Three common social media mistakes brands still make
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Three common social media mistakes brands still make

In October 2020, Instagram turned 10. In the decade since this innovative social platform launched, have brands become any wiser about this key marketing channel? Read on to discover the most common mistakes that still prevail on social media and how to avoid them.

This story is from an episode of the CIM Marketing Podcast. It was presented and produced by Ben Walker. Catch up on this episode and more here.

The truly remarkable thing about social media is not how old it is, but how young it is. Instagram, the youngest of the four social giants, has just this year hit a decade of existence. Molly MacArthur, digital marketing executive at The Chartered Institute of Marketing (CIM), has been working in social media marketing for most of its life, and has seen some major changes on these channels – and brands’ mastery of them – in this time.

“In the beginning, there was minimal advertising, and platforms were full of static images. Less emphasis was placed on copy and captions, and there was hardly any variation in terms of content formats. Instagram particularly has really come on leaps and bounds since then,” she says.

However, where brands still struggle, MacArthur notes, is in the fact that many of the consumers they are trying to reach are as savvy – if not more so – than the businesses they interact with on social media. In a recent poll of CIM’s Instagram followers, a concerning 76% said they don’t think brands have mastered social media.

“Three key trends emerged when we asked our followers to tell us some of the worst mistakes that are still made today,” MacArthur shares. They are:

  1. Not enough strategy

Social media can often appear to be a marketing tactic that is easy to execute and needs little strategy. But, MacArthur stresses, this could not be further from the truth. “Social media is one of the biggest advertising mediums out there. It’s also played a key role over lockdown by shining a light on small businesses who can sometimes rely on traditional channels such as print advertising and word-of-mouth.”

But it’s not an easy medium to master, MacArthur concedes, and needs strategic insight and direction in order to thrive. She notes in particular the need to strike a balance between reactivity and strategy but believes a test-and-learn approach is a fool-proof way of overcoming this challenge. “It’s hard to get right, yes, but part of social media is trying new things, and this is one of the key ways we’ve seen platforms innovate in the last 5 years or so, by introducing enhanced tools to make it easier for brands to optimise campaigns and measure engagement.”

However, MacArthur adds, test and learn only works if you have a strategy to support it, otherwise your brand can look “chaotic and inconsistent”, she warns. “This comes back to having a robust social media strategy. It's easy to see something that’s trending on Twitter this afternoon, say, and think ‘Oh, wow, it would be great to jump on that’.” Instead, she recommends taking a step back to think about how that aligns with your social media strategy to work out where you fit into the conversation. “If you are tempted to post just to be funny or relevant, think about how that’s adding value to your followers.”

  1. Too little audience insight

“The result that’s most concerning to me is that our audience think brands place too much emphasis on the platform they’re posting on, rather than the followers they have there,” says Ally Lee-Boone, CIM’s content and engagement executive. “We also had a few comments about brands still using hard sales tactics rather than focusing on community and engagement. This shows a really fundamental misunderstanding of the purpose of social media, and a grasp of what audience you’re speaking to there.”

Lee-Boone notes the importance of identifying “super fans” in your followers, who can help you to stress-test new content and provide a temperature check on how your brand is being received.

“Identifying those people in your following who have a real influence within the community that you're operating in or facilitating, who are actively engaged with your content and invested in your brand, can give you insights that should be representative of your audience as a whole, as long as you have a robust process in place to be able to identify them,” she says. “But once you have them, they are another untapped resource of knowing exactly what your customers want to see from your brand.”

  1. Misunderstanding key metrics

“I think there are a couple of reasons why people get stuck in a metric trap,” MacArthur shares. One of the most common is when there's a lack of understanding of social media from management, and therefore misplaced focus on certain metrics, such as vanity metrics. “They're not asking their social media managers for the right type of reporting,” MacArthur believes. “That means social media managers must really step up and provide the analytics and the insight, especially if they're not being asked to.”

Sometimes, however, it can go the other way, she concedes. “Without even meaning to, it can be easy for social media managers to manipulate data so that on the surface it looks like performance is great.” This can be a short-term win for social media teams, but it worsens the common problem of businesses not understanding social media’s impact. “For example, increased posts can lead to increased impressions, but you could be alienating your audience with a continuous one-way broadcast. If you’re not measuring engagement then there’s no way of knowing if those increased posts are having the intended affect for your business,” MacArthur shares.

MacArthur notes the trends from the Instagram polls conducted: “Looking at feedback from our followers, they’re reporting there's is too much pressure on growing the following, so their KPIs are often based on growth, impressions and likes. I’m not saying we should completely disregard those metrics, by the way, but we should focus on things like conversion rates, the quality of traffic, form submissions or video views. Whatever a conversion is for you, that really needs to be the focus of your KPIs.”

Whilst an easy trap to fall into, vanity metrics are easily escapable, too. “It is not the end of the world,” MacArthur reassures. “You can quickly pull it back by re-evaluating your social media KPIs and ensuring they align with your organisational goals. So, for example, if your organizational goal is to increase sales of heaters 10 percent this winter and you're on social media posting pictures of your staff Christmas lunch, just ask yourself why. I'm not saying it’s wrong, but consider how that aligns with the organizational goals? Maybe you're working on humanising your brand or you’ve got said heaters in the background of the image in the image, but just think, how is this getting us to our end goal?”

To discover MacArthur’s recommendations for keeping up to date with the latest social media trends, you can catch episode 26 of the CIM Marketing Podcast, Have brands mastered social media?, on demand now, wherever you get your podcasts.

Molly MacArthur Digital marketing executive CIM
Ally Lee-Boone Content and engagement executive CIM
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