Sometimes, creating content that resonates with your social media audiences can feel as mystifying as the task confronting Mickey Mouse in “The Sorcerer’s Apprentice.”
Needing to complete some chores, Mickey cast a spell meant to make things easier, but it had an unpredictable effect. Any social media manager who’s encounter an unexpected wave of responses or been stumped by changes to a platform’s algorithms – maybe the closest real-world equivalent to magic spells, as powerful as they are inscrutable – can probably relate.
Mastering social media content creation isn’t magic, luckily. However, reaching audiences at scale requires practice and a systematic approach, which can be hard work. Indeed, 60% of content marketers find it challenging to consistently produce engaging material, showing the opportunity for improvement.
Why invest in social media content creation in the first place?
With an effective social media content strategy, you can not only reach a potentially vast audience, but also establish yourself as a credible authority in your field and create a reliable conversion pipeline.
Compelling social content literally pays off:
- Over half of marketers see social media as a driver of increased leads, sales, partnerships, and fan development.
- 90% of marketers feel their social efforts have boosted exposure for their organizations, while 75% say they’ve resulted in increased site traffic.
- Three in four U.S. consumers have bought something they’ve seen in a brand’s social media feed.
- More Americans get their news from social media (20%) than from newspapers (16%).
- Nearly 70% of online marketers cite visual content – the type of marketing collateral most optimized for social channel engagement – as very important to their marketing strategy.
While we can’t provide a magic spell that will instantly supercharge your social media marketing efforts, we can offer the next best thing: Proven tips on what works when creating content for your social media audiences.
Let’s get started!
1. Focus on visual assets, especially infographics and videos
Videos, photos, and infographics all perform exceptionally well in a world in which Instagram Stories, Twitch livestreams and YouTube explainers have captured a huge share of all online attention.
In fact, “visual images” are the preferred social-centric medium among marketers, ahead of blogs, videos, live streams and podcasts.
This shouldn’t be surprising, as a well-crafted infographic can convey a lot of data in a concise format and leave a lasting impression.
Most people retain only 10% of something they heard after 3 days, compared to 65% retention of images they saw. When you create an infographic for a social media post, keep these guidelines in mind:
Keep the text short
Long, wordy sentences are sometimes good in blog posts, but they take up too much space in infographics, cluttering the design. Use simple sentences with parallel (similar) structure for easy readability and consistent design across social media platforms.
Let the design do the talking
Infographics should be as visual as they are informative. Multiple images adhering to a single theme – for example, racing or cars for a graphic about “driving” engagement – will often grab the viewer’s eye and hold their attention.
Use statistics if relevant
Interesting statistics are memorable, plus they don’t take up much space. So if you come across a gem like the fact that 79% of people scan online content rather than read it word-by-word, see if you can work it in.
Pick a narrow topic and concise design
The best infographics are concise and easy to view. As such, they usually focus on just a single topic. Don’t try to make it another blog post or, worse, a mini white paper that tries to cover far too much in far too little space.
Infographic statistics and mini-sized facts can seem like they came out of nowhere, which reduces the credibility of the asset when someone tries to verify them. Include a list of URLs and other sources at the end of the infographic to show your work.
For videos, the same general advice about brevity applies, along with a few more pointers specific to the format:
Closed captions began as an accessibility feature, but they benefit everyone. For starters, they’re one of the best ways to increase viewer focus and a preference of Gen Z viewers in particular. Brands such as Dunkin’ have also made creative use of subtitles to call attention to marketing messages that might otherwise get lost in the din of a busy social media feed.
Think about animation
Animation is a great way to give a video a distinctive aesthetic and expand the range of what it can portray. This DocuSign explainer video makes the most of its animation to show its subject performing a bunch of different tasks in various contexts, before pivoting to a depiction of her going “all digital” as papers fly across the room.
You should always have an answer for viewers wondering what to do next. An effective CTA will direct them without seeming too salesy. Dropbox incorporated a pitch-perfect CTA – “Keep teams flowing” – at the end of this action-packed 30-second video which also calls out the “flow” verbiage earlier on to set up the conclusion.
2. Tailor your content to each platform
Every social media channel has its own distinctive character. Accordingly, it’s essential to fine-tune your content for each one. That process starts with analyzing details from tools like Instagram Insights and Facebook Audience Insights, which offer details on audience location, age, gender, and more.
Knowing these details makes it easier to dial-in your messaging, create buyer personas, and take advantage of the features of the platforms you’re using, whether that’s a live video on Instagram, a curated collection on Pinterest, or text post on LinkedIn. Here’s a primer on what to keep in mind for some of the most popular social channels.
Facebook posts with images or videos in them get more than twice the engagement of ones without any visuals.
With that in mind, a useful tactic is to mix text and pictures to take advantage of Facebook’s relatively large character limit and engage the audience in multiple ways. Nike did this in a spot featuring LeBron James, which was accompanied by a short poem that wouldn’t have fit on platforms such as Twitter.
If you go the text-only route, asking for audience input and responses is also a generally reliable technique for boosting engagement.
YouTube’s algorithms recommend shorter videos to mobile users, who account for 70% of all YouTube views, and longer ones for anyone using the TV app. That might make it seem like short videos are best. However, half of video-viewing time on smartphones is on videos 20 minutes or longer, and these videos drive higher ad revenue. So it pays to mix up your video lengths while always thinking about the hook in your intro and the overall production quality of the video.
Instagram’s distinctive, filter-driven aesthetic puts a premium on visual flair, but posting beautiful imagery alone won’t be enough to consistently engage the platform’s largely under-35 audience. Successful Instagram videos from brands often take the form of a product sneak preview, a behind-the-scenes video tour of an interesting site, a narrative, or a contest. This Salomon audience caption contest – about abolishing cliches about women – is a strong example of the latter.
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Not all bubble baths were created equal… But this one has to be the most fun! 🛁🛶 ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ Capture your own vision of an old cliché about women that you want to abolish. Caption it and share it in the comments for a chance to win a spot at the next Salomon Women’s Weekend this summer! Swipe left to discover our own tag line for inspiration and check out the link in our bio for more informations. ⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀⠀ #SalomonWMN #TimeToPlay 📷 @thomaslgnr
The long half-life of content on Pinterest means that evergreen assets do particularly well on this platform. Information-dense infographics are also perfect for Pinterest due to their predominantly vertical layouts, but it’s important to get the right aspect ratio. Pinterest recommends 600 x 900 pixels, or a 2:3 width to height ratio for the best results.
Compared to the other social networks examined here, LinkedIn has a design that’s more text-oriented, which makes sense given its role as a clearinghouse for resumes, career updates and business news. That creates an opening for content types that might struggle to stand out elsewhere. While native video is gradually becoming a powerful force on LinkedIn, it’s also possible to get significant engagement with text-only posts, particularly lists and updates interspersed with emojis and slide decks made with LinkedIn-owned SlideShare.
3. Create a content calendar
When you post is often as important as what you post. I mean, if you were a TV executive, would you air the NBA Finals at 2 a.m. instead of primetime? Probably not, and the same holds true for publishing the high-quality content you and your team have developed.
In this context, content calendars supported by scheduling tools are your friends.
Consider Facebook. Data assembled by Sprout Social revealed that the highest engagement for Facebook posts was on Wednesdays and Thursdays, between noon and 2 p.m., with dramatic drop-offs on weekends and after 5 p.m.
To capitalize on peak posting times, use tools such as Buffer, Dlvr.it, Sprout Social, HootSuite, and CoSchedule. Versatile tools such as Airtable and Feedly can also support advanced scheduling regimens.
What does an effective content calendar look like? It’ll vary by company, but usually it will:
- Incorporate a brand persona(s): A brand persona encapsulates your organization’s voice, whether it’s casual, serious, or somewhere in between. Having a well-defined persona makes it easier to select the right content formats and topics for a calendar. For example, Nike’s performance-centered brand persona has always lent itself well to still imagery.
- Make the most of existing assets: You don’t have to reinvent the wheel each time you build or update your content calendar. Evergreen collateral such as old white papers or blog posts can often be transformed into infographics or short video explainers that help populate the calendar. Re-optimizing this previous content can also yield eye-popping results for metrics like keyword ranking.
- Have a variety of “shows”: Content marketing expert Jay Baer came up with this idea of comparing content calendar deliverables to TV shows that maintain regular viewerships. For instance, a quarterly or yearly white paper or eBook is like a special episode, while weekly videos or blog roundups are like regularly scheduled programming and series are akin to binge-worthy shows.
4. Harness the power of user-generated content
To kick off 2019, Apple announced its Shot on iPhone contest, a campaign asking any iPhone user to submit an photo taken via iPhone to a panel of judges. The winners would then have their photos featured on official Apple billboards.
It was a smart way to showcase the power of the device’s cameras without needing to resort to heavy-handed marketing speak or the use of Apple-produced photos, either of which might have come off as inauthentic. The idea was that anyone could take a professional-grade photo with the standard-issue iPhone in their pocket – a powerful notion, similar to Andy Warhol’s famous quip that every Coke was, in theory, of equal quality.
This type of user-generated content (UGC) has gained significant traction as brands look for ways to increase social media engagement and reshape perceptions of their authenticity. In addition to the Apple campaign, famous examples of UGC include Coca-Cola’s “Share a Coke” initiative with names that appeared on each can and Starbucks’ White Cup Contest encouraging consumers to doodle on their plain cups and share the images on social media.
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UGC has numerous benefits, including:
Pairing UGC with professionally produced content marketing can raise engagement by 28%, higher than either one on its own. UGC also works around ad blockers and connects with audiences more effectively than either ads or branded content – many consumers trust peer or online recommendations much more than traditional forms of marketing.
Better alignment with audience expectations
A pair of studies from Cohn & Wolfe and Mindshare North America found that trustworthiness and authenticity were in the top five brand attributes important to millennials, who were skeptical of overtly salesy tactics. In this context, UGC can make a big impression.
A UGC campaign can provide a lot of mileage for relatively little fuel. It can be a low-cost alternative to creating all of your content on your own time and dime, although as we noted earlier the best approach is usually to pair UGC with professionally produced assets.
5. Enlist influencers in your social media marketing campaigns
Like UGC, influencer marketing is a cost-effective way to strengthen and diversify your social media marketing initiatives by tapping into the power of people beyond your own team. An influencer is anyone who has significant clout on a social media platform. Many brands have successfully enlisted influencers to produce high-quality social media posts that reach large, trusting audiences.
Pepsi took this route with its huge #SayItWithPepsi marketing strategy, which revolved around special bottles adorned with 200 unique #PepsiMoji and sold exclusively at Walgreens and Duane Reade. Influencers created a variety of content, including videos, photos, and blog posts, for multiple social media channels.
The result? High engagement and reach, at a fraction of the cost of conventional display ad-driven social media marketing. #SayItWithPepsi generated 46 million impressions across social media platforms including Instagram and Twitter, along with 50,000 measurable engagements. Buying ads to reach a comparable audience would have cost 5 times as much!
6. Select the right tools for your projects
For implementing all of the tips we have provided here in your social media content strategy, it helps to have powerful, versatile content creation tools.
We’ve mentioned a few so far, mainly social media management and scheduling apps, but there are many others in categories like:
- Photo editors: Adobe PhotoShop, Pixlr.com, Canva, PicMonkey.
- Audio and video solutions: Animoto, Biteable, Placeit, Anchor.
- Presentation software: Google Slides, Microsoft PowerPoint, SlideShare, SlideSnack.
- Text tools: Grammarly, ZenPen, Hemingway.
This isn’t a comprehensive list, of course. There are so many worthwhile utilities out there for creating the engaging, visually appealing content that succeeds on social media. It’s worth exploring as many as you can to find the ones that fit your workflow and budget.
Becoming a social media master in 2019 and beyond
We admit it: Coming to grips with all of the nuances and challenges of creating social-optimized content can feel overwhelming. Social media audiences are vast and have ever-evolving tastes, while the platforms themselves are constantly changing. But there’s a replicable science and an art to mastering social content creation. We hope this guide will be helpful as you fine-tune your social media content strategy now and in the years ahead.