Last week, The Motherhood had the opportunity to participate virtually in Social Media Week Chicago 2016, where industry leaders shared trends, best practices and insights for online marketing. Read on for the first installment of our multi-part series on takeaways from the event!

Two prevalent themes of Social Media Week Chicago this year included 1) recognition of the importance of creating compelling online content, and 2) emphasis on making that content shine on social media platforms via paid efforts.

Creating Effective Content: What Works?

According to Carolyn Calzavara, Partner Engagement Manager with IBM Watson, content and data are being generated at an unprecedented rate. In fact, the amount of data produced today is the equivalent of 180 newspapers delivered to every man, woman and child every day!

When it comes to a brand’s objectives, the ultimate success metric is usually sales. While there’s not always a linear correlation between the content produced and sales, consumers seek out content to help inform purchasing decisions, and ultimately, that content encourages purchase intent.

smw-dataSo when it comes to marketing, what content and strategies work well? Social Media Week Chicago presenters offered the following:

  • Above all, the content a brand produces, or that an influencer produces on the brand’s behalf, should always fit into the company’s overarching brand strategy, and should add value. Brands should be thoughtful when it comes to sharing content; they shouldn’t publish content just for the sake of doing so.
  • To stand out amidst the clutter, content should offer your audience a new opinion or difference of opinion (according to Tina Shakour, Digital and Social Media Strategist at Cisco).
  • Social media is a two-way conversation, and more and more, brand content is about responding to people – not just talking at them. Chris Kerns, VP of Research & Insights at Spredfast, explained that in an analysis of 25 brands, 93 percent of the content created by those brands was one-to-one (i.e., customers reaching out with questions, complaints, etc.). That percentage is rising every quarter, reflecting the evolution of customer expectations.
  • Social listening – hearing what your customers are saying and following trends – can also inform what types of content will resonate well with your audience. That, of course, requires dedicated staff to monitor for those conversations and interpret that data to translate it to effective content. Read more about the applications of social listening here.

Social Media Week Chicago presenters from Havas Chicago also explained that taking the exact same content and distributing it across all social platforms looks “lazy and desperate” – content should be created specifically for particular platforms.

There are instances where content can play well across multiple channels, though. Jaideep Mukerji, Head of Advertising Research, Instagram, explained that because there is so much visual inspiration on Instagram, some advertisers are intimidated and unsure about the type of collateral to create for that channel. Advertisers have been successful using a range of creativity on Instagram. And, in some cases, using existing content that has performed well on Facebook, for instance, translates well to Instagram. The bottom line is that there is no one-size-fits-all approach when it comes to content creation.

Amplifying Effective Content through Paid Social

Once a brand’s content strategy is set, the next step toward visibility is distribution. With social media platforms’ algorithms changing constantly, it can be a struggle for brands to be seen organically. According to Shakour, a tweet with no engagement has a lifespan of 18 minutes or less, and on Facebook, organic posts reach just one to three percent of a brand’s page followers.

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Kyle Dardashti and David Yarus, Co-Founders of mllnnl, advise that paid social should be an intentional part of marketing budgets. They also explained that user-generated content is king, especially when targeting millennials, even if that content is produced inexpensively with a smartphone.

Dardashti and Yarus made a great point that you can’t just push conversion ads to people who haven’t warmed up to your brand first. In fact, they shared that they have seen better ROI come from brands who optimize their budgets toward “higher sales funnel” tactics, which are the tactics that increase awareness and strengthen brand affinity (think shareable pictures and “fluffy” brand videos).

Even after you’ve seen a conversion in your target audience, it’s still important to target them with relevant ads (e.g., a discount or evergreen content). People are more likely to share or like brand content after they have already liked, purchased or downloaded from the brand. That is just taking them one more step in being brand loyal.

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In a Social Media Week Chicago session led by Mukerji and Ruth Arber, VP of Strategic Accounts, Adaptly, we learned about placement optimization – buying audiences across both Facebook and Instagram. When thinking about both platforms together, brands can create certain efficiencies and opportunities. For instance, the price of an outcome (i.e., an action, a conversion, generating impressions, etc.) will change over the course of a campaign. When brands are able to use the ad delivery system (via placement optimization) to allocate the budget across both Instagram and Facebook, the system tries to find the most efficient way to achieve a desired outcome.

While they still offer much greater reach over posts that are only shared organically, Instagram-only or Facebook-only paid campaigns, on average, have a slightly higher cost than one run with placement optimization. And in test campaigns for brands running placement optimized ads across both platforms, brands saw about a four percent increase in reach than standalone efforts. Placement optimization doesn’t necessarily require additional budget either, since the system automatically allocates budget across both platforms.

While paid social leads to greater visibility via impressions, it can also mean fewer engagements, according to Shakour. That speaks to the importance of establishing goals – whether that’s acquiring followers, boosting brand awareness, driving conversions or other specific actions – before deploying any paid social campaign.

Stay tuned for more highlights from Social Media Week Chicago on The Motherhood’s blog!