Using Social Media Effectively

Originally published in 50+ Housing Magazine - September 2015
Title art by Ai.Comput'In

Q: How can I use social media effectively?

A: The world of social media can be a complex one for both start­up companies and long­established firms. The continuous stream of emerging new technology and changing rules can be hard to track. But staying on top of social media and deciding how to use it can be as simple as asking the right questions.

Q: Facebook, Twitter, Google+, Pinterest, Instagram and Houzz — Which platform is best?

A: The short answer is: it depends. Every platform presents content differently and each demands a different strategy. Facebook is a great place to build your community and communicate with everyone at once. The top­down approach makes it easy to send out information. The overall effectiveness for Millennials and Gen Z is falling as they choose other platforms, but the good news for 55+ builders is that the fastest­growing Facebook followers are people 55 and older. Between 2011 and 2014 this age cohort grew by 41%. 

Twitter is less popular among older Internet users. It is most popular with those aged 18­29. Twitter is more effective for sending out short bits of information that may be time­sensitive. For example, if you are running a short­term promotion, Twitter may be the best service for you if you have a strong base of followers.

LinkedIn is the leading professional social network. Although it may not help with sales, you may find qualified employees on its network. Also, many professionals looking for new career opportunities will research your company on LinkedIn before applying or interviewing. The largest number of LinkedIn users are between the ages of 30­49, with the next largest group being those between age 50 and 64.

Although it is the second most popular social network in the world, Google+ has never caught on in America. Although using Google+ can move your company up in the Google search results, it isn’t a strong enough network in the U.S. to justify spending much time on it.

Instagram and Pinterest are both popular photo­sharing platforms. What sets Pinterest apart is its ease of use: with just a few clicks, your photo can be shared with thousands of individuals. When these photos, or “pins” are re­pinned by other users, the original website address is attached to the image. This helps drive traffic back to your website. While Instagram attracts younger users, Pinterest has an older audience — the largest age group is between 30 and 49 — and about 80% of users are women.

Houzz, the leading social network for the housing industry, combines the benefits of Angie’s List and Yelp reviews with Pinterest. It acts as a one­stop shop for consumers to find builders, remodelers or other professionals, and communicate directly with them about their needs.

Q: How does the technology work?

A: It’s all in the math. Underpinning all social media platforms are complex math equations that analyze all of your data and determine what posts you see. The behind­the­scenes math at Facebook provides a good example. Most people assume they see every one of their Facebook friends’ posts. Not so. Facebook’s news feed algorithm measures thousands of pieces of data about how each member uses Facebook to determine what the most relevant content is for that person. The three biggest factors are:

  • Affinity: a measure of the quality of the relationship between the users 
  • Weight: the importance of the information, as measured by the platform. 
  • Time: the time elapsed since an action — posting, responding — was taken.

Though the details are largely secret, we know that Facebook prevents posts that are a year old from resurfacing unless there’s new engagement — comments, likes and such. Also, Facebook determines if a piece of content is spam like or click bait — those will have a lower priority. Other social media platforms have similar algorithms that govern the life cycle of a post.

Q: How do you measure success?

A: Before asking this question, you need to define what success is to you. If your definition is a direct return on investment between time and money spent on social media and sales coming directly from social media, it may not be possible to measuring success accurately, or to yield proven results. But if success is improving your community, your story, and your brand, then success may be easier to attain. One of the upsides of these advertising marketplaces that we call social networks is that every platform now provides users with information on how your posts and your overall brand account performs.

Facebook and Twitter deliver the most in­-depth information. For example, they can provide you with detailed demographic data, and by analyzing the posting habits of your audience, they can tell you the age, marital status, financial standing, topic preferences and myriad other details about your potential customers. This depth of detail sounds scary to consumers, but it is incredibly valuable information to help you craft your message and target the most engaged segments of your customer base. This data is available for each of your posts on Facebook and Twitter — you can export it into .csv files (which Microsoft Excel can instantly turn into spreadsheets). The metrics that are most important are impressions, reach and engagement.

  • Impressions measure how many times the post was seen.
  • Reach measures how many individual people saw the post. Reach and impressions differ, because one user can see the same post multiple times. For instance, a post may receive five impressions while only reaching one person.
  • Engagement measures interactions with the post: likes, comments, shares, re­tweets and so on.

Monitoring negative feedback is important — understanding what kind of content your audience doesn’t appreciate can be almost as valuable as understanding what they do like.

Be patient with your social media campaigns. It can take up to 18 months before results start to show. But over time, your brand’s story will reach more people, strengthening your company’s image in the community and ultimately contributing to your success.