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In the 13 years since Facebook was invented, marketers and strategic communicators have gone through many phases in how we think about social media, from a fad, to considered only for consumer brands, to table stakes just like a website. Today, with nearly everyone from all walks of life engaged on at least one social platform, it can be a truly measurable and value-added way to serve your unfiltered message directly to the highly targeted audience that will benefit most from it, regardless of what industry you’re in. But, these powerful platforms can only reach your target audiences with your key messages if they are activated strategically.

How can you tell if you’re simply filling the content pipeline rather than engaging strategically online? Here are 10 red flags to watch out for:

1. There’s no audience strategy.

Do you know which of your key audiences you’re targeting with each social media platform that you’re on? Is each piece of content designed to appeal specifically to one or more of those audiences at a time when its most critical for your business to reach them? Social media is more about the audience you want to reach than what you want to say. You should always be thinking about who your audience is, where they want to be reached online and what messages will resonate with them there.

2. Your content is the same across social media platforms or auto posts.

Different social platforms have very different user demographics and audience expectations around the type of content they want to engage with, so necessarily the same content across all platforms will violate the first principle above. In addition, the best performing content on each platform varies widely, from how long the copy should (and even can) be to the image specs that will display properly and even the correct number of hashtags to use (alongside which of those hashtags are best performing). Auto-posting leads to broken tags, cut off text, poorly performing hashtags and, when posting from Instagram to Twitter, a lack of images. A strategic approach will create content customized to each platform.

3.The focus is more on clever copy or beautiful images than the platform algorithm.

Your social strategist should be a fount of facts and figures about what does and doesn’t perform on each platform, from how many hashtags to use to the proper image dimensions. If the focus is more on the art of it all – which, don’t get us wrong, is certainly important to creating engaging content – but isn’t using data to determine what you should be posting where and how often, the approach is not strategic.

4. No one is A/B testing.

Am I dying to find a way to test if this post would have performed better with the headline “10 Things Strategic Social Media Always Does” and a positive rather than negative construction? You bet I am. Keeping abreast of all of the latest data in the landscape about what performs best across social platforms creates a solid foundation for strategic content, but each audience is unique and the only way to get to know yours is to try different approaches and measure what works best for your specific audience, from what time of day to post to what type of images they like the best.

5. Your follower demographics are misaligned with your customer demographics.

I see this in particular with B2B companies, but it can happen to anyone. If millennial women love your online content but the majority of your customers are 50+ year-old men, there’s either a problem with your broader marketing strategy that you’re not converting the former demographic or, more often, there’s something wrong with your content that it’s not appealing to your customers. Don’t let your desire for engagement take you off message – get the followers, likes and comments from an audience that can have a real impact for your business by serving them content that matters, even if it’s unlikely to result in a viral meme.

6. You’re saying “social media,” but you actually mean “Facebook.”

For a very few companies, products and budgets, Facebook is all you need, but most should think more robustly about their social media presence, whether it’s leveraging buyable pins for consumer products, attracting the best talent on LinkedIn or connecting with thought leaders on Twitter. It’s important to recognize that “social media” is not a synonym for Facebook.

7. You’re not doing paid.

While it’s certainly possible to grow a following without leveraging social paid, it usually requires a lot of patience or luck, sometimes both. Paid social allows you not only to achieve reach efficiently, but also to target your message so that you’re speaking directly to the audience that you want to engage and building a more targeted following.

8. Paid has been the only suggestion for how to increase your reach.

I know this may sound contrary to the point above, but while paid is certainly one of the most efficient ways to put your message in front of the right audience, if it’s not resonating or the return on investment is poor, there may be other issues to address or solutions to try. Making sure that your content actually resonates with the audience you’re targeting, adding organic reach drivers like hashtags, locations and tags, or engaging digital influencers who lend authority and authenticity in addition to reach are all examples of additional tracks to road test.

9. No one’s talking about the customer journey once they’re engaged via social.

Social media is generally an early touchpoint when a customer is discovering or researching a brand, and while a like on a page or a post is great, it’s important that your social team is thinking about what happens next. To that end, it’s not uncommon to hear strategic social teams give feedback on website content that would engage the audience driven from social media or suggest email capture and ongoing email marketing to continue the conversation from social on a more owned platform, all with the goal of eventually converting business results.

10. You’re not driving towards a business objective.

We have a saying at Spark Growth, “Likes don’t pay the rent.” As much as we, of course, always want more followers and more engagement, more than that, we want them to take an action – buy a product, visit a place, adopt a way of thinking, hire a professional service, cast a vote. If your social media doesn’t address what you want that audience to do next, how to get them to do it and how to measure that behavior, it is not strategically contributing to your business bottom line.

Does your social pass the test? If not, drop me a note at [email protected], browse our services, or sign up for our newsletter.

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