Hot or Not: What Works and What Doesn't on Social

Hot or Not: What Works and What Doesn't on Social

Here’s the thing about those 121,000,000 Google results for ‘What Works Best on Social’: none of them pertain specifically to your brand and its respective fans. So instead of wading through 17,285,714 pages (yes, I did the math) to find the answers, I’m going to attempt to simplify things for you. And while I can’t give you the definitive blueprint for social media success, I hope to provide you with the adaptable mindset necessary to find that winning content calendar. 

One of the mistakes that’s often repeated when creating content for social media is overthinking it. Since the attention span of a user on social media is equivalent to that of a goldfish, you simply can’t afford to. And we did just that with one creative direction for Smith & Forge Hard Cider on Instagram.

Smith & Forge has a voice, tone and visual identity deeply rooted in 19th Century America. It was a time when the transcontinental railroad was little more than a pipe dream and electric bills didn’t exist yet - because, well, there was no electricity.

We wanted to emulate the best content Instagram has to offer - beautiful, resonant photography, but with an overlay and aesthetic that’s unmistakably Smith & Forge. So we reimagined contemporary DIY, but with humorous 19th Century concoctions instead:

 
 

Our writer found formulas often used back in the day - like this remedy for hair care. Then our designer and myself would acquire the actual ingredients, or what looked to be the actual ingredients. We then placed a filter reminiscent of old-timey silver plate photography known as a daguerreotype, and wallah! We had ourselves an awesome social post. Heck, even the commenter @grgry agreed. Fast forward a few weeks and we’ve now posted a series of similarly performing Smith & Forge Life Hack posts.

As thrilled as we were with the end result, it was hard not notice the better performing, simpler shots of the tankard, as seen below:

 
 

136 Likes and 6 comments for a simple tankard shot, compared to just 50 Likes and 1 comment for what our team considered to be the most aesthetically pleasing visual we’ve ever developed for the brand.

Now, how on earth could that be possible? We were absolutely convinced that our Life Hack posts would excel on social - particularly Instagram, a platform seemingly tailor-made for professional photography enthusiasts. 

But in my experience, the age-old adage “keep it simple, stupid” has a tendency to rear its head when you least expect it to. And it’s an apt descriptor, considering how foolish I felt after scratching my head at the results of Life Hacks. 

We severely over-delivered for a social media post. It was a great looking visual, sure, but not necessarily what our fans wanted out of our channel. Instead, it became abundantly clear that they have a proclivity toward:

  • The rich amber color of the liquid.
  • Close-ups of the packaging - what we refer to as “Product Simple”. 
  • Easily digestible content. Remember the goldfish?

So what did we do? We rolled with the punches, and adapted: 

 
 

The above was our proposed (and approved!) solve, along with the results.

  • We zoomed in on the product, even doubled down on the product, showing both the bottle and can. 
  • We made Smith & Forge the focal point, ensuring it was secondary to nothing else. 
  • We altered the copy so that the concoction was now up to the interpretation of the user, as opposed to us having to spell it out for them. 

And above all else, we adapted. We found a happy medium, somewhere between storytelling and product simple photography - and the result doubled our engagement from the last top-down creative.

And ultimately, having a willingness to adapt might be the most valuable insight I can share with you. Be malleable, and be prepared to set aside personal creative preferences in favor of consumer creative preferences.

Approach your content calendar with a willingness to accept failure, and learn from those shortcomings. After all, why do we fall? So that we can learn to pick ourselves up. That’s a Thomas Wayne quote, not mine. But the most efficient way to find true success is developing a creative litmus test - and that requires occasional shortcomings.

Besides, building a social media channel is just the first step. Maintaining it is an entirely different ball game. So how does a Community Manager provide consistently fun and engaging content when limited solely to responses?

Let’s say you’re a Community Manager tasked with responding to fans as opposed to content calendar creation. Some view response-centric Community Management as the bane of creativity. I see it as a golden opportunity, just with slightly tighter parameters! Glass half full, right? 

Much of what I employ today in Community Management comes from a book by the same name, Marketing Outrageously by Jon Spoelstra. In it, Spoelstra explained how he turned a $12,000 rubber-chicken investment into roughly $2.5 million in revenue. Jon was brought in as a marketing consultant tasked with reviving the Sacramento Kings' season ticket renewals back in the 90’s. 

Typically, that was done with renewal letters issued to fans. The only problem was, fans weren’t opening the letters. 

So Spoelstra comes in, drafts a letter and ties it to the leg of a three-foot-long rubber chicken wearing a jersey that read, "Don't fowl out!". It was absurd, but genius - not only did people read the letter, it led to that aforementioned $2.5 million in revenue. 

That outside-the-box thinking is something I always strive for in Community Management. And when applying that mentality to user responses, the results speak for themselves: 

 
 

For Beth here, I had to do a bit of sleuthing: 

  • I saw that she was an avid gamer and huge fan of Counter-Strike.
  • I also saw that she had a sizeable following on Twitter, so there was a lot of potential in a retweet.  
  • And, she just so happened to be talking about McDonald’s, without @mentioning us. So I knew it would come as a surprise to her that we reached out.  

So I tailor-made a response for her, and that massive engagement was the result. But here’s the kicker: it was the best performing post from McDonald’s Corp.’s Twitter that month - and it was a simple response, not a published Tweet that was delivered to our followers. And it wasn’t the only time, either: 

 
 

That last one might seem like a foreign language to you, but it certainly didn’t to the user - it was more Counter Strike lingo. It’s amazing how well a curated response can perform with a simple Retweet and subsequent Reddit post, isn’t it? And if the brand team really trusts you, images can be thrown into the mix as well - like what I did here for Hefty:

 
 

Notice that Claire made no mention of @Hefty in her original tweet? Again, proactively engaging with users traveling in the same circles as your brand works wonders, especially if said user has a sizable following. And yet again, this post performed better than any single piece of uploaded content for Hefty that month.

If the above has taught me anything, it’s that the only constant to social media is change. Not just for the viewers, but for us as well. It’s a constant process of learning, adapting and overcoming the challenges of standing out in a noisy space. And having a willingness to alter content what hasn’t worked - even if you hold it dearly - is integral to the success of your content. 

So to answer that question about what makes a winning content calendar on social? To put it simply - experimentation! Don’t look to the content creation and community management examples of others as a blueprint. Because what’s working for their social channel might not necessarily work for yours. And at the end of the day, why would you want to fit in when you could find a way to stand out?

The Case For Long-term Influencer Partnerships

The Case For Long-term Influencer Partnerships

In recent years, influencer marketing has rapidly gained popularity among brands. From Starbucks to Boost Mobile, brands are partnering with influencers across social media to act as advocates, produce content, test products, and even attend events and summits. While they are investing in one of the hottest marketing strategies to date, are they truly building relationships with influencers?

With a variety of aforementioned tactics to choose from, brands that are new to influencer marketing often make one-off transactions with influencers. For example, they will send the influencer a product to be featured in one Instagram post or ask the influencer to appear at one event. When the request has been met, the brand will provide compensation to the influencer, and the two will part ways. 

This approach to influencer marketing can be compared to filming a commercial and running it for one day on television. With one-offs, brands are missing out on many benefits that come from working on long-term programs with influencers.

Brands that are engaging in one-off transactions might argue that long-term partnerships would be too difficult or too expensive to coordinate. And if you’re equating influencer production to the time and cost associated with a traditional production, you’d be right. However, working with influencers is a more efficient use of time, as well as being cost effective for brands. Expectations should be adjusted.

Long-term programs prove to be worth the upfront planning and cost. Planning for a multi-month or multi-year influencer campaign forces brands to be strategic about how social media will play into the larger marketing mix, rather than wasting efforts on one-off pieces of content that don’t add up to a greater brand story.

Partnering with influencers is an ideal way for brands to amplify their campaigns, whether social or multi-channel. Over time, influencer audiences become more familiar with the brand. Imagine after many months or years of content how familiar they’ll be.

It’s also far cheaper to contract influencers for their high-quality content than it is to set up a traditional production shoot. In this Observer post, Brendan Gahan confirms, “Compare this [production] process to a typical YouTuber who handles their own ideation, production, casting, and distribution (to a loyal fanbase no less) for less than the cost of craft services for a traditional production shoot.” 

While it might mean paying a larger fee up front, brands will be setting up long-term partnerships that leverage economies of scale. An influencer is likely to discount their rates when a brand is paying for posts in bulk. Depending on how much an influencer is paid and how much engagement a piece of content gets, it can cost pennies to reach each consumer. Influencers will also be more likely to sign an exclusivity clause for a long-term project, which prevents them from working with competitors.

Beyond long-term partnerships, even savvier brands will create networks of influencers engaged in longer term marketing programs. Rather than hiring an influencer to publish one social media post, they invite a group of influencers to participate in a campaign that lasts a few months to more than a year. These influencers are selected based on their audience demographics, their quality of content, and their fit for the brand. 

What does this partnership look like? If budget allows, the program would begin with influencers traveling to a kickoff summit and attending a brand immersion. Over the following months, influencers would be contracted to create a number of monthly or quarterly social media posts to align with brand campaigns. These posts, which may include photo or video, go live across the social media channels that best reach a brand’s audience.

Numerous Epic Signal clients have worked with the agency to plan and execute long-term influencer campaigns.For example, Dominic “D-trix” Sandoval, the most popular dancer on YouTube, introduced the Now Add A Dancer series in June 2014. Upon seeing the success of the series, Mountain Dew tapped D-trix, who is genuinely a fan of Mountain Dew Kickstart, to integrate their product into the latest iteration of Now Add A Dancer in Summer 2015. Throughout the four branded episodes of Now Add A Dancer, Mountain Dew allowed D-trix to interpret the campaign and shape his content accordingly to garner audience views and engagements. Overall, these four videos received 3.8MM views, 160K likes, 7K comments, and overwhelmingly positive sentiment.

 
 

The key takeaway? Mountain Dew’s impressive metrics, glowing comments, and lasting relationship with D-trix could not have been achieved by contracting him to create one video. The project turned D-trix into a true brand ambassador, rather than just a dancer shilling soda. 

Brands should look for opportunities such as these, to insert themselves into a series of content with the right influencer. In the end, it’s all about retention and loyalty: Long-term relationships with influencers will lead to long-term relationships with customers. And if your brand isn’t seeking out these influencers, your competitors probably will.

 

How To Properly Leverage Trends: Emoji Edition

How To Properly Leverage Trends: Emoji Edition

Marketers, and the agencies which lead them, are heavily jumping on the emoji trend. PepsiCo, Coca-Cola, Starbucks, Anheuser-Busch InBev, and Disney have all published an emoji marketing campaign; additionally, over 250 brands have created their own emoji keyboard within the past year. 

Brands aren’t the only ones flocking to branded emojis,  so are the rich and famous. Reality star, Kim Kardashian West, launched Kimoji in December of 2015 for a whopping $1.99 per download. On the day of her keyboard launch, the Kimoji keyboard broke the Apple App store -  there were 9,000 downloads per millisecond. This means Kim Kardashian was making bank! Cha-Ching! Reconsidering your life choices right about now? Yeah me, too. 

Emoji usage is huge. Ninety two percent of the online population use emojis. On average, 76%  percent of people age 29 identify with being frequent emoji users. The other 24% don’t know what they're missing! This overwhelming usage of emoji’s has led brands to jump on the bandwagon and invest heavily in emoji-centric campaigns. 

In fact, both PepsiCo and Anheuser-Busch InBev paid Twitter $1MM to run custom emojis during Super Bowl 50; this was the first time branded emojis were sold to promote a national event. 

 
 

But, what makes a branded campaign successful? Let’s take a look at a few emoji campaigns from the past few years. 

In 2015, Coca Cola launched the first-ever Admoji in partnership with Twitter with their #ShareACoke campaign. The campaign allowed anyone to share a virtual (emoji) coke, and went viral within hours of launch - ultimately setting the world record for the World’s Largest Cheers

Domino’s “tweet-to-order” pizza emoji campaign is another example of a successful emoji-centric campaign. Launched in May of this year the campaign was simple - you tweet an emoji pizza to Domino’s to order a pizza of your choice to be delivered straight to your door. The campaign generated thousands of uses the week of launch, and generated an overwhelming amount of media coverage - ultimately getting covered by USA Today, Forbes, Good Morning America, and even Jimmy Fallon. This innovative, first ever usage of emoji’s ended up winning the 2016 Cannes Titanium Grand Prix for most breakthrough idea of the year. 

So why and when should we leverage emojis in our campaigns?

Here’s the criteria you should focus on: first, marketers should ensure emojis make sense for the target demo. Secondly, emoji’s should add value to the campaign. Thirdly, emoji’s should be used in a manner that’s native to the user and platforms.

Let’s go ahead and break the above formula down a little. In the case of Domino’s we can assume they followed a similar strategy in regards to approaching a trend:

Demographic: 
In the Domino’s Cannes Lions case study, they clearly stated they wanted a way to appeal to the younger generation of consumers who are used to instant, wordless communication in a world of Snapchat, Instagram and the one word Yo! messaging app. Of the population using emojis, we know that 72.2% are under the age of 25. Therefore, leveraging emojis as a targeting tactic was on point for Domino’s. 

Add Value: 
Twitter’s platform lends itself to the awesome way of ordering that Domino’s created -  it’s a fast paced platform for fast food. Additionally, it’s a quick and easy approach to get your pizza of choice delivered straight to your door versus having to call, or order online.

Keep it Native: 
Domino’s clearly did their research before launching their campaign - they understood that since emoji’s were introduced to the Twitter platform, billions have been used and it’s become an integral part of communication on the platform.

Of course, not all emoji campaigns are successful. For example, McDonald’s turned an entire town into emojis for one of its ads in the UK. The ad wasn’t terrible, however, it didn’t resonate, in large part because its use wasn’t native to the platform. People use emojis to communicate and express their feelings. Emojis aren’t turned into real life people and situations. 

Some additional emojis gone bad examples, include the brands who have done “major key alert” parodies. The catchphrase “major key alert” (in conjunction with the “key” emoji) has become wildly popular due to its repeated use by DJ Khaled. Brands such as Uber, Mastercard and Wingstop have all jumped on the “major key alert” bandwagon, but their content had no correlation to the proper use of the term, which means something is a big deal or major announcement. 

For example, Uber used the phrase to talk about how essential their service is  to society on a rainy day. Really? Like, why are they stating the obvious, right? 

 
Screen Shot 2016-10-31 at 3.44.14 PM.png
 

Mastercard also used the phrase to talk about ID theft alerts. That’s just sort of weird. Wingstop used the phrase to talk about their chicken wings. Although Wingstop has some bomb ass chicken wings, it’s no major key because that’s literally what they do- make chicken wings. Now, if they released a new flavor like mango habanero (hint, hint) that would definitely call for a major key alert. 

In all of these instances, DJ Khaled’s emoji coined phrase serves the consumer no purpose - they provided no additional value to the consumer.  The brands would have been better off sending an informative message instead of using a popular phrase which they could not properly tie back to their brand. 

Having seen both good and bad examples, it’s important to go back to our filter and ask yourself - does this align with the overarching campaign? Does it add value? Is it relevant to my target consumer and is it native to the platform? Don’t just jump on the bandwagon! 

 

For Brands In Social Video, Iteration IS Innovation

For Brands In Social Video, Iteration IS Innovation

There’s a new generation of high-performing social content that’s raising eyebrows. Social videos from creators like the Hydraulic Press Channel, have grown exponentially over the last year. Without fail, their weekly videos, gains hundreds of thousands, or even millions of views.

As a brand, it’s easy to look at these simple videos, then look at your own resources, multiple agencies, vendors, and seven-figure budgets and think “We can make our content this successful! How could we possibly fail?"

Brands go through the whole costly process of developing a social video series, getting it approved internally, and then producing it. It goes live, and then...nothing. No one watches it, much less cares. If you’re like most brands and agencies, this isn’t a big deal, just throw a bunch of money at it, and pay for a ton of views to make it appear successful. But how can a series of cooking videos, which cost almost nothing to create, be more successful than a global brand with access to millions of dollars and top creative talent?

The reality is, many of these ‘sudden’ successes you see on your news-feeds aren’t sudden at all. Those Tasty videos you see your mother-in-law sharing on Facebook? Those were the result of years of tinkering. No matter what type of online content creator you are, you have to invest a lot of time to make successful content.

How can you get eyeballs on your brand’s video content and generate real interest online? Many brands struggle with this. In fact, a recent study found that 48% of marketers are “only moderately confident in the ability of their organizations’ core touch points to reach and engage with the customer.”  Brands often carry traditional advertising over to social, and it doesn’t (usually) work. A great TV commercial often looks suspiciously out of place and over-produced next to family photos and memes in a social newsfeed.

There’s too much content competing for our attention - porn, friends, and puppy videos are just a click away. Facebook alone generates over 100 million hours of videos watched each day. The total number of people using ad blocking software is expected to climb from 15% of all internet users to above 26% by 2017. Consumers don’t want to watch commercials.

There are a few simple things that can be done to generate real, growing interest in your content online. The most effective of which is adopting a social content framework such as Hero, Hub, and Help.  To understand what that is, it’s best to look at examples such as Nintendo or Riot Games’ League of Legends channel.

The Hero, Hub, Help framework.

The Hero, Hub, Help framework.

In this framework, Hero content is focused on major brand initiatives. For example, this Legend of Zelda: Breath Of The Wild announcement at this year’s E3. As of writing, this E3 announcement video has 1.2MM views, and the game’s actual trailer has over 8MM+ views. Hero content is meant to drive awareness to major  initiatives like new product launches.

Many brands focus solely on Hero content and think every video is supposed to go ‘viral’. However, not every piece of content is going to be a hit. To build an engaged community, you also need Hub and Help content. Hub content, like the League of Legends’ Champion Spotlight series, is meant to be made consistently to keep the brand’s community coming back week after week. Released about once a month, the Champion Spotlight is a ten-minute spotlight on the abilities and optimal strategies of various characters in League Of Legends. The hugely successful series has been running for nearly 6 years - because it appears consistently. Fans know to tune in each month for a new episode.

Hub series have the added benefit of providing a platform for brands to learn about what resonates with their audience. Insights generated from the top performing hub content can be used to create more effective advertising down the line. For example, League of Legends’ popular login screen videos were created in response to fans’ and players’ nostalgia for old login screens.

Help content is created around topics related to your brand that have high search volume or trending topics - oftentimes these come in the form of ‘how to’ videos. Help content is effective in bringing in new audience members via search. A great example of this would be League of Legends’ soundtrack playlists. Riot Games noticed the search volume and help topics asking about finding the music, and realized fans were looking for a way to hear the game’s soundtrack while out of the game. They created a series of playlists of music from the game that generates millions of views, but are also monetizable. 

 
League Of Legends fans' have been searching for the game's music since 2010.

League Of Legends fans' have been searching for the game's music since 2010.

 
 
Riot Games optimized their League of Legends music playslists for search traffic. This way shows up on both YouTube and Google search results.

Riot Games optimized their League of Legends music playslists for search traffic. This way shows up on both YouTube and Google search results.

 

In addition to adopting the Hero, Hub, Help content strategy - it is critical to ensure paid media is actually giving you real results. Brands should approach paid social as a test bed for content types and audience targeting. In practical terms, this means throwing a lot of content types and variations out there and see what performs across different targeting. YouTube even has case studies talking about the effectiveness of promoting different versions of the same content.

Next time you’re producing a piece of digital content, consider using some of these targeting tactics and putting smaller groups of media spend across them. For example, instead of spending your entire media against one asset try a number of targeting tactics against a number of iterations of your social content - publishers leveraging this tactic have been shown to grow their subscriber base 2.3x faster than those that don’t. Over time you can get to a point where views on your highest performing videos cost a fraction of your old views but perform 2-3x better than your original non-optimized content.

Finally, don’t fall into the trap of feeling like you have to constantly innovate, instead remember that you’ll achieve true mastery through iteration over time via the lessons learned from Hub and Help content. In conclusion, it will take you years to build an effective digital strategy and will fail often along the way. However, you must stick to it: it’s the only way to stay relevant in an increasingly crowded, noisy space.

Hello World

Hello World

It’s official – we have a blog (finally)… and it is going to be epic.

Three years ago I started Epic Signal. The goal at the time was to fill a niche for brands that MCN’s, creative and media agencies were missing. 

With digital video becoming massively popular, but widely misunderstood, there was a need for an agency that could provide great client service around channel optimization, content strategy, and influencer marketing.

Over the past three years, we’ve grown a lot. Epic Signal has massively broadened its skillset – we’re now servicing brand needs across social media – from community management to launching the first ever creator driven brand MCN. We’ve got a deep bench of talent and expertise pushing to do great work.

A lot of other stuff has changed as well; we sold to Mekanism (and became a part of the awesome team there) and have grown from a staff of four to over thirty people across four offices.

Most of all, I’m incredibly grateful and proud of the awesome team we’ve put in place and culture we’ve developed. 

This blog will be a platform to showcase some of the great thinking and minds this team has. Enjoy!

Also, don’t forget to follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram!