This may be a tired analogy, but stick with me for a moment: There is something magical that happens when you mix a variety of bland, or even bitter ingredients (flour, baking soda, cocoa powder…) with a little sugar and bake. Who’d ever think it would turn into something altogether different — and wonderful. Brownie anyone?

Reaching social consumers happens in much the same way. Who would have ever thought that when you mix your company’s product or service, a rich video, and Facebook’s News Feed (or other social stream) it too would result in something altogether different — and wonderful? Proven results anyone?

Not long ago, the idea of advertising a product or service in the social stream was considered taboo, and yet today it’s a technique proven to drive engagement and amplification. In fact, according to a study by Nanigans, ads that appear within News Feed deliver an average increase in return-on-investment of 197%, compared with those on the right hand side of Facebook. And, comparatively, the News Feed had an average of 17.1 times higher CTR and 51 percent lower CPC than the Facebook sidebar.

But, daily organic posting isn’t marketing. We can’t expect sustained value at scale without applying the full set of resources and creativity of marketing to the challenge of reaching and converting social+mobile consumers. Additionally, marketers must go beyond native post types (photo and video, for example) and bring the power of rich media to the stream.

If getting consumers to discover and engage with your brand in the stream is so powerful, how does it all come together? It just takes three simple steps:

Step 1: Assemble your ingredients

Identify which products and/or services you plan to promote to your social customers. Pick a product or collection that’s worth talking about and sharing. Focus on items for which you can build up exclusivity, anticipation, or urgency. For example, products that have a story or you can wrap into a compelling package such as early access, exclusive fan-only products, limited edition or limited time all work very well.

Pick campaigns for which you have compelling and copious creative and content. If all you have are the photos from your website, pick something else.

Simultaneously, determine which audience you plan to target. Social audiences can be fragmented and specialized; “micro-segementation” is the here to stay; and having a basic profile of the audience you’re looking to reach is essential.

Step 2: Develop your campaign and posting plan

By developing your campaign and posting plans in tandem, you’ll be able to integrate rich content that helps move social consumers down the path to action. Rich interactive posts drive discovery and enable social and mobile consumers to explore more deeply without leaving their social context. Plan a pre-, launch, and post-campaign strategy by designing multiple posts and publish with a pre-determined cadence to achieve optimal results. Use media dollars to spike reach and amplification at the beginning of each phase and make sure that your campaign is equally rich and effective on smartphones by making the design responsive and keeping any videos and/or forms you choose to use short.

When it comes to social rich media campaigns, here are three typical approaches. The first is supporting a large brand or product campaign consisting of both off- and online components. For most brands, one to two very rich posts a week is the right rule of thumb. For this approach, marketers should dedicate budget to promoting specific posts that appeal to a large, general audience.

The second path is to build buzz or excitement around a new product launch or event. For these post campaigns, marketers should increase spend as they get closer and closer to the event, sustain the spend through the launch period and then end the campaign. Posts should be more social and viral in nature. Marketers traveling down this path should commit to promoting at least two to four posts every week.

The third path is a more sustained campaign either focused on a category or audience. A four month push around baseball apparel during the season, for example. For these post campaigns, marketers should allocate a quarterly budget to promoting consistent post types that are focused on engagement and/or product exploration — such as weekly deals, weekly curated collections, a series of Web videos, etc. Marketers traveling down this path should commit to promoting a post a week for a sustained period.

Step 3: Don’t skimp on the storytelling

Content and interactivity are the most important factors driving discovery and engagement. While there are a whole host of statistics about the significant impact video has on consumer confidence, likelihood to purchase and more, what is important here is how to create content strategies that drive these outcomes from the social stream. Not an easy task.

Storytelling formats that work really well in the social stream use brand and product stories as the foundation, adding details to carry consumers from one step to the next. Consider stories focused on the people behind your product, how it is made, why consumers choose your product, or simple how-to videos.

Short-form storytelling can also be remarkably effective in social. One minute videos or short audio interviews for example, can work quite well. Simple, useful interactivity should be at the heart of your strategy, with simple forms, easy to understand calls to action and sharing that is straight-forward and familiar. A note of caution: unlike e-mail, for example, linear storytelling across multiple posts does not work well in the stream. It’s almost impossible to ensure that an individual will see two of your posts so it’s essential that each post is self-contained. Each post can link to the other stories, or even contain the previous stories but never assume someone has seen any of your content before.

Marketing in the social stream will only continue to grow in importance as social networks mature the breadth and depth of social stream capabilities and look to sideline traditional right rail advertising. The capstone of all of this is that early research indicates consumers actually prefer the combination of rich, interactive content mixed with storytelling in the social stream. As these trends converge, it will be incumbent upon us all to be expert not just in social marketing, but in stream marketing that helps consumers discover and engage with our products and brand.

Marko Z Muellner is senior director of marketing at ShopIgniter and has been a digital marketer for more than 18 years. He has spent his time learning how digital marketing is applied at nonprofits, international digital agencies, dot-com startups, global sportswear and beer companies, and a top-tier Web analytics and optimization company. He can be reached at via e-mail at marko@shopigniter.com and via Twitter @markozm.

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