Wednesday, November 2nd, 2016 | 10 min read
It always makes me cringe a little when I hear people say that social media is free. To someone in social media, that’s a very dated view. I mean, I get where they’re coming from – hitting the publish button doesn’t cost anything, but organic content often struggles to even see the light of day. And getting your message in front of the right audience is critical…after all, if a tree falls in a forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?
Fortunately, these days most brands have begun to recognize that paid promotion of social content is absolutely critical. In fact, 76% of brands already do just that. What’s interesting however is that while the majority of brands find paid promotion of content extremely effective (rated 4 or 5 on a 5-point scale), 40% still do not. A closer look at that 40% could indicate that the real problem is that they just aren’t doing it right.
Putting some budget behind promoting organic content on social is really just the cost of entry. More sophisticated brands, however, understand that the more significant hurdle, is developing a strategy that works after you’ve made that initial investment.
If you’re looking to take your paid social advertising strategy to the next level, or even wondering where to begin if you’re starting from scratch, consider these lessons and best practices that drove success for Xcel Energy:
To begin, you’ll need to create a thoughtful tagging system for your organic and paid content. Tags allow you to organize and categorize content so you can dig into the data and answer critical questions, such as: What content is working? What can be improved? What channel is best for my different content categories and objectives?
Having a well-defined tagging system at the onset makes the entire process run more smoothly. At Xcel Energy, we have a multi-layered tagging system. And this structure dictates everything from message approval processes, to ad objective set-up, to benchmarking, to reporting.
The top layer of the tag structure corresponds to the content’s general objective. At Xcel Energy, this means Marketing, Reputation and Customer Care—but each brand should tailor these categories to fit the goals of their company. Underneath the three major buckets sit second-tier categories that align to major business unit functions. For example, under Marketing, the second-tier tagging options include Residential Energy Efficiency, Business Energy Efficiency, etc.
Beneath those is a third set of tags that correspond with the top layer objectives. For example, Marketing (tier one) and Residential Energy Efficiency (tier 2) could use a third tier tag to further clarify the content, such as Lighting Rebates or Cooling Rebates.
Our tagging structure reflects the company’s structure and business objectives, an important consideration for all organizations. Every company’s tagging structure will look different. The key is to build a way to categorize social content that aligns with your company’s structure and goals.
Too many brands take an overly simplistic view of paid social analytics. They fall into the trap of establishing one-dimensional reporting, and often misstep by reporting the success of all their paid social campaigns based solely on a handful of metrics, such as engagements (even across product types and channels). This approach won’t provide meaningful insights.
It’s important to pause, and look back at those tags that you just created. What are the high-level objectives of each of those categories? And what Key Performance Indicators can communicate how social is helping reach and support those objectives? Those KPIs should directly correlate with your ad objective set up.
At Xcel Energy, we start by looking at the actual content of the campaign. The message determines the tags that are applied to the content. The tags determine the ad objective set up. The ad objective set up determines the KPIs we report on. For example, all of our various Marketing campaigns have one common goal – getting people to take action of some sort. Given that, the ad objective selected is website clicks or conversions. Which means the KPIs we report on are link clicks and cost per link click, or conversions and cost per conversion.
As another example, our Reputation efforts focus either on impressions and CPM, or Engagements and CPE. The second and third tier tags for Reputation determine when to and when not to bid for engagement, to avoid putting budget behind content that could likely drive a negative response.
When it comes time to report on a campaign’s performance, keep it simple. Create a report template for each ad objective to focus attention on the primary KPIs at hand. The templates create consistency and ensure clients understand how social directly helped support their primary objective.
Within all businesses—especially larger ones—it can be difficult to align social media messaging and outreach across departments. This presents the risk of sponsoring content that doesn’t reflect the overarching voice of the company.
At Xcel Energy, internal and agency team members create social messaging for multiple divisions, and there can be 40-45 varying campaigns running at a time.
To avoid inconsistencies in style and approach, we’ve established internal guidelines and best practices. Many of these processes are outlined to follow our tagging structure so there’s a logical workflow from campaign set up to completion.
Training sessions help new employees understand our strategy and approach, and organic and paid messages are filtered through an approval process to ensure proper tagging and ad objective set up that continues until a cadence is achieved. Different user groups receive access only to relevant ad accounts to avoid overstepping and overlapping across teams’ efforts, and we hold monthly audits and additional training sessions to keep the teams coordinated and the processes running smoothly.
Implementing a cohesive structure and focusing on internal alignment ensures that outbound messaging and customer-facing efforts are consistent across your brand, and make the most of your paid social strategy.
Having your entire team in alignment is a must before benchmarking can be established. Consistently setting up ad objectives based on the tagging structure creates established KPIs to inform smarter spending. But it also ensures better benchmarking, with more data across levels of your tagging structure and more concrete KPIs to assess.
For example, our Marketing campaigns about Residential Energy Efficiency Lighting Rebates on Facebook are going to perform very differently compared to a Marketing campaign about Business Energy Efficiency Cooling Rebates on LinkedIn. Even though both campaigns report on the same KPIs, the success benchmarks will be vastly different. We’re able to benchmark on the multidimensional nature of our efforts, though, because our team is aligned. If everyone were doing his or her own thing, we’d be left with a bowl of meaningless data soup.
It’s important to have an audience targeting strategy in place, but benchmarking insights should be used to make optimization decisions, generate more effective content, and forecast budgets based on goals. For example, with benchmarking you may learn that a certain Marketing message has a good CPLC but a low number of clicks compared to similar messages, which may indicate a need to extend your reach and expand your audience, to try a different channel, or rethink social as your medium to share this message.
Through smart assessment and benchmarking in this way, you can pinpoint ways to maximize the influence of your content. And rather than handing over a complex benchmarking report to your clients, translate what the data is saying for your clients so they can digest the insights in a simple, meaningful way.
Your customers and potential customers spend 95% of their time online consuming content, but just 5% searching for it. And with users turning to ad blockers to tune out the noise and organic content continuing to get less traction, your target audience is unlikely to find you unless they’re looking. This is where paid social comes in.
Being where your customers are and getting in front of them is critical to making an impact, raising brand awareness, and reaching your audience. This year, more brands are looking to monetize the constant, bustling activity across social media. Your business must be prepared to build an intelligent paid social strategy—with internal processes aligned, KPIs clearly defined, and sophisticated analytics in place—to keep up with (and get away from) the competition.
Paying to boost social content is just the beginning. Taking your strategy to the next level is crucial if you’re going to invest the money, to avoid being part of that 40% who believe their paid social campaigns could be more effective.