Why is some social media engaging while others fail?

Social media managers have the option to split test and experiment while keeping a firm grasp on response. Engagement is easy to track and no self-respecting digital marketer would ignore the stats.

Yet when the numbers are in what do you do next?

You might say email A was opened more consistently than email B so let’s go with A. But do you ever ask why Email B didn’t resonate? This can throw up as many potential answers and can be fertile ground to improve any future campaign.

After all, as media consumers we are more sophisticated and consider more carefully specific factors when considering the powerful effects of media communication. Even by 2000 research undertaken by Severin & Tank came to this interesting conclusion:

‘mass media messages were effective in changing subjects’ knowledge but not the targeted attitudes or behaviours. What you might deduce in a laboratory didn’t necessarily carry through when released into the world.’

So how does that affect if our social media is engaging or just a message?

Our blogs, white papers and infographics might change knowledge ‘Oh that’s cool, I didn’t know that’ but not necessarily their behaviour unless you tap into the mindset of the types of people you are targeting.

For example there are 6 types of social media sharers

  • The Hipsters – unlikely to use “older” tools like emails to share. Other than that, they usually are very creative people, rather young and quite popular.
  • The Careerists – savvy business networkers. They believe in the power of information and are likely to be mostly active on LinkedIn
  • The Altruists– the “sharing is caring” type of guy. They are helpful and resourceful people, quite likely to share good information on more traditional media, like email for example.
  • The Connectors – They use online platforms to connect offline. They are usually creative , relaxed and thoughtful people who spend enough time on social media but still have a very active social life.
  • The Boomerangs – empowered by social media, these users share to get attention. You will usually find them on the more “mainstream” social networks such as Facebook or Twitter.
  • The Selectives – sharing is a power given to the wise. These user share to help those they care for. Bloggers usually enter this category.

Read more:

So if your message taps into a specific (and most popular) type of sharer within your niche then engagement and behaviour change is likely. Take an example like Razor Social. It’s likely the target audience is savvy, hipsters and highly engaged marketers and entrepreneurs who are often outliers. They want to be the first to show what they have learnt from the frontier. Serve them up cutting edge material and they ‘have ‘to hit the share button; they can’t help themselves the ego demands it! Yes, it will change their knowledge and add something but it is also likely to prompt a reaction.

Join a social media club and be an active part of it

So being a part of a community and then getting to know your community’s behaviour might well have an impact on your messaging. After all Chaffee & Hochmeister were concluding 30 years ago that people use media messages for their own purposes and therefore they pick out which parts they need to appropriate. They tend to reject much that is inconsistent with existing attitudes in a kind of : ‘Oh no, I couldn’t possibly!’ approach. Have you ever considered that?

Think about the crazy popularity of Mason Jars on Pinterest

People appropriate that which appeals to their interest. It’s a blast when you can reuse and reinvent, so give people the option or some suggestions about how your product, brand or service might be useful, don’t just say: ‘Hey check this out!’

People are notoriously lacking in creativity so examples always help!

Remember social affiliations help predict people’s behaviours and attitudes

That’s why Facebook insights and its ability to audience segment are powerful. In the UK if you discover a woman, aged 40 reads the Guardian, supports Amnesty International and Medicin Sans Frontiers; buys organic veg and natural Egyptian cotton bedlinen you are already building up a picture of a possible set of attitudes. Try personalizing your message to the right audience and they will almost automatically accept and react to your message as it underlines their believes or moves them forward in their thinking consolidating a standpoint. Decisions to adopt, learn or accept a message is often affected by an existing sociological or psychological characteristic not just because they have seen your tweet!

Therefore it’s worth bearing in mind that your message might not actually cause a result per se. Communication requires a variety of contingent conditions. So consider when your messages are read, whereabouts they appear, what people might be feeling. Are your Facebook posts read when someone is bored? Are your fellow pinners on Pinterest looking for escapism? Maybe your followers are looking to be connected on Twitter to what’s new or just breaking. Or are they hanging about on a forum wanting to chat about their favourite subject?

The message is much more about how you say it of course but often where and when makes a huge difference to social media being engaging. Context is, after all, 99% of meaning.

Further Reading

Riffe, Daniel, Lacy, Stephen & Fico, Frederick 2014 Analyzing Media Messages 3rd Ed. 2014

Severin, W.J., & Tankard. J.W.Junior Communication Theories: Origins, methods, and uses in the mass media (5th Ed) 2000

Chafee, S.H., & Hochheimer, J.L., The beginnings of political communication research in the US 1985

Vivienne Neale Digital Marketer

Vivienne Neale is a digital marketer and social media trainer. Her interests include big data, analytics but not Mason Jars!

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