Episode 177: Social media strategy with Scott Ayres

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Social media strategy and generating sales for clients is agency life. Learn how to create opportunities using social media strategy.

Staying on top of the social media landscape and what it means in terms of going from engagement with fans to ultimately generating new opportunities and sales is one of those ongoing tasks in agency life. Algorithms are always evolving, so what got you reach last year – or even last month – might not get you the same reach today.

We are creating social content for clients every day. Add to that the thought leadership we want to develop for our agency – and that’s a lot of social interaction to manage!

On this episode, we dig into the current data. What’s happening on Facebook, LinkedIn, Instagram and, oh, yeah – Twitter.

How do we engage on these social platforms in smart and effective ways? My guest is Scott Ayres of Agorapulse. His Social Media Lab (a literal lab and also a podcast he hosts) digs into this question with gathered and analyzed data to back up any answers given.

Scott has the awesome title of Content Scientist at Agorapulse. He takes what we all believe to be best practices or questions we have around engagement or audience activity or behavior, and he looks for data points that will help us make better choices in terms of how we use these social channels for our agency and clients’ benefit.

social-media-strategy

What you will learn about social media strategy in this episode:

  • What social metrics to measure, and why
  • Why local business pages are still thriving on Facebook
  • How people are using hashtags as “Google”
  • Whether or not emoji usage changes engagement
  • Why you might want to post on social networks before or after peak
  • How social media channels are beginning to segment in a good way
  • Why LinkedIn text-only posts perform better than FB text-only posts
  • Data around the resurgence of the Twitter chat

The Golden Nuggets:

“It's all about the science of it, so we can help our clients – who tend to be agencies doing social media for businesses – remove the guesswork about the best thing to do on your social accounts.” – @scottayres Click To Tweet “With social’s ever-changing algorithms, you've got to test and retest constantly. And once you get stale on the same sort of content, that's when you’ll see engagement drop. So you've got to change it up again.” – @scottayres Click To Tweet “With a well-run and consistent Twitter chat, you’re going to get higher amounts of reach and impressions while you're doing it. It can certainly be worth doing.” – @scottayres Click To Tweet Social Media Strategy Click To Tweet

Ways to Contact Scott Ayres:

Transcript: Social media strategy

Speaker 1:

It doesn’t matter what kind of agency you run, traditional, digital, media buying, web dev, PR, whatever your focus, you still need to run a profitable business. That’s why Agency Management Institute started the Build A Better Agency podcast a few years ago. We help agencies just like yours grow and scale your business, attract and retain the best talent, make more money and keep more of what you make. Bringing his 25 plus years of experience as both an agency owner and agency consultant, please welcome your host, Drew McLellan.

Drew McLellan:

Hey, everybody. Drew McLellan here. Welcome back to another episode of Build A Better Agency. Always grateful that you keep coming back. I think this week’s guest is going to be somebody you are very happy that you stuck around to listen to. The reality for most of us is, our agencies play in social media. Whether you are doing it for your own agency around your thought leadership, around creating a sense of your culture, whether it’s for prospecting for employees or for clients, odds are you’re there on some of the channels anyway trying to carve out a presence. For many of you, this is also a part of the offerings that you are serving clients with. You are posting on their behalf, you’re creating social media content for them. I thought it would be a great idea to talk to somebody who actually looks at the performance metrics around these social media channels. A lot of the social media channels, probably Facebook and Twitter the most, although LinkedIn has been around for a long time too, they’ve been around for a while and they have changed the rules on a regular basis.

Some of the best practices that we believe are accurate around how or why or when we should be posting or what we should be posting on any of those channels, some of that has changed. We may very well be guiding clients or our own efforts through some outdated information or beliefs. There’s a company out there called Agorapulse. They are a social media publishing software like Hootsuite or GAIN. A while ago, back in late 2016, they decided that they needed to hire someone who would do nothing more than sort of study the behaviors and success rates of different methodologies on these social channels. They hired a guy named Scott Ayres. Scott is Agorapulse’s content scientist. I love that title. What he does is, he takes what we all believe to be best practices or questions we have around engagement or audience activity or behavior, and he tests them. He tests them using the Agorapulse data. He also tests them using other accounts, client accounts, his own. He owns a business on the side, so he uses that, his own personal account sometimes.

But they’re really looking for data points that will help us make better choices in terms of how we use these social channels to our and our clients’ benefit. I thought it would be interesting to find out some of the experiments that they have run recently and what the results of those experiments were. I want to just dive right in and get to the conversation. All right. Scott, welcome to the podcast. Thanks for joining us.

Scott Ayres:

Thanks for having me on, Drew. I really appreciate it.

Drew McLellan:

One of the things that I find interesting about the work that you guys are doing at Agorapulse is the Social Media Lab. Can you tell the listeners a little bit more about what that is?

Scott Ayres:

Yeah. Basically, the Social Media Lab came as an idea our CEO had, I guess, about two and a half, three years ago. He wanted to create content that was different than the typical social media content you see out there where you’ll see, top five things to post on Instagram, or, here’s the 10 best list of writers and bloggers. A lot of that fluff. There’s a lot of fluff in the social media marketing space. I’m guilty of writing about 2,000 pieces of that probably over the years. He wanted something different, something that was a little bit deeper. Because what he did is, he had wrote a piece on our blog that was research based, I believe it was about something on LinkedIn. It was probably our most traffic piece for a while. It got tons of results from it and leads from it. He went, “There’s something to that. Maybe these little fluff pieces aren’t really …” Even their traffic generators, they’re not necessarily converting because it’s the wrong people seeing it. They don’t match up as our customers. He kind of sought out to find somebody to do it.

I happened to be kind of in between some stuff and we got to talking. I came on board in January 2017. The goal with this is, we’re doing long form scientific based research on many of the practices and techniques that a lot of the gurus out there are teaching. Then just stuff that people just think is correct, and maybe it isn’t. We want to test it to see if that’s true or not and then report back on whatever that data is. Sometimes we’re right, sometimes we’re wrong, but it’s all about the science of it. Making sure that when we’re done, we’ve got something that’s statistically significant so we can kind of help our listeners and our readers and our customers who tend to be agencies doing social media for businesses, what’s the best thing to do on your social accounts so you don’t have to just do a lot of guesswork.

Drew McLellan:

Obviously, one of the reasons why you can do this is because you have all of this data because you have everyone using your tool. Can you just take a step back and explain kind of what the tool is and how that generates … It’s sort of a by-product, how that generates all the data for you?

Scott Ayres:

We do use the tool for some of the data. Not always, because some of it, we just have to go directly to the social sites themselves to get the pure, rawest data. But what our app does, Agorapulse, it’s a social media management platform. If you’ve heard of Hootsuite or Sprout Social, those are our two biggest competitors. We help you manage content as far as scheduling it. But the biggest part is really helping you to manage all of that activity, the replies, the comments, the messages, even messages and comments on your ads on Facebook and Instagram. Which you really can’t do in many other apps. Just kind of helping you have all that in one space and so you don’t have to go to four or five different websites just for one customer and one client to answer all their social. Which means you’re going to miss 90% of it.

Then with the team aspects of it that we have, if you’ve got team members who just maybe handles Instagram, there’s the Instagram expert on your agency, they just go do the Instagram and then you can assign all the tasks to them and you handle Facebook, somebody else handles Twitter. It really helps the agencies speed up the process of managing social. Actually, for a lot of people who run social media agencies, it helps them take on more clients because it’s a lot easier to get in the platform and just start working immediately and keep up with those conversations and listen to a lot of conversations. The cool part I like about our app is, not just listening to the conversations coming in to us, either they’re replying to us or they’re sharing our content, but I use it to spy on my competitors. Like right now Hootsuite’s undergoing a lot of changes. They actually just put themselves up on the auction block to be sold, and so we’re going after them. We’re wanting to see if we can find some customers from Hootsuite.

I have a Hootsuite listing set up in the app and anybody who’s complaining or upset or freaking out, boy, I’m replying back to them with an alternative solution that ends up being cheaper but also more stable. There’s a lot of things like that you can do inside the app as a competitor sort of ninja way of going after people instead of just waiting for them to come to you.

Drew McLellan:

Cool. How are you using both the app, and as you said, going to some of the social media platforms themselves? How are you typically running the experiment? Give us an example of a couple of the experiments that you’ve run, and we’ll dig into the results in a minute. But give us an example of a couple of the experiments you’ve run and how do you gather that data?

Scott Ayres:

Let’s say for example, I’ve run one here recently on adding the hashtags in a Instagram post versus putting the hashtags in the comments. It’s a very controversial method of marketing a lot of markers have been teaching. They tell everybody to stuff all the hashtags in the comments and they’ll get more views or impressions. How I would do that with the app in the first side is, I schedule all the content through our app because we schedule to Instagram. I don’t have to remember to post every day on my phone. I schedule all that through there. Then as far as the analysis on the back end, I have two options. I can go to our reporting and look at the data from a certain date range to kind of see, and then I can look at individual posts and pull that data off as well, looking at the impressions, the interactions, those things. It’s all is inside our app if you want to pull it off.

But there are times though that, like I said before, I like to just go sometimes straight to the source. That way for me, in order to be considered credible and not biased, I like to go to the actual site most of the time for our results, just so no one can poke holes in it and say, “Well, you’re using skewed results from your app.” Or something like that. A lot of times, I will pull most of the data from the actual sites. But I can do it inside our app, and a lot of times I will compare just to make sure. Which has been kind of fun to do. But that’s typically kind of how I work it.

Drew McLellan:

Give us an example of some of the experiments that you’ve run.

Scott Ayres:

Lots of different things that probably people have heard of if you’ve been around social media marketing. One of the biggest ones at first for us was testing does Facebook and/or Twitter … We’ve tested both, but Facebook was the first one. Does Facebook punish posts from third-party apps such as ours? We’ve heard that rumor over the years. If you’ve listened to like BuzzSumo or Mari Smith, they’ve kind of put something out there every once in a while saying that posting within an app that gives you less engagement and less impressions. It scares people when those results come out and reports come out. We went through and tried every app I use, all of our competitors apps and then used our own of course and used Facebook itself.

The interesting thing, when we were done with the test, which took about six weeks to do, because I posted from each one for about a week, we found that not only did Facebook not penalize posts from the third-party apps, the post from the apps actually had about 22% higher reach for whatever reason. There was no way … Now, you wouldn’t want to put that out there and say, “We’re going to guarantee you’re going to get 22% higher reach.” But I was just wanting to at least be almost even. But the fact that it was higher, was really interesting. I’ve actually retested that again just to kind of see if it’s still the same now, and it’s still for some reason, the posts from the third-party apps came at about 12, 13% higher even now a year later. [crosstalk 00:11:35]-

Drew McLellan:

Did you test that just on Facebook or did you say you also tested to on [crosstalk 00:11:37]-

Scott Ayres:

Yeah, that was just the Facebook. We’ve tested that on Twitter as well, and I’d have to get the exact results, but Twitter didn’t penalize either. I think it was about a 3% difference in the overall impression. I was looking at impressions only. That’s the thing too, a lot of the the stuff you’ll read in social media talks about how to get more engagement, how to get more likes, how to get all these vanity metrics. It’s really hard on our end to always test that and be as accurate as possible because, you may just have a hot post that comes out and it goes viral. The right person shared it and that skews the numbers tremendously.

A lot of times, trying to view what you sent them based on sentiment, doing any research on sentiment is really hard at times because you just don’t know. It hits the right person, it’s the right time of day, there’s nothing else on Twitter at the time. That’s always hard. I tried a lot of the organic posts anyway. I like to look at the reach or impressions depending on the site we’re on to draw data from. Because that can give me some good trends to know that this helps get exposed to more people. Then the likes and the engagement, all that stuff, should come after that.

Drew McLellan:

Right. I know you guys did some experiments on Facebook reach. What were the outcomes of that little experiment?

Scott Ayres:

Yeah. We did a recent one because a lot of people are, the sky is falling sort of mentality with Facebook lately because Zuckerberg made his, what a lot of people called the Facebook Zero or Facebook Apocalypse announcement last year. Or was it earlier this year? Excuse me. Everybody thought, man, Facebook is dead now. We shouldn’t be using it anymore. Because they know that the reach of business pages posts is going to be lower because users don’t want to see posts from business as much. That’s why. It makes sense that Facebook has said that. There’s something here, this was not even a part of our … We have a tool called the Facebook Barometer. It’s a free tool that we have on our site. You can find it on agorapulse.com. Just look for free tools. What it does is, we allow people to connect their business page to it and then kind of compare yourself to other pages of similar size, and then kind of just track your growth, your engagement, those sorts of things over time.

We dug through about 30,000 pages a year, but back in early 2017. Then dug through another 30,000 pages that we have in there here recently. The interesting thing, when it was all said and done, reach was down overall at about 13% overall categories. But at 13%, what is as high as 1,000? 1,000 is going to be so much worse than that. Because everybody’s like, “It’s all …” I know friends who just closed down their Facebook page for their business because they were so frustrated when they get thousands of fans and two people engaging. That was a little bit nice to see. The interesting thing on it was, the industries that saw the greatest drop were what I expected. The biggest one was news and media pages, had a 33% decrease in reach between the two years. Which makes sense with, we’re in the world of fake news right now and Facebook doesn’t want to put those news pages up there as high and as those medias pages up as high.

They were way, way down. But that the promising one for me, especially as somebody who has a local business and helps a lot of local businesses do social media, local businesses and that category, they were actually up about half a percentage point in reach. They weren’t down at all. They were actually up. Which is really encouraging because that tells me that Facebook is trying to focus more on that local business where you have that connection with people who either have changed pages now, so it’s easier to find where the businesses are located, all those things. That was really encouraging to see that the local businesses are still thriving on Facebook. It’s just those larger, massive pages that tend to have seen the lowest drop in the reach. Real intriguing. The sky’s not falling completely. It’s just maybe a little grayer, but not as bad as everybody thought it was going to be.

Drew McLellan:

In that study or a subsequent study, did you look at what kind of posts on Facebook business pages seemed to generate the most attention or as you said, engagement or connection?

Scott Ayres:

No. The barometer that we use doesn’t pull that sort of data. No, there’s not a way for us to see that.

Drew McLellan:

Okay. You haven’t done an experiment with that yet in the Social Media Lab?

Scott Ayres:

I’ve done some smaller ones. I would want to retest it again before I put it on your podcast and say it was good or bad. But typically, we’re still in that phase on Facebook where photos always tend to get the most reach. Videos are right behind them. Which you’d think they’d be higher based on all the noise about videos. But photos tend to still do higher. Links are behind videos. Links are great if you’ve got one to drive traffic. Links tend to not still get much engagement unless you’re a news page of some sort. If you’re a just a blogger, you don’t get much on those, it seems. But they do drive traffic, of course, but people don’t tend to come back to Facebook and comment on. Especially the way the mobile app works on Facebook. Once you go to the link and you go back, you’re on a different spot on Facebook [crosstalk 00:17:10]-

Drew McLellan:

Right.

Scott Ayres:

The engagement’s is not there. You’ve got to kind of look at what is your point of posting. If you’re just driving traffic, then links is what you want to do. If you’re wanting to get some of that engagement to maybe help your posts get exposed to some more people later, photos tend to still be the thing to do.

Drew McLellan:

Speaking of photos, it seems like everybody is all abuzz about Instagram lately. That that seems to be one of those social channels that is really sort of growing in sort of attention and popularity. I know you did some work on what kind of tactics on Instagram seem to be working. Can you tell us a little about the data that you found there?

Scott Ayres:

Yeah. Instagram is really high, so I think it’s still one of those things where the average business doesn’t know what to do with Instagram. Because it’s been that millennial playground place where you just post pictures of yourself and your coffee and your dogs and that sort of thing. Businesses are still trying to figure it out. We’ve done a lot of different tests on it, and we focused a lot recently on hashtags. I’d mentioned the hashtags earlier. Because hashtags are still that thing that gets a lot of exposure to new people, and especially on Instagram. People use hashtags to find content like crazy on it. That’s what they’ll search. It’s basically their Google in a sense. You want to use hashtags that people are looking for and try to get in front of new people. We tested 30 hashtags in the original posts versus in the comments.

Because there’s a lot of social media experts out there, and I’m using air quotes, that will tell you, “Put those hashtags in the comments. Put them in the comments because ugly in the actual post. You’re going to get better engagement and better views if you put it in the comments.” It was an old way of thinking. By testing this, what I did is, I used a couple of different accounts. I used three different social media accounts. One was our own, Agorapulse, one was my personal account and one was my local business. A good cross section of types of accounts, so we could kind of see if there was any trend or average across the board. And we looked at probably a total of about 120 posts between those three accounts to really kind of get some good stuff. It wasn’t just like, we posted once and just waited and said, “Here’s the data on it.” Because that’s not data, that’s just happenstance. The interesting thing, if we compared the hashtags in the post, let’s say the reach, which is where I always want to look at, the reach was significantly different.

The reach was 29% higher when we left the hashtag in the original post as opposed to coming back and putting it in the comments. That goes 100% against anything that any of my friends who are out there teaching, more so Instagram marketing, are teaching. There’s courses dedicated to this sort of stuff. I went back and retested a couple of times just to make sure, and I got very similar results every time that I did it. The reason I think after kind of looking into it and looking into the algorithm and changes on Instagram, in the old days, the way Instagram’s explore option, which is where you search, the way it worked is it put the order of the results based on when the hashtag went live. If I’m in the middle of your comments on Instagram and I put in hashtagdrew, it could pop up back to the top of that explore option immediately because of the way they got in there. A lot of people were going back hours later, days later and putting the hashtag in there in the comments and popping it back up to the top.

Instagram got smart with that and realize that a sneaky marketers had figured out a loophole in a sense. Now, it doesn’t do that. Now, the explore tab on Instagram is in the order of when the post went out. If your post was an hour ago, it’s going to be pushed down by all the other posts that have come out with that same hashtag. It doesn’t affect it whenever you put it in. If you were trying to get results from hashtags on Instagram, you want to put it in your original post because that’s when it’s going to get put in there. If you go back and do it later, it may not ever show up in the explore option because it’s going to be pushed down so far. But that was one of those changes I think a lot of people didn’t realize and hadn’t paid attention to because everybody told them to hide it, it gets ugly. It doesn’t look nice.

Drew McLellan:

I was going to say, a lot of it is a vanity thing. [crosstalk 00:21:47]-

Scott Ayres:

It is and-

Drew McLellan:

… makes the post ugly.

Scott Ayres:

Yeah. It’s so silly because if you go look in Instagram, for one, I don’t know how many times as a user, I’ve actually read most of the updates on the Instagram post. I’m looking at the photo. The photo catches my attention, then maybe I’ll read the rest. I’m not nitpicking over that. The other part is, is you always see about two to three lines of the text from the original post anyway, then you get the dot, dot, dot more kind of situation. If you put the hashtags below, inside that, no one ever sees them anyway. I don’t think it … It didn’t affect the users. Your followers are not going to get angry at you because you’re using hashtags to find more followers. There’s no reason to go back and pain yourself to put it in the comments because it’s a pain in the butt. Because you can’t do it on the original post. You’ve got to go back and remember to do it, or you use a sketchy app, which are some out there, that will let you schedule your posts and then put in the first comment. But it’s a break in Instagram’s API.

I think it’s another reason why Instagram kind of stopped that sort of rewarding. You got to remember, hashtags are all about finding new users, new followers. You’re trying to get extra exposure. Your existing users don’t care in the end that you’re stuffing it with hashtags.

Drew McLellan:

Well, and I think after a while, if you’ve been following somebody, you sort of almost don’t see the hashtags anymore.

Scott Ayres:

No, you don’t. I mean, I can’t think of anytime anybody that I actually care to follow on Instagram that I noticed what their hashtag usage was like.

Drew McLellan:

Yeah. Right. I’ve got another Instagram question for you, but let’s take a quick break and we’ll come back and I’ll get to that one. I wanted to take just a quick second and remind you about one of the core offerings of Agency Management Institute. That is our peer networks. We offer them both for agency owners and also what we call key executives. If you’re a traction follower, these would be for your integrators. These are sort of your right hand people who help you run the business day in and day out. From the owner’s perspective, imagine a Vistage group or an EO group, only everyone around the table owns an agency. These folks become like your board of advisors. They become trusted friends that you learn a lot about their business, and they learn a lot about yours. Not only do you learn from us the facilitators, but you’re constantly learning from your peer group as well. The same thing happens in the key executive groups. We bring them together and we help them learn how to help you bring your vision to life as an agency owner.

If you want to check out either of these peer groups, you can go over to the AMI website and look under the networks tab. There, you will find information on both our live and our virtual agency owner peer groups, and also our key executive group. Check it out, and if you’re interested, let us know. We’re happy to have a conversation. Let’s get back to the episode. All right. We are back with Scott Ayres from Agorapulse and we are talking about some of the results of their Social Media Lab experiments. Right before the break, we were talking about Instagram. One of the questions I had is, have you done any experiments with emojis and Instagram?

Scott Ayres:

I have and it was one of those ones that I pitched to our team and they went, “Are we really going to test emojis? We have to talk about emojis and marketing?” I said, “Yeah, let’s go for it. Let’s try it and see.” Yeah. I mean, we wanted to see, does putting an emoji, a smiley face or a heart or whatever in your Instagram update, does it cause any sort of change in engagement or impressions or reach? We sought out to do that. We only put in I think a max of two. We did a max of two emojis in the post.

Drew McLellan:

Which just proves that you’re not a 13 year old girl.

Scott Ayres:

Well, yeah. I try to make sentences in emojis and [crosstalk 00:25:48]-

Drew McLellan:

I don’t make those.

Scott Ayres:

It doesn’t look right. Yeah. I just put like a smiley or a tree or something. Yeah, we did two things. We scheduled to our own accounts with some emojis, and then we went and looked at some experts in social media and some large businesses that had used emojis in their posts and compare their posts with and without emojis to kind of see if we could come up with any sort of data on it. For example, if I look at the Agorapulse page account, our impressions or reach … There’s two different … Now, the wei