In the digital marketing arena, the adage “content is king” has become a mantra. But it’s no longer enough to create fresh, compelling content that clearly articulates the brand message across all platforms. Success in social media marketing today requires a deep understanding of your audiences’ needs and the ability to leverage different social platforms.

Keeping up with Social Technology

Social media companies are constantly changing how content is shared and distributed to appeal to nonpaying participants (i.e., those with a Facebook page), while simultaneously driving consumers and businesses to paid promotional services and increasing revenue.

Recently, Facebook implemented new algorithms that filter overtly commercial messages from news feeds and push posts from brands to fans who frequent those pages.

What does this mean for a business’ Facebook page? A sharp drop in the number of fans who view, like, and share the content. A large company I worked with had nearly two million fans. Previously, a post could capture 10,000 or more likes. With the recent changes, that number is now as low as a few hundred.

A few years ago, Twitter introduced “favorites,” a feature that allows users to save tweets from someone they do not follow. The feature helps reduce clutter and increase a tweet’s shelf life. However, it also drives down the number of followers for businesses. After all, if you can simply save and retweet any tweet, there’s less of a need to follow the account or person who posted it.

Last year, a company I consulted for changed its Twitter strategy to a customer service model because standard tweets no longer yielded a following. Now, the company worries less about the number of followers and, instead, seeks to measure the impact of customer relationship management via Twitter, assessing loyalty and positive sentiment. In turn, more employees across the organization are trained to respond to customers via Twitter.

This strategy of “listening” has created real gains in customer communication. Previous follower metrics seemed more nebulous as a key performance indicator.

What Are the Implications for Businesses?

As social media platforms change, so must the strategy. Creating a constant supply of fresh content is no guarantee that a critical mass of followers will see a given post. To build robust social media followings in the changing landscape, companies need to become much more intentional about the content they offer. Intentionality has two elements:

  1. The content must address a customer’s want or need.
  2. Content must address a real business objective beyond brand awareness that furthers the company’s marketing strategy and aims.

These elements may sound lofty, but they actually connect these social media channels with a more realistic use: communications. Is there any one way to use e-mail or telephone? Today, these are mundane communication tools, but they were once advanced technology.

Real-World Examples of Intentionality

JetBlue’s Multiple Handles

This airline’s use of Twitter is a prime example of shaping the strategy to meet different customer needs. JetBlue delivers a unified brand message and consistently describes its flying experience across all social media platforms. But the company also realized that its passengers follow JetBlue for different reasons. To meet different needs, JetBlue created multiple, specific Twitter handles.

The @JetBlueAirways handle, for example, posts content that guides passengers to different services, such as making a reservation or lodging a complaint. Like many companies, JetBlue uses Twitter to listen carefully to customer sentiment and respond to issues quickly. @JetBlueCheeps offers last-minute discounts. Its more than 400,000 followers have self-selected for promotional deals, which helps drive traffic and sell unsold seats. @HelloJetBlue provides company information of interest to employees, analysts, and the media.

To effectively reach audiences and customers, marketers need to be much more intentional about the content they post. There must be a clear benefit that motivates them to follow, share, and engage.

This change in strategy may seem like a common-sense response to consumers becoming savvier with social media. But it was once widely thought that a brand should be housed under one handle.

Frito-Lay’s Social Media Contest

The Do Us a Flavor campaign is another excellent case study. Launched in 2012, the annual contest crowdsources new flavors for potato chips, offering $1 million to the winner. In general, contests can be popular and drive social media traction.

Frito-Lay’s contest is notably effective because it serves a specific business need: gaining a deeper understanding of changing consumer tastes, especially among the key demographic of 18 to 34 year olds, as overall snack food sales decline.

The campaign generates valuable consumer insights, while simultaneously building social media traffic and engagement. On Facebook, for example, consumers can create and enter their own flavor, vote on flavors submitted by others, or both. Consumers can vote and share their submission with their personal social networks, effectively becoming brand ambassadors who have a clear reason to like and share the content. Last year, the campaign generated 2.2 million new Facebook fans, including nearly one million in the key 18-to-34 demographic according to BAA.

Oreo’s Super Bowl Tweet

Perhaps the most eye-opening example is Oreo’s famous “You can still dunk in the dark” tweet. Sent when the lights went out during the 2013 Super Bowl in New Orleans, it was then retweeted more than 10,000 times in the first hour.

What many assume was a momentary flash of genius was actually the fruit of a rigorous and disciplined social media strategy implemented a year prior for the brand’s 100th anniversary. Oreo’s campaign, the Daily Twist, aims to put the famous cookie in the context of current news and events with 100 daily posts that connect the product to popular culture, the digital world, and everyday conversation.

Some of the campaign’s more notable moments included Oreo’s celebrations of Gay Pride, the Mars Lunar landing, and the birth of a new cub to the panda Shin Shin in the Tokyo Zoo. Within the year, the brand created a groundswell of followers. When the Super Bowl tweet hit, it fell on receptive, engaged ears, including 8.5 million Facebook fans and 15 million Twitter followers.

Modern-Day Royalty

To create successful social media content, creativity is still as important as ever. It’s also still vital to update the content frequently. But the rules of the game have changed — and they will continue to as consumers and social media platforms evolve and adapt.

To effectively reach audiences and customers, marketers need to be much more intentional about the content they post. There must be a clear benefit that motivates them to follow, share, and engage.

The “king” of social media is content that both aligns with business objectives and provides value to customers and prospects.