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Opinion Editorials

Why ‘stop doing it’ should be your brand’s social media strategy

Social media is completely saturated, so if you can’t follow the proper way to market today, the next best option is to quit. Read on.

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With the exception of ten brands who do a fantastic job with social media, the remaining 99.999% range from treading water to simply dreadful and some pathetic space in between. So if you’re a marketing exec reading this and wondering “why does my social media suck so bad and what should I do about it?”

I have a very simple answer for you: Do nothing.

OK – actually, fire your social media team and then do nothing.

Wait, they didn’t just go viral magically? Nope.

Social media is mostly used by brands for all the wrong reasons. The best social efforts are gluing together and amplifying an already successful integrated marketing campaign. But the mistake marketers make is they see social as a “free” channel, run by the cheapest possible labor (interns, some enthusiastic freelancer in east South Dakota…), with the delusion that the image they posted of a coupon for fifty cents off a five thousand dollar purchase will somehow go viral by saying “please share!!!!!” in the copy somewhere.

Back to the brands who do a great job at social — they do it really well because of one main secret ingredient I discovered after years of research that I’m going to share with you: CASH MONEY. Lots of it.

Because I can’t think of a single award winning social media case study I saw at Social Media Snoozefest Conferences that didn’t secretly use traditional media buys and public relation spends to support it, but pretended they just posted stuff and it went viral on its own because they’re all social media super geniuses.

How do the smartest of the smart succeed?

Yet, there are these rare models of awesomeness who actually hire and empower smart people to run their social, react in real time, engage their fans, offer great customer support, and fire up their influencers in a real and authentic manner, and this in turn spawned an entire multi-billion dollar ad tech industry designed around giving the rest of the brand’s expensive tools to fake it with.

When I spent my last two years at an ad agency big enough that ad tech vendors regularly wanted to ask me for time to demo their wares and send inedible cookies with their logo printed on them, I was probably pitched by a new platform designed to use some new creepy artificial intelligence algorithm to tell me which hot influencers my brands should bother talking to and which ones to ignore on a daily basis (unless it was Nuvi, which meant constant emails and calls from multiple people in their company sending me and anyone they thought could influence me (including my boss) emails who would enthusiastically forward me their email with “check it out!,” forgetting that he sent me the same email last week).

And this is why social is broken.
Often, I have clients come to my digital agency saying “we want to hire you to do our social media.” In that scenario, we’re in a position where we have to deliver value for our fee, often competing against a freelancer or an intern with substantially lower rates – but the reality is, no matter who takes the work, it’s just not going to, you know, do anything. 

Because without integrating social into a full plan that covers all business goals and marketing efforts, it will do absolutely nothing, the client will have a bad experience and we’ll lose the opportunity to do more effective work for them.

Picture this scenario…

Imagine you have a camper filled with people you need to get to the top of a mountain. Once everyone gets to the top of the mountain, they can all meet an awaiting helicopter and soar above the clouds to happiness and wealth forever more. But the people can’t walk up on their own, so you need something that can carry everyone up to the top. Also, there’s a competing trailer and they too want to get to the top before you.

So you decide “if I save money now, I’ll have even more wealth once I get to the top.” You put out an RFP and you select a proposal. You decide to hire an inexperienced freelancer, who brings a tired old donkey and ropes him to the front of the camper. He furiously whips the donkey, who struggles mightily against the weight.

Finally, after a week of whipping, alternating the whipping patterns, optimizing the time of day of the whips, when to feed it water, and some highly proprietary measurement tools, your freelancer produces a report showing you that the camper has indeed moved one millimeter, while the competitor’s camper has barely budged a quarter millimeter (they hired an intern, who is trying to push the whole camper himself). Therefore, according to another proprietary confidential calculator, we’re outperforming the competition by 400 percent.

But of course, like your brand’s social media efforts, you can outperform the competition by a wide margin, and have all the best tools and the best of intentions but you are still just not going anywhere.

Everyone is winning the world’s best worst social brand award. Any money spent on social without a purpose is money wasted.

Social has reached the saturation point.
Like the rise and fall of social platforms, social media itself has reached a saturation and maturity level that makes it just as, if not more difficult to navigate than traditional media. Being the first on a new, fast growing platform like Twitter five years ago meant it was easier for a forward-thinking company to get some attention. But as these platforms matured, not only did the signal-to-noise ratio become unbearable, but platforms like Facebook and Twitter realized they were giving brands too much value for free and crushed all the organic reach to zero.

But the uninformed marketer still thinks they can post their quota of two tweets a day and someone is actually listening
. They’re not, unless you’re paying for the exposure, just like an ad. Additionally, these platforms got discovered by big brands finally, so your CPC rate just doubled or tripled over the past year.

Continuing to post to social media without having at a million followers and not paying boosting your posts (and having a real integrated plan behind why you’re posting, who you’re targeting and what you want the customer to do) is as insane as these guys holding a meeting for no one. Because no one is listening, yet thousands of dollars are wasted by brands every month posting dreck that no one cares about just to be “active” in social.

Okay, I get it, this sucks, so what now?

What do you do if you’re a smart marketer? Here are a few options:

  1. Stop doing social media. If a brand stops posting and no one notices, does anyone care? From the myopic point of view of being inside one company for too long, it can seem like stopping your posting would mean hundreds and thousands of conversations like this at the dinner table: “Honey, you know what’s weird?” “Are you talking about my new bra? It’s supposed to lift and support…” “No, I just noticed that I hadn’t seen a tweet from Mediocre Farms Brand Lactose-Free High-Protein Greek Gluten-Free Certified-Organic Yogurt in forever. I wonder if they’re ok!”
  2. Ditch “social media experts” for integrated marketers.  In the infancy of social media, when a majority of actual people in marketing and consumers in general did not have social media experience, it might have made sense to have someone on the team who really “got” social. But now everyone is on it, so being an expert loses its meaning. Knowing social media should be table stakes for any good marketer, so instead, work with someone with an integrated marketing background who is thoroughly cross-trained. Because that’s the only way you’ll find the integrated strategy that will make social media efforts effective. Siloing your marketing into “the social team” “the PR people” “the SEO weirdos” is like throwing the parts of an engine on the ground and expecting it to run.
  3. Integrate social into the DNA of the business. Great social media blurs the marketing, customer service, research, and branding lines, which means everyone in your company needs to be included in social. Having a top down overarching strategy combined with the permission to run the channels without a great deal of friction is the fastest way to achieving the integration and authenticity “social media experts” yammer on endlessly about at their conferences. That means social media becomes a C-level priority, with its components trickling down from there and making it a function of the company, not a cost with no ROI in sight.
  4. Treat social as a paid channel. With the ability to target your audience so precisely, social media is a huge opportunity that’s often wasted on the notion that it’s free. If you can get over the fact that it is, in fact, not free and is even more expensive in some cases than traditional media spends, there’s the ability to microtarget your campaign based on an infinite combination of interests, geo-targeting, demographics, psychographics, and behaviors.

You can still get a lot out of social media, but if you don’t have the budget or the motivation to do it correctly, your next best option is to cease doing it at all.

This editorial first ran on March 28, 2016.

Marc Lefton is a creative director and tech entrepreneur with over 20 years of experience. He's a partner in Digikea Digital based in NYC and Gainesville, Florida.

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3 Comments

3 Comments

  1. Julie

    March 28, 2016 at 12:52 pm

    As a owner of a marketing, social media and PR company the best thing you could have said is #4. Unless you realize social media is pay to play you are going to not come out a winner. We no longer take clients who want us to manage their social media without having an adequate budget. PERIOD. We also require to understand the entire marketing pie. We want to know and understand exactly what your marketing goals/plans/strategy are and we also want to know if you don’t have one!

  2. Michael Romano

    March 29, 2016 at 12:04 pm

    I think a simpler bit of advice for social media marketing would be, “Be more interesting.” We’ve all seen the painfully-awkward social media campaigns (the ones that look forced and out-of-place while scrolling through Facebook). But I’ve also seen some really clever campaigns, and I’ve had some limited success with a few campaigns of my own. For social media, your ads have got to have broad appeal and be equal to or more interesting than the other things on people’s feeds. That’s a challenge because social media feeds are created by some pretty sophisticated algorithms that have used feedback from the user to actually create an interesting feed tailored to that user. But the good news is that a platform such as Facebook allows you to really target a specific audience according to their “likes” and interests. I’d prefer that any day to the old days of radio, tv, or print media.

  3. Fran Stephenson

    May 2, 2016 at 10:18 pm

    Thank you for this- boring is boring. Would you mind if I tweeted this at all my clients? ;).

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Opinion Editorials

3 things to do if you *really* want to be an ally to women in tech

(EDITORIAL) Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce.

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More and more women are leaving their positions with tech companies, citing lack of opportunity for advancement, wage gaps and even hostile working conditions as some of the reasons why.

What’s better for the tech industry and its employees than cultivating inclusive and diverse departments? Diversity is known to strengthen the overall performance of a company and its teams, and there are a number of ways you can be an ally to the talented women already on your workforce. To name a few:

1. Be open to listening to different perspectives.

It can be awkward to hear so many reports of workplace politics stacking against women, especially if you’re not a woman!

Instead of getting uncomfortable or defensive – ask open ended questions and be interested in a perspective that isn’t yours and may be unfamiliar.

Don’t seek to rationalize or explain the experiences you’re hearing about, as that can come off as condescending. It’s common for women to be interrupted or spoken over in team gatherings. If you notice this happening, bring the conversation back to where the interruption began. Offering your ear and counting yourself as responsible for making space will improve the overall quality of communication in your company.

Listening to and validating what women have to say about the quality of their employment with a company is an important step in the right direction.

Expressing something as simple as “I was interested in what you had to say – could you elaborate on your thought?” can help.

2. Develop an Employee Resource Group (ERG) program.

An ERG is a volunteer-based, employee-led group that acts as a resource for a particular group of employees. An ERG can help to foster inclusiveness through discussion, team-building activities and events. It’s common for a department to have only one or two women on the roster.

This can mean that the day to day feels disconnected from concerns commonly shared by women. disjointed it might feel to be on a high performing team, without access to relatable conversations.

3. Be responsible for your company’s culture.

Chances are, your company already has some amazing cultural values in place. That said, how often are you checking your own performance and your co-workers performances against those high standards? Strong company culture and values sound great, but whether or not they’re adhered to can make or break the mood of a work environment.

Many women say they’ve experienced extremely damaging and toxic cultural environments, which lead to hostility, frustration, and even harassment. Take action when you see the new woman uncomfortable with being hit on at team drinks.

Call out those who make unfriendly and uncouth comments about how women perform, look, or behave.

Setting a personal threshold for these kinds of microaggressions can help you lead by example, and will help build a trustworthy allyship.

(This article was first published here in November, 2016.)

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Opinion Editorials

Serial procrastinator? Your issue isn’t time management

(EDITORIAL) Need a hack for your time management? Try focusing on your energy management.

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Your author has a confession to make; as a “type B” personality who has always struggled with procrastination, I am endlessly fascinated by the topic of productivity and “hacking your time.”

I’ve tried most of the tricks you’ve read about, with varying degrees of success.

Recently, publishers like BBC have begun to approach productivity from a different perspective; rather than packing days full of to-do items as a way to maximize time, the key is to maximize your mental energy through a different brand of time management.

So, why doesn’t time management work?

For starters, not all work time is quality time by nature. According to a study published at ScienceDirect, your average worker is interrupted 87 times a day on the job. For an 8-hour day, that’s almost 11 times per hour. No wonder it’s so hard to stay focused!

Second, time management implies a need to fill time in order to maximize it.

It’s the difference between “being busy” and “being productive.”

It also doesn’t impress your boss; a Boston University study concluded that “managers could not tell the difference between employees who actually worked 80 hours a week and those who just pretended to.” By contrast, managing your energy lets you maximize your time based on how it fits with your mental state.

Now, how do you manage your energy?

First, understand and protect the time that should actually go into deep, focused work. Studies continually show that just a few hours of focused worked yield the greatest results; try to put in longer hours behind that, and you’ll see diminishing returns. There’s a couple ways you can accomplish this.

You can block off time in your day dedicated to focused work, and guard the time as if it were a meeting. You could also physically retreat to a private space in order to work on a task.

Building in flexibility is another key to managing your energy. The BBC article references a 1980s study that divided students into two groups; one group planned out monthly goals, while the other group planned out daily goals and activities. The study found the monthly planners accomplished more of their goals, because the students focusing on detailed daily plans often found them foiled by the unexpected.

Moral of the story?

Don’t lock in your schedule too tightly; leave space for the unexpected.

Finally, you should consider making time for rest, a fact reiterated often by the BBC article. You’ve probably heard the advice before that taking 17 minute breaks for every 52 minutes worked is important, and studies continue to show that it is. However, rest also includes taking the time to turn your brain off of work mode entirely.

The BBC article quotes associated professor of psychiatry Srini Pillay as saying that, “[people] need to use both the focus ad unfocus circuits in the brain,” in order to be fully productive. High achievers like Serena Williams, Warren Buffet and Bill Gates build this into their mentality and their practice.

Embracing rest and unfocused thinking may be key to “embracing the slumps,” as the BBC article puts it.

In conclusion, by leaving some flexibility in your schedule and listening to your body and mind, you can better tailor your day to your mental state and match your brainpower to the appropriate task. As someone who is tempted to keep a busy to-do list myself, I am excited to reevaluate and improve my own approach. Maybe you should revisit your own systems as well.

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Opinion Editorials

How the Bullet Journal method has been hijacked and twisted

(EDITORIAL) I’m a big fan of the Bullet Journal method, but sticker-loving tweens have hijacked the movement. Worry not, I’m still using black and white bullet points with work tasks (not “pet cat,” or “smile more”).

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It’s taken me some time to come around to the Bullet Journal method, because it took me some time to fully understand it (I have a tendency to overthink simplicity). Now that I understand the use, I find it very beneficial for my life and my appreciation for pen-to-paper.

In short, it’s a quick and simple system for organization tasks and staying focused with everything you have going on. All you need to employ this method is a journal with graph or dotted paper, and a pen. Easy.

However, there seems to be this odd truth that: we find ways to simplify complicated things, and we find ways to complicate simple things. The latter is exactly what’s happened with the Bullet Journal method, thanks to creative people who show the rest of us up.

To understand what I’m talking about, open up Instagram (or Pinterest, or even Google) and just search “bullet journal.” You’ll soon find post after post of frilly, sticker-filled, calligraphy-laden journal pages.

The simple method of writing down bullets of tasks has been hijacked to become a competitive art form.

Don’t get me wrong, I like looking at this stuff because I dig the creativity. But, do I have time to do that myself? No! For honesty’s sake, I’ve tried just for fun and it takes too much damn time.

With this is mind, this new-found method of Bullet Journaling as an art is something that: a) defeats the purpose of accomplishing tasks quickly as you’re setting yourself back with the nifty art, and b) entrepreneurs, freelancers, executives, or anyone busy would not have time for.

Most of these people posting artistic Bullet Journal pages on Instagram are younger and have more time on their hands (and if you want to spend your time doing that, do you, man).

But, it goes against the simplistic method of Bullet Journaling. The intent of the method.

And, beneath the washi tape, stickers, and different colored pens, usually lies a list of: put away laundry, feed cat, post on Insta. So, this is being done more for the sake of art than for employing the method.

Again, I’m all for art and for people following their passions and creativities, but it stands to reason that this should be something separate from the concept of Bullet Journaling, as it has become a caricature of the original method.

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