Thinking Outside the Screen

by Christopher Jankoski

3 tips to ensure your social content stands out

Modern digital platforms offer a multitude of avenues to express one’s creative thinking. However, the idea of embracing out-of-the-box innovative ideas on social media has always rubbed me the wrong way. For example, on Twitter we are confined to the limitations of liking, retweeting, and replying to user-generated content. And although Facebook took aim at expanding this by adding the reactions function, it still implicitly stiffens our ability to fully express ourselves. “A 2011 study by AOL/Nielsen showed that 27 million pieces of content were shared every day, and today 3.2 billion images are shared each day”* — standing out in this overcrowded sea of constantly updating social feeds is a daunting challenge.

My macro-view of concern lies in that a digital platform offers a way to engage with other users and join conversations within their own predetermined parameters of engagement. So here are a few tips to ensure your social content has its sights beyond the box, even if it’s confined to platform limitations.

Context Is Key

Understanding how your end product will live in its desired platform is critical to optimizing your social strategy and its performance. Authenticity is an essential element to any successful social presence. Social media is about being part of the community and adding value to the conversations happening. Brands must find their own voice within the platform-specific context and dialogue.

To sustain a brand’s social capital inside these distinct communities, it is no longer about “going viral” to the widest audience and is instead moving toward providing value to the right audience.

Brands can no longer just cross-post the same exact content from one platform to another. If a brand is to truly embrace its authentic self, it is key to create content that is platform-specific. Each channel has its own elements to help achieve optimization. Examples include:

  • Image sizing
  • Word count
  • Link previews
  • Platform tone
    • Each social media channel has been designed to support specific modes of communication, which in turn yields unique forms of acceptable norms and tones (reinforced by the community’s participation). For example, Twitter’s primary text-based format and concise updates allow for a prime environment to share timely news updates with a more formal tone to ensure your 280-character post packs the most information within a limited format. Instagram’s primarily visual-based format and collage-style layout provide a great landscape to show creative and inspirational content aimed at communicating without lengthy descriptions. Each platform supports different ways of communicating, but your content should be customized to ensure you are speaking to the community in a way that is appropriate and designed to optimize the performance of your social media efforts.
  • Profile names
    • For example, the same organization may have profiles on a variety of platforms but those profile names might not be exactly the same (Ex., Sports Illustrated on Facebook has the username @SportsIllustrated and Sports Illustrated on Twitter has the username @SInow). Those brands (and anyone tagging those brands) cannot simply cross-post their content on a multitude of platforms because you may not be tagging the correct brand’s profile.

When users see a post that was clearly duplicated from another platform, it instantly loses authenticity. Messaging that isn’t unique to the platform runs a high risk of becoming instantly forgettable. Pay attention to the community and put the effort toward investing in developing social content that adds value to the conversation and builds your brand’s social capital.

Layouts (in layouts) ((in layouts)) (((in layouts)))

It is true that social platforms are increasingly offering new ways to organize and deliver content. It seems that every week there’s a new feature to expand how we engage with ongoing online dialogue. Some recent examples include:

  • Instagram shopping tags
  • Instagram story questions
  • Instagram gifs in direct messages (DMs)
  • Twitter polls
  • LinkedIn long-form content

The savviest social strategies embrace these features as add-ons to their existing online presence instead of end-points for your social content. The features such as those noted above should exist as tactics in your artillery to build and achieve an overarching social strategy. Don’t think of it as JUST uploading a specific picture or video(s). Think of it as inserting that visual into a stream of other content/conversations which provides context and helps round out the messaging intended for the end viewer. Brands need to think outside the upload’s frame—on Instagram, for example, your post will live under a username, above the comments section. Think about where your message will be seen, and use it to your advantage.

An interesting example could be if a call-to-action commonly used on the YouTube platform could be applied while posting on other social channels. We’ve all seen it—upon completion of a video on YouTube, a typical final directive of the video is to drive the user to “like” and subscribe to the user’s channel to see more videos. This is often prompted with a link that overlays on the video, making the action an easy one-click step. Check out this comical illustration of this tactic.

Sure, vanity metrics like impressions feel great to report back to your client, but if the goal was to drive ecommerce, that kind of performance report is like bringing a tennis racket to a football game.

What if we applied this engagement for content posted on Instagram? Perhaps we would be able to organize the visual to explicitly communicate that the user should click above the left-hand corner of the content block (which is where the profile name/link is positioned) to see more content like this post. Understanding the contextual element of the post living within the Instagram layout (with the link to the desired destination in the top left corner of the post) allows for this content to jump off the page and engage users in a unique way that leaves an impression. This also provides a direct strategic push aimed at achieving the content’s main objective—to drive traffic to your profile and increase awareness of your brand/content.

Get Creative With Measurement

The number one rule of a brand’s presence on social is to make sure all efforts are aligned around your core objective. Whether it is driving sales, increasing awareness, or educating targeted audiences, a sound social strategy is critical to understanding and achieving success. However, if brands are to embrace content in new and innovative ways, their performance metrics and overall measurement should align with this “breaking the mold” mentality. Sure, vanity metrics like impressions feel great to report back to your client (“this many million eyeballs saw your content”), but if the goal was to drive ecommerce, that kind of performance report is like bringing a tennis racket to a football game. Social media offers brands a window into a multitude of unique communities and conversations. Your key performance indicators should be tailored to these targeted groups and aligned with your brand’s social strategy. To sustain a brand’s social capital inside these distinct communities, it is no longer about “going viral” to the widest audience and is instead moving toward providing value to the right audience.

One of my favorite social strategies which can yield innovative performance measurements is “Link in the bio” on Instagram. For those not familiar, Instagram accounts have the option to associate a website directly on the user’s profile. Some accounts have taken to using this as a portal to the outside web for content that lives outside the Instagram application. The common term “Link in the bio” is often used in the caption of posts for users to find out more about a specific topic by navigating to the bio section of their profile and clicking the link to explore further. A beautiful example of this is the Complex Instagram page. Due to the frequency of posts and the strategic imperative to drive traffic from Instagram to their own website for long-form content/stories, Complex has developed a landing page to house all of their “Link in the bio” content. Since Instagram only allows one website in the bio section, Complex’s landing page allows users to see a variety of images aligned with the Instagram feed, each linked to the longer article. This provides the user with a seamless experience navigating from Instagram to the long-form articles and the brand itself with a better understanding of what content is doing best, how users are behaving along the navigation from social media to their website, the shelf-life of their relevant content, and so much more. This evolves the conversation around performance metrics from one-dimensional—likes, comments, followers—to a more evolved understanding of how audiences are engaging with your brand along a variety of digital experiences.