The future isn’t a far-off point; instead it arrives in daily doses that must be noticed and understood.
This paraphrased line is from a recent Harvard Business Review (HBR) article on ways to predict and plan for the future. As the quote implies, the future doesn’t suddenly happen, but instead is a culmination of many steps and indicators.
2016 Social Marketing Planning Guide
This notion is important because, when attuned to these signals, social media marketers can assess opportunities and gain competitive advantages to grow their brand’s audience and influence.
These are the five steps for identifying opportunities and determining if they are the right fit for your brand.
Step 1: Learn Your Brand, Audience, and Market
The first step is to establish and know your brand. It sounds simple, but you have to know what your brand is, what it stands for, what makes it stand out, and what value it can provide for people before you look to capitalize on trends.
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You must be aspirational and audacious to properly understand your brand. Not every organization is going to solve world hunger, but all brands should strive to be the top resource or provider of something to truly set themselves apart within their given market.
These differentiators don’t always have to come in the form of content topics. Often, having superior quality–such as user experience or innovation–can be just as important.
This measure is absolutely fundamental, though, because it defines the framework for a brand to operate within and helps ensure consistency moving forward.
Another foundational step is to define your audience. Everything in a brand’s marketing arsenal must operate with an audience-first approach.
Who is the audience? Who will they be in the future? What do they want and what will they want? These questions are all important to answer to understand how and where a brand can add value for its audience — now and in the future.
In developing your brand’s audience, the key is to be as specific as possible and to speak directly to this audience.
Additionally, you can alleviate the “shiny object syndrome” that is so familiar to social media marketers by answering these types of questions (among others) and maintaining an audience-first mentality.
Audience demographics are also important when considering new social channels. By knowing your brand’s audience and that of a new channel, you can establish there is an existing or growing “minimum viable audience” that makes experimenting on a channel worthwhile.
Lastly, you need to understand your market and competition to assess what is happening in the field and how you can differentiate your brand for your audience.
Step 2: Analyze Opportunities and Market Openings
There are two main ways to identify opportunities for growth: quantitative and qualitative research.
Quantitative research allows you to evaluate competitors’ brand strength, what is precisely happening in-market, and the weaknesses that your brand can leverage to gain competitive advantages.
Qualitative research, on the other hand, can take a few different forms. Trends and best practices not yet adopted in-market offer fantastic gaps in your market — along with what others in your market are doing poorly — to isolate and exploit.
Opportunities are further exposed when these principles are combined with audience needs or wants that are currently going unmet by your brand and other brands in your market.
Brands also have to recognize the weak signals that represent developing trends and opportunities that aren’t fully present, but are developing into larger trends.
These signals can be found through social listening, industry buzz, niche communities, or even larger societal and economic shifts, all of which can be used to identify channels or features ripe for early adoption.
Step 3: Understand the Patterns
Social networks and features naturally follow a double-peak pattern that offers brands three stages for growth.
Each phase presents different types of opportunities for growth and competitive advantages for your brand.
The first phase of early adoption offers the biggest reward for growth, since a brand can establish an early presence on a new channel or with a new feature. At this early adoption stage, a brand can develop with the channel as it grows and people are looking for accounts to interact with, which results in traction on the channel for your brand before competitors become involved.
In this phase, the idea is to understand if the necessary brand and audience fits are present, so that your brand can add value for your audience by being there.
If all of these match up, the action is to start monitoring and potentially strategically experimenting on the channel to gain first-mover advantage. However, at this point, your main focus and budget will still go to channels where your brand has an established and proven audience.
As a channel or feature enters into mainstream adoption, organic reach and engagement expand. This phase offers a brand the chance to hone its voice, style, and presence while growth opportunities are free and audience feedback is immediate with fewer variables.
Moreover, channels in this stage will be looking to gain as much prominence as possible and will incentivize the sharing of, following of, and engagement with accounts that produce good content.
The key action at this point is, if your brand sees positive signs with a channel or new feature, to double-down on efforts to drive the maximum growth organically.
The last stage is maturity, where brands need to turn to paid methods to achieve reach and growth (think Facebook, Instagram, and Twitter).
At this point, growth and competitive advantages can be found through testing paid features for what drives the most ROI. From a structural standpoint, channel optimization and strategies should also be developed to maintain any competitive advantages and growth.
Step 4: Assess the External and Organizational Impacts
The final considerations to make when identifying growth opportunities are the external and internal business impacts.
When thinking about the external impacts, you can weigh the extent to which testing a new channel or feature will improve your brand, grow your brand, or provide additional value for your audience.
You must also weigh the internal impacts of experimentation, which are arguably more important:
- Does it align with business objectives?
- Do you have the right resources?
- Does this fit with your office priorities?
If the answers to these questions are yes, you also have to consider whether you have the resources and structure to scale, stay consistent, and sustain quality if it grows.
Step 5: Pulling It All Together
To close things out, I’ll return to the HBR article, which states that “the future is shaped by nonlinear changes and chance events.”
With the proliferation of features and social channels, a social media marketer’s job is becoming increasingly more complicated. However, the constant change and evolution means there are ample opportunities to leverage for brand growth.
Understanding your brand, audience, market, opportunities, social media patterns, and the impact of experimentation allows you to properly evaluate openings and seize future changes for continual competitive advantages.
From there, a system of continual testing of ideas and iterative implementation can allow brands to evolve and grow on social, which I’ll dig into next month.