A Dog Lover's Guide to Mastering Social Media
While Facebook may have origins in mildly malignant time-wasting, today the social networking site is an important tool for brands that wish to remain relevant and competitive. Regardless, as I tried to lead a roundtable discussion on the anatomy of a viral hit at the recent BarkWorld conference, I found that many people struggled with the basics of social media, which, even for some of the biggest brands, forms the foundation of audience outreach. I realized I've been privileged to grow up with a keyboard in my lap, and that upon my return to the office, I'd try to create a cohesive document to help navigate the world of social media, marketing, and brand building.
Whether it's a personal page for you and your dog, a blog you're hoping to eventually make money off of, a shelter you're helping out, or an established brand like Dogster, these basic tenets of social media will help boost your success by not only expanding your reach, but also giving your message clarity and a sense of legitimacy.
1. What's the point?
The point of social media is exactly that -- being social. It's an impulse as old as time, when we scrawled out stories of man-eating jaguars and where to find non-poisonous plants on cave walls as messages to one another. Social media is merely the evolution of being human. It is a valid and meaningful form of relationship-building, and the first step toward making it work for you is respecting it as a tool that helps fulfill the greater human need for camaraderie.
2. Social media and your brand
Regardless of your intentions, let's refer to your dog, your blog, your shelter as your brand. As humans, we gravitate toward good characters. The stories we remember are the ones with characters we love and identify with. Your brand is a character, and through social media, you're telling the story of that character. I like to go beyond this and think of Dogster's various social outlets as a party I'm hosting. I'm trying to get people to come by promising them something cool and relevant, and I'm trying to get people to stay by serving the right food and drinks, and playing the right music, and then I'm trying to establish longevity by throwing a party so cool that the attendants go out and tell other people about it, thus renewing the party.
What is the character of your brand? Try to visualize this person. What adjectives would you use to describe her? What kind of music does she like? Where does she hang out? What are her hobbies? Who are her friends? What is her story? Knowing your brand's character will help guide your social media decisions.
Social media is not just a place to broadcast your brand's content. Ultimately Dogster is a magazine, and while, yes, I am trying to drive traffic back to this site, I am mostly trying to establish a relationship with the audience so that they trust the character of Dogster. It's true we've got a lot of great articles here and I think everyone should read all of them, but there's more to us than just the six to seven articles we publish every day. We're a community of dog lovers, and more than anything, I want our social media to reflect that.
3. Facebook? Twitter? Pinterest? WHICH ONE?
There's, like, a million new social media sites cropping up every day apart from the Big Five (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Pinterest, and Google+), so it's easy to feel overwhelmed. Dogster has a Facebook, a Twitter, a Google+, an Instagram, and a YouTube page [NOT LINKED BECAUSE OLD CONTENT?], as well as a combined Pinterest and Tumblr with Catster, and other stuff I have forgotten the passwords for. There is no way I can get to everything in one day, especially when I'm manning the social sites for both Dogster and Catster. And nor should you.
Facebook remains one of the Internet's greatest tools for brands, with an impressive 1.15 billion active users. If you don't already have a social media outlet, I would consider Facebook. Besides its large user base, it's easy to create a page, gather followers, and broadcast a mix of content (text, links, and images). However, if you've already dabbled into social media and have a strong and responsive Twitter or Pinterest following, work with your strength. Do create a Facebook page, but let it take a secondary role. For Dogster, Facebook is our top social referrer, so I allocate my energy accordingly.
While there are ways to link up various social media accounts, I do not recommend them. Social media sites display content differently and their audiences consume that content in different ways, so it is best to optimize posts for each one so you get the most return on your investment. There are, of course, exceptions, and social media is the perfect place to experiment. (And don't be afraid to try different things.)
4. But what should I post?
What you post depends on what you ultimately want people to do with your brand. Do you want them to go read your blog? Do you want them to donate to a shelter? Like I said, with Dogster, I am ultimately trying to get people to come back here, but no one on Facebook wants to hear me talk about how awesome Dogster.com is all the time -- that's just boring.
Nor do I want them to feel like the Facebook page is just another ugly billboard along the freeway, telling them to do this or do that. It's a party and they are my friends. So yes, the majority of my Facebook posts are links, but I try to frequently break up my link posts with other engaging material. Fortunately, dog and cat content is some of the Internet's favorite, and it lends itself to the Internet's greatest strength: images. What I'm getting at is that images are successful and images of dogs and cats are way successful -- so use 'em! And always link to your sources. Ask questions. Share stories from other pages. Consider the kinds of posts you respond most strongly to and incorporate those.
Also, check your spelling and grammar, because it counts. No, this isn't the New Yorker, and I've made my share of typographical blunders (though none, yet, of the kind I have nightmares about), but writing in complete sentences and making sure you're using the correct forms of "your" vs. "you're" and "its" vs. "it's" makes your message more powerful. If no one understands what you're trying to say, your efforts are all in vain. If you're unsure if something sounds correct, have someone to check it over. Clean writing also lends legitimacy to your brand, hoisting it above the din of social media clutter.
5. I get by with a little help from my friends
I maintain a handful of social media partnerships in which we trade links for one another to share on our respective networks. This gives your brand exposure across networks that may not be identical to yours, but have some overlap. It also helps break up your content posts so it doesn't look like you just want to talk about yourself all day. Maybe you manage the Facebook page for a shelter -- who might be a good brand to partner with? Consider parenting brands who have Facebook pages -- after all, they cater to the kind of people who might want to adopt a dog.
Whew! After writing this, I realize it's just the tip of the iceberg! Would you like me to write more posts about getting yourself set up on social media? Let me know in the comments! (And share your various social media outlets as well!)
Read more tips on Dogster:
- It's Time to Set a Good Example, Dog People: Scoop That Poop!
- Must-Have Dog Training Equipment That Won't Break the Bank
- How to Land a Job at a Dog-Friendly Workplace
About Liz Acosta: Dogster's former Cuteness Correspondent, Liz still manages the site's daily "Awws," only now she also wrangles Dogster's social media. That's why she wants you to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and -- her personal favorite -- Instagram. See ya there!