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By Patrick Cavanaugh

Thesis Redux: 5 Years in Social Media

Engaging in the conversation; best practices in strategic social media

Written in late 2008, defended in the spring of 2009, I wrote a Master’s Thesis explaining strategic social media–a relatively new channel of communications at that time. Providing both an introduction and framework for discussion, we can now look back from 5 years later to see how the industry has evolved.

What hasn’t changed

The Importance of Strategy. Strategic communication is defined by well-crafted messaging and carefully chosen distribution channels. That will never change. Moreover, it was my contention that an understanding of the principles of community and identity grants insight into social media platforms; it remains the nature of social media as a participatory channel that defines the norms and principles of engagement, however it evolves.

Trolls. One of the less pleasant norms of social media are the ever-present trolls. You will see them in comments, you will find them in hashtag hijackings and the same guidance applies: Don’t feed the trolls. Have a plan for dealing with them that does not entice further engagement, as you would only be giving them what they want. Report, block and move on.

Storytelling. A key best practice I presented was an integration of the various platforms into common goals and themes. As a campaign progresses, it is important that the multiple networks extends the narrative beyond a single touchpoint while staying on strategy. I presented Storytlr as an example, a (now open-source) platform for users to create a “lifestream” of published articles, events, and updates organized into story timelines. These can then be embedded onto other sites as a single, compelling album of multimedia content.


The Evolving Conversation Prism by Brian Solis and JESS3

What has changed

Further segmentation. The “Web” of social media has continued to blossom and evolve, with older platforms disappearing and new ones launching every day. You may immediately think of Vine, Instagram, Pinterest and Snapchat, but what about Quora, Path and Jelly? Different audiences, different goals, more opportunities.

Digg 2.0 and the rise of Reddit. Digg suffered a huge loss of its user audience, but from those ashes rose Digg 2.0, an evolution of the voting-based news aggregator. Reddit was the main beneficiary of the migration, and the boost thrusted the site into the mainstream. Reddit AMAs are consistently hosted by celebrities and athletes, and even President Obama. It’s a great opportunity to speak directly to a large community and many brands are finding success.

Software automation / curation. As the industry has grown, so too have the suite of tools produced to support social media professionals. Buffer and Sprout Social for scheduling, Percolate for curation, Hubspot inbound-marketing and the ever resilient Hootsuite which just underwent a re-brand. It can be overwhelming, but these tools definitely help, so keep abreast of what’s new as it may help refine your workflow.

Key lessons moving forward

Data Analytics. Key Performance Metrics are important to show measurable success, but data is also useful for creating the strategic plan. Use your tools to find your audiences and define what content works. A/B test and optimize over time. Develop conversion goals and the dashboards to record them.

Efficient production. Your basic social media supply chain can be boiled down to Acquire > Manipulate > Publish. A better ROI comes with a lower cost, meaning the return on a quick meme can be exponentially better than a slow infographic. But solid planning can create an asset library and brand templates to make everyone more efficient.

Constant evolution. Nobody knows where social media is going. None of the so-called gurus have a better guess than you or I, because these are audience-driven platforms. And we can’t even trust the openness to brands, see the latest updates to the Facebook Edge algorithm for example. So keep on your toes, and never settle for the status quo, or you’ll be left behind.

Maybe you can’t KNOW where social media is going, but you probably have some ideas. Am I right? Tweet us your predictions.  

By Patrick Cavanaugh