“The platforms themselves are constantly evolving. You can stay up to date, you can keep your hands in the dirt and build from what you already know, but anybody who claims that they’re a Social Media Expert – most likely, it’s quite the opposite.”
Having this heightened interest in Social Media has led me to check for daily articles on the newest enhancements, changes or trends on the topic, as every decent digital communications professional would – and whilst there’s no shortage of Social Media marketing advice and a lot of retweets these days, it’s less likely that you’ll hear directly from the individuals who are working day in and day out for the big brands.
With an interest in learning more about this profession and what it takes to be successful, I’ve been fortunate enough to interview DeBow Alexander who heads Social Media for Painting With A Twist Corporate (PWAT) – the first and largest Paint and Sip franchise with 353 licensed studios (as of November 2017) across the United States. The Paint and Sip concept became popular in the States over the last decade. It offers its customers an art-filled experience where they can paint, sip wine and go home with their own work of art and the memories that come with it.
She manages Social Media for the PWAT brand on a national scale including on Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, Pinterest and LinkedIn. She also has monthly workshops, weekly calls and creates editorial and graphic content for use by over 300 local studio pages. Being an artist, graphic designer and very organized professional has enabled her to become a Powerhouse of sorts, as she plans out the strategy across all platforms, creates social copy, listens, engages, monitors competitors, analyzes the results and manages the corporate blog.
Here, DeBow shares some of the challenges she’s faced and some tips on what she’s learned so far, in the digital realm of social media:
Monitor your competitors: Irrespective of who you’re advertising to, always monitor your competitors and industry equals. Sometimes they have ideas that are better than yours and sometimes they don’t, but always observe what they’re doing on a daily basis. It could be very inspiring for where you do or don’t go next – whether it’s for your social content, creative design, or even for your social strategy. It’s important to notice the way they respond to their customers when it comes to negative feedback on their social channels. I find that aspect very interesting to see the manner of professional courtesy and authentic compassion that they show their people. For me, it’s all about showing your audience and peers respect, as well as showing other companies that you’re intrigued by them. We all want users to engage with our social posts and advertisements, so we must be held accountable to do the same. Social Media marketing is laborious and requires a great deal of creative energy. Facebook wants you to be active within it – to be moving around and clicking on links and videos, talking with friends and strangers – socializing. This expectation exists not only for personal accounts, but for brands as well. Therefore, when you represent a brand on social media, you must be diligently aware in your social environment – being playful and curious while maintaining a level of professionalism.
Stay agile: One of my main challenges has been to adapt to change. The only consistent thing about Social Media is its inconsistency – for six months you might be flying high with a reliable strategy all mapped out and then all the sudden an algorithm changes and your ROI dives and you’re not getting as many engagements or impressions. If over time you see a decline in your numbers, it’s because you have to constantly keep playing, you have to be aware that everything could change at the drop of a hat, so be ready everyday to keep changing everything. This past year at Social Media Week NYC, I listened to Megan Summers, Facebook’s Global Head of Production, talk about her rise to the top of the Social Media world. Her biggest piece of advice to us was to “stay ready” and “keep playing with creativity – never, ever stop playing.”
Engage with your audience: It’s very important to like and engage when people interact with anything that you do socially. When we post on Social Media, and we expect a reaction, it really boils down to expecting someone to give us their time. As we can probably all agree, as humans, the most precious thing we have is our time. Anyone that stops in their day to like, comment, or share a piece of social content from you is donating a piece of their most precious commodity. It’s absolutely crucial to acknowledge that. Engage back in response and sometimes offer an incentive for them to return, whether it’s a free voucher or discount on your product/service. You get what you give, and a good social experience will go further than expected. It could turn negative feedback into positive. Which is why you should never ignore a negative comment – because a negative person is just looking to be understood and respected, so ignoring them is probably the worst thing you could do. Offer compassion and be empathetic in your response.
Commit to your organic and paid social strategy for at least 30 days to see if it’s working. Learn what works for you, for your company or for your brand. Different social platforms are going to perform better for different companies, so plan on creating an arsenal of strategies. I don’t mean that you should scatter around – commit to a strategy by figuring out how you want to post, what you want to post and why you want to post it and commit to it for at least 30 days. And if you don’t meet your KPIs from that, then be poised and ready to change it up. The switchover from one strategy to another must appear effortless. The only way you’ll know if your strategy isn’t working is if you really commit to it so that you may have proper data to analyze. For instance, if one post type performed well on Wednesday and the same post type performed horribly on Friday, then there could be multiple factors at play which cause this fluctuation. If this post type keeps a record of poor performance for a month or more, it’s time to reconsider that content. You have to give it a good period of time before you decide to move forward with something or to nix it altogether.
Experiment and stay playful: My biggest mistake in the beginning of my career in Social Media was not experimenting. Your audience tells you what you really need to make, but you still have to test that boundary with new ideas and content. Always go out of your comfort zone. And that doesn’t mean that you need to make graphics that you hate or write something that you would never write – it means that in order to expect a colorful abundance in your work, you must experience a colorful abundance in your life. As you are the creator, you have to constantly try creative things in your life to stay inspired, i.e. learn something, practice a new art form, attend an unfamiliar concert, taste new foods… the list of things to try in this life is endless. It changes the chemical makeup of your brain when you try new things. It will improve your artistic perspective and that’s going to reflect on anything that you do Social Media-wise.
The future is going to be all about videos, videos, videos. I think standard broadcast television is going to become moot in the next 5-10 years, if it even takes that long. It will be replaced with streaming and other online video services. Facebook has started to create its own shows that are hilarious and 5-10 minutes long. I believe GIFs or a short form video will transform our use of still images, i.e. infographics – anything to make them more eye-catching and more relevant. On Social Media, you’ve got a split second to get a user’s attention and attention spans are shorter than ever now. Facebook keeps introducing new ad formats built for videos in their Ad Manager with KPIs that are specifically directed towards video views. With video comes Virtual Reality and Augmented Reality – and that’s a wide open playing field with only a few players in it so far. I’m just glad that as a creatively driven industry, we’re finally on that playing field. I’m practically beside myself to see what the future holds.
DeBow was able to give me insight into what it takes to work in this industry and the sheer drive and organization that is required to become, what I would undoubtedly call, a Social Media Specialist.
What I retain is that there is no magic trick and that you can’t rely solely on luck even if you make a buzz. What will retain that momentum? You’re only as good as your last post. By monitoring your competitors, engaging with your audience, giving your strategy a chance to succeed and being prepared to quash it and change things up if it’s not working out, experimenting and being playful, staying agile and ready to ride whatever wave of trend comes your way with a tech-savvy mind that helps you foresee what’s going to be ‘in’ and what’s going to be ‘out’ sure helps – the true key of Social Media is to never get comfortable, be ready to quickly shift your resources because you will have to.
There are many personas who post and retweet the latest or upcoming Social Network change, and you’ll find it to be almost a race to be the first one to do it. I found some accounts appealing at first, until I really dug into them and started dissecting their posts: I realized that it wasn’t so much an opinion of sorts – but rather repeating what had already been said.
It wasn’t as if a person who was influential, which is what an influencer should be, was posting on a regular basis about their life and their influencer campaign sprinkled in, made an impact and influenced others to go and buy the product. It seemed like every single post was an influencer campaign, and they were only shared and liked by other people who ran similar Twitter accounts. So it was like this school of fish who swim in circles liking each other’s content, and so they all made each other have 100s of shares and 100s of likes, but it was all them doing it to each other. As DeBow explained to me, « Twitter is like you’re at a party (because it’s social, right?) and if you wouldn’t engage that way in real life then don’t engage that way in your social media. I’m not going to share an article, tag the writer, and simply restate the subject matter. That would be like walking into a party, finding a group of people, and repeating their words back to them. »
And so, I try to imagine that I’m at the party…