You Can't Treat Social Media as an Add-on or Afterthought

Here are three ways to help -- not hurt -- your brand on social media.

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By Brendan Gahan

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Social media has become increasingly influential as a method to reach consumers, but the ad world hasn't prioritized it accordingly.

Related: 10 Laws of Social Media Marketing

Today, seven out of 10 Americans use social media. Despite the opportunity (and in spite of the lip-service paid to social), more marketers are skimping on their approach. Reposting 30-second TV spots to YouTube and uploading billboard or print ads to Instagram are commonplace, and a detriment to your brand.

Below are a few tips to keep in mind as you craft your digital marketing campaign so that you don't fall into the same trap.

1. "Social extensions" aren't the answer.

We all know the truism from advertising: good, fast or cheap -- pick two.

More often than not, the expectation for social is to deliver on all three. This cognitive dissonance leaves social caught in marketing purgatory -- the known priority that's never actually prioritized.

Furthermore, our language reflects what we deem important. When agencies and brands discuss "social extensions," it implies that social is an add-on to a campaign rather than a central component that underpins the whole thing.

The language of "social extensions" recontextualizes the social media marketing workflow as a reflexive, uncreative process. This term is commonly used for presenting social as a budget-friendly way to build out an integrated campaign. The reasoning goes something like: "Why create something new and purpose-built when we haven't fully tapped the resources already at our disposal?"

This answer is simple: You do it because "new" and "purpose-built" are the only things that win eyeballs these days.

It's easy to "repurpose" existing marketing materials for social and pretend that your TV spot is actually serving dual purposes when in reality it is serving one master: TV.

Related: 5 Social Media Rules Every Entrepreneur Should Know

2. Think like a consumer.

Behaviorally, social is "opt in." Consumers are blocking ads, and every piece of content is competing with the entire internet.

Think about it: Porn is a click away. YouTube has 1 billion hours of video watched per day. There's so much competition that you need to stand out and answer the question, "Why would someone choose to watch this?" If you don't have the answer, you're irrelevant and/or burning cash.

When focusing on organic content you need to be a provocateur and generate an emotional response from people to stand out and be noticed.

According to Jonah Berger, author of Contagious, emotions play a critical role in how much earned media content will generate. His study "What Makes Online Content Viral?" showed that, "Content that evokes high-arousal positive (awe) or negative (anger or anxiety) emotions is more viral. Content that evokes low-arousal, or deactivating, emotions (e.g., sadness) is less viral."

The TL;DR version being -- if your content doesn't make someone laugh, cry, yell or jump out of their seat -- odds are it is not going to be shared much. Evoking an emotional response in a physical way was the greatest indicator of how "viral" content was going to be.

Wendy's, for example, has won new attention for savagely roasting and mocking its Twitter followers -- a real and valid audience that has nothing to do with fast food. YouTube stars are more famous among millennials than conventional celebrities. Marketing influence is shifting toward the technological.

Related: 12 Social Media Mistakes That Entrepreneurs Make

3. Make bespoke content.

You must ideate and produce content with social in mind.

In the same way that everyone looks their best in custom suits or dresses, the most memorable brand messages are built from scratch and tailored to the brand and platform specifications -- they are distinctly one-of-a-kind.

With social, we're dealing with a multitude of nuances. There isn't one print magazine size that can fit everywhere; there is no 30-second spot that works on every platform. There is no one-size-fits-all social ad unit (at least not one that is effective).

Each platform has its own ad specs and dimensions. For example: You can run six-second, 15-second or 30-second videos, and you need to plan for those to work with sound on and (most likely) off. You can create vertical video for stories on Instagram, Snapchat and Facebook, and then you have to have horizontal content for YouTube. The creative options are endless.

The point of all this is that we operate in a noisy media landscape, so brands have to create content uniquely tuned to thrive on the internet to make an impact. This means making something original and memorable enough to harness a worldwide, internet-connected community and tailor that content for specific platforms. This is the path to success in social media.

Let's see your print ad get enough retweets to do that.

Brendan Gahan

Entrepreneur Leadership Network Contributor

Partner & Chief Social Officer At Mekanism

Brendan Gahan is partner and chief social officer at independent creative agency Mekanism. Gahan has been at the forefront of social and influencer marketing since 2006, was named to the Forbes 30 Under 30 list in 2012 and sits on the Vidcon Advisory Board.

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