What do SMMs actually care about?
Hello! I'm Abby, Air's Marketing Intern 👋
I graduated from Kenyon College back in May with a B.A. in Psychology, and yes, entering the workforce virtually is just about as fun as it sounds.
(Jk, it's not so bad, and my team is super cool despite the faces they chose to make in this screenshot.)
At the start of my internship, I was given an assignment to help Air better understand and develop its social media strategy. As the first Gen Z hire, I think my colleagues were under the impression that a "digital native" like me could do this in their sleep, but unfortunately for them, I'm no social media wizard. I have a humble following and, since moving back home, post almost exclusively pics of my neighbor's cat, Momo. I had a lot more questions than answers when it came to best practices for businesses.
I kicked off my research by observing what other cloud collaboration companies were doing on social (spoiler: not much), and finding early-stage startups that are using social to establish their brand. I followed a wide range of businesses and monitored their activity over the course of a month.
It didn't take long for me to recognize that the brands who behaved more like a person — sharing content that mimics what is already on my feed — were far more successful than those who behaved like a corporation. Being overly promotional seemed to be a rookie mistake, so at the very least I was learning what not to do.
This lead me to the question: What purpose does social media serve businesses if not as a selling mechanism?
To uncover an answer I needed to bring in the experts, and nobody does social media better than direct-to-consumer brands. They understand how to write copy like humans, design aesthetically cohesive pages, and magically transform passive followers into vocal brand advocates. To get the behind-the-scenes scoop, I called up the real social media wizards:
Lupii's Social and Community Manager, Megan Pope
Bev's Social Media Manager, Tess Allen
Magic Spoon's Community Manager, Sarah Bourlakas
Small's Content and Community Manager, Britt Smith
Each of these brands takes a unique approach to social but they share two top-level objectives: brand awareness and community building.
I learned that to establish a strong presence on social, you need to nail down your visual identity. Megan Pope of Lupii explains, "featuring some distinguishable element of your branding in every post allows your followers to instantly identify your content when it appears on their feed, even when it doesn't include an image of the product."
Put another way, building and maintaining a distinct aesthetic frees you up from having to post so much promotional content. By subtly weaving a logo or unique typeface into people's daily lives, you're building familiarity around your brand and, ultimately, your product.
When it comes to brand awareness, these businesses are less concerned with how many people are engaging with their content, and more with how many feeds it's showing up on. To measure this, they look at follower count and number of accounts reached. Most social media platforms now collect these insights and make them available to buisiness accounts.
On the other hand, community building is measured using engagement, the number of people interacting with your content in some way. For example, on Twitter interactions include likes, replies, retweets, expands, and clicks. This metric gives brands a better sense of how their content is resonating with their audience and how different posts are performing relative to one another.
While the SMMs I spoke with are certainly looking to grow their following and expand their reach, increasing engagement seemed to be the top priority. One way to accomplish this is by posting content that, while still relevant to your target market, is not directly related to driving sales. Lupii, for example, transformed their Instagram into a place where passionate, plant-based eaters can engage with one another and share resources. It's a community for like-minded individuals more than anything else.
Since it may not always be clear what your brand should comment on beyond the scope of the business, Tess Allen of Bev recommends asking yourself questions such as, "What is your brand the expert on?" or "What information can you provide your followers that they aren't getting elsewhere?"
She went on to explain that content doesn't even necessarily need to be educational or entirely original to be effective, it just needs to speak to your larger brand purpose. "That purpose could even be just making your followers smile or feel good for a minute," she added.
Another way to encourage followers to engage with your content is by acknowledging and interacting with them in the comments. Sarah Bourlakas and her team at Magic Spoon, reply to nearly every comment left on the account's Instagram page. Whether it's questions, concerns, or words of affirmation (most of them tend to fall into this last category), their team is on the other end responding in a timely and personable manner.
Sarah has found doing so not only increases following and engagement, but humanizes the business and improves brand loyalty. "Social media is really the only channel where you can connect with your customers on an individual level, take advantage of that!" she told me.
Monitoring your analytics, whether that's in a social management platform or directly in the app, allows you to keep an eye on how your content is performing. While it's unrealistic to expect each of your content categories to receive the same amount of attention, if one is receiving significantly more or less than the others, that could be reason to reevaluate.
Having said that, Britt Smith of Smalls still stresses the importance of leaving room for experimentation: "Instagram calls for change and rewards content that is different. Though it may not always perform best at first, you will ultimately find more success by taking an unconventional approach to your socials as opposed to chasing the latest trend."
In an effort to apply insights from these interviews to my work at Air, I’ve been thinking a lot more about which types of content might resonate with our community. Fundamentally, it's about putting your followers first and continuing to deepen your understanding of their likes, dislikes, interests, and passions.
After taking a hard look at my own account with this in mind, I've realized that in order to keep my followers engaged I may need to diversify my content to include something other than Momo the cat (sorry Momo).
A big thank you to Megan, Tess, Sarah, and Britt for their time and thoughts.