When Social Media Becomes the Devil: How Not to Sell Your Soul for The Numbers

For marketers, social media can be a wily, heartless beast. Omnipresent, somewhat amoral, alternately rewarding and vicious, it demands a perpetual sacrifice of time, investment and human resources - but it isn't necessary to offer up your company's soul (meaning brand messaging and long-term marketing strategy) to appease its voracious, cross-generational audience.

The devil, of course, is in the details of how efficiently you translate your CMO's vision of social media from a paradigm into benchmarks and operations, evading the hand-wringing over implementation and KPIs which will demoralize your staff and, in the long run, possibly tank your career. At stake is the efficacy of long-term marketing strategy, and ultimately, the integrity of your brand's core values.

That means, of course, that with everything else you do, social media is your problem, even if it isn't really your department. You aren't posting the tweets, but you are definitely feeling their effects in terms of brand lift and affinity.

Don't Make An Insidious Pact - Not Yet

You could lead your social media team into subservient, although briefly rewarding, relationships with leading social media influencers and begin churning out endless streams of trend-led content.

You could, but you won't, since you know that even if your brand's posts are retweeted 50k times, the wrong kind of attention builds the wrong kind of connections, and those connections are worse than useless.

That's because if a million people know your brand's name, but not what your brand offers - in context of the market as well as their hierarchy of needs - then you've missed your mark. You'll have a million followers waiting for the next cute kitten gif, with a minority learning what makes your brand special and relevant to their needs.

The right kind of social media brand ambassadors don't just self-promote, adding your company's name as an asterisk in a stream of hashtags. They develop a narrative around your brand's values and bring their audience into a conversation that stays on-message and timely.

Embrace The Dark Side

Thankfully, there is a middle ground between diabolical, short-lived popularity and the unnoticed brilliance of the heartfelt, yet unappealing brand message.

Social media, with its long-winded tweetstorms and epic branded content fails and wins, can be a dark and scary place. However, in order to help craft effective campaigns, you'll have to immerse yourself in it - learning how consumers connect, interact and fall in love with brands and their ideas.

Immersion means using those social tools yourself-- even if it is simply an anonymous foray into the wilds of Instagram and Twitter in order to view from the inside how your brand's digital world (you are, of course, part of a demographic too) aligns itself with your offline identity.

"It's very hard to learn social media unless you are experiencing it," said Brad Jakeman, President of PepsiCo's Global Beverage Group, during an interview at the 2016 Advertising Week in New York. "It becomes a very left-brain, academic exercise if our marketers are not also living their lives in the world of social media."

This isn't simply a way to add a layer of authenticity to your social media content, said Jakeman, It is the only method to learn the difference between one-size-fits-all click-bait and brand messaging which inspires meaningful, interactions with consumers while staying true to the heart of the brand. The online social presence of key brand players-- whether it's part of a dedicated campaign featuring C-level figures or long-time brand ambassadors-- is at the core of any successful effort to humanize branded content and make it seem less like ad copy.

"Consumers don't want to know only what the company makes but what makes the company," said Jakeman.

It is A Mess Out There

Despite your CMO's efforts at gently fostering brand-consumer intimacy and trust through social content, as a campaign lead you'll need to be anything but polite in outmaneuvering the shouty memes, superfluous celebrity endorsements, and those ever-present cute kitty gifs howling for your audience's attention.

Great social media content can house great display creative and that creative can - as seen in some highly successful social media campaigns like Do Us a Flavor by Lay's - translate into quantifiable, enduring brand lift and sales. Admittedly, getting there requires a take-no-prisoners dedication to market impact, but you don't have to lose focus or your ability to play nice.

Here are a few tips for the journey;

1. Be Evil

Forget what the Google founders said.You need to be as ruthless as a devil on your shoulder in presenting your argument for your brand to consumers. That means brand messaging should communicate why another choice won't meet the customer's needs while simultaneously affirming their need to choose for themselves. Your social media campaigns should identify and underscore your brand's ability to fit seamlessly into your consumer's lifestyle while meeting a need that they are already well aware of. You aren't the only solution to their wants vs. necessities problem, but you are the most logical and, perhaps, the easiest to acquire. You should salute your consumer's values (and ways of communicating) while sharing (authentically), how your brand connects with the life they aspire to.

2. Be Magical

You've seen the cartoons: a hero is at a crucial decision-making point and a specter appears, making an offer that he can't refuse. Your product fills a need for a large swath of the buying public, but communicating your solutions requires near supernatural stealth. Appearing on your consumer's radar at the right moment necessitates more than brilliant, RTB-driven ad placement and granular marketing insights; it means employing human intelligence which can be gleaned only through a deep, experiential knowledge of social media's multiple flavors. Understanding how, not just when, your customer finds and consumes content allows you to develop a social media campaign around their existing interests - not merely your messaging objectives.

2. Be All-Knowing

Learning how a consumer goes from playing Candy Crush to reading your brand's fan page doesn't mean focusing on the obvious, seemingly can't miss issues for a targeted audience segment.

Young mothers frequently think about diaper absorbency - but not willingly, and certainly not all day. What do they want to see when trying to escape from their baby's reeking pile of unpleasantness for a few minutes? Probably not more display creative touting your brand's cure-all diapers.

Your page is there to help them optimize their social media experience, not drag them away from it. If your targeted consumer is on Facebook trying to forget how tired she is, offer her a recipe for an energy-boosting smoothie while connecting, without the preaching, how getting rid of products that don't work will allow her more time to unwind. Providing a solution to a pressing need is step one, but being able to infiltrate a consumer's decision-making process is what moves your consumer from interested to engaged.

3. Be Relentless

This doesn't mean directing your social media team to tweet a relevant brand message every 20 minutes, but it does require a commitment to continuous engagement. Your consumers are on social media cultivating relationships and engaging with social news; premium, exclusive, content that is aligned with your brand's purported role in their lives should be your first priority. Translate your brand's value proposition from a concept to shareable, user-friendly posts - something they would want to read regardless of the platform or context - rather than whatever quiz, slideshow or gif you've surreptitiously pulled from the bargain content bin.

4. Be Powerful

We'll say it one more time: letting trends or crowd metrics determine the arc of your social campaign is a mistake. Chasing likes and retweets using shock, cuteness or inane, repetitive freebies is akin to a child setting his lemonade stand on fire to attract attention.You'll waste ad spend, tarnish your brand's reputation for relevant content, and worse, you'll make your CMO's strategy implode on impact.

The power of your brand is based on much more than its unique value proposition to consumers; the bulk of your strength lies in your understanding of what has made makes your customers loyal to your product or service over the years. That same strength will be the foundation of your successful social media strategy by delivering content that is all about your connection to your consumers, rather than your effort to hurry them down the sales funnel.

Understand that creating an architecture for relevant brand messages that can be easily integrated into the kinds of content that your customers consume is completely doable. It is also the only choice your brand has for social media survival. Succeeding this point means that you'll win the only metric that really matters: sustainable, up-trending ROI.