.

Jason Eng, who oversees developer communications and influencer engagement for IBM in North Castle, puts it simply: “You have to fish where the fish are.”

Large companies even target different social networks for different products. At White Plains-based Heineken USA, corporate updates and job openings are shared on Twitter, says Bjorn Trowery, director of external communications. “With [the brand] Dos Equis and our College Football Playoff program, we’d lean into Snapchat or Twitter,” he continues. “Those [networks] offer more real-time conversations surrounding the game-day viewing experience.”

Knight, of Harrison Edwards, offers a handy summary: “If you’re trying to reach younger demographics, Snapchat is the everyday tool. If you’re trying to reach consumers over the age of 35, [try] a combination of Instagram, Facebook, and Twitter. Over the age of 55, stick with Facebook and Twitter.”   

“The number-one mistake business owners make: They want to be all things to everyone, on every social media platform,” says Kris Ruby, president of Ruby Media Group, a White Plains-based PR and social media agency.

Business owners eager to learn more about social network demographics can visit the Pew Research Center’s Internet-and-technology website. A 2016 study parsed social media users by age, gender, education, and income. Some of the key findings: “Roughly eight-in-ten online Americans now use Facebook,” Pew reports. “[And] around one-third of online adults report using Instagram.”

 

Social media is a constantly evolving industry — there’s no official field guide, no commandments chiseled in stone. That said, there are hazards and pitfalls every business owner should know to avoid. Here are five common mistakes you may be making. (The good news: They’re easy to remedy.)

1. All text, no art.

One major social media sin: “Not using an image,” says Bob Knight of Harrison Edwards PR. “Posts with videos or images in them have three-times more engagement than an all-text post.” But that doesn’t mean you should start cranking out amateur graphics en masse. Unprofessional artwork is on publicist Kris Ruby’s “10 Embarrassing Social Media Mistakes” list. “Does your Instagram grid have a cohesive identity,” Ruby writes, “or does it have poorly lit photos with text overlay saved as a screenshot in Microsoft Word?”

2. Hashtag overload.

Ruby also suggests limiting the number of hashtags in a single post. Too many can look spammy. “It’s just not aesthetically pleasing,” she says.

3. Recycling content.

It may be efficient to reuse your tweet on Facebook, but it’s not effective. Different platforms call for different tone, style, and content. “Take a look at what social networks [you’re] posting to and create content specifically for each one,” advises Jason Eng, a social media expert with IBM. “Each network has a different set of standards and limitations. [You] should optimize the content for each one.”

4. Don’t be a narcissist.

Bob Knight cringes “when brands only talk about themselves, rather than talking about benefits to the consumer.” His fix: Rather than a hardware store nakedly hawking a grill, they should share a hamburger recipe, too.

5. Ignoring the numbers.

Is anyone actually reading your posts? Dig into the data and find out. “The worst habit is not looking at what the data is telling you,” says Courtney Hanusch, social media associate with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society. “If something isn’t working, I would not recommend continuing to try it.”

 

 

It’s exceedingly easy to post on social media: Just log in, tap a few keys, and click “publish.” But experts say businesses should put considerable thought into each missive, so they stand out in the best possible ways. A boring or sloppy dispatch will almost certainly go unnoticed (or worse, ridiculed).

“Between cute-cat videos and BuzzFeed quizzes, there’s an endless amount of competition for screen time,” says Heineken USA’s Trowery.

At Heineken USA, Trowery and a team of social media experts beat the competition by planning ahead. “We typically develop a three-month calendar where we outline when topical events and general campaign news is scheduled,” he explains. “And [we] develop content connected to that.”

Heineken USA also follows current conversations and news cycles. During last year’s presidential election, the team crafted election-related content: “We set up a social media response room, where we tracked conversations [and] engaged followers with GIFs and other content in seconds,” Trowery says.

For another example of a Westchester business crafting winning content, look to Dr. Kenneth Magid and Advanced Dentistry of Westchester in Harrison. Advanced Dentistry’s Facebook page is abuzz with short videos, client testimonials, and quirky facts. Dr. Magid is also active on Instagram, with more than 1,200 followers.

“Did you know,” asks one recent Facebook post, “sharks have an unlimited supply of teeth?” Another post — a four-minute video — features Dr. Magid sharing teeth-whitening tips. It’s brief and informative and ends with a reminder to stop by Advanced Dentistry.

“In the last 10 years, social media has become the dominant means of connecting with your patients and prospective patients,” Magid says. It’s a welcome change: He recalls the days when marketing-savvy dentists could buy ads in phonebooks and print newspapers but little else.

 

Each social media platform has a distinct personality. LinkedIn is formal; Snapchat is casual and often goofy; Twitter is terse. Businesses should modify their content accordingly. “It is important to respect the platform atmosphere,” explains Kris Ruby, a White Plains-based PR and social media expert. Below, Ruby shares insight into the tones of four popular platforms.

Snapchat: 

“Snapchat is looking for quick, engaging videos, most likely with geotags and face filters,” Ruby says. Content here is ephemeral, so your silly post isn’t carved in stone.  

 

LinkedIn: 

Share relevant industry articles along with a paragraph of analysis. And keep it professional. “Something that would be perfectly acceptable to post within the Snapchat ecosystem may feel entirely offensive and amateur on LinkedIn,” Ruby notes.

 

Facebook:

Don’t publish a novella; a few sentences accompanying a link work just fine, Ruby says. Those sentences should tease readers and nudge them to click. “If you don’t read anything else I write,” Ruby began a recent Facebook post, “read this.”  

 

Instagram:

 This is a visual platform. So even if you’re linking to a text-heavy article, choose captivating artwork. Ruby got creative with a recent post: “I did a screenshot of the original article on mobile, uploaded it, and wrote ‘new blog’ with an upward arrow.”his 

 

 

Lurking behind social networks’ sleek design is an incredibly valuable resource: data. Every click, like, swipe, and share by a user offers insight into the content, products, and services they want. Tapping into this data can help local businesses find new customers, better target their marketing and boost their bottom lines.

“You have to be looking at the analytics,” Ruby stresses. “If you see certain things are performing really well, you should be doing more of that content. If things are underperforming, you should be doing less of that.”

At Harrison Edwards, analytics play a major role in every account, Knight says. “[We] are intimately familiar with each of our client’s analytics, and there’s a reason for that. We want to know what’s moving the needle, so we can tailor the content and message.”

“Analytics truly provide you with an instant focus group,” he adds.

Analytics are also leveraged at The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, which is headquartered in Rye Brook. “We use every avenue of analytics you can imagine,” says Courtney Hanusch, a social media associate with the nonprofit. “We evaluate every post [and] how it did.”

Data can do far more than hone your content. “Aside from evaluating how content performed, we also use data and analytics to help identify influencers and advocates,” explains IBM’s Eng. You can use social networks to solicit a customer testimonial, to track down a business partner or to find your next hire.

So, where to start? Businesses with deep pockets might consider enterprise tools like Brandwatch, an analytics platform used by companies like Walmart and Microsoft. For smaller businesses, there are more affordable tools, like Hootsuite (below) and TweetDeck. “Try a couple different tools, see which ones work best for you, and use them,” Knight suggests.

 

An ocean of data makes social networks an ideal place to advertise. When you shell out money for a billboard, it’s difficult to gauge who’s paying attention. On Facebook and other platforms, it’s just the opposite.

“Data allows us to better understand where we may be throwing away money on ineffective advertising — or just plain wasting our time,” says Jann Mirchandani, an adjunct instructor for Fordham University’s Digital and Social Media Marketing Certificate Program.

“The beauty of social media is it provides pools of highly targeted customers,” Mirchandani adds. “There are probably no other advertising channels that provide as much data.”

More and more, social media advertising isn’t just prudent — it’s necessary. “You’re not going to get enough organic traffic going to your page no matter how great your content is,” Ruby says. “You’re going to need a Facebook Ad campaign running in the background.”

The good news? It’s surprisingly affordable.

“[Social media advertising] is really underpriced right now,” Ruby continues. “You can boost a post for $40 and control who it’s going to. You can have an ad campaign running for $10 a day.” [“Boosting” allows you to quickly turn your post into an ad. Boosted posts reach a larger audience than a regular post and can be targeted.]

Dr. Magid regularly relies on social media advertising to reach a larger audience. “We use Facebook advertising to promote posts,” he says, like before-and-after photos or gushing testimonials from patients.

 

Social media content comes in many forms: photos and illustrations, memes and listicles, blog posts, and GIFs. Business owners can be forgiven for feeling confused and not knowing when to publish what.

Here’s a tip to narrow your focus: Publish more video.

“Video content is 71 percent more sharable than any other type of content,” says Bob Knight of Harrison Edwards PR. “Anytime you put video content out there on a social channel, you immediately see all sorts of engagement.”

Courtney Hanusch, social media associate with The Leukemia & Lymphoma Society, agrees. “Video is king. We do as much video content as we can,” she explains, because it cuts through the hyperlinks, photos, text, and other digital clutter that people encounter each day.

 

You can be forgiven for feeling overwhelmed: The role of social media in business expands daily. Merchants could devote all their energy to just one aspect — there are full-time social media analytics experts, and full-time social media copywriters. To help find solid footing, Fordham’s Mirchandani offers some sage advice: Determine what success looks like, then start tweeting. Why are you opening that Twitter account? To drum up new business? To scope out competitors? “You can’t measure success if you don’t know what it looks like,” Mirchandani says. Lastly, Bob Knight shares a maxim that all would do well to heed, online or off. “Put out content that’s interesting and sharable. It should be about how you’re going to help the consumer.”

 

 

 

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