As founder of Maximize Your Social, a social media strategy consultancy, Neal Schaffer has helped countless companies become more successful at social media marketing. In addition to being the co-founder of the Social Tools Summit social media conference, Schaffer has spoken at over 200 domestic and international events and is also the author of Maximize Your Social: A One-Stop Guide to Building a Social Media Strategy for Marketing and Business Success.
I recently spoke with Schaffer to gain some insights on social media marketing for small-business owners.
You have an impressive 137K followers on Twitter. How did you achieve this? What tips can you give small-business owners who want to grow their followers on Twitter?
I joined Twitter in 2008. It’s been eight years. It takes time. If we divide 137K followers into eight years, it’s more like 15,000 followers a year, or 1,000 followers a month. And maybe that’s a realistic goal—to try to acquire 1,000 followers a month. I’ve done it in a variety of ways.
What it comes down to is a combination of a few things. First, it comes down to tweeting. You’re in a room of 400 million users. If you’re not tweeting, you’re not going to get found. And it’s not just tweeting. You need to have a hashtag strategy, a keyword strategy, etc.
It also comes down to engaging. There are a lot of different social signals you can send on Twitter. You can follow people, add them to a list, like their tweets, favor their tweets. If you want someone to follow you back, my best advice is to engage with their content.
You can respond when people tweet at you. You should also look at your mentions and direct messages. Another key thing is to follow other people. A lot of people think, well, I’m cool. I’m just going to follow 10 people and get 10,000 followers. If you’re a celebrity, you can do that. But most small-business owners cannot do that. So you definitely want to follow other people. Why wouldn’t you want to have a reciprocal relationship? This gets down to the heart of social networking, to develop a genuinely mutually beneficial relationship.
You can also use Paid Social to accelerate building a following. Sometimes you can get new followers at under a dollar per follower—sometimes as low as 25 cents or less—depending on how much you want to target and how successful your campaign is. But one of the cheapest ways to acquire followers is to actually follow people, because in general between 10 to 50 percent of people you follow will follow you back. If you want to do it organically and have the time, that’s probably the best way to do it.
But don’t just follow people for a follow back. Use it as a mechanism to engage with your target audience. Consistency is key in social media. If you keep doing this on a daily basis, following, say, 25 people every day, that would be 750 people a month. You may not get 1,000 people a month, but what happens is as you get bigger, you attract more new followers.
A lot of people give up after a few hundred or a few thousand followers. I don’t know what the tipping point is. Maybe when you get to 5,000 or 10,000, your organic growth will increase and you’ll get a lot of bots that follow you that you don’t need to follow back. So it’ll help balance out your following and followers ratio. And that would be my best advice for you, to do it organically.
What’s one powerful tactic people can learn by reading Maximize Your Social?
I wrote this book based on my social media strategy consulting experience. I knew that companies needed a strategy and education, and I wanted to build a framework that can apply to the social media strategy of any business in any industry.
The framework of Maximize Your Social comes from the godfather of quality control, Professor Edwards Deming. I learned about him when I started my career in Japan working at a semiconductor manufacturer. Deming created the Deming Circle, which is simple yet eloquent. It’s basically how you control a managed experiment. It's called PDCA: Plan, Do, Check, Action. So it begins with a plan. That's where you also determine your objective and your key performance indicators to measure how successful you were in reaching your objective. Simply put, why do you want to be on social media, and how are you going to measure your success?
Then it gets down to the doing. You create a strategy and your tactical plan as part of that strategy, and you do it according to the plan. You then check up on how you did, and act upon and optimize everything you did. And it’s a never-ending circle. What happens is that most companies just "Do." They never have a plan and they’re not checking, so they never know how to optimize and they’re always wondering what their social media ROI is.
Using that framework, having a strong plan, and measuring and optimizing over time is the key to success and truly maximizing your social. Social media will become a cost that’s going to grow over time. Social media is an ever-changing playing field. Maximize Your Social takes you through each step for maximizing your social strategy on all the various platforms.
In your book, you mention EdgeRank as a tool that helps determine which of your content is seen on Facebook and therefore most likely to generate engagement. Can you elaborate?
I had a chance to go to Facebook headquarters and interview an executive, and he said, “We don’t have something called EdgeRank.” So does something called EdgeRank exist or not? I don’t know. But there's an algorithm. EdgeRank is a popular word that has been used in the past to describe, or to name, the algorithm that Facebook uses to decide what's in your News Feed.
The first thing a lot of people do when they wake up in the morning is go to their Facebook News Feed. So the News Feed has to have engaging content from people you care about, based on content you have an interest in. Otherwise, if every morning you go to your News Feed and all you find is junk, spam and advertisements, you’re going to tune off. And Facebook is aware of this. So they’re always tweaking this algorithm to get you to engage more and more with the content you see on the News Feed. It’s not just Facebook: Instagram and Twitter recently announced that they were adding similar algorithms to their network feeds.
So if you were Facebook, how would you determine what content to show in the news feeds of your users? One [point to consider] is whose content do you normally interact with? You probably have a greater affinity with those people. What type of content do you interact with? Do you like to interact with photos, links or videos? Everything you do on Facebook is being measured by Facebook in order to deliver uniquely engaging content to each user.
If you’re a Facebook page owner, you want to get engagement, not as a KPI for your social ROI, but to ensure your content shows up more and more on news feeds. You want to create engaging content, content that gets likes, that gets shares. Every type of engagement has a different value. Probably "Shares" are considered to have the most value, but now with the new Facebook Reaction Buttons, if someone goes out of their way to do a "Love" instead of a "Like," that may have a little more value than an average "Like."
Is there a "formula" for generating engagement on a Facebook page?
The formula for generating engagement is to first of all experiment with the different types of content. Live streaming seems to be preferred by Facebook in the notifications bubble. So that appears to be one of the leading ways to get engagement right now on Facebook.
Facebook groups also seem to get preference in notifications. A lot of companies are experimenting with Facebook groups. This is not your Facebook page, though. To get engagement on your Facebook page, you want to experiment with different types of content—videos, for example. Facebook native videos get really good engagement.
You also have just plain old status updates, links and photos, and you want to experiment with all of these, posting at different times, with different content subject matter. Do that for a few weeks and get a sense of the type of content that's most engaging for your Facebook page. And you want to accelerate things that are most engaging so you get more and more engagement. You might want to try posting more frequently. A lot of business pages only post once or twice a day. I’ve been posting seven or eight times a day, and I find that a lot of leading publishers in social media are doing the same and getting great engagement.
There’s also Paid Social for boosting posts. It's become a very popular tactic for social media marketers to do it on a regular basis so they're artificially creating that engagement in hopes that next time their content will be seen in more news feeds.
The same goes with having Facebook Like Campaigns and getting new fans. There’s a theory that with newer fans, you might have a better EdgeRank. They just liked your page compared to someone who liked your page four years ago and has never engaged with you, and will probably never see your content in their news feed unless you pay for that privilege.
You've literally written the book on leveraging LinkedIn for business. One of your tips is that the longform posts we publish on LinkedIn can be included in the Pulse section of LinkedIn’s Home page, allowing content to potentially be displayed to tens of thousands of LinkedIn users. Can you provide additional tips or tricks for maximizing LinkedIn for business?
LinkedIn is a publisher. They need content. So they open up the Influencer program to everyone, allowing anyone to write a blog post, which goes into LinkedIn's application called Pulse. LinkedIn has a few hundred million users, and many will look at Pulse, or see Pulse updates in their news feed on a regular basis.
So where other networks like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are just showing regular old status updates in your news feed, LinkedIn is really putting a priority on content published on LinkedIn. I’ve seen posts that have gotten thousands of views—some even in the hundreds of thousands. And LinkedIn's algorithm changes over time. It’s supply and demand, just like with Facebook. More and more people are publishing on LinkedIn Pulse. So it may be a little harder now to get the results I’ve seen.
Publishing on LinkedIn Pulse comes down to understanding another concept called "Employee Advocacy," because businesses cannot publish on LinkedIn Pulse. Only people who have a LinkedIn profile can publish. So the people who represent your business need to be publishing on LinkedIn, and ideally, they’re going to publish content relevant to your business. This would be a way of attracting readers to employees you want others to see as thought leaders representing your business.
This is a hard step for a lot of people to take. There's a lot of social media marketers, Internet marketers, maybe some savvy social sellers, doing this on their own. I’d like to see more CEOs and CMOs encouraging their employees to do this. When you publish, it’s going to get preference in the News Feed. It’s indexed in Google. And it’s also indexed in LinkedIn Pulse. Should you repurpose the content you're already publishing on your blog? Generally, I would say no. But if you really have no time, why not? You can think of LinkedIn as another channel to syndicate. But if you can publish unique content that’s targeted to the unique LinkedIn demographic, that’s the best strategy.
LinkedIn groups are good ways to find people who have a similar interest in your target market. You can message people if you’re part of the same group and you’re not spammy. You can contribute to conversations. You can even try to contribute content that might be picked up by that group and therefore syndicated to thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of LinkedIn users. And I definitely believe just like companies should consider creating Facebook groups and Facebook communities, they can create their own LinkedIn group.
Another tip for LinkedIn is to use it as part of a social seller’s toolbox. Your salespeople should be all over LinkedIn. They should be connecting with people in their network and trying to connect with current and target customers, and leveraging those relationships on a daily basis. And once they start publishing content through Pulse, it begins to get powerful, because they’re winning more and more mind share and share of voice in their target markets’ networks. And that becomes really powerful over time: They build rapport. They build engagement, and it solidifies the relationship they have with their customers and target customers.
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