5 exercises to strengthen your social media marketing skills
Looking to get your social media marketing abilities in tip-top shape? Columnist Timothy Carter shares some tips to help you influence your target audience.
The only way to get better at something is to practice. You can read up on news, take advice from mentors, brainstorm and come up with new strategies, but the only real way to improve your skill set is to put it to use and gain experience.
In the social media marketing world, this is difficult; your campaign is a running experiment, forcing you to adapt on the fly and feel the consequences of the harsh lessons you encounter along the way.
In a way, this is like being on a professional sports team and only getting to sharpen your skills during actual games. The learning curve is steep in a high-pressure environment. But professional sports don’t work this way — players engage in practice sessions, drills, and exhibition matches to refine their skills long before they ever compete for real.
So why can’t we develop the same approach to social media marketing?
To solve this problem, I’ve come up with a handful of exercises you can use to sharpen your social media marketing skills without the need to apply these changes and tactics to your live accounts.
1. Theme and variation
The first strategy is simple in concept but offers surprising depth when you put it into practice. The idea is to discover what’s appropriate for your brand voice and target audience by simultaneously finding what isn’t appropriate.
The exercise goes like this: Think of a general topic for a social media update. Let’s say you want to post that your brand is celebrating its five-year anniversary. Your goal is to write out an update for this in many different styles, voices and angles.
For example, “We’re honored to have spent the last five years serving our clients” is much more formal and serious in tone than “No way! We’ve been around for five years already — come celebrate with us!” Yet both accomplish a similar objective.
Playing around with these different options will help you distinguish what is truly unique about your brand voice and what to avoid when you craft your messages for real.
2. Introspective feedback
This method is a way of simulating user feedback using nothing more than your own mind and resources. Create a list of competitors’ social media accounts, and when you’re ready for this exercise, access that list.
You’ll see a range of different updates here. Your job isn’t to simply read or digest these updates, but to analyze them.
What elements of these messages really work for you? What elements are off-putting? Are there any messages that stand out to you, and if there are, what is it about them that stands out? Isolating these variables will help you learn to criticize your own work proactively and play the role of the average social media consumer.
3. Contrarian role-playing
Speaking of role-playing, this is the most fun exercise on this list. Start by mocking up a debatable or otherwise controversial social media post, then have a friend, co-worker or even yourself play a “contrarian” role, dedicated to nitpicking, arguing and debating your stance.
Think of respectful, insightful and expert-level responses to everything the contrarian can dish out — and do so as quickly as possible, as if this were a live social environment.
This will help you hone your social media conversational skills and put your industry expertise to the test. This exercise works better with two people, so there’s a clear motivation to trip you up.
4. The mock disaster
All in all, social media “disasters” are pretty rare, but they can happen, even to big brands. If it ever happens to your brand, you need to be ready, so try running a simulation of what would happen if your brand posted something devastating.
Have a co-worker text you at a random time of his or her choosing — preferably when it’s inconvenient for you, since disaster can strike at any time. See how quickly you can round up your team, check into your social profiles for damage control and come up with a strategy for how to respond.
5. Crowdsourced posting
This is another exercise that requires a bit of outside help. Gather up a handful of team members and have them play the role of social media audience members — this is even better if you can get existing clients, but at that point, it’s less exercise and more market research.
Present multiple post alternatives you’ve created beforehand. These could be variations on a theme, like you created in exercise one, or simply different topics that you’ve come up with in a brainstorming session. Have your team members collectively decide on the post they feel is best to publish, and ask them why they chose it.
Most of the previous exercises have been limited in the sense that they rely only on your judgments and perceptions; this will compensate for some of your biases.
These exercises aren’t perfect, and your social campaigns will still be a bit of an experiment in progress, but at least you’ll walk into them knowing you have a firm grasp on your brand identity and overall strategy.
These aren’t hacks or shortcuts that make you instantly better at writing and posting social media updates, but with the right time investment and consideration, you’ll find yourself gradually inching toward a greater capacity to influence your followers.