The somewhat unsatisfying answer is: It depends, but probably.
What does it depend on? The uniqueness of your content should rely on the dynamics of each social media channel's user community, platform algorithms, content formats, and your followers.
It's a rare person who has just one social media account. Internet users around the world actively use an average of 7.6 social media channels. More than 50 percent of digital consumers are following brands-probably on at least a few of those 7.6 channels.
Megan DeWaele Bieber, senior social media strategist at athenahealth, explained that every channel they're on-Facebook, LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram-has a separate set of content standards: "We have to assume our followers and audience follow us on multiple channels, so we cannot publish the same content on every channel."
Even if different people follow you on each channel, their mindset and expectations vary by channel. LinkedIn users are looking for professional content like networking opportunities and business insights, while Facebook users are browsing for more personal content that relates to their interests, friends, and social life.
These audience expectations also influence the performance of your content. If your followers aren't looking for it, they'll ignore it without engaging or sharing. As DeWaele Bieber shared, "We exclusively post data-driven thought leadership on LinkedIn and relevant, top-of-mind industry news on Twitter."
Your brand personality and message should be consistent across channels, but a copy-and-paste approach probably won't work well for you, or any brand.
Head of global marketing at SEMrush Olga Andrienko advised, "Certainly the message you carry should be consistent across every social media platform, yet the way you shape it will vary depending on how its users consume content."
Presentation matters. Just like you wouldn't wear the same outfit to a job interview and a rock concert, don't present your content the same way to your different social media audiences.
Since each brand and audience is unique, there isn't a single strategy, general tactic, or best practice per channel that will work for everyone. And after you figure out your brand's channel strategy, you will eventually have to change it.
The wonder-and yes, the curse-of social media is the way it keeps the surprises coming with new features, different layouts, algorithm changes, or ad formats, sometimes without a heads-up. Usually these updates require strategy shifts and content optimizations, sending marketers into a flurry of research, ideation, and head-scratching.
Here we go again . . . do we really need to change things up this time? How soon should we start? Something else will probably just change again in a month . . . will our audience even notice?
Adaptation and alertness are mandates for a successful social media strategy. So use these principles to arrive at your brand's channel strategy.
Get to Know the User Community and Your Followers
Master your knowledge of each channel's user community as well as your own audience of followers. Usually, your audience will be a subset of the channel's user majority-but not always. That's why you need to analyze both separately.
Start by investigating the behavior and demographics of the users. How many users are active? Is it mostly men or women? What is the biggest age group? How often do they visit?
Image attribution: Brunel Johnson
The Pew Research 2018 Social Media Report breaks down the most recent user statistics, exposing channel differences. To highlight a few, 63 percent of Snapchat users visit daily, while 46 percent of Twitter users visit daily; of 18-to-29-year-olds in the US, 81 percent use Facebook and 34 percent use Pinterest. The comparisons go on.
Although your own audience may skew differently than the general user base, these data points help you understand the potential for audience growth-and whether or not it's the right channel for you. As Olga said, "Note that not every channel addresses your business needs. Your target audience might not be on Pinterest or on Google+, so make sure you know where your audience is more likely to interact with what you can offer, and focus only on two or three main channels." Focusing your channel strategy will help make optimization better.
In the next layer of audience analysis, learn about your current social media followers. Patrick Gillooly, marketing director for Endurance International Group, a family of brands including Constant Contact and Domain.com, recommended, "First off, know your audience-your existing followers and the customers you want to reach. Don't ever just 'spray and pray' and post more content just to get a greater reach."
Build profiles and personas to guide your social media strategy. These follower segments will help you create personalized content, and target users like them to meet your growth goals.
Keep Up With All the Features and Algorithms
It's easier said than done, but it's so necessary for the performance of your content. Every channel's features and algorithms treat brand content differently. Organic visibility is getting harder and harder as social media channels tweak and overhaul their algorithms to put personal content first.
Most updates are made with the user in mind. Facebook's January 2018 algorithm update aimed to "prioritize posts that spark conversations and meaningful interactions between people." The feed shifted to focus on showing posts from friends and family over public posts.
It wasn't the best news for brands, but these brand-diminishing and user-elevating updates are an unexpected gift. They push marketers to think less like brands looking to sell and more like people looking to engage.
Stay on top of feature updates, too. Instagram just launched a new "Focus" camera format for snapping portraits in standard or selfie mode to publish to your story or feed. The same announcement included a new @mention sticker for stories on iOS. Although these updates may not have direct implications for your brand content, you need to know what's available to users and how they're interacting in new or different ways.
Whenever you catch wind of any algorithm or feature changes, get to researching. A simple "who, what, when, where, and why" framework can help you analyze the impact. Ask yourself questions such as:
- Who does it help or hurt?
- What does it mean for my brand?
- When does it go into effect?
- Where will users notice a difference?
- Why was the change made?
These never-ending changes keep social media marketing stimulating. As Gillooly quipped, "Being at the whim of an algorithm change makes our jobs never boring!" But don't let it be an excuse to avoid planning. Strike a balance between proactive, strategic content and reactive, real-time content.
Let the Data Tell You What to Do
Assumptions are deadly in marketing. Sometimes your intuition is spot on, but you should always support or validate it with data and human insights.
Gillooly's team puts analytics in the lead. He shared, "We are obsessed with data. We pour over any data we can get our hands on to understand who we are able to talk to, about what, and what action do we want them to take."
While you're getting lost in data, don't forget about qualitative insights that only humans can give. Survey your audience, interview them, and get real-life insights however you can.
Beyond the type of content you create for each channel, the distribution days and times should also be tested and customized. Regular scheduling combined with unexpected posting will help you create both ongoing engagement and audience anticipation.
Andrienko gave examples of SEMrush's approach: "Our users know that every second Wednesday they can tune in for our Search Marketing Scoop podcast on Facebook Live or read the Google News Digest on our blog and much more."
Start Somewhere, Then Never Stop Testing
Make data-driven decisions, but don't let uncertainty keep you from implementing your social media strategy. When you aren't sure about the effectiveness of a particular content type, topic, or tactic, just give it a try. The transitory nature of social media is forgiving of a flop every now and then.
At athenahealth, DeWaele Bieber is always experimenting to learn and optimize. She suggested, "Don't be afraid to test and fail, but fail fast and move on. Learn from campaigns that have been particularly successful and double-click on what has made them so!"
Once you begin to test, never rest. Just because you're meeting your goals and engagement is better than ever doesn't mean it's time to sit back and relax. Stay alert and continue to experiment, even on a small scale, to avoid a plateau.
Having a channel-specific content strategy can be time-consuming. It would be much easier to just publish the same content on every social media channel. But sometimes all you have to do is repurpose a hero asset for cross-channel promotion. Just remember: You can give your channel audiences the same message, just present it in a way appropriate to each channel.
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Featured image attribution: Tom Holmes