Social Media Marketing Benchmarks: What Works & Where to Focus

Social Media Marketing Benchmarks Report 2018

Social media marketers, how are you feeling? Take a minute to breathe if you need to. The last few months have been a wild ride. Fatigue, vertigo, and even a little nausea are perfectly understandable.

As I said before, social media isn’t dying, but it is changing. Marketers are used to quick changes, naturally, but it’s important to be sure we’re making the right changes. We should approach evolving our social media with the same data-driven, strategic rigor that applies to everything else we do.

The good folks at Rival IQ recently published their 2018 Social Media Benchmarking Report. The data points to some clear directions for the next evolution of social media marketing.

Here are some of the key data points – and, more importantly, what you should do about them.

#1 – Influencers Have the Highest Engagement Rate on Facebook

Facebook Engagement Benchmark 2018

The report breaks down engagement by platform and by vertical, which invites some intriguing comparisons. If you’re in the food & beverage industry, congratulations! You’re likely seeing some of the highest engagement.

If you’re not, however, there’s no need to roll out a new Cloud-Based SaaS brand of soft drink. Influencers are also hitting the top engagement rate (a whopping .24%, but more on that later).

What to Do:

TopRank Marketing has been talking about influencer marketing since before it was cool. These stats underline the importance of co-creating content with influencers who are relevant to your audience. It’s incredibly tough for brands to make a connection with organic social. Influencers can provide the person-to-person relationship that most people want out of social media interaction.

Read: Death of Facebook Organic Reach = New Opportunities for Influencer Marketing

#2 – More Posting Doesn’t Equal More Engagement

The highest post frequency on Facebook is in the Media vertical, with an average of over 10 posts per day. That’s an artifact of an old way of thinking about social media: Flood your page with posts and hope one or two stick. That strategy doesn’t seem to work anymore. Media has the lowest engagement rate, at .08%. Especially with Facebook, upping your posting frequency is counterproductive. The algorithm will show your posts in fewer feeds, fewer people will interact with them as a result, and you start a vicious cycle that ends up slashing your organic reach.

What to Do:

Stick to one or two posts per day, and really make them count. That’s right at the industry average, and seems to be the threshold on most platforms for how much an audience wants to see branded content. If you have ten potential posts, get ruthless: Pick the two that are most interesting, most relevant, most valuable to your audience. Then save the rest for a roundup blog post at the end of the week.

#3 – Engagement Rates Vary Widely by Platform

We tend to talk about social media as though it were a single monolithic platform. Of course we know there are differences between channels, but the report underscores just how much they can vary. The engagement rates for Instagram are above the 1% mark, with some verticals seeing over 3%:

2018 Instagram Engagement Benchmarks

2018 Twitter Benchmarks

While Twitter has an average engagement of .046%. That’s 4 hundredths of a percent, or engagement on one out of every 4,000 posts.

What to Do:

If Instagram fits your brand, and your audience is there, these stats are definitely an endorsement for hopping on the ‘gramwagon. But don’t count Twitter out completely. There is a great deal more content posted on Twitter than Instagram, and Twitter moves a lot faster. So that low engagement rate shouldn’t scare you off completely. Instead, use Twitter to boost your brand awareness, provide customer service via social media monitoring, and to engage with potential influencers.

Paid posts on Twitter can also have a powerful impact. One of our technology clients initially ruled out Twitter completely. We were able to prove they had a potential audience on Twitter and helped them run a paid program. In the end, their Twitter engagement was far higher than engagement on any other platform.

#4 – Engagement Is Low on Every Platform

More than anything, the report shows just how low the benchmarks are across the social media spectrum. If an email marketing campaign had a .046% average open rate, we would be throwing in the towel writing our resignations at the same time.

The drop in engagement makes sense, though, with how social media platforms have evolved. They used to be based on delivering all the posts the user opted into seeing. Whatever accounts the person chose to follow, that was what filled their feed.

Now every major social site is curated by algorithm. The user doesn’t control what they see, and neither do brands.

What to Do:

There are two key ways to thrive in the Age of the Algorithm. We’ve already covered the first: Start thinking of most of these channels as pay-to-play. Take your most compelling content and throw some paid promotion behind it on your highest-performing platform. Then A/B test your audience targeting until you find the sweet spot.

The second is to produce the type of content that the algorithm will promote. For Facebook and Twitter, that increasingly means native video. Facebook in particular has been explicit about their favoritism for video. Posts that match what the platform wants to promote will get a bigger initial push, which can help you get engagement, which will signal the algorithm to promote it more.

It’s also a good idea to explore the major platform that’s missing from Rival IQ’s report: LinkedIn*. The reported engagement rate on LinkedIn is .054%, lower than Facebook but higher than Twitter. However, it’s easy to more than double that benchmark with a little optimization, as this infographic from LinkedIn shows.

You can also branch out on LinkedIn by having your C-suite post their own thought leadership content on their own accounts. Personal posts are likely to get more engagement and more shares.

Stay on Your Mark and Don’t Get Benched

Social media marketing is still one of the newest marketing disciplines there is. We’re still developing best practices as the platforms continue to evolve. It’s a little like trying to build a train while you’re going 60 miles per hour down a track built on top of a pool of lime Jell-O.

These benchmarks can provide a starting point for the next iteration of your strategy. They might not speak to your specific vertical or audience, but they do highlight the broad changes taking place across social media. To make sure your train keeps rolling, focus on just a few high-quality posts per day, boosted with paid ads on your most valuable channels.

Need help mastering social media marketing? Here’s how we helped one company expand their reach.

*LinkedIn is a TopRank Marketing Client.

Social Media Marketing Spotlight: U.S. Bank Rallies Local Allies for a Friendly, Engaging #MNNice #NiceOff

US Bank NiceOff

Roughly 120,000 visitors from 130 countries descended on the Twin Cities last week to take part in Super Bowl LII festivities hosted in downtown Minneapolis. To welcome visitors to the Land of 10,000 Lakes, Minneapolis-based U.S. Bank—which just so happens to have its name on the stadium that hosted the big game—wanted to give visitors a taste of “what Minnesota is all about.”

For those of you who haven’t heard, Minnesota—where TopRank Marketing is proudly based—isn’t just known for its frigid winters and as the birthplace and residence of the late Prince Rogers Nelson. It’s also known for its “northern hospitality”—or as it’s affectionately called—Minnesota Nice.

With Minnesota Nice as their inspiration—and some great strategic thinking—U.S. Bank launched the #MnNice #NiceOff conversation and friendly competition on Twitter, inviting its followers and other local brands to try to “out-nice” each other by sharing acts of kindness that are Minnesota Nice signatures.

The result? A social media marketing campaign that was thoughtful, engaging, subtly brand-centric, and influencer-activated.

Starting the Conversation

While the conversation started with the single tweet below, the campaign was in the works for weeks.

US Bank Minnesota Nice Off

As it so happens, TopRank Marketing alumni and current U.S. Bank Social Media Campaign Manager, Jason Schober, was part of the action. And he was gracious enough to give us an inside look.

“We really wanted to evoke some engagement and brand activation within the community of people that would be participating in the activities leading up to and at the big game,” Schober told us.

Eventually, the Minnesota Nice-themed campaign strategy emerged as a winning idea. To get started, the team team laid out a strategy that would ensure FCC compliance by not mentioning financial products or services in communications, respect Super Bowl guidelines since U.S. Bank was not a direct sponsor, and make sure the campaign made sense for their brand identity and voice.

The campaign was in great shape, but U.S. Bank didn’t want to go at it alone. So, roughly a week before launch, they began to form partnerships with other local, well-known brands—including Target, Land O’ Lakes, Sun Country and 3M—to be part of the conversation. However, none of the partnering brands knew what others would be posting until it unfolded on launch day (Feb. 1), which kept the conversation real and spontaneous. Here’s a shot of the beginning of the conversation.

Target and US Bank Nice Off

For the work we do at TopRank Marketing, this move is directly tied to the power of influence in marketing. By partnering with influential brands, U.S. Bank was not only able to add credible voices to the conversation, but also extend their reach to these brands’ respective audiences. In addition, once the ball got rolling, other brands and individuals were given an organic opportunity to get in on the fun. Of course, many of the interactions cleverly intertwined a brand’s own marketing message. Here’s one of our favorites:

3M Minnesota Nice Off Tweet

Top the Tater Minnesota Nice Off Tweet

When it came to selecting the right hashtag to define the conversation, their approach was two-pronged, according to Jason.

“The original idea was #MinnesotaNiceOff,” he explained. “But for both tracking and engagement purposes, we decided to leverage two hashtags: #MnNice and #NiceOff. Reason being, we knew #MnNice was already being used and could open our conversation up to a broader audience, and #NiceOff would be something we could own and brand the conversation with.”

The Big Takeaway

A thoughtful, integrated social media marketing strategy is an absolute must. Start by looking at any compliance and trademark red tape, as well as how a campaign will integrate with and complement your brand. Then ask yourself: What other credible, influential voices can be added to elicit shared value?

Managing Engagement

There’s little doubt that trolls and disgruntled users are commonplace on social media these days, often trying to ruin the spirit of good conversation. And in today’s world of social media, hashtags are conversations. So, when it comes to branding your marketing message with a hashtag conversation starter, marketers need to prepare for the fact that they don’t necessarily own the content or the conversation.

For U.S. Bank, they knew the risks of starting the #MnNice #NiceOff conversation. But they also believed the campaign easily lent itself to passively putting trolls in their place. As you can see from the thread below, U.S. Bank made it a point to go full-out with the campaign theme when confronted with negativity.

US Bank's Repsonse to Nice Off Troll

“Our entire campaign was centered on Minnesota Nice,” Jason said. “The only appropriate response to these kinds of interactions was to be as overly polite as possible.”

The Big Takeaway

When it comes to anticipating trolls or negative responses, consider the worst-case scenario for your hashtag-branded campaign and build it into your overall strategy. As our own Joshua Nite recently wrote on the topic of proper hashtag usage, when creating your own hashtag, ask yourself:

  • Who are you talking to?
  • What are you trying to say?
  • How else could your hashtag be interpreted?
  • What other conversations might it start?

Keeping the Momentum Going

Once the tweeting began on launch day, Jason said his team was using Spredfast as a helpful tool to monitor, track, and respond in real-time. But once it became clear that the conversation was on the right track—barring input from trolls—the team decided to leverage Twitter Moments to turn the conversation into a storytelling space.

“This was already in the original plan because we wanted to continue to tell the story beyond the initial conversation,” Jason told us. “But we were waiting for the momentum to take over before creating the Moment.”

As for results, between Feb. 1 and Feb. 6, the Twitter Moment saw nearly 35,000 total opens, 31,247 unique opens, 448 likes, 155 shares, and a 8.48% completion rate.

The Big Takeaway

Whether it be a campaign or every-day usage, make sure you understand the full capabilities of any social media platform you’re engaging on. This will not only help you think more strategically about your messaging and interactions, but also help you provide more value for your audience. This is especially important in the age of decline (or extinction) for organic visibility on social platforms.

In addition, social media listening and management tools are often an investment that pays off—especially during campaigns. As TopRank Marketing CEO Lee Odden has said: “Tools make reaching social media marketing goals possible.”

Shine the Social Media Spotlight on Your Brand

For brands and marketers of all industries, social media hashtag campaigns like this serves as a great example of running a smart, strategic, and integrated campaign.

By thinking strategically from start to finish—and inviting like-minded, influential brand voices to the table—U.S. Bank was able to not only capitalize on one of the biggest sporting events of the year, but also garner meaningful and organic interactions, engage in some friendly competition with other local brands being gracious Super Bowl hosts, and spotlight and activate their brand identity.

Want some more inspiration from brands on Twitter? Take a peek at both B2B and B2C brands mastering the art of social customer care on Twitter.

What Are Hashtags Really For? #Confused #Blessed #NoFilter

What Are Hashtags Really For?

In late 2014, the hashtag #WhyIStayed was trending on Twitter. Frozen pizza slinger DiGiorno, known for being snarky and clever on social media, wanted to join the fun:

DiGiorno Hashtag Social Media Marketing Fail

There was just one problem: #WhyIStayed started in response to a video of domestic abuse. Women used the hashtag to tell their own story of abuse and talk about the societal pressures that led them to stay with their abusers.

At best, DiGiorno looked clueless. At worst, it looked like they were making light of a very serious issue. All they wanted was a little brand visibility…and they got it, but not in the way they were hoping.

Hashtags are an integral part of Twitter and Instagram (and Facebook, to a much lesser extent). As such, they should be part of our social media marketing on each platform. But as DiGiorno and many other brands have shown, it’s not enough to look at the trending tags and hop on board. Marketers need to understand what hashtags are for and how our audience is using them before we jump in.

Here are the #fundamentals you need to avoid invisibility or embarrassment with hashtags.

#History

Hashtags started as a feature on IRC (Internet Relay Chat) channels back in 1988, when the internet still ran on steam turbine power. The “#” in front of channel meant that it was available for users across the internet, not just on a local area network.

Twenty years later, IRC fans who were early Twitter adopters proposed using the symbol to help classify common topics or groups. Twitter itself didn’t officially recognize hashtags for two more years. In 2009, the site started automatically hyperlinking hashtags to search results.

Facebook added hashtags in 2013, but they don’t see as much use on the platform. By contrast, Facebook-owned Instagram practically runs on hashtags. It’s not unusual to see a post with a four-word captioned followed by a paragraph of tags: #NoFilter #WokeUpLikeThis #BeachLife #SanDiego #ChihuahuaLove. Clicking any of the tags leads to a custom feed of images with the same tag, much like Twitter’s search functionality works.

#WhatHashtagsAreNot

Hashtags began as a way to categorize information for future searchers, much like the category or topic tags on a blog. In that case, using the right hashtags is more like SEO than anything else; it’s all about making sure your message comes up for the right query.

But hashtags aren’t really for search anymore. Hardly anyone is going to the search box on Twitter or Instagram and putting in a keyword to pull up a specific hashtag.

Hashtags are not really for marketers to boost their brand or their content, either. We can strategically use hashtags for that purpose, but we must remember that’s an off-label use. It’s important to tread lightly on using hashtags promotionally — as DiGiorno and many others can attest.

If it’s not about search or self-promotion, how should marketers think about hashtags? Or, better question, how does your audience think about hashtags?

Odds are, though, your audience doesn’t actively think about why they use or interact with a specific tag. There’s an innate understanding that makes some tags look “right” or “natural,” while others feel “forced” or “commercial.”

The best way I can think of to express that innate understanding is:

#HashtagsAreAConversation

Social media feeds move fast. Hashtags are a way for users to block out space to have a conversation. “We’re telling this type of story in here.” “We’re sharing this type of picture in here.” Using a specific existing hashtag should come with the knowledge that you’re entering someone else’s conversation space.

The social media manager at DiGiorno likely wouldn’t go up to a group of people talking about a sad and serious topic in hushed tones and shout, “PIZZA!” But that’s exactly what they did on Twitter.

So before you jump into a conversation, make sure that:

  • You understand what’s being discussed
  • Your brand has (and should have) a position on the topic
  • You have something relevant to contribute

When you’re making your own hashtags, keep in mind that you’re starting a conversation. You can’t control who contributes to that conversation and what they might add to it.

For example, in 2012 McDonald’s used the hashtag #McDStories in a tweet, seemingly inviting users to share their own special memories of the chain. Instead, they got stories about food poisoning, diabetes, heart attacks, and animal cruelty.

It turns out McDonald’s had intended to use the tag to promote stories from employees and others affiliated with the brand. But they accidentally started a much wider conversation. With a little forethought, the mess could have been avoided.

So, when creating your own hashtag, keep in mind:

  • Who are you talking to?
  • What are you trying to say?
  • How else could your hashtag be interpreted?
  • What other conversations might it start?

#GeneralHashtagTips

Good hashtaggery starts with understanding that hashtags are a conversation. From there, the optimum tactics for using hashtags vary from platform to platform. The good folks at Buffer have an in-depth guide that touches on each of the major social media sites.

Here are some simple tips that I recommend to supplement Buffer’s advice:

  • Use hashtags sparingly on Twitter; no more than 2 per post, preferably just one
  • Don’t use tags on paid tweets. They’re proven to dilute your CTA
  • Go nuts on Instagram; 11 hashtags is the optimal number
  • Don’t bother tagging on Facebook. Research shows your post will do better without them
  • Use CamelCase to keep longer tags legible (Remember the “susanalbumparty” debacle?)

#HashWithCare

Hashtags started as a tagging tool for search. Today, they’re used to create a space for conversations, group people with similar interests, and fill Instagram feeds with puppies. To be most successful with your hashtags, respect conversations that exist already, and be cautious about the conversations you start.

Need to #LevelUp your social media marketing? TopRank Marketing can help.