This article is based on Elina's appearance on the CMO Convo podcast.

Mastering social media is crucial for brands looking to forge genuine connections in the digital age. It's about much more than just posting content; it’s about cultivating authentic relationships and engaging in meaningful two-way dialogues with your audience. 

I'm Elina Vilk, CMO at Hootsuite, and my experience spans over two decades in various facets of marketing. Throughout my journey, I've seen the evolution of social media from a fringe marketing tactic to a central pillar of brand strategy. 

In this article, I'll share insights on how to effectively utilize social media to not just reach your audience, but to resonate with them, creating lasting relationships that go beyond the surface level of likes and shares.

Maximizing your social media’s effectiveness with Elina Vilk
Elina Vilk, CMO of Hootsuite, joins us on CMO Convo to share how to truly maximize the power of social for your brand.

Challenges and opportunities in social media for brands

Social media undoubtedly presents a range of challenges. These challenges fall into two categories: those faced by the industry as a whole and those specific to individuals in roles like social media management. 

A recent report Hootsuite released highlights the struggles of social media managers, revealing that over 50% feel their bosses don't understand their job. This is indicative of a larger issue within the industry. Although it's universally acknowledged that brands need to have a social media presence, there’s a widespread lack of understanding about what this truly means.

From a marketing perspective, the challenge is in justifying every dollar spent to your CFO. This is particularly tough in the realm of social media, especially with organic social. Questions arise around the role of organic social, its impact, and how to measure it beyond 'vanity metrics' like engagement rates and likes. What does this mean for the bottom line? How do these metrics translate into real value?

The biggest challenge for marketers, and perhaps most organizations, is determining the role of social media within their broader strategy. What value does it bring relative to other marketing efforts? How much should be invested in it, if at all? It's about understanding the unique contribution of social media to the organization's overall mix and making informed decisions about investment levels.

Understanding the role of social media in building relationships

Before delving into platform selection, it's crucial to understand the broader role of social media. I perceive social media as a medium for building relationships. Relationships, whether personal or with brands, are built on trust, earned through multiple interactions over time. 

Similarly, the relationship between people and brands isn't much different. Social media provides a unique opportunity for brands to engage in a two-way dialogue, building a narrative and trust with their audience.

As marketers, our job is to foster these relationships, turning people into customers, and, ideally, into advocates for our brand. Social media stands out as a platform for creating meaningful, long-lasting connections. It's not just about creating viral content or checking off items on a content calendar; it's about genuinely engaging with your audience and adding value to the relationship.

To illustrate, consider the banking and fintech industries. If someone opts for a branded credit card, they are likely among the top customers. Similarly, when someone 'likes' your page on social media, they are inviting you into their circle. How you respond to this invitation determines the depth of the relationship and trust you can build. Are you using this channel solely for marketing, or are you using it to tell your story, connect meaningfully, and provide customer service?

The people who engage with your brand on social media provide valuable insights. They represent your ideal customer profile, and their engagement can guide your understanding of what resonates with your audience. Additionally, addressing customer service issues on social media can turn detractors into loyal customers.

The true role of social media is in nurturing these relationships with potential customers and advocates. It's a channel that offers invaluable insights into your customer base and, when managed well, can offer an exceptional return on investment.

Balancing sales and relationship building in social media

It's a well-acknowledged fact that people generally distrust sales pitches, especially when they're unsolicited. The same principle applies to social media. If your social media strategy is incessantly focused on selling, it's unlikely to build trust or foster meaningful relationships. 

A compelling example of this is the approach taken by the former head of social media at Innocent Smoothies. They focused their Twitter channel exclusively on presenting their brand story and personality, avoiding any direct promotions or sales pitches. This strategy led to high engagement and virality, demonstrating the power of brand storytelling over direct selling on social media.

However, I believe that the approach doesn't have to be as extreme as completely refraining from sales. As a follower of a brand, I appreciate receiving exclusive offers or benefits, which adds value to the relationship. Selling on social media is still viable, but it should be just a part of a larger narrative.

Comparing this to a B2B context, if a company only reaches out to customers for upselling at the end of a contract, the likelihood of renewing the contract is low. Similarly, in social media, it's essential to cultivate relationships continuously, not just when you want to sell something.

Besides, there are direct metrics in social media that can quantify its impact. Customer service interactions, for example, can reduce attrition and turn customers around. On the marketing side, you can build lookalike audiences based on your top customers to target similar prospects effectively. 

You can also use tracking tools like UTM tags to trace long-term customer engagement back to social media activities. This shows that social media can be a significant contributor to a company's revenue, even if its impact isn't always direct or immediately apparent. It's more about nurturing relationships over time than just driving immediate sales.

Tailoring content to different social media platforms

It's vital to recognize that different social media platforms cater to varied audiences and require tailored approaches. The challenge for marketers lies in adapting their strategies to these diverse platforms effectively and efficiently. It's not necessary to be present on every platform; rather, it's about choosing the right ones where your audience is most active and delivering messages that resonate with them on those specific platforms.

There are numerous tools available to assist in this process. For instance, at Hootsuite, we offer calendaring options and have developed OwlyWriter, an AI tool designed to kickstart the content creation process for each channel. These tools are incredibly helpful, but that doesn't make the job of a social media manager easy. It's a multifaceted role that requires understanding the company, the platform, the company's voice, and managing community responses.

The key to success on any platform is authenticity. It's not about being the funniest or going viral; it's about representing your brand's authentic voice. If your brand were a person, think about how it would interact in a conversation over coffee. 

Why are people following your brand, and why on that specific platform? Whether it's LinkedIn, Instagram, or another platform, each has a unique audience and purpose. The goal is to find and maintain an authentic voice that aligns with the platform and resonates with your audience.

Authenticity, audience understanding, and experimentation

Identifying an authentic voice is fundamental in social media marketing. It's not just about avoiding what your competitors are doing; it's about standing out in a crowded space. People connect with brands on a personal level, not just for promotions or freebies. If your brand's voice mimics another, you risk losing followers who might have consciously chosen not to follow that other brand.

It's evident when a brand lacks authenticity. Today's consumers, especially Gen Z, are incredibly savvy. They can quickly tell if a brand's messaging on social media doesn't align with its overall ethos or actions in other channels. 

Understanding your audience deeply is crucial. This means knowing more than just their demographic details. It's about comprehending their motivations and needs. For instance, at Hootsuite, our social media managers are actively involved in publishing content because they represent our voice and understand our audience's expectations.

Social media uniquely allows for putting a human face on brand messaging. It's a platform where you can have real-time feedback and interaction with your audience. It's different from other forms of marketing where the response can feel distant or unclear. Social media lets you test ideas and gauge immediate reactions. This two-way dialogue is invaluable. You know instantly when a post resonates, and equally, you learn quickly when it doesn't.

Feedback from followers is mostly constructive. While trolling does occur, it's generally easy to distinguish between trolls and genuine feedback. As a brand, it's essential to listen to both your top customers and those providing honest feedback about your products.

Social media also offers a rapid testing ground for new ideas. The nature of social media is such that if something doesn't work, it's quickly forgotten, unless it's a major blunder. This environment allows for a degree of fearlessness in testing new concepts. It's an excellent way to gauge whether an idea has potential before investing significantly in it.

The importance of social media managers in an organization

Social media managers are, in my opinion, one of the most crucial roles in any organization. I've held this belief throughout my career, not just in my current role. These individuals are often the most in-tune with the customer base, acting as the frontline to customer engagement and feedback. Their insights are invaluable for understanding customer needs and preferences.

Social media managers are also incredibly dynamic and versatile. They don't just manage social media posts; they are often responsible for creating content, crafting copy, embodying the brand's persona, and even handling aspects of customer service. This multifaceted role means they have a deep understanding of the brand, the audience, and the most effective ways to engage with that audience.

When hiring a social media manager, CMOs should look for individuals who can wear many hats and who have a strong understanding of both the brand and its customers. It's not a role that should be marginalized or treated as an afterthought. A social media manager should be actively involved in various aspects of marketing and be considered a key player in the organization's overall strategy.

Leveraging social media beyond vanity metrics

To maximize the impact of social media within an organization, it's crucial to look beyond vanity metrics and understand the real value it brings. This involves a few key strategies.

Firstly, understanding your top buyers is essential. Social media offers a three-dimensional view of these buyers, not just through data but also by observing their interactions and preferences. This understanding can inform media campaigns, allowing you to create lookalike models and target similar potential buyers effectively.

Secondly, social listening tools are invaluable. They provide real-time insights into customer perceptions, brand sentiment, and emerging issues. By keeping a regular tab on these reports, you can understand more than just marketing trends; you can anticipate and address problems before they escalate. This proactive approach can save significant losses and turn potential detractors into brand advocates.

Thirdly, leveraging social media for customer service is a powerful tool. Customers often use social channels to voice concerns or issues. Addressing these in real-time not only resolves individual cases but also demonstrates your brand's commitment to customer satisfaction to a wider audience.

Fourthly, social media is an excellent platform for developing reference accounts. People tend to trust recommendations from peers more than traditional marketing messages. By nurturing these relationships, you can turn satisfied customers into advocates who willingly share their positive experiences with your brand.

Lastly, employee advocacy programs, like our 'Amplify' product at Hootsuite, can significantly extend your brand's reach. Encouraging employees to share brand messages and content on their personal social channels can amplify your brand's voice beyond its immediate following.

Social media's value extends far beyond likes and shares. It's about deep customer understanding, proactive issue resolution, peer recommendations, and leveraging your entire organization's network for brand advocacy. Each of these aspects contributes significantly to the overall marketing and business strategy.

Elevating your brand’s social media maturity: a guide to success
The popularity of a brand’s post isn’t a matter of luck or some secret formula, rather, it’s the result of a well-structured and diligently executed strategy. Brands that do successfully achieve this invest plenty of time and effort into attaining a high level of social media maturity.

Navigating the ever-changing landscape of social media while maintaining a coherent strategy is indeed challenging. To stay relevant and effective, it's crucial to be both strategic and adaptable. A key element in this is using listening tools effectively. These tools provide insights into trending topics and conversations, allowing brands to appropriately engage in relevant discussions.

It's important not to shy away from experimenting with new trends or topics. The fast-paced nature of social media means that if something doesn't work, you can quickly pivot and try something else. Staying authentic to your brand's voice and mission is essential, regardless of external changes. Focus inwardly on your customer's interests and your unique brand stories. If you can align these with current happenings in the world, you'll likely create engaging and relevant content.

Engaging with your audience to understand their interests and needs is also vital. Social media isn't just a platform for broadcasting messages; it's a two-way street. By asking your audience what they want to know or learn about, you turn social media into a resource. It becomes a tool not just for marketing, but for gaining insights that can inform business direction, product development, and more.

At Hootsuite, we frequently interact with our audience to understand their preferences. We value every piece of feedback and incorporate it into our content and strategy. This reciprocal relationship is what makes social media dynamic and valuable. It's not just about disseminating information; it's about building a relationship where both parties learn from and contribute to each other.

Insights on successful brands on social media

Reflecting on brands that excel in social media, I believe Hootsuite itself is a prime example. We generate 100% of our funnel from our social channels and blog pages, with minimal reliance on external avenues. This showcases the immense potential of a well-executed social media strategy.

Another brand that stands out for its authenticity and connection with its audience is Patagonia. They have managed to create such a strong brand identity that people proudly display their brand on items like bumper stickers. This level of brand loyalty and visibility is rare and speaks volumes about their effective social media presence.

Jeep is another brand that comes to mind. They've created a community around their brand, engaging customers through events like meetups and unique initiatives like the 'Jeep Ducks'. They understand their audience's lifestyle and interests, and they've built a narrative and identity that resonates deeply with them. Jeep's approach to social media isn't just about promoting products; it's about creating a community and an experience.

These examples highlight the importance of authenticity and listening to your audience. Each brand, in its unique way, has established a two-way conversation with its audience, demonstrating an understanding of and alignment with their values and interests.

Moreover, social media isn't just a digital tool; it's a gateway to in-person interactions. Brands like Jeep use social media to facilitate real-world events, fostering a community that extends beyond the online space. This approach underscores the versatility of social media in not only building online communities but also in supporting physical gatherings and real-world connections.

How to leverage social media for your B2B brand
If you’re a B2B brand, chances are you’ve been considering the idea of leveraging social media to boost your business. But how do you know if it’s worth it? What’s the ROI on social media for B2B brands?

Golden rules for maximizing social media impact

The essence of effectively utilizing social media in marketing boils down to a few core principles. 

Firstly, the primary focus should be on building relationships. Social media offers a unique platform for two-way dialogue, making it an exceptional tool for marketers to truly understand and connect with their customers. This understanding should be the foundation upon which the rest of your marketing strategy is built.

For CMOs, it's crucial to recognize the value social media managers bring to the table. These individuals have direct insights into customer preferences, behaviors, and feedback. Regular interactions with social media managers are essential, regardless of whether they report directly to you or not. Engaging in one-on-ones, group discussions, or having them collaborate closely with other teams, such as product development, can provide invaluable perspectives that can shape broader marketing strategies.

The key takeaway is to prioritize relationship-building through active listening and engagement. Leveraging the insights gained from these interactions can drive a more effective and customer-centric marketing approach. Social media isn't just a channel for broadcasting your message; it's a platform for genuine interaction and understanding, which should be at the heart of any marketing strategy.

Social media is a fantastic way to connect with your audience, but it's also an amazing way for you to connect with us!

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