Social media branding is simple, but it’s not easy. While the idea behind building and maintaining your brand on social media seems straightforward (e.g., set up an account, start posting, rinse and repeat), the details can get really unwieldy.
The challenge becomes even more acute for consulting firms since reputation makes up a huge part of their business model. Social media is a great place for consulting companies to showcase their expertise and position themselves as thought leaders. But it takes a sound strategy to successfully pull off social media branding, given social media’s unpredictability.
Today’s blog entry provides a brief but complete guide to developing a social media branding strategy. We focus on consulting firms because there are a lot of interesting things going on in these organizations’ branding and lead generation campaigns. Use this post’s key points as a checklist to see if your strategy needs improvement in a specific area.
Laying the Groundwork
Social media branding depends on four essential things to work as expected: identity, audience, content, and design. You need to nail each of these down before diving into creating your strategy.
Your brand identity is simply the things that people think of when they come across your company or service. Your brand identity conveys your firm’s purpose, values, and qualities to your target audience. It goes beyond brand identifiers like logos, typography, and colors. It’s everything that your brand identifiers represent.
Related: Image branding: 5 Laws of Attraction
To clearly define your brand identity, carefully go through the following checklist (brought to us by Andrew Spence at Jiggle Digital):
- Know your firm’s position relative to competitors (a SWOT analysis)
- Define your mission and set what your company strives to achieve
- Explain why you exist (How do you make your clients’ lives better?)
- Describe your brand’s personality
- Craft your unique value proposition (the value that no one else can deliver except your firm)
There’s no hard-and-fast formula for success in social media branding. But the surest way to fail (borrowing an idea from Herbert Bayard Swope) is trying to appeal to everyone. Narrowing your target audience strengthens your branding since targeted messages are more relevant and compelling.
Aside from identifying your audience, you also need to understand them inside-out. That means getting into their shoes and really learning about their problems, motivations, and needs.
Different sources suggest different ways to narrow your social media branding audience, but the key steps are:
- Create audience personas (profiles based on age, gender, job title, income, hobbies, and interests—to name a few)
- Study how your current clients interact with other brands and users on social media
- Look at your competitors’ social media audience (check out competitors’ followers and fans, including their social media activities)
- Estimate your audience size (use tools like Facebook Ad Manager and LinkedIn Ad Targeting to determine your reach)
The content you share on social media helps define the brand image you’re trying to project. It’s important to know the difference between content for branding vs. conversion-oriented content. Branding-focused content seeks to grow the size of your audience, while lead generation content taps into the audience you’re already reaching to identify potential new clients.
Social media speaker Rebekah Radice recommends building your content strategy using what you know about your audience and finding out what content types get the most interactions on social media. For starters, she suggests experimenting with any of the following content types:
- Blog posts
- Case studies
- Special Reports
- White papers
- Workbooks / Downloads
- Podcast interviews
- Checklists / How-to’s
- Video guides and tutorials
Social media is primarily a visual channel. That’s why good design goes hand-in-hand with compelling content in social media branding. Visual elements influence the way your social media followers see your brand identity. So, it pays to maintain consistent design practices across your social media assets that align with your brand image.
Having a social media style guide really helps in bringing a coherent brand experience to your social media audience, no matter which platform they interact with your brand. Sprout Social spells out the things to include in your visual guidelines (for profile images/header graphics as well as photos/graphics/videos shared within posts:
- Brand colors
- Fonts for graphics
- Acceptable color combinations (per social platform)
- Photos of your office and team members
Building Your Social Media Branding Strategy
For an industry where strategic thinking is the main product, social media’s messy reality can be off-putting to people who usually deal with clearly defined scenarios. Going for the “perfect” or a “foolproof” strategy isn’t the way to approach social media branding.
Branding strategist Peter Thompson recommends aiming for “minimum viable clarity” when developing a social media branding plan. The key thing is to gain a clear idea of basic positioning and messaging.
Setting Your Goals
Brand awareness goals traditionally fall into two main categories: brand recall and brand recognition. With social media, branding goals are divided into exposure, engagement, and influence. The goals you set (such as increasing page likes or post shares) belong to any of these three.
The reason why most social media branding goals don’t stick is that they’re oftentimes too broad and unmanageable. Even branding goals need to be SMART goals, too. Here’s how to set achievable branding objectives on social media:
- Determine the specific things you want to achieve (e.g., increase page likes, increase shares, etc.)
- Choose the appropriate metrics (We’ll delve more into branding metrics later)
- Set a realistic timeline (based on experience or research)
- Gauge how well each objective you set aligns with overall business goals
Choosing the Right Platforms
It takes a decent amount of resources to maintain a genuine social media presence on just one platform. That’s why a lot of brands only concentrate on a handful of social networks at a time. But that’s okay since your target audience will only be in a small number of these channels anyway. The challenge now is to find which ones to focus on.
LinkedIn, Facebook, and Twitter are the mainstay of any social media branding strategy, especially one that’s geared toward a business audience. But there’s plenty of other industry-specific channels ideal for consulting firms’ branding initiatives, too. To determine which ones to include in your social media mix, consider the following:
- Is your target audience actively using the platform?
- Does the platform align with the type of content you’re sharing?
- What social networks do your competitors focus on?
Peter Thompson lays out the backbone of any social media presence for consulting firms. This includes a mix of company accounts along with the personal accounts of senior partners and key employees. He suggests the following components of a basic social media portfolio:
- Director’s LinkedIn account (for networking and researching with target audience)
- Company Twitter account (keeps employees’ accounts consistent and positions brand in new areas)
- Director’s Twitter account (for research and thought leadership)
- Company YouTube channel (conference videos, keynotes, and industry events)
Scheduling Posts and Social Media Activities
Sticking to a schedule helps you get things done on your never-ending social media to-do list. More importantly, though, having a social media calendar tremendously helps your branding efforts. A social media posting schedule keeps your brand voice consistent and turns your posts into reliable resources for your audience.
As with anything else in marketing, data decides the timing and frequency of your social media posts. Here’s how to develop a data-driven social media posting schedule, according to Constant Contact:
- Start with research-backed posting frequency and timing for each channel (check out CoSchedule’s compilation of ideal social media schedules)
- Set different content/posting priorities for each channel (e.g., sharing industry news on LinkedIn and posting about company culture on Facebook)
- Follow recurring themes in your posting schedules (e.g., whitepaper Wednesdays, monthly wrap-ups, year-end lookbacks, etc.)
- Create content that can be posted and reposted throughout the year (get ideas from FAQs, best-performing blog posts, and most-shared content pieces)
- Share curated content (find valuable content from authoritative sources and include your thoughts/comments, then share it with your followers)
A social media content calendar also helps you delegate tasks and set deadlines. So, be sure to clearly spell out the different roles and responsibilities of your social media team.
Social Media Content Mix
There are two ways to join the social media conversation with your content. The first is to craft original content and showcase it through your posts (content creation). The other one involves sharing relevant content from other sources (content curation).
If you aren’t sure how to allocate your social media content mix, Hootsuite recommends following the 80/20 Rule. That is, 80% of your social media posts/content should educate and provide value while the rest will be promotional. Alternatively, you can try the Social Media Rule of Thirds, that is, evenly distribute your posts into three main activities:
- Promoting your firm
- Sharing industry content
- Personally interacting with your audience
Doing Social Listening
When you turn relevant social media buzz about your company, your competitors, or your industry into actionable business insights, you’re doing social listening. Social listening helps you make sense of the petabytes of information waiting to be mined from conversations about you or your industry.
These insights provide a data-driven basis for a huge range of decisions—from improving social sentiment to repositioning your brand, not to mention the real-time feedback and research capabilities social listening offers.
Here’s how to carry out social listening, according to Hootsuite:
- Find out where people talk about your brand (not just what they’re talking about)
- Let the competition teach you what works and what doesn’t
- Work closely with people who closely work with your clients
- Determine a baseline volume and sentiment
- Listen to your data, don’t just look at it
Achieving and Measuring Branding Results
As we’ve learned earlier, social media branding covers three main objectives: increase exposure, deepen engagement, and strengthening influence. Now, we’ll take a look at the activities that drive each of these goals as well as the metrics to use.
Social media exposure refers to the number of times your content is seen. There are two related but different (and oftentimes wrongly interchanged) types of social media exposure: reach and impressions. Reach is the number of people who saw your content, while impressions are how many times people see your content.
Reach tells you how far your message is spreading. It gives you an idea of the potential audience size you can interact with. That’s why most social media metrics that involve ratios use to reach as the denominator.
Impressions indicate how viral a post has become. Impressions matter in social branding because it often requires multiple touches with a user to drive interest.
Different platforms measure reach and impressions in different ways.
- Facebook reports page and post reach (further divided into organic, viral, and paid) as well as impressions.
- Twitter tracks tweet-level impressions (Buffer suggests dividing impressions by the total follower count to estimate reach).
- LinkedIn allows you to gauge overall reach post by post.
Engagement tells you how many people actually did something with your content. It’s important to keep an eye on engagement metrics since it lets you know how active your target audience interacts with your social media branding messages.
Likes, comments, shares, retweets, replies, etc. all move the needle when it comes to social media engagement. Here’s how the top social media channels track engagement:
- Facebook – the number of likes, comments, shares, and clicks your posts are generating
- Twitter – likes, retweets, and mentions your tweets produce
- LinkedIn – how many times users clicked, liked, commented on, and shared your content
Not all sources agree on what social media influence is, and different campaigns use their own yardsticks to gauge influence. Social Media Examiner, for example, considers influence as the type of sentiment (positive, negative, or neutral) that a company’s engagement activities generate. Kissmetrics, meanwhile, talks about influence in terms of the potential impact from people who talk about your brand.
Whatever school of thought you subscribe to, social media influence matters in branding. It increases brand visibility and consequently your reach and (possibly) engagement. Here are some ways different social media monitoring tools measure influence:
- User activity and interaction with other users
- Mentions, retweets, and replies (both to and by the user)
- Topic authority and ability to drive conversations
As you can see, social media branding deals with a lot of moving parts. Coming up with a coherent strategy oftentimes requires you to have a clear picture of the entire process to put everything together. With the ideas we touched in this entry, developing and executing a social media branding strategy will be a lot simpler. So, bookmark this post and review it the next time you work on your social media branding efforts.