The Social Media Content Plan That Can Help Get Results

If your business has been focusing solely on promotional and branded content on social media with little to show for it, it may be time to embrace the art of content curation.
December 11, 2014

Social media can sometimes be a difficult thing for small businesses to figure out. So many networks, so many tactics, so many choices.

How do small-business owners who are trying to maximize their results determine what to share and when? Some social media thought leaders have a rule of thumb, a secret sauce or an equation they rely on to determine the right mix of brand content, influencer content and promotional content. The short version: If you’re using your social media channels to broadcast your business, it’s time to mix it up a bit.

Social Media Snafus to Avoid

The right content mix establishes your credibility and can escalate your thought leadership status, even when most of the content you share isn’t your own. But it’s easy to alienate your audience if you’re not careful about when you post updates, how frequently you share updates, and how much of the content you share is self-serving or promotional.

If you post too frequently, for instance, you can oversaturate your fans and followers, and they might unfollow you. If you post updates too many times a day and every single update includes a call-to-action begging your followers to buy your products or services, you’re missing the value element. These self-serving social media messages are no fun to follow and don’t really help your audience, causing many to completely tune out your messages or stop following you altogether.

Laura Roeder, founder of consulting firm LKR Social Media and the social media scheduling app Edgar, advises businesses to keep close tabs on their analytics and identify the best times of day for sharing content based on your audience's engagement levels. If you don't track your numbers, you could be posting important updates that your ideal customers never see because they’re not typically online at the time of day you're posting. Remember, social media isn't a set-it-and-forget-it kind of thing because consumer habits are changing all the time. Monitor your analytics on an ongoing basis, and adjust your posting schedules accordingly.

The Magic Social Media Equation

So if your updates should include both sales pitches and informational posts, what’s the right mix? Joe Pulizzi, founder of the Content Marketing Institute, regularly touts a system called Social Media 4-1-1. Andrew Davis, author of Brandscaping, originally coined the term. It works like this:

  • For every six pieces of content you share or social media updates you post, four should be content from industry influencers. The key is to share influencer content that’s reputable but also relevant to your target audience.
  • One of the remaining two posts should be original, branded content you created. That might mean you wrote it yourself, had a staff member write it, or you hired an outsourced writer to write it on your behalf.
  • The final piece of content should be a promotional offer or something sales oriented. This could be a coupon, discount, press release or notification about a new product launch.

The idea is to take the spotlight off yourself and put it on the influencers in your industry. It probably seems counterintuitive, which is why so many small businesses get stuck in the trap of endless, shameless self-promotion yet fail to see results from their social media efforts.

When you give, you’re more likely to receive. By sharing influencer content, you’re accomplishing a few important goals:  

  • Providing value to your audience
  • Building a relationship with key influencers in your niche
  • Helping thought leaders by sharing their content without asking for anything in return. Then, when you do ask for something down the line, you’ve already established a relationship and they’re more likely to say yes. Why? Because you’ve generously helped them promote their products and services and solidify their reputation in the industry, so many will happily return the favor.

The Social Media 4-1-1 rule isn’t the only equation used by leading social media experts. Content marketing firm Rallyverse suggests a ratio of 30/60/10:

  • 30 percent owned or branded, original content (created by you)
  • 60 percent curated content (influencer or educational content)
  • 10 percent promotional content (content that includes calls-to-action)

In both of these equations, promotional or sales-oriented content with calls-to-action makes up the smallest portion of the overall ratio. Being self-serving on social media simply isn’t a good idea.

The Danger of Overpromotion 

A study conducted by digital marketing firm Convince and Convert analyzed 150,000 social media posts between November 2010 and July 2011 to determine the ideal mix of created versus curated content. The findings are revealing:

  • Companies that link to third-party websites (content curation) 75 percent of the time or more generate a lot of clicks but few conversions. This makes sense, since conversions happen on your own website.
  • Companies that link to third-party sites between 50 and 75 percent of the time have fewer clicks per post but realize higher conversion rates.
  • Companies that link to their own content 50 percent of the time or more experience a negative impact on clicks-per-post (engagement), but they don’t realize greater conversions than companies with a more balanced mix of owned versus curated content.

Based on these results, Convince and Convert suggests links to owned content or promotional social media updates should make up no more than 25 to 50 percent of your total social media updates. Any more than this, and you risk negatively impacting both your engagement and conversion rates.

While the precise equation for your own social media marketing mix may differ slightly from those suggested above, the Social Media 4-1-1 rule or a similar equation is a good baseline rule of thumb. If you’ve been focusing solely on promotional and branded content and haven’t embraced the art of content curation, now’s the time to change that. Finding the right ratio of self-serving, promotional and influencer or educational content is critical to succeeding on social media. 

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