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Social Strategy for the Instagram Generation

Building and growing brand communities that keep millennials and Gen Z shoppers engaged

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Brian Peters
Brian Peters
Strategic Partnerships Manager at Buffer

Brian Peters is the Strategic Partnerships Manager at social media management platform Buffer. Buffer makes it easy for businesses like Shopify, Microsoft, and Intercom to schedule posts, analyze performance, and manage all their social accounts in one place.

Niche vs. Reach

From 2015 until about a year ago, social media was really about blasting your message out to as many people as you possibly could. Brands would work on just getting content out there, publishing a ton, and essentially generating organic reach so that engagement would follow.

Today, social media has changed and is becoming even more important for brands because it allows them to build niche followings and communities that are super engaged and highly active. When you build a following like this, they actually spread the word for you. Social media is one of the only channels where you can develop a community that does the marketing for you in the long run. But in order for that to happen, you need to develop and maintain that community in the right way.

Making Social Media Personal

Over the last year, private groups have become an important trend for community-building among direct-to-consumer brands. A lot of audiences are moving to WhatsApp (where brands have just been granted access to message people directly), Facebook groups, Messenger groups, etc. They’re spending part of their time on big platforms like Instagram, and then the rest of the time, they’re in private groups.

These groups are the next frontier for brands because they allow for peer-to-peer recommendations and social proof from friends. Also, Gen Z and Millennials are already using these groups to connect with friends and form communities, so they come with a sense of authenticity.

There are two types of groups that brands should form. The first includes your super loyal, engaged customers that naturally flock towards your content, and who can serve as sort of influencers to draw in new audiences. And then you have the groups that you start around a topic that people care about, that is related to your brand. For example, at Buffer we started a social media marketing group to keep everybody up-to-date on the latest social media trends. And then we invited the relevant audiences in order to grow that community organically.

What this boils down to is that brands need to follow the trends of what consumers are doing to communicate with each other. No one wants to call a brand or send an email anymore. They want live chat or to message you directly. This means brands need to re-think what social media is and to start treating it like a conversation. This extends to the type of content you share in groups — it needs to be human, authentic, and not over-produced to really connect with users.

Engaging Brand Fans in Private Groups

When you’re running private groups alongside your public social media pages, you have to give people a reason to join both. People might not find you on Instagram, but they might find you in the Slack community and then want to follow you on Instagram, or vice versa. For that to happen, the most important thing about your multi-channel social strategy has to be a single, clear mission.

If you’re Glossier, for example, and your goal is to provide the best beauty products in the industry, you would boil that down in different ways that are native to each platform. On Instagram, you would focus on the visual side of your products, whereas in a private WhatsApp group, you might share how-to’s, guides, and beauty tips.

Exclusive groups are more work, but they pay off better in the long run because members feel like they are getting real value, and that makes them more inclined to share your brand, your products, and the group itself.

As a brand, you need to make sure you’re maintaining that group and regulating it and monitoring it every single day. Facebook groups are a great example. You have groups with 30,000 members and everybody just spams content into it all day. Or you have your groups with 10,000 members that require approval: they have a post approval process — but the people who bring thoughtful engagement to that group are rewarded. You could pin their post to the top or share it more widely — and that builds a connection.

The Metrics You Should Be Tracking

Brands often ignore the importance of engagement — likes, comments, shares, video views, clicks. These engagement metrics should absolutely be counted as important parts of building brand awareness. They allow you to understand what kind of content your audience wants to see.

Once you’ve built a strong base of engagement, you can dive deeper and start tracking which content is getting quality engagement. Find out what’s getting the most shares and comments, because that’s deeper engagement than a simple view or a like. This way, you can continue to hone in on content that really works for your brand.

In private groups, you should also be looking at community growth. A sign of a healthy community is people sharing that community with their friends. So first and foremost, the community should be growing. And then you need to track active users in the group — how many people are commenting? How many people are sharing? How many people are coming back to the group every single day or week? You need to look at daily and monthly active users within the group, as well as new unique users. We find that in these communities, there are always the power users who come back every single day and comment, but that’s a small minority. You need to work on creating value within the group to attract new people and keep them coming back more often.

Conclusion

  • Focus on your niche – The days of building broad appeal on social media are over. Hone in on content that will exclusively attract your core audience.
  • Private over public – Create private groups with unique content to keep your best brand fans engaged.
  • Track engagement – Focus on overall and high-quality engagement to direct your social media content strategy.

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