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Measure first, make last: A study in social media behaviors (Part 1)

How do you create content for your social media channels? If you’re like most social media marketers, your publishing schedule is based on some vague idea of “engagement” or “community.” Only after the fact do you dig up more precise numbers to see how your content performed. It’s easy to get into the bad habit of only thinking about metrics after you’ve published. You post a video and then realize it received a lot of shares. Or maybe a graphic you tweeted got a ton of likes.

But what if you could create content with the end goal in mind from the very start? What if you understood exactly what motivates specific outcomes from your followers? The particular action we desire should greatly influence how and what we make.

Creating content for social media isn’t rocket science, but the concepts of immediate response, advocate amplification, and direct conversation make social channels completely unique as a content distribution system. Never before has the success of our marketing content been so immediately measurable in so many ways. Impact can be measured with likes, ambassador amplification with shares, conversation with comments, and interest with clicks.

This wealth of data makes it more important than ever to know ahead of time which metrics are important to us. If every data point is of equal importance, we’ll drown in numbers. The best strategy is to focus a campaign on a single outcome and create our content accordingly. Let’s take a step back and identify our desired outcome very specifically BEFORE we make the thing we’re going to broadcast.

But what does that look like? How does content created for impact differ from content crafted for amplification? How and why does content motivate action? What factors influence how that action is manifested?

With these thoughts in mind, let’s answer a few behavioral questions that will help us understand the why, and then the how of creating content for the four main outcomes on social. First up, the humble LIKE…

There’s a lot to LIKE About LIKES:

What is a LIKE?

The LIKE is the low-hanging fruit of social media outcomes. Its ubiquitous presence across the three major platforms makes it easy to understand, and the most frictionless of the potential actions consumers can take on content. Little thought or action is required. The LIKE is the “wordless nod of support in a loud room. It’s the easiest of yesses, I-agrees, and me-toos” said Erin Morgan in her manifesto on quitting Facebook. So if “to LIKE” is so easy, what kind of content makes the action even more automatic?

Why do we LIKE?

We LIKE things we like. Sounds obvious, and it is, but what’s behind that? Well, we LIKE things that affirm who we are. To hit LIKE is to privately remind yourself of what makes you unique. A photographer may LIKE great photos because it affirms who she is as a judge of good photography. A craft beer connoisseur may LIKE a post from his favorite brewery which affirms his deep knowledge of excellent beers. Not just because he likes the beer on a surface level, but because somewhere deep inside it confirms his self-definition of someone who knows the difference between good and bad beer.

The research supports this idea. In a recent study at the University of Cambridge, researchers found they could determine personal characteristics such as race, sexual orientation, political affiliation, gender, and age with up to 95% accuracy by examining an average of 170 likes per subject. The things we LIKE quite literally define who we are.

Image of person looking down on blue and orange shoes in grass

We’re not entirely selfish with our likes, however. We also LIKE to affirm others. We LIKE to show our support for things we care about, a cause we’re advocates of or people we love. We enjoy showing our appreciation and providing validation. A LIKE is an example of “Virtual Empathy” according to Larry Rosen Ph.D., a professor in the Department of Psychology at California State University. Dr. Rosen describes a LIKE as capable of conveying a “solid feeling of caring and kindness” to a recipient.

How do we earn LIKES?

So, how do we use this understanding to achieve more LIKES for our social media content? For your content to achieve your LIKE goals, it needs to take a strong stance. It must make a specific statement that is relatable to some groups, but not others. A LIKE affirms that you fit into the category reflected in the content. A LIKE confirms this aspect of yourself. Content created for everyone doesn’t affirm anything about anyone.

Here’s an example:

Image of Tequila Rose Facebook Post - "New Years Eve"

These posts are from a series built around the idea of providing Tequila Rose’s primarily female audience with excuses to get out of bad dates. The Tequila Rose brand is predicated on the idea of female empowerment and friendship amongst women.

This content affirms those values, celebrates the bond between women, and makes a strong statement in favor of female friendship over dates with men. If you’re one of the 99% of women who have wanted to get out of a bad date, you can definitely relate to this idea. If you’re a man, not so much. Remember, content created for everyone doesn’t affirm anything about anyone.

So, who is your brand? Who are your followers? What content can you create that celebrates the unique thing you’ve identified in answering these questions? Additionally, who is your group not? For your brand to be something, it must not be something else. Don’t be afraid to put your foot down for what you believe in. A firm understanding of both these characteristics can help you craft content rooted in the values you share with your followers. If you do that, you’ll get LIKES.

Coming Soon: We’ll dig deeper into social media actions and the motivations that stimulate specific behaviors with some comments on “comments.”

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